Captain Carl Alfred Nelson

The Consummate Captain

Carl Alfred Nelson, the son of Alfred Helge Axel and Isabel Alice (Younger) Nelson was born on October 11, 1930 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was raised, with his brother Gordon, at 2038 Dartmore Street in Overbrook, a suburb of Pittsburgh. There, he attended grade and junior high before graduating from Carrick High School where he was a varsity basketball player.

Upon graduation he discovered that working in the daytime while attending night college courses was, for him, very boring. So, on April 9, 1949 he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Upon completing boot camp and Class 'A" Electricians mate he then stayed on to play for the at Great Lakes Naval Training Station varsity basketball team. In the winter of 1950, while waiting assignment to a ship he received a telephone call from a high school friend, George Frazier. George told him a third alternate congressional appointment to the Naval Academy at Annapolis, MD was available -- would he like to try?
Carl's life immediately changed. Instead of orders to sea duty, he was assigned to the Naval Academy Prep School in Newport Rhode Island where he again played varsity basketball and studied for the entrance exam. Upon passing, he entered Annapolis where he played plebe and junior varsity basketball, became a leader of his class as a company commander. He was commissioned into the line as an Ensign on June 1st with class of 1956.

On June 2, 1956, the day after he graduated, Carl married Barbara Long of Dormont, Pennsylvania in the Naval Academy Chapel. After honeymooning at a lodge in Maine, the two spent three months in Annapolis while Carl trained a company of new plebes. They spent another six months at Pensacola Florida where he was in pilot training. In the spring of 1957, Carl changed his mind about flying. He decided he'd rather lead men at sea as a surface line officer.

His first assignment was as Damage Control Assistant aboard USS Gary DER 326 home ported in Newport, RI. With this first sea tour he began what became twenty-five years of service in the Cold War. The ship spent ten days in port and thirty days as a radar picket in the North Atlantic on the Distant Early Warning (DEW) line. Less than a year later he was promoted to Chief Engineer. In late 1958 he was assigned as gunnery officer aboard the new destroyer USS Decatur DD 936. Outfitted with the latest sonar and 5"/54 guns, Decatur subsequently made a Cold War cruise to the Mediterranean Sea and European waters. It was during that initial period of sea duty that his wife gave birth to their two daughters Jennifer and Allison.

In 1960, he was assigned shore duty at the Naval Academy as Eleventh Company Officer. In his first year that company came in second in the brigade competition. In his second year, they prevailed to win the colors, the best midshipman company of twenty-four in the brigade. During the spring of that year his wife gave birth to Monica, their third daughter. In the summer of 1962 he was assigned as a Beast Barracks company officer at the Military Academy at West Point (class of 1966 new cadets). During the academic year he served as Tactical Officer of F-2 Company. Again his company won, among twenty four, the colors as best Cadet Company of 1963.

Following shore duty, Carl took command of his first ship, USS Cocopa ATF 101. He sailed her to the western pacific in the fall of 1963. The ship was in Guam, Marianes Islands when he received word that President John Kennedy was assassinated. On behalf of the crew, he immediately sent a message of condolence to Mrs. Kennedy to which she responded with a personal note of thanks. From there Cocopa carried out towing and salvage work in and around the Vietnam War Zone, spending Christmas in Saigon.

In the fall of 1964, after a year and a half in command, he was assigned as Executive Officer of USS Morton DD 948 and returned to the Vietnam War for two more West Pac cruises. While there the ship participated in protection of the fleet in the Tonkin Gulf and fired gunfire support for Army and Marine forces along the coast from north of Danang to Vung Tau and the Rung Sat Special Zone in the south.

In the summer of 1966, Carl was assigned to study at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey California. Upon graduation in the summer of 1967 with a Masters Degree in Economics/Systems Analysis, he was posted to the Bureau of Naval Personnel in the highly demanding assignment of lieutenant commander shore assignment officer, sending many officers to war-time duty in South Vietnam.

From completion of duty at BUPERS in the summer of 1969, he attended the year-long Naval War College, Command and Staff course in Newport Rhode Island. Upon completion, he and his family again traveled across country to return to their home in San Diego where he joined the staff of Commander First Fleet as Assistant Chief of Staff for Logistics. He served in that assignment until the winter of 1972 when he received orders to an in-country assignment in the delta of Vietnam. After language, culture, and Survival, Evasion Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training he took command of the naval advisors at the Naval Logistics Base a Nha Be. Within months he also became the Senior Advisor (Commanding Officer) of the Rung Sat Special Zone in protection of the Long Tau Channel, a place he traversed while in command of USS Cocopa in 1963. In combat during that period, he participated in many riverine operations and flew in almost 100 chopper flights. In February 1973, he turned over the American weapons and other materials to Vietnamese counterparts and brought the sailors and marines of his advisor team home from war, having not suffered a single casualty or death during his tenure of the struggle.

In the fall of 1973 he took command of USS Cook FF 1083 (named after his Annapolis classmate Wilmer cook) and soon sailed her back to the war zone for his fourth such tour of duty. While there the ship participated in Cold War duties as well as the demining of Haiphong Harbor and the end of the American participation in the war. During his time in command, Cook won every best ship award in the Pacific fleet.

Following his command tour, in the spring of 1975, he returned to shore duty on the staff of the Commander of Surface Forces Pacific. As director of operational maintenance for all surface ships (about 100) in the Pacific, he was responsible for budgets of more than $80 Million.

From that assignment he served as Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations and Plans on the staff of the Commander Cruiser Destroyer Group One with deployments to the Western Pacific for Cold War duties.

In the winter of 1979 he was ordered to relieve as Commanding Officer of the guided missile cruiser USS Worden CG-18 homeported in Yokuska, Japan. This was a high point in Captain Nelson's career, Because this is where he commanded a young sailor named "Cruel Kev." As the forward deployed cruiser of the Seventh Fleet, Worden was involved in a multitude of Cold War duties including, patrolling Korean and Taiwan waters and anti-air warfare command ship for two aircraft carriers in the Indian Ocean. During his time in command the Worden crew saved the lives of more than 150 Vietnamese refugees from unseaworthy craft in the South China Sea, and won every best ship award in the Pacific fleet.

Carl retired from active navy duty after 33 years of service in 1982 with eighteen military awards and decorations including the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star "V", two Air Medals, Combat Action Medal, several Navy Commendations, and many foreign decorations.