The aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk, which left its home port here five months ago amid a storm of controversy, came home Saturday to fanfare under a bright, cloudless sky.
Sailors meticulously clad in white hats and blue uniforms stood in perfect formation for 90 minutes atop the carrier and spelled out "PROUD TO BE N AMERICAN." Fireboats sprayed spectacular streams of water in the air. Planes flew banners that pronounced "Home Are Our Heroes." Mothers, wives and children waived signs and waited anxiously at the pier.
None of the festivities offered the slightest hint that the Kitty Hawk's deployment to the Indian Ocean had begun with charges of widespread fraud and waste and investigations into an alleged international jet parts smuggling ring and the disappearance of 31 silver bars.
Scandals Only a Memory
Top officers on board assured reporters Saturday that a thorough investigation had cleared the ship of any wrongdoing. Sailors said the scandals are a distant memory and expressed hope that the allegations would not be brought up again.
Rear Adm. Dennis M. Brooks, commander of the Kitty Hawk battle group and the man who directed the Navy probe into charges of fraud and mismanagement within the ship's supply system, praised the Kitty Hawk's "textbook" cruise, which reportedly broke many operational records and marked the first time in recent memory that an aircraft carrier had completed back-to-back deployments without suffering a fatality.
Brooks declined to elaborate on the results of his investigation or comment on whether any officers were disciplined. Navy officials in Washington said they mailed copies of the 1,400-page investigation Friday to media organizations that requested it through the Freedom of Information Act. The Times' Washington Bureau did not receive its copy Saturday.
The inquiry into allegations by Robert Jackson, a second-class petty officer whose duties included auditing the ship's books, was completed Oct. 1 and found no evidence of fraud or any individuals seeking personal monetary gain.
Basis of Allegations
Jackson, who at one point was lionized in People magazine, alleged that the ship's supply system could not account for expensive aircraft parts. He also said that sailors openly sold parts for personal gain and routinely dumped overboard other items such as desks and radar equipment. Many of his charges were publicized by Rep. Jim Bates (D-San Diego).
Jackson's campaign prompted high-ranking Navy officials in Washington to scrutinize their supply system and make some sweeping changes. These included a decision to strip aircraft carriers of purchasing responsibilities for millions of dollars in high-priced parts, giving those responsibilities to shore-based supply depots.
But in a Sept. 30 memo sent to the House Armed Services sea power subcommittee, Adm. James D. Watkins, the chief of naval operations, said that seven of Jackson's 11 allegations were unsubstantiated.
Those charges that were supported were not considered significant by Navy officials. They included the improper purchases of inexpensive items--flowers, books and non-alcoholic wine--by the Kitty Hawk's commander, Capt. Phillip R. Wood, and the ship's chaplain, Cmdr. Donald E. Dendulk. A second involved Lt. Michael Anderson, a division supply officer who falsified signatures on military documents explaining lost or missing materials. The two other findings were administrative errors, Navy officials said.
According to the memo, Wood and the ship's supply officer, Cmdr. John Matthews, received a "non-punitive letter of caution" and Anderson was ordered taken "to mast," a form of non-judicial punishment.
In his first interview since the investigation was finished, Wood said Saturday:
"This whole entire investigation came out awash and everything is turning out fine. There are no problems. A lot of this is politically motivated. You can't let that get to you."
Wood said the ship's supply troubles would not hinder his career. The Kitty Hawk is scheduled to change commanders in February, and Wood indicated that he is considering several career alternatives, including retirement. Wood said he has not yet received his assignment orders from Washington.
Wood said he is savoring the results of a record-setting cruise.
"Everyone has a smile on their face and not a scratch on them," Wood said, waving a hand at his troops lined up on the flight deck. "It's the best (deployment) ever. The record speaks for itself."
Plea for Delay Denied
The Kitty Hawk departed July 24 with a crew of 5,300, despite pleas to President Reagan and Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger from Bates and Jackson to keep the ship in port. They asked for an accelerated investigation into allegations that F-14 jet parts were stolen from the carrier and shipped to Iran, as well as Jackson's charges.
"If we wait six months for the return of this ship, the trail will have grown cold, more records may have gone over the side and (Jackson) will no longer be on active duty," Bates wrote in a letter to Weinberger.
But the ship was allowed to sail. Three Naval Investigative Service agents--two more than usual--were assigned to the Kitty Hawk. The two additional investigators left the Kitty Hawk after three weeks, according to Capt. Peter Litrenta.
At the time, the Naval Investigative Service, U.S. Customs Service and FBI also were investigating the alleged theft ring. Eight people, including a Kitty Hawk aviation storekeeper, have been arrested so far in the case, which has not yet gone to trial.
Nevertheless, the ongoing investigations and nationwide publicity led many Navy officials and sailors assigned to the Kitty Hawk to become concerned about sagging morale aboard the ship and its possible effect on safety and performance.
Major Safety Feat
But the Kitty Hawk's most recent tour marked the second consecutive cruise in which no one was killed, a feat that Navy officials were hard-pressed to match in searching their records. The only aircraft mishap on the Kitty Hawk's recent deployment occurred Oct. 19, when an SH-3 Sea King helicopter crashed in the Indian Ocean. All five crew members were rescued within 30 minutes before the Sea King sank. The crash is under investigation.
The Kitty Hawk achieved numerous performance records during its latest cruise, according to Navy spokesman Cmdr. Tom Jurkowsky. The Kitty Hawk's air wing, which consists of 87 jets and helicopters used for attack, defense and surveillance, maintained readiness rates exceeding 90%, about 10% above the average. At the same time, the carrier consumed 25% less fuel than its previous deployment.
Wood said that the controversy surrounding the Kitty Hawk had little effect on his crew. He said he offered his men "the proper perspective" on things and told them not to lose any sleep over the allegations.
Wood criticized the media for its "irresponsible" coverage of the Kitty Hawk's supply problems and accused reporters of getting "squeamish" whenever they hear Navy officers speak about their country in patriotic terms.
Wood also assailed Jackson and Bates for their roles in initiating the investigations.
'Shooting From Hip'
"Bates and Jackson don't have enough sense to know when to come in out of the rain," Wood said. " . . . You want to talk about shooting from the hip without the facts."
Wood said that Jackson faced two disciplinary hearings for unauthorized absences when he jumped ship last summer to become a whistle blower.
"I never had laid eyes on the man," he said. "He stormed off the ship . . . then once he started screaming to Bates he became a hot potato and we couldn't touch him."
Jackson, who has said he tried to talk to Wood while assigned to the Kitty Hawk, did not return phone calls Saturday and neither did Bates.