Navy veteran William Ashton was watching a war movie on board his ship in the Mekong Delta in South Vietnam when the Viet Cong blew up an American ammunition dump about 10 miles away.
Sailors on the ship at first thought the sound came from the movie, which they'd seen multiple times, Ashton said.
"We were in the mess deck watching 'Guadacanal Diary,' and heard it explode" Ashton said. "I looked at the guy next to me and said, 'I don't remember hearing that explosion before,' and he said, 'I don't, either.'
"We ran up to the deck and you could see a mushroom cloud," he said. "The shock wave pushed the ship back from the dock."
In spite of that incident, Ashton, who served a tour of duty in Vietnam in the mid-1960s, had no idea at the time how intense or tragic the situation there would become.
Born in Williamsport in 1944, Ashton attended South Williamsport High School, graduating in 1962.
He enlisted in the Navy on Feb. 25, 1963 - his mother's birthday.
"She was not real happy, but she didn't try to stop me," Ashton said.
Ashton attended basic training at the San Diego, Calif., Naval Training Center, then went to Great Lakes Naval Station to study to be an engine mechanic. After graduating from school, he was sent to the Little Creek Amphibious Base near Norfolk, Va., where he was assigned to the landing ship USS Monmouth County.
He took one short trip at sea in the ship and before being assigned to the USS Rankin, an amphibious cargo ship.
After a brief period of time on the Rankin, Ashton went home on leave to get married. When he returned, he had orders to go to the USS Raleigh, a landing platform dock that sank in the back so boats could float off. The ship also contained a landing platform for helicopters, Ashton said.
He served on the Raleigh for about six months before learning the Navy was looking for volunteers in various job classifications to go to Vietnam.
Ashton went home, got permission from his wife, and the next day submitted a request to go. After his request was approved, Ashton was ordered to the port in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he boarded his former ship, the Monmouth County.
"That was about Christmas 1964. I loaded my 1957 Chevy station wagon on board (the ship) and took it back to Norfolk, unloaded it and took it home," he said.
The Monmouth County left for Vietnam, but it took months to arrive there. On the way, the ship made stops in Charleston, S.C.; Panama City, Fla.; Pearl Harbor; Guam; Okinawa; Subic Bay; and finally, Saigon.
The ship picked up used military equipment and took it to Japan, where it stayed for a month for repairs.
It then returned to Saigon where it was used to haul supplies to an American Air Force base at Can Tho in the Mekong Delta.
"We stayed in the Mekong Delta most of the time," Ashton said. "We delivered supplies to the Air Force base and brought junk vehicles and so forth back."
The threat of violence was not a common occurrence during Ashton's time "in country," he said. Ashton was in Saigon one night when he heard shooting on the street but never learned what had happened.
"We were out on liberty and didn't know who was shooting, but it was on the (city) block we were at," he said.
On another occasion, two sailors from his ship were sitting at an outdoor cafe when someone rolled a grenade between them.
"We were so unaccustomed to being in a war, they just looked at it," Ashton said. "Fortunately, it didn't go off."
On yet another occasion, sailors on the ship probably should have been frightened but weren't because they didn't know they were in danger until it had passed.
"The Viet Cong tried to get to the ship one time, but the Air Force stopped them. They never even woke us up," Ashton said. "We didn't know anything about it until we talked to them the next morning."
After returning home, Ashton extended his enlistment an extra three months so he could be promoted. He was discharged from active duty on May 25, 1967, but that did not end his career in the Navy.
He entered the Reserves in August 1967 and, 24 years later, retired with the rank of chief petty officer.
In 1985, Ashton helped found the Susquehanna Chapter of the Naval Enlisted Reserve Association. He also served as a leader in the Sea Cadets, a program geared toward youth ages 11 to 17.
Ashton said that when he returned home following his tour of duty in Vietnam, he was not mistreated.
"I always got good comments from people," he said. "There just wasn't the anti-Vietnam sentiment that was in other places."
Ashton believes the U.S. government took the wrong approach to fighting the war in Vietnam and got it wrong again with the way it treated many of its returning veterans, such as those suffering from the effects of Agent Orange.
Ashton said he hopes Americans learned a lesson from the war regarding the treatment of soldiers who serve in the military.
He has visited the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., and believes it is an "awesome" memorial to the American men and women who died during that conflict.
Ashton also is a proud Navy veteran.
"I love my Navy," he said.
Ashton and his wife, Doris, live in South Williamsport. They have three children - William Jr., David and Karen.
David and Karen also served in the Navy, he said.