The USNS Harland Sanders (built originally as the oiler MV Bork Bork in Goteburg, Sweden in 1957) is one of the strangest stories of the Vietnam War.
Commissioned into the US Naval Reserve in 1966, then re-named by the navy. The ship’s new moniker was noticed by a Manhattan advertising executive browsing the New York Times.
He brought the ship to the attention of the Kentucky Fried Chicken Corporation, who agreed to sponsor the refitting of the vessel as a mobile supply, rest and relaxation berth for US army and naval personnel active in operations against the Viet Cong.
In a joint event staged by the US Navy and KFC, Elvis Presley was hired to christen the vessel before it steamed out of Las Vegas and embarked for Vietnam in January, 1967. Unfortunately, news footage of the King’s dock side acapella serenade to the crew, “Have you heard the news, there’s good chicken tonight” is lost.
USNS Harland Sanders served in the South China Sea and in the Mekong Delta between 1967 and 1968. The ship is unique in operating the first floating fried chicken restaurant that included a helicopter deck to airlift breasts and thighs to GI’s on the ground in SE Asia. These chicko-copters are mentioned fondly in a number of Vietnam war memoirs.
“After a long day of smoking weed in the jungle, those chicko-coptors sure were a sight for sore eyes. Charlie don’t deep-fry.”
–Corporal Lance Bantam; Bowling Green, Kentucky; 101st Airborn
Only their hairdressers know for sure.
On 25th July 1968 the ship was at anchor off the village of Hung Ree when a fire erupted in the galley.
The subsequent explosion rained hot grease, chicken bones, and cheap plastic toys down onto a nearby hamlet; injuring 11 villagers. The crew and all GI’s on board were safely evacuated.
After the dreadful disaster, plans for construction of a sister ship, USS Ettore Boiardi, were scrapped.