Bruce’s Vietnam Experience I PBR 129 River Division 543 Delta Patrol The date is September 28, 1968. I made my way to Travis AFB in the evening for an early morning flight to Saigon. After staying up all night at the bowling ally we at about dawn on the 29. First to Anchorage and then to Japan. After 9 hours on the tarmac in Japan we finally boarded our next flight to Okanawa and then on to Saigon. We arrived late in the afternoon and made our way on a bus to the Annapollis hotel. My first experience after checkin was being put on guard duty inside the wire caged entrance. I was handed a loaded thompson submachine gun and told I had a 4 hour watch. I had never used a thompson before. A few days later I was put on the roof with an M60 machine gun for my watch. After about 4 days we went by bus to ComNavForV to get a shot or 2 and our orders. I and 3 others received orders to river division 543 in Cua Viet. We got a flight from Tan Son Nhut AFB to Da Nang and stayed in a transit barraks at Monkey mountain until we could get transportation to Cua Viet by way of a YFU. Leaving from the deep water piers it was an overnight trip to our destination. We arrived on October 6, 1968 at about 0700 on a hot sunny morning. After checking in with the PBR office and assigned a bunk and given bedding I was told to get some sleep because I was going on a night patrol at 1800 for 12 hours. On one of my first night patrols within the first mile of that patrol I heard an explosion and looked back and saw a 100 foot water spout about 10 feet behind the boat. A near miss that only blew off one of the trim tabs added to our boat to make it faster. A sign of things to come I think! The next event I remember on the river was the loss of LCPL 5 Lima in November 1968. We were on patrol station 1 near Whiskey-15(W-15), when a fire fight erupted at W-9, about 3 miles away. I saw a huge fire ball in their direction and then heard over the radio “Where is 5 Lima. Has anyone seen 5 Lima” several times. 5 Lima was the cause of the fireball I had seen. It was hit with a recoilless rifle round. Someone reported seeing a green tracer spotting round which preceeded the explosion. The four man crew and two marine snipers were killed in that fireball. I remember picking one of the snipers named Winston out of the water 3 days later while on another patrol. Other crews retrieved the other bodies as they came to the surface during the next few days. My first firefight was on December 9, 1968 between whiskey 9 and Dong Ha. Two LCPLs were under fire and we made 2 firing runs suppressing enemey fire. We then retreated to Dong Ha to rearm from the YFUs at the ramp. One of the LCPL crewman was wounded in the arm. PO 2 Tores, a replacement on the boat for the patrol said he saw a rocket go between our boat and the lead boat. No other injuries. My second firefight was in January or Febuary 1969. We were on station 2 and inserted a four man recon team near Whisky 13. Sometime after insertion we got a radio call from that team saying that they were surrounded by about 20 VC. They requested that we open fire over their heads. We called their CO and he ok’d it. So 2 PBRs and 3 LCPLs opened fire. One member of the recon team raised his head and he was killed. In the middle of this firefight our boat rushed to the beach, and did a 180 turn. With our stern towards the river bank and about 5 feet away we pulled the remaining 3 members of the recon team out of the water. I had to bag the dead marines body the next morning on the PBR pier at the base. And it was alsways my job as the boat seaman to swab the decks to remove all the blood from dead bodies we transported. There were also numerous dead VC bodies, but they were left lying where they were. The next incident that I remember was the sinking of the YFU 62 in January 1969. We were anchored near the junk base and I was looking in the direction of Whiskey 15 as several YFUs were transiting the river towards Cua Viet from Dong Ha. I saw water come up around the aft section of the 62 boat and it slowly turned into the beach where it ran aground and sank. I told the boat captain of our PBR , ABH1 Roy Tierce, and I drove the boat to the stricken YFU. As we approched a Marine Amtrack also aproched the YFU from Jaw Breaker alpha’s position across the river. The marines had morphine to give to the wounded YFU crew. There were 11 crewman on the YFU and I later learned that only 2 lived. We medivaced the YFU crew and kept the Vietnamese civilians from taking the things blown into the water. We went back to the base and got a case of concussion grenades and threw them up and down that section of the river in case there were more mines. A few hours later as we were searching what was left of the 62 boat a mike 8 (M-8) boat hit a mine. I and another crewman were called back to our boat to assist. We got there just as a large black man (civilian) from the Sand Caster dredge was going under for the last time. Dusty threw him a life ring and the man grabbed but his hand silpped off as he went under. Dusty jumped into the river and brought him to the stern of our boat and we pulled him onboard. He was unconscious by that time. A corpman was on the river and he took over trying revive him. His jaw was locked shut and he was throwing up and he died. He was going home on leave and was getting a ride on the M-8 boat. Two others, marines, were also lost. One was sitting in a 2½ ton truck when it was thrown out of the M-8 boat and the other marine was sitting on the gunnel and thrown overboard. Their bodies were found floating a few days later. A very bad day on the river, but not the last one. In April 1969 another patrol sited 4 people on Cemetary island. The west and largest part of the island after the New Channel cut it in half to make transit easier for the cargo boats. We were scrambled and to help set up a blocking force around the island and a marine reactionary force was tranported to the north end of the island by M-6 boat. They swept the island with a line formation and killed three VC. A 75 lb mine and a 50 lb mine were found near the river side of the island and were about to be placed in the water at W-13. The EOD blew the two mines in place because of their complexity. I helped load the three dead VC bodies onto our boat and we dropped them off with the marines at jaw breaker alpha’s position. They cut their ears off and threw them down an old well. They got in trouble for that. Plenty of blood to swab from the boat when we got back to the base. It felt strange to be doing that. My third firefight was on May 18, 1969 at W-22. A marine recon team detected movement and asked for fire support. We and our cover boat opened fire with M-60s and 50 cal machine guns. One of our forward 50s jammed and Gmg3 George Green fired continously from the other. The barrel was cherry red and cooked off a round or two afterwards. While extracting the recon team we received 3 mortar rounds and small arms fire. We then called in artillery support and made a firing run on their abandoned position. After all this we reinserted the recon team and everything was quiet. . Other events with unknown dates. Walking across the LST ramp early in the morning while still dark. I could hear talk and something being dragged and dropped. A very eerie sound. I found out it was another crew dragging dead VC bodies off of the fuel barge and onto the LST ramp. A drop of about 2+ feet. The eerie sound was their heads hitting the concrete. Had a few beers in the club with one of the M-6 boat crewman one night. It was his birthday. He went down to his boat and slept there. His boat was blown up that night by an NVA sapper team. He was killed. Numerous instances of mailcall (incoming) at the Cua Viet base. Located only 3 ½ miles from the DMZ we were within artillery range of North Vietmanese guns. They blew our club completley away one night while we were on patrol. I was able to find a couple of cans of beer by digging in the sand where the club had been the next morning though. The club was a favorite hangout for a lot of the crews. E-5 and E-6 on one side and E-4 and below on the other side. It was even hot on night patrols in the summer so the club was a welcome site in the morning when getting off patrol at 0900. After breakfast of course. I went on two night time special patrols in a skimmer. Once setting up an ambush several hundred yards up Jones creek towards the DMZ. And another time an ambush in some fish stakes near a village. No results either time. In May or June 1969 I went to Saigon for 3 days to interview for an assignment to the Small Boat School. I stayed over night at the Annapolis hotel (beq) and the next day I went to the school. The Annapolis was bombed and several people where killed. There was still blood on the floor near the entrance when I passed through on my way back to Cua Viet. Cua Viet In early August I was transferred to the Small Boat School in Saigon. Our job was to teach the young Vietnamese sailors enough english to be put on american PBRs and eventually replace an amercian crewman. This was part of the ACTOV program. During a few alerts the instructors had to stand guard duty at the school on several different floors. We were on list of places and people to be attacked. Before I had started at the school a Vietnames woman had approched the bus used to transport instructors with a baby and a bomb. The bomp exploded prematurally and killed them both. The Air Force School in Saigon did get blown up. I carried a loaded .45 in my pocket at all times while in Saigon. In January 1970 I was transferred to An Thoi on Phu Quoc Island to NAG-159 and then on to Ha Tien Coastal Group 41. Coastal Group 41 was a group of wooden vietnamese Junks of the Vietnamese Navy. I was an advisor for this group which patroled the river from Ha Tien to the Vinh Te canal and then the first mile or so of the canal. 48 hour patrols as the only american with a group of 4 to 6 vietnamese boats. My job was to advise and call and direct air and artillery support.. My group was only fired at one when I was on the river. A B-40 rocket was fired and it hit a radio antenna but didn’t go off. Air support was slow and we already men on the beach when they arrived. I couldn’t let them shoot. During one patrol on the Giang Thanh river another coastal group was taken under fire about a mile south of the Vinh Te canal. The vietnames officer in charge had the boats in my group pull to the side of the river and wait. Several round hit in the water around our boat and after it was over we proceeded upriver and reconed the area with .50 cal. We pulled along side a boat that had been hit with a B-40 rocket. It was a wood boat and the only damage was some splintered wood and luckily no one was wounded or killed. The next day a wounded VC from that firefight was found in the bush by the vietnamese coastal groupand was medivaced. During another patrol on the Giang Thanh a pair of PBRs came under fire. I was on the river but north of their position. I heard on the radio as a rocket hit one PBR and killed the coxan and blew another crewman overboard. The remaining crew members returned fire while the second PBR towed the wounded boat out of the kill zone. The sailor who went overbaord was picked up sometime later. He hid in the mangroves until safe. In the spring 1970 in Ha Tien WO-1 Drabowsky, a few other naval advisors and I hiked up a hill within 60mm mortor range of the Cambodian border and built a bunker and mortar pit. I was the gunner and set up the aiming stakes and set the mortar up. We then mortared a mountain on the vietnamese side but too close to the border to get air support unless getting shot at. They shot back and we were able to get the air support. It took two weeks but the mountain was taken. Also Drabowsky and I visited a vietnamese outpost that had gotten attacked the night before by VC with a B-40 rocket and small arms. I think a couple of ARVN were wounded and there was one very dead VC laying there with a large gunshot wound to the neck. I never heard anything else about the outpost. In the summer of 1970 while watching a movie in an air conditioned hootch we had 2 rounds from an arvn 4.2 inch mortar fired at us because the VC called in a fire mission on us. They fired 2 rounds before they figured out what had happened. It could have turned out much worse. They hit about a hundred feet away and no one was injured. They weren’t very good with the mortar, thank God. My last couple of months was spent in An Thoi on Phu Quoc Island where I was a team leader in a rectionary force. All we did was train. No action.