This is the first in a multi-part series
By Trent Rosser
Right after high school, Pete went to work in the oilfields with his father. But it didn't last long before he received his draft notice. The year was 1965 and troops have already been in Vietnam. Just a year earlier the U.S had over 23,000 troops and it had escalated further following the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident. The incident involved a U.S. Destroyer that was to have clashed with a North Vietnamese fast attack craft. Pete decided that he was going to join the Marines. Then a phone call changed it all. His brother was already in the military. His brother told him to join the Navy. He told him that the first place he would go would be Vietnam. He said that in the Navy, he would get a lot a schools and that he would not have to go inside a three mile limit of Vietnam because that is just where the ships were. So with his draft card in hand, Pete went down and joined the United States Navy.
He was shipped off to Great Lakes, Illinois for boot camp. Twelve weeks of training and then he was sent to Bainbridge, Maryland to radioman school. After seven months of training there, he was ready to go. He was shipped to the U.S.S. Cavalier that was home ported in Long Beach, Ca. The ship was not there. The U.S.S. Cavalier was a troop transport ship that was overseas, so Pete was sent there to try to catch it. It took two weeks to catch the ship. The military would fly Pete to Japan and it just left. So Pete had to stay there until it got to the next port in Okinawa. Pete flies to Okinawa, and again, it just left. He finally caught it in Yakushima, Japan and the ship was coming back to the United States when he finally got on the ship. He sailed from Japan to Hawaii. They stayed at Pearl Harbor for about a week and then he was sent to the other side of the island at the army base and work with the Army for a month. When that was done, they sailed to San Diego instead of Long Beach. Eventually though, they did make it back to Long Beach and the ship was put in “Dry Dock”. When a ship is in dry dock, they raise the ship out of the water and do all the maintenance and other work that needs to be done. Pete stayed on the U.S.S. Cavalier for one year to the date. He then received new orders to go to Coronado, California. It is the biggest base on the west coast, the Navy Seal training base and the boat training base of the Navy. This was early 1967. After being sent across the United States for training, he was sent to San Francisco to catch a plane to go overseas. He and others flew into Saigon, the capital of Vietnam. After about 12 to 14 hours, Pete caught a helicopter to Dam Tang. After two nights there, the boats started to come in to nest in the Mekong river. The nest is when the boats are grouped together and are tied together with a larger ship. After all this time, in August of 1967, Pete was not safe off the coast of Vietnam, instead he was smack in the middle of it. Pete was now a part of the “Brown Water Navy”.
He said “We got there probably midnight or 1 o’clock in the morning. They had some patrols come in there and um....... I’m not going to say what happened to some of those people on patrol, and um, that's the first time I've seen anything like this. The next day we were assigned to our boats. I was assigned to Monitor 91-1.” This boat, M 91-1, and another boat called C 91-1 (C stands for communication) was the first of its kind in Vietnam.
The monitor is considered the battleship of the rivers. It only needs a little of three feet of water. It can get in small areas of the river. With 2 monitors, the communication boat and had four or five Tango boats. Which is like the older WW2 landing boats with the ramp. They would have a company, (9th Infantry worked with them quite a bit) loaded onto the Tango boats and they would escort them up and down the rivers, canals, streams. If the boats would float, they would go up the rivers.
“It was just a convoy, they would have the Monitor up front, a few boats further back, they would have the 'Charlie' boat (communications) and a few more boats back another Monitor. We would hit the bank and the Tango boats would lower the ramps, and soldiers would search and destroy, that was there mission. We would then pull patrol up and down the stream to make sure no one came in behind them.” Pete said. These missions usually lasted from 3 days to 7 days.
Pete said, “Sometimes we were out only one day, but it was usually 3 to 7 days, sometimes 8 days during the 68 Tet.” They also did support, when troops needed gunfire support, the monitor was there. It is an impressive force equipped with a mortar, a 40 mm cannon, a 20 mm anti-aircraft gun on the back, single 50’s on the sides and the middle of the boat stands two 30 caliber machine guns.
This story is to be continued next week. To see pictures of some of the boats of the Vietnam go to YouTube and search “tribute to the brown water navy”