The Amarillo Pioneer

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Rosser's Ramblings: Brown Water Navy (River Rats)

Editor’s note: This is the second in a multi-article series from Trent Rosser

By Trent Rosser

Pete was on the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. Serving as the radioman on Monitor 91-1.  He would go with the boat captain whenever they had briefings about an operation. They would give them radio frequencies and things of that nature. Before they would go out on operations, he would set the radios up to that frequency. He had the Army, the Navy boats, helicopters that they had to stay in contact with, along with the ships that they just left.

“I would set those up and we would be out on patrol and I would exchange duties with the coxswain, driving. And sometimes I would take over a gun mount or something like that. That was my job.” Pete said.

February of 1968, the crew had just taken the army up a creek and dropped them off. They were running what they call “Blocking” on a creek so small that to turn around they had to nose the boat onto the shore and swing the back end of the boat around. Blocking was to make sure that no one escapes from the army that they were being pursued by. Pete said.

“The coxswain had been on duty, 10, 12 hours something like that, so I relieved him at about 2 or  o’clock in the morning. Suddenly there was a flash from the bank and our 40 mm gun mount was hit by a rocket.”

Along with the rocket, the enemy was now firing machine guns. Pete was hit in the chest by shrapnel from the rocket.

“I wasn’t hurt that bad, but we had to evac the people in the gun mount, 3 people. The rocket went in and exploded. I read an article about one of the guys that was in that gun mount, a few months ago, and he was 67 years old and just now being able to get his driver's license because of what happened over there. We had to back off and 2 other boats came in to help us when we got hit. Helicopters came and picked up the injured off of my boat and others that were injured from the other boats as well.” Pete uttered.

After the injured men were airlifted out, a combat medic patched Pete up and said “You're good to go until you get back to the ship, if you need anything, get back to the ship and we will look at ya.”  Pete said that there were 2 others on his boat in the same condition. All 3 were patched up and went back and continued their operations. Pete received a Purple Heart.

From February to May of 1968 were regularly patrols. There were quite a few firefights within this time. It seemed like every time they went on an operation, they ended up in a firefight.  It only takes a few hours for the Navy to repair a damaged boat. During this time, with Monitor 91-1 being short handed, Pete went to the 20 mm gun mount.

Pete noted ” I called the 20 mm the sore thumb of the boat because it stuck up higher than any other part of the boat. I stayed on it until I left Vietnam. I would set up the radio before the patrol and as we started the patrol, I would go to the 20 mm gun mounts.”

In May of 1968, Pete was doing day patrol. They were taking Army up a small creek when they were ambushed.

“We were ambushed on the way in there and um, our boat was hit by rockets on the side, one or two, I don’t remember. The flag mast which is up in front of my gunmount and the boat captain stayed under the flag mast. Which is like a little cubby hole that he stayed in so he could talk to us or the coxswain who was driving the boat and he could tell us which way to shoot or whatever and a rocket hit the top of the flag mast, shrapnel came down and it got him, one of the 50 caliber machine gunner and I got a little shrapnel. Within seconds after that hit, they put a rocket in my gunmount. It blew me out of the gunmount, I made my way back in there, but the guns were welded, I couldn’t shoot them. We continued on until we were able to get to an area were we could let the soldiers go, let them do their patrol, and we had a boat that had a flat top on it where helicopters could land on it. We called that the medivac boat. Myself, with my head injury, the two 50 caliber machine gunners and a guy that was manning the 30 caliber were medivac back to the ships. A lot of people were hurt that day.” Pete solemnly said. 

Pete was in sick bay with shrapnel in head, chest, arms and face from the rocket that hit his gun mount. The next day he was flown to Da Nang, where he stayed for a couple of weeks. He was then sent back to Monitor 91-1 to continue his duties. This was his second Purple Heart.

The next month, in June, they were in what they called ” the Plain of Reeds”. It was flat and marshy. 

Pete said, “We were landing the Army, we were supporting them and again, we were ambushed. People in bunkers. The bunkers are made of mud and when dried they are hard as concrete. We would shoot the bunkers but the round would blow up but not the bunker. it was like 2 feet of concrete. We were hit by gunfire. The 50 caliber below us was hit, the outside of the boat, the bar armor was hit by 1 or 2 rockets. I was standing in my gunmount and there is a hole about 30 inch by 36 inch hole where you crawl up into the gun mount. When the rocket exploded, I got shrapnel in my leg from that.” Again, the corpsman wrapped his leg up and he was good to go.

When the patrol was over, Pete was informed that since this was his 3rd Purple Heart, he would be unable to go back out on patrol unless he volunteers again. When they got close to Dong Tam, they shipped Pete and another sailor to Dong Tam to wait on orders to go back to the United States. After about a week or so, he received orders to go to a reserve minesweeping ship in Orlando, Florida. Pete was finally going back to the United States.

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