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Posts: 30
(6/12/01 12:59:16 pm)
| Del All Memories of a Vietnamese Sailor #8
Part 5: The war raged on, I kept attending school; South Vietnam instituted the “draft”. The first American combat soldiers entered Vietnam. The US started bombing North Vietnam. I sat in school one day and realized that even if I passed high school and qualified for college, I would still have had to enter the draft because of my age. I was 17 years old; I then asked myself a question: what good does it do to me sitting in class and worry about entering the draft after the school year is over. Additionally, if my mind is occupied with the draft, then how can I do well in school? I managed to get through the school year and one day I sat down with my parents and told them that I was going to join the service early instead of waiting for another year to enter draft. I told them that I wanted to join the Navy and I gave them two reasons: (1) By joining the Navy, I get to go to places and (2) I will get signing bonus. My father asked me why I did not join the Army because with my education I was qualified for training to become a sergeant that’d offer better pay. I flat out said no. The next day, I came to the South Vietnam Naval headquarter and signed up.

I was sent to an army base about 15 miles Northwest of Saigon for basic training conducted by Army DI’s. They really “trained” us navy guys. I guess they did not like us very much. Three weeks into training I got my first pay with signing bonus. My father came to visit and brought me some food the next weekend. I pulled the signing bonus monies out of my pocket and gave it to my father. He refused to take it but said: please take it, you raised me for 17 years and I have never done anything for the family, now that I’ve got monies, I want to help the family (the bonus was equivalent to 20 US Dollars but it was a big deal for a poor family). I had the feeling that I signed my life away for 20 bucks.

After 3 months of basic training, I was sent to Cam Ranh for training to become a gunner. In that training school I learned about Swift. There was a rumor that a new type of boats that was pretty sleek, fast, and had lot of firepower. The bad things about it are that they are stationed at far-away and dangerous places. I figure that my chance to serve with the fleet, which is considerable safer than serving with Riverine Units, is next to none (only rich boys get the assignment to serve on the fleet). I did not want to serve on some old squadrons that used old French boats. I asked around and some guys told me that the 1st and 4th Coastal Divisions, Da Nang (?) and An Thoi, were the most isolated and dangerous divisions. I requested to serve on the 4th Coastal Fast Boat Division; my request was immediately granted, wonder why! My decision to serve on Swift turned out to be one of the best decisions that I made for my life for I learned to value life, friendship, camaraderie, caring, responsibility, and honor during this time. More importantly, I gradually learned to trust my brothers in arms. I had to trust my mates who were on guard during our ambush while I was sleeping. On the other hand, they entrusted their life to me during my guard period while they’re sleeping. Before joining the Navy, my trust was shattered after going through many coup d’etats, empty promises, and demonstrations. New political and religious figures turned out to be as bad, if not worse, than the previous ones that they disposed of. I was never formally trained on PCF, I characterize my PCF training as ‘baptized by fire”.

Part 6: I reported to the 4th PCF Division in An Thoi, Phu Quoc 14 days later than scheduled; yeah, there is a wild part of me. I thought that once I got to An Thoi, I would not see my family again for one year, assuming that I survive so I decided to take a … two weeks vacation on my own. I paid for this vacation by spending 28 days in Vietnamese-style monkey house; it was made out of an old Konex? Imagine one has to sit in that box of metal in the 100 plus degree. After 28 days in the monkey house I was assigned to PCF 3812. I got no specific assignment on the boat. Sort of, I showed up saluting the OinC, presenting myself, and he “welcome” me aboard. First duty: Clean those 50’s and the 81MM. Our first patrol was along the coast off Ha Tien; it lasted 3 days. Sea sickness almost made me go AWOL but fear of being put in labor camp to manually transporting ammo for the army, ranger, airborne, marine etc… and pride held me back. Our second assignment was to Giang Thanh Creek (first part of Vinh Te Canal). Here comes the real McCoy. We took of at dusk and since the OinC never assigned me to any specific area on the PCF, I carried an M16 with 200 round of ammo wandering around the boat. When the OinC came out, I almost bumped into him (it was a very dark night). He whispered to my ear: what the heck do you think you are you doing? I responded: I don’t know since I got no specific assignment so I just wandered around the boat with this loaded M16. He then ordered me to assist the rear-gunner; so I officially became the assistant of the rear-gunner. This guy is great, he taught me a lot about the “tricks of the trade” what and how to look for to save our life. I still remember two tricks: First, at night, we must blast out the fishing net’s light with small gun (M16 and M60) in the free firing zone and then concentrate all of our firepower on the other side of the canal. The reason: during daytime VC’s aim their B40 on the fishing light from the other side of the canal, so if they don’t see the light at night (we are in “cross-hair” of the B40), all they’d have to do is to pull the trigger and 100% of the time, we’ll be hit. Second, when anchored we must have a nylon string tied to a two-ended open Coke can and drop it down with the hook. We then from time to time pull the string up; therefore, the two-ended empty Coke can will follow the anchor line along with the string. If the Coke can gets stuck with the third line or string, we’ll have to cut the anchor line loose, let the PCF drift for a few hundred yards and then run for our life because the third string is tied to a mine which is right under our PCF.

Note: Toi is working on the remainder of his "journey." I will post them when received. Hope you folks are enjoying this perspective of Vietnam. /larry/

Posts: 270
(6/12/01 3:31:59 pm)
| Del Re: Memories of a Vietnamese Sailor #8

Keep 'em coming. You've got me working right beside him on the swift boat.

Stan Lambert
St. Clair Shores, Michigan

Posts: 383
(6/13/01 1:52:25 pm)
| Del
Re: Memories of a Vietnamese Sailor #8

Ditto what Stan said. Please give our thanks to your friend for sharing his story with us. It gives a different and interesting view of what was going on.

Mike L
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