[ Vietnam ]

Junks: Yabuta, Coastal Raider & Kien Giang

Yabuta Junk 

Displacement: 7 tons 
Length: 36 feet 
Beam: 10 feet 
Draft: 2 feet

Propulsion: 1 Gray Marine 3-cylinder diesel in Yabuta, Coastal Raider, Kien Giang junks and 6-cylnder diesel in command junks, single shaft 
Speed: 10-12 kts 
Crew: 7 
Weapons: Yabutas carried 1 .30 and 1 .50 BMG. Command junks carried 1 .50 and 2 .30 BMGs, plus a 60mm mortar. (Photo: Vietnamese Navy)

HISTORY:   The Yabuta junk was used by Vietnamese coastal patrol forces to check boats for smuggled arms and equipment. These craft were very numerous: 46 of the 50-foot “command” junks were built, 151 of the 36-foot fiberglass junks, and 71 of the ferro-concrete “Coastal Raider” junks and 6 of the “Kien Giang” junks. The Vietnamese Navy divided the coast into five coastal zones. These zones were worked by a total of 20 coastal groups composed of 12 boats. The coastal groups were supported by 16 coastal radar sites. These boats were built by Viet Nam in the Saigon shipyard.

Life with the Yabutas, by Tim Johnston

Here is a fantastic 3 part history lesson on the use of Yabutas and other coastal Junks during the Vietnam War.

Part 1.   [Posted 05/12/04]     If I am an expert on Yabutas or anything else we are in a world of hurt! However (comma) I'll share what I know. I reported in country in late Aug.66 and was assigned (To My disgust) to CSC Danang. I bitched begged and fought for a field assignment on a weekly basis and was given additional duty as advisor to a VNN patrol det that ran nightly patrols on the Song Han-Song Vinh Dinh river complex south of the city with one or two Vedettes. These craft were similar but a bit larger than the more commonly seen STACAN?FOM. By late 66 I had become a total pain in the ass to higher echelons and I was re-assigned to CG14 as SA where I served until return to Conus in early SEP of 67.

CG 14 had three types of junks: Two were ancient motor-sailers (minus mast and sail) called di-cus.( zhi-cu) These were the smallest units we had and were usually kept near the base for defensive fires. There is an excellent selection at http/pcf45, then click cua dai sea tiger. They show the layout, etc of the base and some of its vulnerabilities.

The largest junk was the command junk or chu-luc of which we had two. Its advantage was that it carried a 50 and two 30's plus it was built strong enough to allow us to rig a 60mm mortar on the deck. Its drawbacks were that it was underpowered and a bigger target. The chu-luc was not what I'd call a bad sea-boat it was just sooo slow. The rest were Yabutas that were initially built at the shipyard in Saigon to a Japanese design. The Yabuta was a good craft, fairly seaworthy but uncomfortable. Yabutas normally carried a 30 and two BARs. They were relatively well powered by a Greymarine diesel (I think).

They could stay out for three days if you liked sun-dried squid as a main course. In fact it was not a bad dish. The squid were thin sliced and put on the deck house. After a few hours with the sun and salt spray they could provide you with a satisfying three-hour chew and some nourishment to boot.

During my tour the emphasis was on sea patrols but the action was in the river. All of these types, including the vedettes from Danang, were used in the river but no sustained effort to open the river was ever carried out save for one in 66 when the Marines provided bank security to move an LCM to the railroad bridge site on the Son thu bon river upstream from Hoi-An. This was the only time the river was open to Hoi An and that was for  only a two [?] day period  before Charlie got the door locked again. It stayed locked all thru my tour and was finally kicked open in operation Sea Tiger as a part of SEA LORDS missions.

I wish I could help with photographs  of the junks but my ex destroyed them in 78 when she got the gold mine and I got the shaft. I still have some BW USN 8x10s of the base and the Vedettes on the Song Vinh Dinh a creek/canal south of Danang and a Nam-ba- thanh place to be. Give me a snail mail address and Ill send them to you. The Vedette carried a 50 and a 20mm. It was steel hulled but 30 cal rounds could and did penetrate the hull with lots of energy left over 

Ill put together more dope as I can collect it and send you some stuff on CRD 21 as well I never believed that I could enjoy a tour of duty as well as I enjoyed that one As Tim Sammons (ex O-in-C of PTF 17) says "and they actually paid us for it!" 

Regards, Tim Johnston.

Part 2.      05/15/04  [The beginning is a reply to a question about the eyes on the bow]

The eyes are a long-standing Vietnamese custom. Something to do with the prevalent animism that the rural Vietnamese hold to. They are supposed to aid the boat's spirit in navigating under challenging conditions. They are not effective at spotting ambush sites. I guess that the spirits were neutral during that war. This was what my counterpart LTJG Nguyen Chi Toan told me when I asked him about their significance. Experienced sailors could determine the region of the country  from which a junk or sampan came by the design of the craft's eyes..

All in all they were good patrol craft but lacked the speed and endurance to really carry the load in an interdiction effort such as Market Time. Nonetheless they were used with success for short distance troop lifts and platoon size landing and extractions. A Chu-luc could give good close-in fire support with a 50/two 30's/and up to four BARs, plus a 60mm mortar.

The VNN supply system was subordinate to the ARVNs so we were always sucking on the aft nipple. Like all sailors, and advised by real experts, the junkies mastered the art of theft for a good cause which never fixed the supply system but kept the coastal group reasonably well off for ammo fuel food etc.

Food consisted of rice and whatever fish could be bought or caught. The favorite technique was to take a junk to the river mouth at the turn of the tide and heave a few grenades over the side then scoop up the fish with a dip net. You had to watch them like a hawk to make sure that there were enough grenades left over for the more mundane uses that they were needed for. The di-cus usually pulled fishing duty.

Advisors often supplemented the two VNN meals per day with leftover chow scrounged from the PCFs as they wound up their patrols. We had a gas reefer that kept food and beer plenty cold so all in all we did OK for chow. Not as good as a Boomer's crew but not too bad.

The firepower of up to eight junks in the river and just to seaward during an enemy attack was awesome and two of the three approaches that an attacking force had to make to get at us were perfectly enfiladed by fire from the junks. Charlie never made a successful land attack against CG 14. He preferred to mortar and fire recoiless rifles at us from across the river. This was an expensive tactic for him too as we had every conceivable firing position registered with the USMC battery attached to the 1/1/ Battalion near Hoi-An. Nonetheless he tried it a number of times.

These are some random thoughts about advisor duty with the junk force in 66-67 as I recall it. They were good troops in their own way and once you understood them you could make a small difference now and again here and there. They deserved so much better a fate than that which we left them to.

Regards, Tim Johnston

Part 3.     05/18/04

In the summer of 67 the USMC 1/1 Batt. and the ARVN executed  combined operation CANYON-BINH-QUAN I. This involved a Battalion sized sweep of the Barrier Island which was bounded by the Cua Dai/Son Thu Bon rivers to the North and the Truong Giang to the West. The ARVN units were supposedly positioned on the banks of the Truong Giang but according to the Marines they never went more than a token distance from Hwy 1 which paralleled the Truong Giang some distance to the West. CG 14 supplemented by PCFs from COSRON 1 were to block the river complex from the Cua Dai to the confluence of the Truong Giang and the Song Thu Bon. The whole river complex was called the Cua Dai from the mouth to the Hwy 1 bridges during Sea Tiger in SEA LORDS, but during my time we called it the Cua Dai (Great river mouth in Vietnamese) that portion from the mouth to about two miles upriver. After that, it was the Son Thu Bon all the way to the mountains. Oh well what's in a name.

The operation kicked off with a three company assault (2 companies from the 1/1 and 1 from the 2/26 Marines) crossing the river in LVTs after a short barrage of 6" from a CLG offshore. I THINK it was the GALVESTON but I am not at all sure. Anyhow the PCFs and Yabutas plus the Chu Luc set off upriver. The Junkies blocked the Cua Dai and landed a platoon to sweep the village of Xuyen Phouc. mainly the riverside hamlet known as An Loung. There was minimal contact no VNN casualties  One VC local force was captured. The Swifts proceeded to their objective and after an hour were taking and giving heavy fire. Charlie broke contact after a few minutes and di-di'd off into thin air. The Swifts were not allowed to enter the Truong Giang for fear of mutual interference with the ARVN blocking force. The rest of the day passed without incident. The PCFs reported no casualties.

The next morning passed quickly with the VNN resuming patrols while the PCF was pulled off the operation by some genius in Saigon. Something about priority given to sea patrols. There was a lot of sea vs river controversy going on beneath the surface at that time with the brass in Saigon firmly on the side of sea patrols for the Market Time units including the junks I figured that no RE--F in Saigon was going to save my ass from the Commie Hordes, but the Marines just might, ergo we always did our best to support the USMC operations whenever the opportunity arose. To spare my boss the heartburn, I underemphasized our ops in official traffic.

We landed a platoon of junkies and hooked up with a Platoon from the 1/1 and with our VC POW in tow set out to discover the weapons cache the little SOB had promised to show us . well Two hours later it was apparent that he was trying to set us up where his buddies could put a hurt on us and the "substance nearly hit the fan". First off my counterpart decided to hold a , 45 cal NJP on this dude which I barely was able to avert. The junkies decided that a severe asskicking would modify his attitude and I spent a lot of goodwill bringing that to a halt before it went over the top. I then pissed off the Vietnamese by turning the POW over to the Battalion Commander. Fortunately I was able to plead orders from higher authority. Since the Batt CO was none other than LTCOL John Van D. "Ding-Dong" Bell. as imposing a figure as you would ever want to encounter they believed me and all was forgiven.

We swept some seaside hootches and bumped into a small VC force. There were no VNN casualties. One VC was mortally wounded, captured and died enroute to medical attention. We returned back to base for re-supply and maintained a night patrol on the Cua Viet. The Marines had met sporadic resistance and suffered casualties mainly from Booby Traps. I later overhead a report of an LP being wiped out that night with 2 USMC KIA and 1 MIA. We never opened the river to Hoi An as that was not an objective but this small op proved the worth of the PCFs in Riverine operations which was vindicated in SEA LORDS and on these same waters by operation SEA TIGER.

As a post script to this when I was debriefed in Saigon I wrote strongly that we should employ our assets wherever the enemy was to be found, If we could kill or capture him by going up the river, then that is where we should go. The junks were as I have said, not the best platforms for extensive sea patrols, but were very useful inshore. With Sea Lords CG 14 came into its own--- wish I had been there then. By all accounts I have read, Sea Tiger was a success and remained so until after the withdrawing of US personnel and US support.

All for now...regards Tim

Part 4.     05/19/04

Here is a sea story about the junk force I am sure that you know the difference between a sea story and a fairy tale: one begins with "Once upon a time" and the other with "Now this is no s**t!" Since CG 14 was the closest junk base to Danang we had to deal with a constant flow of visitors sent by various PIOs from NAVSUPPACT and the NAVADVGRU commands there. These visitors ran the gamut from congenial and welcome guest to a major inflamed hemorrhoid.

An example of the latter was an officious four-striper from Saigon (where else)? who went out of his way to lecture me about allowing my men to swear so much. As if they didn't have a lot to swear about. One of our more interesting and likable guests was a USAF Col. who flew daily FAC over our district and three times a week invariably dropped a copy of the Stars and Stripes  onto the base. Close to the end of his tour COL B------ at my invitation, came for a two-day stay via chopper. The Vietnamese literally put on the dog at suppertime and served a very tasty if exotic supper that we all enjoyed after which we relaxed and shared a case of Army 3.2 Bud. WE scheduled a  predawn patrol by the chu-luc down the coast to the border of Quan-Tin province. Now the seacoast in that area was all barrier island and it was a free fire zone. The sea-patrol got underway with myself COL B---and the VNN CO LTJG Toan and six junkies. Mr. Toan may have had a bit of a head from the night before but he used the 60. mm mortar with no small amount of skill and with its illumination we corralled a suspicious junk with three ARVN deserters on board. We detailed our accompanying Yabuta to tow the rather large junk back to base and continued down to the provincial border which was marked by a small pagoda-like shrine just back from the beach

We received a single obligatory sniper round from the shrine as always, returned the fire with a burst of . 50 cal. and headed back North hugging the surfline

Some 30 min. later, we suddenly came under fire from a Trench line in the trees {Scrubby Australian Pine (Casurina sp)} with SA and AW fire. The fire was returned by all hands and for once Charlie decided to stay for the party. I called in the PCF and the 82' WPB on patrol in the area, for support and the fire fight was on in earnest. The Yabuta that had dropped off the captured junk arrived first and added its 30.cal to the proceedings. Soon the swift and the WPB arrived almost together, the Swift was skippered by a real hotshot named Lou Valone and he bulled the boat right into the surf with his twin 50's  hosing down the landscape. Charlie called it a day at once. The captives on the chu luc made a dive for the deckhouse where at least one BAR and a case of grenades were kept but COL B--- stopped them cold with an M-16 in their faces. This move earned those three deserters an instant  re-classification from deserters destined for heavy fatigue duty to POWs off to the pen in Danang.

My counterpart was a bit shaken when he thought of the "might have been" if those ani had gotten in the deckhouse. Now we had learned the previous night that the good Colonel was an avid yachtsman back in California. so I made a suggestion to Mr Toan.

When the chopper came for Col. B, A delegation of grinning junkies brought to the chopper a mint condition Basket Boat complete with paddle mast and sail. Also include were a set of extra large Black PJs. The Colonel was delighted and the next army chopper out of Hoi An unloaded four cases of San Miguel at no charge compliments of COL B.


SEA FLOAT and the Yabutas, by Bob Stoner

Story #2  I have another one on the Yabuta's: When we were on SEA FLOAT, one of the Yabuta junks towed-in another that had broken down. It seems that the disabled vessel had lost its prop along with part of the prop shaft. Water was coming in at the stuffing box (where the shaft went through the hull) so the Cambodians stuffed it with rags and forgot about it. 

The disabled junk was tied-up inboard to one of our barges and the crew promptly left their slowly sinking ship. As the junk got lower in the water, the lines got as tight as banjo strings. One of the crew came back to the boat, and when he'd finished doing what he came for -- it obviously wasn't damage control -- decided to relieve himself into the river. He dropped his drawers, wrapped his legs around the railing and hung his butt over the side. As he got down to business, the mooring lines decided to part company and the water-logged junk sank like a stone! The crewman was not seen again. 

Some of the Americans wondered whether the Cambodian equivalent of St. Peter would allow this poor soul to enter heaven when he told him that he died while taking a dump and his boat sank beneath him!

Bob Stoner

 Story #1.  One short war story about the Yabuta junks and PCFs. After SOLID ANCHOR became operational in mid-September of 1970, the junks and PCFs tied-up to barges we'd anchored to the beach. The junks would tie-up near the mouth of the canal that separated the base from the KCS camp next door and the PCFs would tie-up about 300 yards further along the shoreline. Now, the junks were manned by Cambodians (with a couple of American advisors) and the PCFs were Vietnamese (with American advisors). Cambodians and Vietnamese have been traditional enemies for over 2,000 years and just because there was another war being fought with the VC/NVA didn't stop them from fighting with each other. 

It seems that some of the VNN boys liked to "discover" personal items before their owners knew they had no further use for them. (I found one on the HSSC one day and told him to get the hell off or I'd feed him to the fish. He took off and didn't return to our boats.) The next thief made the mistake of stealing from one of the Cambodians' junks and getting caught. There was a big commotion, a shot, and the VN went tearing down the beach at full speed with a flesh wound to his leg. He did a left turn and made a beeline for his PCF. 

To say the Cambodians were upset would be a gross understatement. The wronged crewman had gathered a group of his buddies and were about to march on the PCFs with M-16s, pistols, and .30 carbines fully intending to put a permanent crimp in the thief's activities. Fortunately, the American advisors (junk and PCF) intervened. While the argument was going on, the wounded thief was quietly escorted to a Huey and flown away (never to be seen again).

Bob Stoner

KGJunk.jpg (21207 bytes) CoastalRaider.jpg (23099 bytes) CommandJunk.jpg (21993 bytes) VCPB.jpg (50052 bytes) yabbies.jpg (37484 bytes)
"Kien Giang" Junk Coastal Raider/ ferro-cement Junk Command Junk Coastal Patrol Junk 1966 Yabbies
Photos: South Vietnamese Navy

Early Junk Patrols
(added 08-31-2012) Mac Barrow (1965-1966 Coastal Patrol Group) I stumbled across the Warboats website with your story (Bob Stoner) and Tim Johnston on it...not much on naval advisors serving on junks but lots of small boat history.  At the beginning of the buildup in early 1965 I volunteered for advisory duty in Vietnam, received a Western Union telegraph (in Paris on leave!) ordering me from my ship to report and arrived Saigon 8/2/65....issued black pajamas and beret with a little tin pin badge outlining a Yabuta junk, plus army fatigues, 2 sets jungle boots, a .30 carbine, and a .45 pistol.  I subsequently served a year at two II Corps "junk divisions" soon to be called "coastal patrol groups" as senior naval advisor.  It appears this was the early days of U.S. Navy advising VNN patrol units and they had minimal weaponry, expertise, etc. so I spent time scrounging sandbags, concertina, weapons, food, and ammo for my bases....also guided swiftboats on learning tours of the coastline and patrolled weekly in L-19 spotter planes from Phan Tiet.  If your site needs further details on my slice of boat history there, please let me know...serving so early in the war, I'm not really familiar with whatever evolved in this corner of the war.  I mustered out in Saigon in 1966, drifted to Japan, South Pacific, worked in Australia, backpacked across Asia to Europe, lived in Paris a year, and went back home...I just returned from a memorable Vietnam/Cambodia bike tour last month - regards, Mac Barrow

Vietnam Junk Patrols    In early 1965, my ship received a headquarters message requesting volunteers for advisory duty in South Vietnam.  I was finishing my third year of sea duty in deck, gunnery, and navigation positions.  I volunteered and received my orders by western union telegram a few weeks later while on leave.  The plan was to send me temporary duty to a quick course in Vietnamese and to Survival School - eat snakes, start fires, and such - which with my Louisiana country roots sounded intriguing.  Both schedules shortly got scratched in the scramble of rapid buildup after the Tonkin Gulf Resolution.  Word was the Naval Advisory Group was shorthanded advisers, and the dispersed junk bases on the coast were vulnerable to attack.

After a week in San Francisco where I bought a .25 cal Browning auto for a boot pistol and    closed a few bars, the Navy flew me on Continental Air via Subic Bay to Saigon.  As we approached the coast over the South China Sea the speakers played the sentimental WWII ballad I'll Be Seeing You.  The GI next to me went to tears: Going to war, bye Mom!   I reported to Naval Advisory Group, MACV (Military Assistance Command Vietnam) Saigon August 2, 1965 and was issued black pajamas, a black beret sporting a tin Yabuta junk pin,
two sets of army fatigues and jungle boots, a .45 pistol and a .35 Carbine.  I got a hop on a C-47 up to Nha Trang on the coast in II Corps and from there I went about 30 miles by junk to my base on Binh Ba Island just south of Cam Ranh Bay. 

Island Junk Base.  Binh Ba had been a French Foreign Legion outpost, and the SNA (Senior Naval Advisor) and a Chief Gunners Mate had a huge empty stucco barracks all to themselves.  At the start of the American buildup, this base was called Junk Division 26, with 22 other dispersed locations or “divisions” from Danang south through the Mekong Delta overseen by the VNN (Viet Nam Navy) from Saigon. By early 1966, we got an upgrade to the fancier name - Coastal Patrol Groups – no doubt easing the angst of Navy brass dealing in nuclear sub and missile issues. 

The base had about fifty Vietnamese sailors, two junior officers, and perhaps a dozen wooden diesel junks.  The junks, Yabutas, are listed at 36 feet  and carrying one .30 and one .50 cal. machine-gun but I recall our base had little more than crew weapons, ARVN open-sight semi-auto rifles, at the time.  I don’t even remember seeing a command junk or a VNN sail junk in II Corps.  According to varied records, there were 389 motor junks and 95 sail junks in mid-1965, 488 junks in 1966, and 290 junks by 1967 patrolling the 1,200 mile coastline. 

The island location for the base gave us more protection from VC attacks than most junk bases, but our only power was a small diesel generator for keeping our PRC-32 (?) radio (call signs FAC=Baron60, medivac=Bluefin etc.) charged for contact with the comm center in Nha Trang.  We had just enough extra power for two or three light bulbs in the evening.  We scrounged up a reel of concertina to barricade the window openings and designed a concertina/wood door and trip alarm for surprise visitors.  The Kentucky style one-hole

shitter was 25 meters out back, half way up the hillside.  I still have memories of sitting out there on full moon nights AR-15 on my lap thinking of dumb ways to die and the downside of exotic diets.

We were stranded in the tropics without cold drinks or Navy chow.  I started taking my counterpart, Mr. Tuong, and walking to the fishing village at the other end of the island in the evenings. The village’s hooch bar offered Ba Moui Ba, Beer 33, with ice in it.  We always had a table on one side of the hooch; Thieu warned us that the table at the other end was VC drinkers.  Since we walked back after dark, we all went fully armed.  After a few weeks of nervous beer rounds, we managed to get an old French refrigerator for beer and food.  It cycled refrigerant fitfully on an open flame kerosene wick at the back of the unit.

The U.S. Advisory Team.  A full advisory team at that time consisted of two junior officers and two senior enlisted, but the coastal surveillance advisory program was just started and most bases were short their full four-man U.S advisory complement.  I suspect that I had been rushed to Binh Ba after Navy brass on a photo-op tour of

the base with McNamara, Westmoreland, Lodge, and an assortment of admirals and press corps got queried about the personnel shortage.  The SNA, an old mustang lieutenant nicknamed “King Harry of Binh Ba” for his flamboyant ways, gave them the full tour dressed in black pj's, beret, ammo bandoliers, carbine, and flip-flops.  On my very first night patrol down the coast, he called up a gunship for fire support after we took a few rounds across the bow from somewhere on the black shoreline.  King Harry always wanted action and excitement. The advisors I met during my year were A) looking for action, a promotion, a medal; 
B) avoiding action, resigned to fate; or C) adventurists at heart- Carpe Diem.  King Harry was type A.  I think I was type C.  A junk base usually had two junior VNN officers as counterparts to their American peers. 

Junk Patrol Routine.  King Harry soon negotiated a transfer to river patrol boats.  After he left, we stowed the black pj's in favor of fatigues, berets, and flip-flops. Our surveillance patrols gradually increased, usually running overnight two or three times a week.  We returned to base at dawn, sleeping during the day.  Sometimes we stayed out for two to three days, and when the monsoons came we stayed wet like a bilge rat.  Skin fungus spots became permanent. 

By the third day and night at sea in a rolling junk, I recall being shocked at myself for staying wedged against the gunwale in the bow snoozing as we pulled alongside junks to check for contraband:  Let them shoot first,

 I’ll just take the chance using my rifle as a pillow!   The closest we came to getting sunk was probably when we “attacked” a swimming deer and bent the prop.  The fresh game was tossed on a bonfire unskinned and ungutted.I woke up from my post-patrol nap to the stink of singed hair instead of our first red meat feast.  Screwup No. 2: One night on patrol I had a grenade with a damaged pin and carelessly pulled the pin, tossing it just over the side, and naturally it short-fused, rocking the boat- pulled up the hatch cover, thank God no water rushing in.

We lived, patrolled, and ate with the Vietnamese sailors, usually accompanied by my junior  counterpart, a VNN ltjg.  We would flag down fishing boats, pull alongside, and check for weapons and contraband.  If the boat turned tail, we fired shots across the bow.  My guess is that we managed to check maybe 20% of boats passing through our patrol area.   Any coastal VC or sympathizers could have been alerting infiltrating boats of our comings and goings so we patrolled mostly at night.  In my patrols, we never intercepted significant amounts of weapons or contraband.  By the end of 1965, MACV must have decided that the coastal surveillance program based primarily of junk divisions was inadequate, because U.S. forces shortly became more directly involved.

At sea, almost invariably we boiled rice and squid in a hibachi pot on coals.  On base, we ate soup, rice, squid, fish, and dog from the puppy pen on the base. With no screening or fans- much less a/c- flies were everywhere including the soup and rice. Where were the chickens and pigs?  (I love Peking duck!)  We had homemade nuoc mam, a fish sauce of fish, salt, and peppers rotted for weeks in earthen ware pots.  One day at lunch they brought out tubular pieces of boiled greenish translucent meat with triangular spine/ribs which could only have been a sea snake.  Not tasty!   A few months into my tour, our chief gunners mate, a beef and potatoes Midwesterner, was pulled back to Saigon 40 lbs. lighter suffering with dysentery.  For his farewell lunch, the Viet base cook prepared and we toasted him with traditional raw chicken egg embryos in the shell- Chief tried to keep it down but puked.

The Junk Base.   The base sailors carried bolt action ARVN rifles.  Except for being on an island, the base was open to attack.  In the fall of 1965, two or three bases got hit by mortar fire and one was sabotaged and overrun.  I went up to the Special Forces supply depot in Nha Trang, instructed by scuttlebutt to bring two fifths of Chevas Rigal from the PX, my monthly booze allotment.  A master sergeant jumped on a forklift and brought out giant canvas hobo bundles onto the tarmac, dumping and opening them.  The sergeant owned a string of bars in town through his mama-san.  He set the whiskey aside. 

We picked out a couple of AR-15s (without serial nos.), some .45 grease guns, two .30 caliber machine guns, and an M-79 single shot grenade launcher.  For our barracks home and the base, we got concertina wire and sandbags.  The carbines we had been issued rusted quickly and were underwhelming, so we dumped them for the AR-15s, electric taping clips together with about ten rounds per clip including one-third tracers (great secret South China Sea patrolling pleasure: firing clips with tracers into the night).  In the military, field units constantly reinvent the wheel. By trial and error, we switched from army gun oil to WD-40, and religiously broke them down after every patrol.  I passed on a case of antipersonnel mines, having already seen enough cripples around the country.

When the Cam Ranh Bay army base buildup started in the fall, a little Bell H-13  2-seat chopper dropped down to see the base.  The pilot said he didn’t have much to do because his Army flag rank boss was afraid to fly in it.  He took me up a few thousand feet to 65 degrees f. above the base and we cooled off.  He asked if he could get me anything, and I said how about a case of grenades and beer, and that’s how I got grenades for the base. A few weeks later, he connected us with a sergeant warehousing supplies now pouring into the base by
Caribou, truck, and ship.  First available were C-rations in cardboard boxes, a trivial upgrade from Confederate salt pork and hardtack. The cute P-38 opener and canned fruit cocktail were favorites.  Much stuff like strange crackers and lima beans were throwaways even to hard-up squid and soup types. Within weeks, we were picking up real canned food- a major score was a whole case of Dinty Moore stew which we polished off in Guinness RB time.

Hopping Around Country.  When we weren’t patrolling or sleeping, I took days off to go to the MACV compound in Nha Trang and trade stories with other advisors.  Bumming a flight to Saigon or most other sites in country was easy.  I passed through Danang, Quin Nhon, Banh Me Theut, Dalat, and Special Forces outposts in the highlands flying in C-47s, Caribou's, Beavers, Hueys, H-13s, and L-19s.  I could snag an empty room at one of the BOQ hotels in Cholon, the Chinese district on the west side of Saigon.  In the early days, Saigon was plagued by nearly daily terrorists attacks on restaurants and other gathering places by VC and sympathizers who would abandon bikes and cyclos packed with plastic explosives on timed fuses- probably C-4 from dismantled Claymore mines. Still, Saigon was an exciting diesel fume-filled madhouse crammed with all sorts – troops, press corps, residents, remnant French colonials, refugees, orphans, street hawkers, whores, VC – an R&R adventure in food, bars, movies, shopping, and trouble.  Tu Do Street already a half-mile strip of bars and food stalls. 

I went to 8th  Field Hospital in Nha Trang with dengue fever on New Years Eve.   I recall being there about two days, but my pocket diary says I left on January 8th!  My counterpart and I had become good buddies, and in March he and his wife gave me a grand tour my next trip to Saigon.  I strapped my Browning pistol to my leg under my pants and we took off through the checkpoint into VC country in his Citroen, lunching at the French restaurant of a rubber plantation ex-colonial and sight-seeing up country northeast of Saigon.  We slipped back into Saigon in the evening and hit some fancy spots frequented by locals.
Coastal Patrol Group 27.   The Binh Ba base was squared away.  In late March, they gave me a nice send-off and a commendation letter.  I was transferred to the next base south at Phan Rang as the new SNA.  It was a mess, we had one non-com advisor, and they worked to get rid of me from the get-go.  The base was more vulnerable-  it wasn’t on an island and VC were active in the province.  By this time, sandbags and concertina were more available and I picked up all we needed to fortify the base.  Perhaps the VNN couldn’t obtain them without me, but maybe they simply hadn’t made the effort – the morale and discipline at this base was poor. 
I think many of the VNN sailors here were irregular recruits from local fishing villages with minimal military training, two or three pieces of khaki uniform, and entry level subsistence pay.  They were swapping a life of gutting fish and mending nets for armed camaraderie and adventure, and did the best they could with third-rate gear and chow.  The good news was that U.S. advisors were housed and fed a couple of miles off base in a U.S. Army wood-framed, screened bunk house, and we got a jeep for transport. The bad news was we only
got to know the VNN on patrol or when putting them to work improving the base defense. I only had a BM1 with me, so once again we were 50% undermanned.

It soon became apparent that I must lean on my counterpart to get boats out on regular patrols- and he usually didn’t go out himself.  From my pocket diary entries, the biggest fight was in February when we sank one junk, no bodies or material recovered.  The entry four days later: “One VC body floated to surface this morn- searched area further- no more bodies- will patrol area tonite.”  And two days later: Good patrol last nite.  CDR Toi kicked ***'s ass (my counterpart, the base commander) and he went out with me- detained 2 deserters, 2 VC suspects, 4 more bodies floated to surface.” 

I picked up two more 60mm mortars for the junks, which we put on the bows in a semicircle of sandbags.  I also got a bazooka and a .50 caliber machine gun, which I later tried out on a VC coastal village.  Fortunately, Charlie wasn’t home because I was firing from only 200 meters or so out in the surf.  (My diary entry: “Drove out company of VC” must be overstating - I can’t recall a fire fight.)  Unfortunately, the 50 was an Army Browning on tripod, not the stanchion mount Navy version with metal shield, and I was firing it without realizing how much louder it was than the 30s.  I had ringing ears for days and eventually ended up half deaf (according to close relatives).  I fired one round with the bazooka, a bullseye on the beach building, the only round I ever fired, so I was 100% with bazookas in Vietnam.  Based on my experience, firing a 60mm tripod mortar on a rolling junk was a fruitless exercise.  Except for perimeter defense, ARVN and U.S. grunts probably got tired of lugging them around the country in a nasty guerrilla war, so I reckon they were widely available to any takers.

New U.S. Surveillance Muscle.  Shortly thereafter, Swift boats were assigned to II Corp surveillance duty.  They contacted me to accompany them on their first patrols - noisy, fast, aggressive craft - from Phan Tiet north to Nha Trang, and I showed them navigation points, suspect villages, and coastal geography.  After months on wood junks, I was wowed by their speed, roar, and firepower, like going from Trek bikes to Harleys.  They had either twin 50s or 40mms (with a metal shield!).  They must have carried an 81mm mortar also, because my diary says VC hit PhoTho on 4/30 and Swifts fired 11 rounds 81mm. By the end of my year, the Swifts and other U.S. Units were integrated into the coastal patrol operation, now designated Market Time, and coordinated through the surveillance centers. 

Also, twice a week I would make coastal surveillance flights in an L-19, taking along grenades and AR-15 for backseat offense: We figured anything was a plus because we carried only two wing rocket pods and smoke grenades.  These planes were then known as spotters.  I would fly back seat twice a week up and down the coast ready to assist surveillance or whatever.  We were mostly at loose ends until directed to observe fire or locate targets.  We eventually took a few holes in the wings, but I don't recall ever seeing or hearing return fire with or

hearing return fire with all the cockpit noise. The most memorable incident firing the rockets was when we spotted a pod of orcas over shallow white sand in a bay just off a fishing village.  Good Samaritans trump sportsmen and conservationists, and I can confirm that on the return trip up the coast, half the village had manned boats and tow ropes for the seafood harvest – we would loved to have joined in the feast but weren’t sure what team they were on.

My year in country wound down with a few weeks at the surveillance center in Nha Trang.    I had earlier requested to be detached in Saigon in order to tour the Orient.  I caught a Caribou to Saigon, debriefed, got my physical, gave my .25 auto to a buddy, saluted military life goodbye, bought a Hawaiian shirt, and flew out a civilian on Continental again to the Hong Kong Hilton.  I went on to Japan and the South Pacific, and then worked in Australia for a year, backpacking back across Asia and the Mideast and living in Paris. Like a lot of early vets, I thus scored a cultural goose egg totally bypassing the Great American Janis Joplin Grace Slick druggie hippie revolution. 

SAMPLE ENTRIES FROM MY 1965 & 1966 POCKET DIARIES: (I don’t know what some of this stuff means)

  •  7/26 departed U.S

  • 7/28 arrived Saigon

  • 8/17 arrived Binh Ba

  • 10/09.  BITCHES: out of paper; no training ammo; request L-19 flights twice weekly for CO; fuel oil, kerosene not rec;d for a month.

  • 12/30 I have dengue fever 8th field hospital

  • 1/21 Tet Holiday, Jan21-24, buy fruit for Tet, ser .50 cal mach guns, inspect bunkers, re-tile sentry posts, check fire .30s, emplace 60 mm

  • 1/26 Today over the Hump

  • 1/30 patrol tonite at 2000 alone

  • 1/31 payday Condition Gray

  • 2/3- patrolled tonite off Hon Hao Peninsula- 2 suspects

  • 2/5- full moon. No patrol

  • 2/12 60MM 140 he, 14 ill., .50 cal. 14,400, .30 cal 120,000

  • 2/17 firefight

  • 2/21 one VC body

  • 2/23 4 more bodies

  • 3/5 LCDR and BM2 staying with us while surveying island – for new Swift base?

  • 3/8 present salary 690 month

  • 3/9 rain, win increasing to 30 knots

  • 3/10 Admiral Ward here

  • 3/15 toured provinces NE of Saigon w/ Tuong & Colette in his Citroen

  • 3/16 ate at Caravelle Hotel

  • 3/26 Last day at Binh Ba, LCDR Evrard arrived with junk division advisors by junk, had stuffed embassy chicken and fr. fries for supper, departed for JD 27

  • 3/28 Departed Phan Rang C-123 for Nha Trang to pick up stuff

  • 3/29 Returned to P.R. via Huey helo, PR off limits Buddhist demonstration.

  • 4/2 Patrolled north to Vinh He

  • 4/1 Four persons detained patrol south to salt flats

  • 4/5 surveillance flight Lt. Rainey

  • 4/7 joint ops, blocking 0300-0730, 5 suspects..1930 2 junks est. 20 VC

  • 4/10 took mortar and bazooka to Cana drove one co. VC fm village

  • 4/13 3 junks to Son Hai as reaction force against VC in village

  • 4/14/ surveillance flight pilot James

  • 4/15 surveillance Flt pilot Rainey

  • 4/16 patrolled to Vinh He

  • 4/18 surveillance flight with Rainey 1330,

  • abandoned village north of Son Hai- amphibious assault 1630-2030

  • 4/21 Bob York from ARPA Saigon visiting to photograph junks for Junk Blue Book

  • 4/22 picked up 8 suspects fm slave driver papa

  • 4/23 3 deserters, 1 man improper papers, 3 military age, patrolling south to Cana with CO

  •  4/28 patrol to Ca Na 2000-0615, 4 detained

  • 4/30  VC hit Pho Tho BN 848757

  • 5/2  Patrol to 5 mi. s of Cana, Swift 50 in area, no suspects

  • 5/5 burned up generator

  • 5/6 stock market took worst loss since Kennedy’s death [how did I find this out?]

  • 5/12  patrolled south to Son Hai, checked about 25 boats, 3 suspects

  • 5/27  60 days to go

  • 6/9 leave Saigon for Hong Kong (my R&R week in Vietnam)

  • 6/11  spending (7HK$=1US$) tie tack $35,wallet $95. ring $236, suit $222, 2 pr shoes $136, 6 shirts $124.

  • 6/12  my birthday spent 4 ˝ hrs in the goddamn Hilton Dragon Boat  Bar getting polluted with 2 ex- navy and a Huey pilot from Dong Ba Thuen

  • 6/13  picked up my 6 shirts...wrong pattern

  • 6/15 arrived Saigon 1415, spent $348 total in Hong Kong

  • 6/16 arrived Nha Trang via Danang, Pleiku, Cam Ranh, Qui Nhon route

  • 6/19 Dow Jones average 897

  • 7/7 infected ear

  • 8/5  purchased exit visa


1 Patrol returns to Binh Ba 2 Lean hungry advisor, junk badge on pocket. 3 Looking for bodies 4 Coastline outside Cam Ranh Bay 5 Unidentified suspect
6 Another junk base 7 Chief GM at Binh Ba 8 Binh Ba gang 9 Clearing road to survey island 10 S. China Sea, a nasty point.
11 Charlie, day late and a dong short. 12 Local market 13 II Corps fishing village 14 My VNN counterpart and visiting wife at base - note old French gun. 15 Old French Foreign Legion gun emplacement
16 Junk Division 26 Binh Ba Island, II Corps. 17 Junk base from chopper 18 L-19 view of coastal cave. 19 Swimming deer KIA - where's a cajun chef? 20 The good guys' flag.