RIVER DIVISION FIVE THREE ONE
FPO SAN FRANCISCO 96601
1 February 1969
First, I hope you will forgive me for not having written to you since I came to River Division 531 in late September, but I think as you read these pages you will understand just how busy all your sons and husbands have been. My intention here is just to relay to you a short history of events covering the last three months, a history which your loved ones have made.
As most of you know we left My Tho on 1 October and went to the Ham Luong River aboard the USS JENNINGS COUNTY (LST-846) a tank landing ship converted to a floating home base for PBRs. During the first few weeks we were quite busy adjusting to the changes in our routine aboard a ship instead of a shore base. Of course, all during this time we still had to continue our 12 hour patrols and learn the new river. There were times when some of the people were out on the river as much as 18 to 19 hours before they could get back to the ship, then would have to go back on patrol after only 7 hours of rest. However before Halloween, we adjusted to our new surroundings and our daily routine. We would check as many as 300 sampans and junks in one day and 2500 people. At night we prevented any movement on the river as curfew was in effect.
Then just as we had settled down, we were ordered to move with the LST to the Bassac River and start patrolling a small canal which started at a small town on the gulf of Siam called Rach Gia. Since this town was about 35 miles down the canal from the Bassac River, we had to stage six of our ten boats in Rach Soi (a smaller town near Rach Gia), as the LST could not go down the canal. This meant that many of us had to sleep and eat C-rations on the boats, out in the open, for periods up to 10 or 12 days.
We rotated the boats back to the LST as much as possible but there were times when this was impossible. Bathing, shaving, and bathroom facilities were crude to say the least. However, as most of you know, we were trained for much like this back at Mare Island in California. The training sure came in handy for the six weeks in November and December.
On the 7th of November six of our boats proceeded down the canal to Rach Soi to set up a forward base camp at the Vietnamese Junk Repair Base. We then started our 24 hour patrol of the canal with 3 PBR's and our larger craft called an ASPB (Assault Support Patrol Boat) on 12 hour shifts. During day-light we conducted operations designed to show the local people that the PBRs were there to help them and help make their life a little easier. At night, we stopped the VC from using the canal to transport large amounts of supplies and provided additional security to the scattered Vietnamese outposts on the canal.
The canal was lined on both banks with heavy jungle foliage and made detection of people impossible, even in day light. Three other Navy boats which carried Vietnamese troops worked with us conducting sweeps of the banks during the day. The first action involved these boats on 11 November taking some rocket and machine gun fire from the VC, however our PBRs were not in the area at the time and were, therefore, not involved. The first two weeks we conducted our patrols and the PBRs had no direct contact with the VC.
Then, on 21 November, our luck changed. PBR 110 With Mineman Cecil H. MARTIN, Boat commander and Engineman Harry R. JONES, engineer, Seaman William T. O'DONNELL and Gunner's Mate Seaman Vernon B. LUCAS, Engineman Hartwell A. White, crewmen and PBR 109 with Signalman Donald P. MC Clemons, commander, Engineman Keith L. ERNTSON, Gunner's Mate Jackie D. TOUCHSTONE, Seaman James W. DRENNAN and Michael J. ECKHARDT crewmen, were proceeding together to Rach Gia. MARTIN's Boat was ahead and going around a cutoff in the canal when MAC's boat came under attack with rockets and machine guns. PBR 109 went out of control and beached. MAC's crew opened up on the VC and MARTIN came back to help. After several minutes of heavy fire the VC retreated and PBR 110 left the area to meet other PBRs speeding to assist. MC CLEMONS and his crew were on MARTIN's boat as 109 was still beached but was only left for a few minutes, as other boats came and towed 109 back to Rach Soi. Bravery and heroism during this action was displayed by members of both crews. Some men, even though wounded, still returned and suppressed the enemy fire. Others returned fire and rendered assistance while still under fire.
Let me pause here and explain my policy concerning wounds of our men received in action. A man is considered wounded in action if he takes any injury from enemy fire, from a broken ear drum or a scratch which is fixed up with a bandade and mercurochrome to serious wounds which cause evacuation of the man to Japan or the United States. During these six weeks almost one half of our guys did receive wounds of some type, but the only names I will mention are those who have been evacuated out of Vietnam. About one fourth of our people have been evacuated due to wounds sustained during these weeks. DRENNAN and ECKHARDT on PBR 109 were the first to be evacuated, however, we heard that they are doing O.K.
Our patrols continued night and day as normal with little enemy activity. Occasionally, one or two VC would shoot a short burst at the boats, then run or hide as the return fire from the boats was fast and furious. On 26 November Aviation Boatswain's Mate Eugene E. DAVIS was patrol officer for PBR 29 and 39. PBR 29's commander was Yeoman Oliver E. DURHAM with Seaman Don A. DENNIS, Engineman Donald S. THRASH and Gunner's Mate Alan B. OLSON as crew and 39 had Gunner's Mate Donald J. MINICK as commander with Seaman Thomas D. COBLE, Engineman Edward L. MARKHAM and Gunner's Mate Wayne D. MAXWELL as crew. Just after dark the VC attacked with rockets and machine gun fire as the boats went by, again the boats responded with heavy fire. Fortunately, none of the boats were hit.
The next night, 27 November, we were not so fortunate. LTJG Bradford M. DIXON and Chief Kenneth L. CARWILE had a four boat patrol again with DURHAM's boat (29), MINICK's Boat (39), and PBR 101 with Boatswain's Mate Frank D. HENNING as commander, Boatswain's Mate Seaman Larry D. GARAMILLO, Gunner's Mate Donald R. MORRIS, and Engineman Kenneth W. FREEMAN as crew and one of the ASPBs. The boats went into an ambush with the VC spread along both banks for 800 yards. All boats came under heavy rocket and machine gun fire at the same time. All three PBRs were hit and returned fire immediately continuing until the area was cleared. DURHAM's boat (29) took one hit and as he fought to control the boat it took another resulting in the boat beaching. LTJG DIXON, in HENNING's boat, which was not badly hit, and the ASPB went immediately to the assistance of PBR 29 and helped suppress fire. It was at this time we found that Oliver E. DURHAM, YN1 had made the ultimate sacrifice for his country. I know of no words which can express the feelings we experienced at the loss of this fine man. I'm sure that I speak for every man in the Division in that we all wished there was some way we could stand as one with his family. DURHAM was the epitome of the spirit of River Division 531 and we intend to carry on with that spirit. DENNIS and THRASH were also wounded and have been evacuated out of Vietnam and are doing well.
Chief CARWILE was on MINICK's boat (39) which was also hit and proceeded to an outpost from which Chief CARWILE helped direct medical helo evacuations for others who were wounded. Ensign David L. FUNK and Signalman Ralph T. MORELLI scrambled MARTIN's PBR 110 and the other ASPB and helped guard the area for the remainder of the night.
When daylight came Warrant Officer Jerry G. HINE and I went to the outpost to help with salvage but found that all boats were temporarily fixed so that they could be taken back to the LST. Jerry HINE and Bradford M. DIXON took charge of these boats and Chief Louis C. DUTY and I proceeded on down the canal with four PBRs. 110, MARTIN's boat, Engineman Charles H. SAGAR commander of 103, with Gunner's Mate James H. STEFANIK, Engineman Charles F. HIENBUCK and Seaman Benny R. SCURLOCK as crew; 105, Gunner's Mate Mose M. BAILEY commanding, with Engineman Salvador F. PERALES, Gunner's Mate George R. EMBREY and Engineman Raymond E. KERR as crew; and 56, Signalman Norman T. BROWN commanding with Gunner's Mate Michael F. ADAMS, Seaman Ronald J. PARIS and Engineman William M. ELLARD as crew.
As we proceeded down the canal one or two VC shot automatic weapons and I think he must have regretted it as all four boats opened up with all guns and we heard nothing further from "Charlie".
For the next several nights, when the boats went into the canal, they fired into the banks to off set any ambush attempts. It was during one such night on 6 December when STEFANIK evidently detonated a booby trap on the bank with his machine gun and was wounded by the shrapnel. He was a gunner on PBR 103 with SAGAR as Commander, HEINBUCK, and SCURLOCK as crew. We have heard that he went to Philadelphia and is doing fine.
Two days later on 8 December, "Charlie" ambushed another patrol. Chief Alfred P. PEREIA was Patrol Officer with one ASPB and three PBR's, 110 Martin, 105, Gunner's Mate MOSE M. BAILEY commander, with Engineman Salvador G. PREALES, Gunner's Mate George R. EMBREY and Seaman Keith M. JACKSON; 56 Signalman Norman T. BROWN commander, with Gunner's Mate Michael F. ADAMS, Seaman Ronald J. PARIS, and Engineman William M. ELLARD as crew. This time MARTIN's boat (110) and BROWN's Boat (56) were hit with rockets and small arms. All returned fire instantaneously. Engineman Harry R. JONES emptied his machine gun although wounded. JONES is now in YOKOHAMA, Japan hopefully enjoying the U.S. nurses.
Our patrols continued. On 21 December*, at the request of local Army personnel, a patrol stopped at an outpost to help mortar suspected VC positions. During the firing of the mortar, one of the rounds exploded; wounding Ensign David L. Funk, Chief Louis C. Duty and one other man who will be returning to us very soon. ENS FUNK is now at the Naval Hospital in Great Lakes Ill. and Chief Duty has been transferred as his tour of duty here was finished. Chief William E. KEENE took over as our Leading Chief.
Our last serious action took place on 13 December. The Patrol was with Lieutenant Samual S. Hurd and PBR 110, MARTIN's, BAILEY'S 105 and PBR 127 with Hubbard F. REEDER, Boatswain's Mate, as commander and Gunner's Mate Harry T. DAWKINS, Seaman Robert D. LA BRODE, and Engineman Richard H. RIES as his crew. The VC again attacked with rockets and automatic weapons, REEDER's boat (127) was the only one hit but was able to continue patrol. Earlier that same day came one of the high points. LTJG DIXON with MC CLEMONS' 109, MORELLI's 32 and HENNING's 101, discovered a sunken sampan full of automatic weapons and rifles. Capturing weapons such as these is one of the ways we really hurt "Charlie".
According to high ranking sources, I have been told that River Division 531's action in that area really hurt the VC. Not only did they sustain casualties but also their supply route was cut to ribbons. Prior to our arrival large quantities of supplies crossed this area and we were responsible for cutting this flow to a trickle.
Seven of our ten boats were hit with rockets as described above but all were involved in fire fights at one time or another. The only boat crew I haven't mentioned so far is that of PBR 32 with Signalman Ralph T. MORRELLI as commander, with Gunner's Mate David O. RODRIGUES, Engineman Carroll S. CATHY, and Gunner's Mate Mark C. EVANS as crew, had several fire fights but were fortunate enough not to get hit with rockets. Our Senior Patrol Officer, LTJG Frank G. DUSERICK as well as Gunner's Mate Elby J. BILLEAUDEAU and Seaman Keith E. GOTTSCHALL was also involved in several of these type incidents.
The maintenance gang during this period did an outstanding job in repairing the damaged boats in record time, putting in many long hours so that the boats could be ready again for patrol and could relieve other boats in need of repair. This team headed by Warrant Officer Jerry G. HINES consisted of Engineman Hartwell A. WHITE, Engineman Robert W. KOHN, Engineman Thomas A. WUELLNER, Engineman Michael J. ECKHARDT, Engineman Raymond E. KERR and Gunner's Mate Lawrence P. NOEL; all of whom were down in the canal at various times on some patrols and on-scene repairs. I might also mention that Yeoman Wayne L. CLARK, our Division Yeoman did a fine job of handling the administrative matters, at times alone as during certain periods all officers were down in the canal.
We were relieved of our area in the Rach Gia canal by River Division 514 on 17 December and all boats returned to the LST. After a couple of days at Binh Thuy we moved up on the Mekong River where we began patrols. We enjoyed a quiet Christmas with outstanding food provided by the JENNINGS COUNTY. At the turn of the year we started patrolling another canal off the Mekong River but at this time we are still based on the LST. Also, this time there is no jungle on either side of the canal. I do not believe this patrol area will give us as much trouble as the last as "Charlie" has few places to hide.
Fortunately this area is not to be our permanent home as we recently received orders to move 531 to Nha Be, a large city 15 miles south of Saigon. We plan to move around the end of January, and needless to say we are looking forward to the change. We did encounter the VC three times in the canal but believe we got the best of them. None of our boats were hit with rockets. We are now at Nha Be enjoying the facilities of the Naval Station.
I would like to take this opportunity to compliment our new arrivals to River Division 531. Since 15 December, we have received three new patrol officers including Chief Reginald P. EWERS, Chief Louis H. KENT, and Boatswain's Mate Max C. MC CLEOD, who was initiated into Chief's Quarters shortly after his arrival. Engineman Osmond K. LIPPS arrived to assist Jerry G. HINE as maintenance supervisor. Replacing some of our casualties, we received a group of experienced crewmen from other divisions, including Gunner's Mate Thomas E. JONES from River Division 524 and Seaman David M. PREVETTE from River Division 533. Engineman Kenneth D LOURASH from River Division 523 and Seaman James R. COLEMAN from River Division 573. Also checking into the division are a number of recent graduates of the Naval Inshore Operations Training Center in Mare Island, Calif: Signalman John W. CONNER, Gunner's Mates David L. EDWARDS, Dennis H. LEDOUX, Merle A. POCHOLEC, and Gary POLMANTEER; Enginemen David B. ANDERSON, Ronnie J. CONNON, Lloyd S. SYVERSTON; and Seamen Billy L. KELL, Jerry W. NEWMAN, and David E. SCHMIDT. They have adapted themselves well into the fine spirit of this division. The names of all personnel and their assigned duties are listed as an enclosure to this letter. Many members of this command have been nominated for awards but are not yet approved. I might add that the entire division is under consideration for the Presidential Unit Citation for the Rach Gia campaign. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the most courageous, and finest group of men with whom I have served in almost ten years of service. These men bear the same badge of courage as our more respected fore fathers and are true Americans of the highest standards. I am more than proud to have the opportunity to serve with them for their remaining time in country. You can count on all of us to take care of each other and hopefully 1969 will see us all return home to our loved ones.
I hope to write to you more often but perhaps not quite as lengthy next time. Please do not hesitate to write to me as letters from the families will be most welcomed. Here's wishing you all the best of the New Years from River Division 531.
(Signed T. K. ANDERSON)
T. K. ANDERSON
Commander, River Division 531
FPO San Francisco Ca. 96621
* 21 December Should read 12 December, but I have typed the letter exactly
as Originally typed to maintain the integrity of the letter.