As we ring out the old and usher in the New Year and a new decade I would like to take this opportunity to give all of you a brief re cap of River Division 531's activities throughout 1969.
The first three months of 1969 found 531 in Nha Be, Vietnam, a city 15 miles south of the capital, Saigon.* the Division was charged with keeping the Long Tau shipping channel free of Viet Cong and harassment of shipping by the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong alike. This was a welcome change after completing a month on the infamous Rach Gia Canal.* The men were able to sleep in beds and get hot meals and showers for a change.
April and Easter found the Division located in Nha Be but one significant event took place that would continue to influence our operation and assignments throughout the year. We receive our first on the job trainees form the Vietnamese Navy. These young men complete a 12 week small boat orientation school much like our Naval Inshore Training Center at Mare Island. the young trainees are made a member of the crew and treated equally. After about 2 months the man is quailified as a PBR Gunnersmate, Enginman or Seaman after passing an extensive course of study. He then becomes eligible for transfer to a Vietnamese River Patrol Group (RPG).
May and still in Nha Be but 531 made and excursion with 4 boats to the upper Saigon River. This meant living on the boats for and extended period of time since there were no base camps. The men did find the action hot and heavy with 5 fire fights in 5 days. It was a good week as we took no hits or injuries.
June saw 531 making its contribution to one of the Brown Water Navies famous interdiction operations, Giant Slingshot. River division 531 departed Nha Be on 5 June with the mission of establishing a new advanced tactical support base in a virgin area controlled by the Viet Cong known as Ben Keo. It is located approximately 30 * miles from the cambodian border on the Vam Co Dong River. Shortly after arriving, intelligence reports indicated a major attack was to take place on Tay Ninh City, just north of Ben Keo. For three days and nights River division 531 slugged it out with the VC and NVA troops. We were credited with repelling a major force of NVA during one engagement on the river that lasted from 10 PM to 11 AM. These history making events were paid for by sweat and blood of your husbands and sons. You can be truly proud of them.
July was much like the previous month with frequent contact occurring. The efforts of the men during this period will long be remembered in years to come. The continuos sacrifices of these young Americans are something to be held up to future generations as well as the present one. Let us not forget that all during these dangerous engagements with the Viet Cong, our trainees distinguished themselves admirably and received a firm foundation on which to build a fine Navy such as ours.
August arrived as did a new Division Commander, a set of orders to relocate to Nha Be for a well deserved rest and many new faces. the joy was short lived when on 12 August we relocated at Ben Keo during double shift. The Viet Cong tried to overrun a friendly outpost and again 531 found themselves in the thick of the battle. the Viet Cong were repulsed without injury to our men. On August 28, 1969 River Division 531 again returned to Nha Be for repairs and commenced operations in the Rung Sat Special Zone.
September was spent patrolling the Long Tau shipping channel and participating in joint operations with ARVN troops and Thailand Troops. Shipping attacks and harassment's were at an all time low due to the pressure kept on the Viet Cong by constant sweep operations. On September 27 River Division 531 sailed for a new operating area on the Saigon River 15-20 miles north of the capital.
October saw the Division establishing a new base at Phu Cuong. This entailed many problems and living conditions were less than good to say the least. A 31 foot River Patrol Boat isn't quite a Hilton hotel. the mens personal efforts in the building of a base camp in addition to a heavy patrol schedule are worthy of high praise. Our schedule involved leaving Phu Cuong for 7 days at a time and working with army troops 35 miles north of Saigon. The V. C. were present in large quantities and we had our hands full for the month of October. By the end of month we had finished the base for the most part and thanks to the SeaBees we had sleeping huts, a shower and the foundations of a messhall.
November came and went with the Division employed on the upper Siagon River and operating out of an Army Fire Support Base. Reports received indicated the VC and NVA were unable to mount any large scale attacks due to the pressure put on by the PBR's and troop sweeps. We enjoyed our Thanksgiving on the River and the Christmas spirit became evident.
In December the Division received orders to return to Nha Be and start a new phase of the ACTOV program. The new concept involves taking 60 to 80 Vietnamese trainees immediately after they complete Small Boat Orientation School and integrate them with the American crews. This means two Americans and 4 Vietnamese on each boat. We have formed twenty crews with this new concept and train these men on a 24 hr basis. By March the Vietnamese will be ready to assume control of River Division 531 and rename it River Patrol Group 57.
All in all it has been an extremely good year for River division 531. We have seen much action and made a hugh contribution to the war effort and the Vietnamization of the war, We look forward to 1970 with high hopes that all of us will be home again with our loved ones.
I have said it before and I'd like to emphasize it again, your men, the husband, sons and sweethearts have performed in the highest traditions of the U. S. Naval Service. This war has seen a new concept of naval warfare and a new page in the history books written. they can hold their heads high and as our lighters say, 531 will always be remembered as "The Best".
Attached to this familygram is a roster of the men
now in 531. I hope the men and you at home will find it handy in keeping
in touch with each other in the years to come.
(Signed) Thomas P. McGinley
Thomas P. McGINLEY
*River Division 531 spent most of January on an operation called Barrier Reef West on the Grand Canal. From there they went to Nha Be. See the news letter dated 1 Feb. 1969
*River Division 531 spent from 7 November 1968 until 17 December 1968 in Rach Gia when relieved by River Division 514. See Newsletter dated 1 Feb. 1969.
* The Vam Co Dong river parallels the Cambodia/Vietnam border at a projection of Cambodia into Vietnam called the Parrot's Beak. During it's course the river varies from about 5 to 10 miles from the Parrots beak. AS you travel 25 to 30 miles up stream of Ben Keo/Tay Ninh the River becomes an ever and ever smaller stream and appears to disappear very near to or into Cambodia.