Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Some pics sent by Mr. Charles Snyder USS Hassayampa 1967-1971

These are some pics sent Mr. Charles Snyder. He served with my father aboard the USS Hassayampa. I'm not sure if this was BEFORE or AFTER my father's tour in Vietnam, but regardless of when these were taken, you can see that Dad was one HANDSOME sonuvagun :)

Thanks for sharing, Mr. Snyder. And a very, VERY special thank you to Mr. Terry Kuehn! Please keep in touch.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


The Vietnam War was, and probably still IS, the most un-popular conflict the United States has ever engaged in. This un-popularity is like a CURSE that is STILL being cast, and haunts most of the servicemen that served during that era.

Falsely accused of being "Women and Baby-Killers" as well as being referred to as POTHEADS, these service personnel are DENIED most of the HONORS and ACCOLADES due to a war VETERAN. Rather, some of them are treated as "bums" or "scums", unfit to blend in with an INGRATE society. However, there are so many TRUE STORIES of TRIUMPHS, SACRIFICES and TRAGEDIES that NEED to be TOLD, with hopes that someday, in SOMEWAY, will help alter the negative opinion that still prevails at this present time.

A Veteran will NEVER accept the notion of "losing a war". This is the same with us, The Vietnam Veterans. Regardless WHAT the media and the public say about the Vietnam War, we, the VETERANS, will ALWAYS say otherwise.

The FACT that WE were the ones who did all the fighting and killing of the enemy, aren't WE the ones who can RIGHTFULLY SAY "Who WON?" and "Who LOST?" in that war?

Most of the references used in defining this war were events that happened during the gradual "pull-out" of the U.S. Forces up to the Fall of Saigon (April 30, 1969). So few were the events that took place during the '68 and '69 Tet Offensives, wherein the outcome of the war could have been reversed, or otherwise.

NOTHING was REMEMBERED nor considered that during this time, we, the U.S. Forces had the North Vietnamese Army and the Vietcong ON THE RUN.

NOTHING was said about how the enemy was "...running like DOGS with their tails BETWEEN their legs...".

NOTHING was said about how we, the U.S. Forces, were on the OFFENSIVE, and were SWEEPING the enemies out of the battlefield...

NOTHING was said that this offensive was "...headed TOWARDS Hanoi, to put an end to Ho Chi Minh's 'dream'..."

We, the U.S. Forces, had VICTORY IN OUR SIGHT!!! I can say this because GODDAMNIT, I WAS THERE.

However, for WHATEVER reason, this offensive was STOPPED in it's tracks. Swayed by "public opinion", the Commander-In-Chief had no other CHOICE but to give the order to STOP. And as always, a good soldier simply FOLLOWS THE ORDER GIVEN to it's last word, without hesitation or qualms.

BUT...whether it be VICTORY or DEFEAT, the soldier will bear the OUTCOME like a CURSE that will HAUNT him/her for the REST OF HIS LIFE. And THIS is the life of a Vietnam Veteran.

The Vietnam War was a LESSON LEARNED. Even the most powerful country of all has no chance of victory WITHOUT THE FULL SUPPORT of her CITIZENRY. However, this lesson seems to fade and slip out of memory somehow. If this trend continues, it is inevitable that the Vietnam debacle is AGAIN in the offing...

In closing, writing the "Unsung Heroes of Vietnam" was truly a CHALLENGE for me. After more or less 40 years, recollecting all the EVENTS that I've participated in, and everything that happened during my tour of Vietnam was excruciating, and at times, frustating. However, to think that all of our triumphs, sacrifices and the lives that were lost will be for naught, kept me going.

For whatever it's worth, I hope that this story will somehow create a POSITIVE attitude and ERASE some of the negative opinions bestowed upon us, the Vietnam Veterans.

Lastly, I am dedicating this story to the special breed of sailors that were once called "THE RIVER RATS".

With this, I am now ending this story...

Boat Commander PBR-142
River Section 532
South Vietnam '67-'69

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Safe...AT LAST!!!

That same afternoon, I was informed to have my "SEABAG" ready for a possible transfer the follwing day. I went to the boat basin to bid farewell to my old crew and friends, and wished them all good luck. That was the LAST time we saw each other.

The following day, an Army Gunship took me to Tan Son Nhut airbase in Saigon. And from there, took a bus ride to Camp Alpha for "Processing Out Of Country". It was about a week of processing, and on or about 08 April 1969 I was on a plane headed towards Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines. The plane landed at Clark AFB around 2300 hours 08 April 1969. Soon as the tires hit the ground I said to myself "I'm safe AT LAST!"

The Air Force personnel was very courteous and accomodating. Could this be because of the "TWO STARS" on my collar device? As a Boat Captain and Patrol Officer, my collar device is a patch with 2 Stars above the Eagle. I figure, "Well, I'm just going to play with it." Hence, after a brief inspection of my seabag, the Air Force Inspector gave me a salute and said: "That's it, Sir. Do you need any assistance?"

My reply was "I'm so TIRED I need some rest. I need transportaion to Manila."

The inspector accompanied me to the terminal lobby and introduced me to a local driver. After we talked and agreed with the FEE, and CERTAIN conditions, we are on our way to Manila with my seabag in the backseat with me.

The news of "mugging" and "hold-ups" is prevalent outside the gate of Clark AFB. My Dad and I were once victims of this. Therefor, the condition I set was : NO STOPPING, NO PICK-UPS AFTER PASSING THE MAIN GATE." I don't want to take any chances particularly at night time. Everything was going with what was agreed upon. However as soon as we passed the main gate I noticed that the car made a quick right turn towards an alley. I asked the driver "Where are you GOING?" His reply (in TAGALOG) was : "I'm just going to pick up a friend."

With this, I pulled out a .22 Cal. Pistol out of my seabag, and placed the barrel at the back of his head and said: "STOP, or I'll BLOW YOUR HEAD OFF." The car came to a screeching halt. The driver tried to look back and said: "Is it a GUN?" My reply was: "Damn Right. Do you wanna FIND OUT?" The driver didn't day a word, so I say again: "Turn this car BACK to the MAIN ROAD, or you'll FIND OUT."

With this, the car turned back to the main road, and we're on our way to Manila without uttering a single word. We arrived at our place in Las Pinas around 4:00 A.M. 09 April 1969. My family was overjoyed to see their Vietnam Veteran home and alive. However, my Dad was chewing me out.

He kept saying: "You should have waited to travel in the morning! It's really very dangerous to travel at night." My reply was: "Well, I have a FRIEND with me."

My Dad's reply was: " WHAT friend?"

I replied: "Here." And showed him the .22 Cal. Pistol. I can still remember how his eyes POPPED upon seeing the gun. He yelled at me "You're CRAZY!!! That's a TOY gun!!!" All I could say was "Well, it did the job." Honestly, I was really joking with my Dad. He is the BEST mentor that I ever had, and seeing how he cares for me made this dangerous travel well worth it.

Meanwhile, my Mom overheard our conversation and started LAUGHING. Soon, my whole family started laughing.

With this, my Dad just shook his head and gave me a TIGHT HUG and said: "WELCOME HOME, SON."

NOW I know that I'm SAFE...AT LAST.


There were no "let-ups" on the side of the enemy during the days, weeks, and months that followed.

MORTARS kept coming on a NIGHTLY basis and the ambiance of danger looms at every corner of the VAM CUU DONG RIVER. The '69 TET OFFENSIVE is still in full blast and it's intensity is being felt throughout South Vietnam. Reports that the enemies are using the neighboring Cambodian border as transitory stations for moving troops into Vietnamese soil kept the ALLIED FORCES in full alert. As ever, the GOAL of the enemies is to ATTACK and CAPTURE the City of Saigon. Here is where the mainstay of the South Vietnamese government and the Main Headquarters of the Allied Forces are situated. However, for the enemies to do so, they (enemies) have to cross the VAM CUU DONG river. And in doing so, this could only mean TROUBLE for us at Tra Cu.

A CLASH with the enemy was inevitable.

In lieu of this situation, it is suffice to say that each patrol could be your LAST patrol. For some of us, this had been the fate. However, I just could not accept this same fate to befall on me, my crew and our boat, PBR-142. As always, I've treated this notion the other way around. That is - -"...cross, and you'll be CRUSHED...", and I kept these words as a reminder at all times.

With those words in mind, it kept my whole being well-focused on every area of the river that I'm in, while on patrol, my mind continuously processed the "step-by-step" actions that I should take and make in case any ambush should occur. Often, I put my boat (PBR-142) through "mock" maneuvers to test how well she would respond in a tight situation. This was not a GUARANTEE for SAFETY, however this practice worked for me then, and I was confident that it will would for me here at the Vam Cuu Dong river. With "IMMINENT DANGER " looming each day, keeping track of time was no longer a concern of mine. My spare time was spent on my boat (PBR-142) together with my crew. Needless to say, we all knew that our lives depended on how our weapons would perform and how PBR-142 would respond. With this in mind, we made certain that our weapons and boat are well-kept and in TOP FIGHTING FORM at all times.

Going into battle with DOUBTS in mind is simply letting your fate rest in "CHARLIE"S" hands.

It was a bright and sunny day. A perfect time to INDOCTRINATE a new Boat Captain. This was the first time I met this fellow and I can't recall his name. In war, people just COME and GO. At times, it's not long enough to remember his/her full name. Anyway, he was a 1st Class Boatswain Mate, Caucasian. A bit TALLER than me, but pudgy and pot-bellied. As usual, he was also COCKY. He was SUPPOSED to be my relief. As protocol and good practice, I handed him the helm (STEERING WHEEL), this would give him a "feel" for the boat. After some manuevers on his own, he told me that he was READY to take the boat to the patrol area. With this, I radioed the cover boat of our intentions and off we went to the lower Tra Cu.

PBR-142 had just made a slight turn to starboard entering entering the bend when a sudden JOLT was felt on out PORT side. The JOLT was strong enough to throw all of us off balance. I knew INSTANTLY that we were hit and ordered my crew to OPEN FIRE towards the eastern bank. I took the helm and radioed home base at Tra Cu and our cover boat and informed both of our situation .

I checked both engines but the STARBOARD one was the ONLY one RESPONDING. I goosed that engine for whatever power I could get, at the same time looking for a safe spot to BEACH the boat. As I swung the boat to starboard towards an open spot at the western bank, a sudden DRAG astern was felt. I looked back and saw the WATER COMING OUT of the engine space and starting to FLOOD the stern deck of the boat. Seeing this, I ordered my crew to "KEEP FIRING! DON'T JUMP, I'LL BEACH THE BOAT!!!"

The "open spot" was approximately 25 meters away, but with PBR-142 slowly sinking, it looked like we'll never get there. It was so close but yet so far.

I continuously ordered my crew " DON'T JUMP, KEEP FIRING!!! I'LL BEACH THE BOAT!!!" At this time, we were FIGHTING FOR EVERY INCH to reach the open spot. I ordered my forward gunner to direct his fire towards the open spot hoping to keep the enemy, if there was any, PINNED DOWN or RUN. Soon as a soft, CRUNCHING sound and a SLIDING MOTION was felt on the forward keel, I knew that we were on the edge of the bank and getting closer to the open spot. As the bow hit the banks, an ENEMY BUNKER, a few feet away, was facing us. Without hesitation, my forward gunner blew that bunker apart. Without any response, I ordered "CEASE FIRE!!!"

Thereafter, I ordered my crew to keep focused on the area in front of us and OPEN FIRE if they SEE or HEAR any type of movement within that area. Meanwhile, the cover boat was on the scene and making firing runs at the eastern bank.

Soon, the rescue team arrived and came alongside PBR-142. By this time, PBR-142 was almost FILLED with water, and resting on the muddy banks of Vam Cuu Dong river. Despite being EXHAUSTED and TENSE, we were STILL full of fight. Before I boarded the rescue boat, I took a last look at the "busted bunker" and felt really good at the sight. I looked at the incident as "one damaged boat and one busted bunker". It was an even score and I could not ask for more. After the initial assessment of damages, we all headed back to Tra Cu. The rest of the rescue team stayed with the boat (PBR-142) for further assessment and got the boat ready for towing back to Tra Cu.

Back at Tra Cu, I made my report and headed back to our tent to be with my crew. We looked at each other with smiles on our faces. It was a HELL OF A DAY, but we made it through. Needless to say, we all have fun telling stories of our previous experience, PARTICULARLY each other's REACTIONS during the ambush. Our discussion ended with one question: "WHAT WAS THE STATUS OF PBR-142?" Nontheless, one thing was certain...and that was, we were all ALIVE and well. Only then I did I realize it was already the middle of March.

Within a few days, I happened to meet and talk with the REPAIR OFFICER of River Section 532. As far as I can recall, he was CWO ANDERSEN. Anyway, I asked him about the status of PBR-142 and her whereabouts. I was told that my boat (PBR-142) was taken to Nha Be for repairs. Furthermore, I was assured that PBR-142 will be back on patrol in the soonest of time. With this, I felt good knowing that at this moment, PBR-142 was in good hands. As we finished our conversation, the Repair Officer's parting words were: "George, if EVER I ride a PBR, I'll make sure it will be with YOU." Coming from a Naval Officer, I took it as a compliment, and felt really good about it.

By this time, my crew were already assigned to other boats. Me? I was STILL AWAITING ORDERS. At Tra Cu, besides going on patrol, there was nothing to do, and nowhere to go. Boredom is WORSE than a firefight. To compensate for this, I spent the days at the BOAT POOL talking to the Boat Captains and their crew, as they prepared their weapons and boats for their next patrol. As the days would end, it was quite IRONIC to think that tomorrow might not come for all of us. Nontheless, I was full of HOPE that my orders would be "shore duty". Eighteen (18) months in Vietnam deserves a break. As good as it sounded, my orders FINALLY came, but it was OTHERWISE. It read: "REPORT ONBOARD USS HASSAYAMPA AO 145 NLT 09 May 1969".

Honestly, I didn't have any qualms about it. First of all, I am a Quartermaster, and NAVIGATION is my FORTE. I still considered it as a break. For, at least I'm SAFE and there will be no more AMBUSHES in the open sea.

This order was no longer my worry. For now I was focused and concerned for what awaits for me in the Philippines. Honestly I was a bit nervous, because soon I'll find out whether or not the ENGAGEMENT and WEDDING RINGS will be accepted by the GIRL that waits for me in Pasay City Philippines. This was now 31 March 1969.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


The night patrol started as usual with exchanges of pleasantries among the boat crews of PBR-139 and PBR 142.

BM1 BILL AKIN (WILD BILL) and myself were doing the initial checks of the steering wheel and engines, Satisfied with the tests, "WILD BILL" gave me a thumbs up. In reply, I nod my head and signalled to cast-off all lines. Soon we are underway towards our patrol area north of TRA-CU.

On board PBR 139 was QMc DAWSON. On board my boat (PBR 142 ) and riding as the "PATROL OFFICER" was a NAVAL OFFICER from the river unit stationed at TRA-CU. This was the first time that I've seen this officer and I'm very unfamiliar with his name as well as his discretions on patrol, particularly in a firefight. If there was an option, I much rather have QMc DAWSON as "PATROL OFFICER" that night.

Being in the same RIVER SECTION, all three (3) of us (AKIN, DAWSON AND MYSELF) are familiar with each other. This is important, particularly here at VAM CUU DONG where everything around is unfamiliar to us.

As darkness fall, the chirpings of crickets started to echo around us. The overcast sky didn't help much for illumination. Nonetheless, the surroundings are calm and the river banks on either side showed no movements for us to think otherwise, the passage in our patrol over went without any infractions and showed no premonitions whatsoever of the danger that awaits us. We are on the north bound run and PBR 142 took the lead with PBR 139 trailing approximately 30 meters astern. On our port side lies a village and a refinery warehouse lies on our starboard. A dimly lighted wooden pier is adjacent to the warehouse. As usual I was "ZIGZAGGING". The "PATROL OFFICER" didn't mind this maneuver and been quiet all this time.

My eyes stayed focused on the heavy bushes fronting the village on my port side. My "GUT FEELING" tells me that "if ever an ambush takes place, it will be somewhere along these bushes". I can't forget those flashes of B-40 rockets that came out of those bushes. I was "ZAGGING" to starboard when they all came out and narrowly missed the stern of my boat (PBR 142). Automatically, I goosed both engines to "FULL SPEED" and within seconds PBR 142 was out of the "KILL ZONE".

However, my radio said otherwise. BM1 AKIN'S voice was loud and clear saying, "GEORGE, I'M HIT! I'M SINKING!"

Without hesitation, I swing PBR 142 port and made a 180 degrees turn towards PBR 139. It was only the bow of PBR 139 and it's twin .50 CAL. that were above water and still firing at the enemies position. This sight filled my heart with joy knowing that the forward gunner GMSN CARL GERKIN is still full of fight. I made several firing runs and traded with the enemies fires with fires. I can't keep track of how long this firefight lasted. Nonetheless when the enemies stopped firing. I paused and waited. Assured that the enemies are gone, I came alongside the bow of PBR-139 and summoned GMSN GERKIN to come on board PBR-142. My crew assisted him out of the gunturret and pulled him onboard.

Still in shock, he managed to say, "GEORGE, THEY'RE IN THE WATER!".

Upon hearing this, I swing my boat and made a sweep to search for the crew of PBR-139. Although dimly lit, the light on the wooden pier provided enough brilliance in our search for the crew. BM1 BILL AKIN was the first to be picked out of the water. QMC DAWSON and ENFN CAGLE were next. It was dark and the extent of their injuries cannot be fully determined. Nonetheless, all possible and available medical aide were administered. I knew that there is still a man missing, hence asked BM1 AKIN, "WHERE IS BLAIS?" AKIN'S reply was, "HE'S BADLY HURT, HE'S IN THE WATER!".

With this, I extended our search along the southern edges of the riverbanks within the proximity of the warehouse, this time, we started calling his name. After several sweeps, his whimpers soon been heard hence, leading me towards his location. The sight of him gave me contentment, because I won't be leaving that place without him. I maneuvered my boat (PBR-142) and placed him (BLAIS) astern for pick up. The first attempt was futile. Fortunately, an inflatable rubber mattress was available and became instrumental in scooping "BLAIS" out of the water. Even if it's dark, the glimpse of his injuries were not good at all. As I see it, both his legs were badly shattered and bleeding profusely. All the available and remaining medical aids were administered to him, including shots of morphine.

Realizing that we are in the middle of the river and still within the proximity of the"KILL ZONE", I've decided to look for a safer place. However, I can't allow PBR-139 to be left drifting, so, I swing my boat towards PBR-139. Once alongside it's bow, I told my crew to use anything (line or boat hook) to secure the bow and towed it alongside the wooden pier at the opposite side of the river. Here, we were able to assess the extent of the damages and injuries sustained by the crew of PBR-139.

By this time, GMSN CARL GERKIN has partially recovered from shock and I managed to ask him, "GERK, WHY DIDN'T YOU JUMP?" he looked at me with a smile and said, "ARE YOU KIDDING?I CAN'T FUCKIN' SWIM!".

It didn't take too long for the rescue units (PBR) to arrive. Wasting no time, all the injured were taken on board. All of them, particularly EN3 BLAIS needed medical attention in the soonest of time. Any delays could be fatal. Needless to say, to include the towing of PBR-139 would only slow this transit and at the same time, puts all of us in jeopardy at all times. In lieu of this, I was ordered to remain alongside the wooden pier with the wreckage of PBR-139 until the nest rescue units (PBR) arrives. It was almost dawn when the next units (PBR) arrived. The buzzing and bites of mosquitoes kept us awake all this time. Nonetheless, I am very thankful because these nuisance kept our vigilance well above par during this precarious time.

With PBR-139 in tow, our transit to TRA-CU was considerably slow. Fortunately, the enemy didn't give us any trouble at all. They (enemy) must have had their share of firefight last night and decided to take a break. I was trully glad with this notion, because frankly speaking, "AFTER LAST NIGHT, WE ALSO NEED A BREAK".

While in transit, we were informed that EN3 ROBERT BLAIS PASSED AWAY WHILE IN TRANSIT".

Back in TRA-CU, I couldn't help shedding tears for the loss of my partners and friends. On the other hand, I was very thankful for that "split second" decision to make that 180 degree turn towards PBR-139. Had I hesitated, I'm sure that the enemies will surely make a "TURKEY SHOOT" out of the crew of PBR-139. Undoubtedly, this would result to even more casualties or deaths. Three (3) of our boats and crewmembers were already history at this time, but this didn't stop us from patrolling the VAM CUU DONG. We all knew that without the boats (PBR) the activities at VAM CUU DONG RIVER rests on the enemy's prerogative. Thereby, within a day or two, PBR -142 is back on patrol with the other unit (PBR) as it's new partner in the river. Meanwhile, the remaining units (PBR) of RIVER SECTION 532 are on their way to TRA-CU.

The night of 31 January 1969 is one of the war experiences that remain etched in my mind. Like an illusion, that night started with pleasantries and ended up in tragedy. For a while, we were all full of life, carefree and un-mindful of the hardships of war. In a split of second, we were all fighting for our lives.

The sight of GMSN CARL GERKIN firing his twin .50 CAL in an upside down position at the bow of the sinking PBR-139 is the perfect picturesque of this situation.

This is a "RIVER-RAT" at his finest.

Life is said to be a "SCHOOL OF HARD KNOCKS" and at the same time"FULL OF SURPRISES". If this is so, then "LIFE" and "WAR" are synonymous to each other. In war, dangers knock at every corner and surprises are plentiful and often deadly. As I see it, War is a school of "unexpected lessons". Lessons that must be learned just as fast as it happened. Failure to understand it could be fatal because the second time around could be your last. "Predicting" the unexpected is the job for a soothsayer, and I ain't one. Nonetheless, I made sure that my mind, body and soul are kept in fine tune with each other and ready as always for the "unexpected" anytime, anywhere and in any form it chooses to come.


"C-RATS " is synonymous with war.

In all areas of war, "C-RATS" is, and at times the only source of nutrients that keep the soldier's body in peak fighting form. At the same token, the mention of the word "C-RATS" undoubtedly ignited, hence enliven the past memories of war that has been shelved in the farthest chamber of the veteran's mind.

"C-RATS" is "COMBAT-RATIONS". I can honestly say that" C-RATS" is our "daily bread" in VIETNAM . as a boat captain, I always made sure that a box of "C-RATS" is on board for our patrol. The box contains varieties of canned foods such as pork and beans, chicken ,pork scrambled egg, bread, pound cake and etc. Pork and beans is the favorite and most sought after. The taste is not something to crave about. However, with some added ingredients, it becomes quite the delicacy. The canned foods are lined up on the engines' manifold. Thereafter when noon time comes, "HOT MEALS" are ready to be served. "Innovation" is part of our life in VIETNAM. It makes us appreciate and enjoy the simplest amenity of war.

Now, who is "JOHN WAYNE?" For non-veterans, John Wayne is a HOLLYWOOD icon. He is a movie star and his portrayals of american fighting men were superb and natural. On screen,he is victorious in all battlefields whether it be against Indians, Germans, Chinese , Japanese and Vietcong. In short John Wayne epitomizes the grit and the fighting spirit of America's fighting men. In all respect, John Wayne was and still the role model to some american G.I.'s .

However, the "JOHN WAYNE" that I'm referring is not the actor himself. The "JOHN WAYNE" that I'm referring to is a piece of metal that comes with the box of "C-RATS". It has two (2) moving parts about an inch long andhalf an inch wide. Our part is for handling and the other part for cutting or slicing .

It's a "CAN OPENER".

Without it, the "C-RATS" is not complete. It's importance is well expressed at noon time when everyone in the boat is yelling, "WHERE IS JOHN WAYNE?". It is so precious that I kept one with my "DOG TAGS". I have no idea, where, when and who christened this piece of metal as "JOHN WAYNE". Nonetheless, I consider the "NAMESAKE" to be most fitting and appropriate for both. "DURABILITY" could have been the criteria.

Personally, I consider the "NAMESAKE" as a tribute to John Wayne's toughness in real life and on screen as well.

In leiu of this, it is suffice to say that; not only in real life that good things come in pairs. Even in war or hell, "C-RATS" and John Wayne are the perfect pair.