I am the “Dude!” 

 

June 1993 - William Bruce Dodd – Bill to most – (WILLIAM - to my mother and two sisters when I’ve done the unpardonable or unspeakable).  But “Dude” to other members of PCF-80 (Crew 94A).  I was the Radarman/Radioman aboard the “80” boat.  Maybe not the best boat in Coastal Squadron One, but we didn’t have to take a back seat to anyone!

 

March 1967 - Coronado, California.  LTJG Tom Jones (Ohio); Engineman 2nd Class Vernon “Walt” Walters (Nevada); Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class Stirlin “Boats” Harris (New York); Gunner’s Mate Seaman Dennis “Willie/Hooch” Wilson (Michigan); Gunner’s Mate Seaman Paul “Kell” Kellner (Missouri); and Radarman Seaman Bill “Dude” Dodd (Iowa). This is all from memory and the years may have failed me a bit.  If so, I hope the guys will forgive me.  Anyway, about as diverse a group as you could find.  But for one reason or another, it seemed, over the period of time in Coronado and in Viet Nam, we got along pretty well.  We were one of the rare crews that managed to stay together for its entire tour.  We probably had some differences and harsh words for each other from time to time, but all in all, no major problems. We learned early that each of us was going to need his own space every now and then.  So over the long run we got along very well, and as a good crew (and of course we were the best crew and boat in-country), we learned how to operate efficiently and to take care of each other. Mr. Jones (Formally! With affection, AND behind his back, - TJ) gave each of us responsibility for our own “department” within the limitations of his command.  We were not perfect, and he let us know that without being demeaning. I don’t remember any of us making the same mistake twice.  We all wanted his respect, as well as that of the other members of the crew.

 

To throw this group together would have seemed a mistake.

We were:

          1) a “short timer” ROTC grad

          2) a (God forbid) “Lifer”

          3) a cinematographer bosun

          4) a “farmer” from Michigan who may not have known a Wolverine from a Spartan, and maybe didn’t care

          5) a “free spirit” from Missouri who I figured wanted to be either a biker or a rock star, but who was a better than average gunner and boat handler

          6) and there was yours truly – a green kid from a farm town in Iowa.

This was the motley crew that took over PCF-80 in June of 1967 in Cam Ranh Bay. 

 

The boat and crew were to become legends, at least in our own minds.  We were to become part of that group of “Swifties” who did not get to the delta region, did not get involved with major enemy infiltration operations; in fact, we were involved in the boring, every day tedious tasks of Operation Market Time.  There were a few times when we got a rush of adrenalin, but more often than not, it was up and down the coast……..   Phan Rang to Vung Ro, with an occasional run into Nha Trang (we had a source there for French bread.) In late summer or early fall of 1967, we went to be part of COSDIVE 12’s Detachment at Cua Viet, about 90 miles north of DaNang.  After the comfort of Cam Ranh, and what we would later discover to be the luxury of DaNang, Cua Viet was, in short, primitive! To be sure, there were others whose living conditions were considerably worse, but after the conditions of a state-side barracks, or a ship, this was a bit of an eye-opener.  But in true Navy tradition, we made do! Of course, we didn’t have much choice.  We did have a bunk in a hut (hooch), “heads” with hot and cold running water, a small laundry facility, and as always, a very good mess hall.   I found that the meals in the Navy were almost always good, and what those guys at Cua Viet did, considering their limited facilities, was absolutely amazing. And if you didn’t like what they were serving, you could always fix yourself a sandwich aboard boat.

 

The hooches were maybe 40-50 feet long and about half that wide.  Beds/bunks for 12-15.  Not spacious but sufficient.  After all, you didn’t spend a lot of time there. Built of slat sides, much like an old corn crib, with screen covering.  Heat was not something you had to worry about keeping in.  Sand?!?!?! Everywhere! In your bunk, your clothes, your boat, your food! I don’t think it was meant to be roughage!  And if you had a few minutes to spare, someone was always suggesting that you fill a few sandbags for this or that bunker.

 

Not all of you may be aware of what a SWIFT is, or was.

 

SWIFT BOAT -  officially a PCF (PATROL CRAFT FAST), was primarily a coastal patrol boat, but as many found out, was also suitable for work in the inner waterways of the delta region and other areas where there were a few islands and deep inlets. It was a 50-foot, aluminum-hulled craft powered by twin V-12 Detroit diesels, which if maintained by a cracker-jack engineman (and Walt was one of the BEST!), could flat get up and go! Maybe not with the speed of a PBR but certainly able to run circles around most other boats of its size and armament. And they WERE fairly well armed! Twin fifty-caliber machine guns mounted above and slightly behind the pilot house, a single fifty mounted over an 81 mm mortar aft of the main cabin, and the usual assortment of smaller caliber weapons…. M-16’s, M-70 grenade launcher, riot shotgun, .38 caliber pistols, fragmentation and percussion grenades… and anything else the crew could “smuggle” aboard.  For a short time we had an older .45 caliber “burp” gun (I don’t know where it came from or where it went). And we also had the usual complement of flak jackets and helmets. But speed and agility were probably our best means of defense.

 

The boat would sleep five on bunks, not necessarily comfortably. Three could sleep quite well. Two in the main cabin and one in the lower, forward cabin. As junior members of the crew, I believe Kell and I slept below. Adequate facilities for cooking a meal, with a small hot plate, electric frying pans, and sink. There was an under-counter refrigerator and freezer.  And there was the inevitable coffee pot, which ran twenty–four hours a day when we were underway. We also had two thermo-coolers for iced tea, lemonade or extra water. There was a sixty gallon fresh water tank mounted aft and below the main deck.

 

We carried about 800 gallons of diesel fuel.  We would never return from early from a patrol due to low fuel. You might run out of food, ammo, fresh water, coffee, Pepsi, cigarettes, but you weren’t going to run out of fuel.

 

There was a small “head” facility in the lower forward compartment, but most often that went unused. I think the term “hanging ten” took on new meaning from what the surfing crowd originally meant. And often you wanted to make sure that someone else was aware of what was going on aft, just in case one slipped while answering the call of nature. Talk about embarrassment! Tough to explain to the Division CO just what you were doing when you fell overboard! And as silly as it sounds, I’m sure that someone, somewhere, did just that!

 

The pilot house of this speed boat was located forward, which is not necessarily the best location. If you look at most ships or luxury boats, you will notice that the bridge, wheel house, pilot house…whatever…is located mid-ship, or aft. This allows for a bit more comfortable ride. A forward mounted pilot house plunges directly into waves (should you happen to encounter them, and we did from time to time), whereas a pilot house mounted further aft tends to ride up and over, giving a much gentler ride. Thirty foot waves popping out your front windshields will make a true believer of you. BEEN THERE! DONE THAT! This farm-town boy never figured he’d ever see a wave that high, much less be at the bottom of the swell when it all came tumbling down. Anyway, the pilot house. Wheel mounted center, with a chair for the “driver.” Compass and depth finder located directly in front of the wheel. Radar located on the right-hand side of the “driver”…just turn your head and take a peek. Radios located on the left-hand side and overhead…within reach of the “driver.” Vision from the pilot house was about 320 degrees, nothing directly aft. But who cared, that’s what the guy in the gun tub overhead was for. “Hey, Willie! You awake up there?”

 

So that’s the boat, briefly and very poorly described. You might think that a fifty foot boat was rather large, and I suppose that on many lakes, it would be…but it’s amazing how small one can get after a period of time.

 

June 14, 1995 - This bit of mind wandering has been here in the computer for about two years. Within the last couple of months a couple of things have occurred that may give me cause to continue.

 

PCF #1 and #2 have been located in storage in Panama. They are to be transported to Little Creek Amphib Base, Virginia, and then on to Washington, D.C. for permanent display. One is to be dedicated to the “Swifties.” Ceremonies are going on all this week. I wish I could attend. EVEN MORE IMPORTANT! THE ENTIRE CREW…#94A…HAS BEEN LOCATED! During the afternoon of May 23rd, TJ (whoops…Mr. Jones) called! It was an almost overwhelming, all too brief, few minutes. He said that he had located all of us! He would be going to D.C....would any of the rest of us be able to make it? I don’t know. I will not. I know that Stirlin will be a member of the “Last Patrol.” I hope some of the others will be able to attend. But as the Skipper said…after 27 years…we have closed the loop! We are a crew again! I sincerely hope that we can get together in the very near future…! 

 

I’m back. It is the tag end of June (’95), and it is a slow Saturday morning and I suppose I should be doing something productive, but at the moment I’m lacking initiative.

 

By now the “SWIFT” dedication ceremonies are over. I have not heard from Tom or Stirlin, but I suspect that they are still re-living. I hope one, or both of them, will give some kind of report. I still hope strongly that we can get the entire crew together. May have to think about sometime next hear (’96).

 

After talking with both Tom and Stirlin a few more memories have stirred. Bear with me…the mind skips and jumps.

 

Whose boat ran aground south of Cam Ranh Bay? I don’t remember. What I do remember is that we stood “guard boat” during that long night until the tide lifted them off again. Stirlin and Paul swam in to the grounded boat? Why? I do remember that I stood radio watch much of that night down in the hot, stuffy main cabin and came about as close to getting sea-sick as I ever would. It’s amazing what a gentle swell can do to you.

 

CUA VIET - I also seem to remember a nameless lieutenant junior grade off the “80” boat who fell overboard not once, but twice! Maybe he figured that we needed the man overboard drill. Or maybe he was just hot! I have also been reminded of an incident concerning some cows roaming the shoreline, and the desire of some aboard to have some target practice. That, I believe, was voted down!

 

Willie may recall the day (or night) that we took the captain from either a cruiser or destroyer out for a spin. He wanted so bad to fire the twin fifties…”SHORT BURSTS, SIR!” says Willie. By the time he was through, those barrels were cherry red, and probably drooping slightly.  But the trip most likely netted us some ice cream and strawberries.

 

How many fishing stakes did we run into…or near-miss? For those who don’t know, that was a “little” bundle of bamboo that the local fishermen anchored and left to mark what was presumably a good fishing hole. Hitting one would definitely get your attention. And Lord knows how many percussion grenades were wasted trying to sink or break them loose. Hitting one at night was a particularly interesting experience. It was something akin to running into a dock that had somehow sprung up in the middle of your patrol area.

 

Whose boat sank in the river mouth at Cua Viet? PCF-16? Not sure. I do remember that a couple of days later it was our turn to see if it was possible to get outside. Wonder why we had to check? If there was any question, wouldn’t it have been better just to let us all sleep in that day...and radio DaNang a negative report? Obviously no one thought to consult me. I do remember that Tom and Stirlin (mostly Stirlin?) got us turned around and headed back in…at a time and place that I figured we were about to become fish fodder. I don’t think I believed it possible to spin a “Swift” in such a short space and time. But I’m here to tell you that it can be done! A roller-coaster ride at the local amusement park is child’s play by comparison! (By the by, all six members of the sunken boat were rescued.)

 

Chronologically, this is a mess! But who cares? After all, I’m doing the typing. And it is probably fitting, since most of the events seem to jump into my head without any regard for timeframe.

 

What was supposed to have been a rather easy two-day cruise down to Cam Ranh Bay to send our boat to the Philippines for a refit…went sour in Qui Nhon when sappers decided to hit that base. I believe we (TJ) decided that discretion was the better part of valor…and we beat a hasty retreat…and went on our merry way south. I never did get to see some of the guys patrolling out of Qui Nhon that I went through Radarman “A” School with. Glenn Bond, where are you?

 

Kell, did you ever get a bike/”hog”? Seems to me that a couple of times you tried to “buy” one from a cargo junk. About the only thing the junks seemed to be willing to part with was some “nuc maum” (sic) sauce. Whoa! You could smell a boat load of that “delicacy” a patrol area away!

 

I wonder if five of us ever learned to cook. Obviously I did. Not a Julia Childs graduate, but I CAN prepare a meal…I didn’t get to be this size, living by myself, without cooking, It was very quickly apparent that Walt had a much better grasp of cooking than the rest of us. We ate quite well once it was discovered that he could prepare more than peanut butter or bologna sandwiches, which seemed to be about the only thing the rest of us could master. Steaks, spaghetti, eggs, back on, potatoes…even salads! We might not have starved, but we fare a lot better when Walt took charge of the galley.

 

Does anyone else remember our first rocket attack at Cua Viet? To this day, you’ll have difficult convincing me that I was not completely inside my helmet in the fetal position. I didn’t realize that I could make myself that small…and even than I was at least 6’-0” tall and several pounds over 200. Remember what the words “IN COMING!!!” would do to your night…? Remember what that siren sounded like? That’s when I discovered that I was actually fairly quick over a short distance. Out the door and over the top of the bunker. If you were lucky you wound up on the bottom. I never did like sleeping ashore at Cua Viet!

 

I also remember someone (not from 94A) who went flying out the rear door of the “hooch” during a rocket attack and wound up spending that attack in an ammo bunker. Again, I don’t know who he was, but he did have a rather pale, sheepish look on his face when it was later revealed to him just where he had spent those minutes. I hope that he can look back on it now with a bit of a grin. Hey, it was a sandbag bunker! Any port in a storm? Ain’t necessarily so!

 

Then there was the day that a tank (Army or Marines?) rolled into Cua Viet, did a bit of sight-seeing in our area, backed into one of the 10,000 gallon freshwater bladders, and promptly left as a small tidal wave of fresh water washed through the compound! I believe they were last seen looking for a way to cross the river and head north to Gio Lin. It probably wasn’t as amusing to everyone as it was to those of us who were sitting on a bunker drinking beer. At that point in time, it didn’t take much to amuse us. You had to be there! Or maybe not.

 

How many PRC-10 batteries were the Marines willing to part with for a six-pack of beer? Remember when the weather shut down the LCU and LCI runs from DaNang? The situation became a bit critical when the beer and cigarettes began to run out. Do you remember what a Liberty ship loaded with Pepsi, beer and cigarettes looked like? What a strange war! And that may be the understatement to end all understatements....he said as an aside.

 

TET - What can one say? I don’t think that WE were ever in any extreme danger, but it did mean longer days and nights. Run your normal patrol and then come in and catch a 12-hour in the river or harbor of DaNang. In long enough to take on more fuel, food and ammo, if you needed. Sleep became an almost unknown for a couple of weeks during that time. If you were lucky you might have time to take a hot shower. But as I have mentioned previously, there were others who were experiencing much worse conditions. We, at least, were mobile.

 

CHINA BEACH - Do you realize how many people think that China Beach is/was just a figment of some TV producer’s imagination?!? Thankfully none of us had to avail ourselves of the hospital services, but it was there, to the south of the DaNang navy facilities. It didn’t take long for a person to figure out why the helicopters all seemed to be flying that direction. It WAS nice to be able to go to their PX once in a while. Kinda like going to K-Mart, but with a military touch. Yes, Virginia, China Beach was all too real!

 

VIETNAM - What a tragedy! If a person took some time to look at the country, it really was a rough, rugged, beautiful country. The people? Again, what a tragedy! Caught in a political struggle that even today, 1995, is still very much a puzzle. Stirlin wrote once that the people were about as concerned about who was in charge of their country as we are about whether Republicans or Democrats are in charge in Washington, D.C. (Is anyone in charge?). They just wanted to wrest a living from the sea or their rice fields. My contact with the people was very limited. Part of our “job” was to stop and search boats, check their IDs, check their fishing and boat permits…look for contraband. They were almost always very polite and courteous, and I suspect just wanting us to leave them alone (why not)? In most ways they were much more intelligent than we thought them to be. Of course they spoke Vietnamese, some several dialects, many spoke French, and many had, of necessity, picked up pidgin English. We spoke Americanese…few of us could speak French, and the pidgin-Vietnamese that we were taught barely got us by. At times, I’m sure we were the true example of the Ugly American. What a shame! But there was also a tremendous amount of goodwill and impromptu sharing that went on…that was as a rule, not reported by the media. Combined Action Platoons (CAPs) spent countless hours and days giving medical help, building homes (sometimes complete villages, no matter who had destroyed them)…in general, just trying to relieve some of the suffering. Americans, compared to many other peoples, are thought to be very snobbish and overbearing, and maybe deservedly so, but we are also the most generous and caring when needs arise. It’s an attitude problem, I guess. But it was a very rare individual, no matter how tough he might appear, who would not “give” when it was necessary.

 

The country itself varied greatly from the lush delta region, to mountainous regions inland, to rough, rocky coastal areas of the northern and central regions. There were jungles. There were mountains. There were agricultural areas. The Navy base at Cam Ranh Bay had a white, sandy beach that would rival any in the world…and if you could forget the machine-gun emplacements…you could forget yourself for a few hours. I never made it to Saigon, but the city of DaNang had a definite French flair. I would guess that in time of peace, Viet Nam would be an interesting place to visit…but to be honest, I don’t have any great desire to do so…then again…maybe.

 

So much for the editorial comment.

 

Remember the monsoon season? The typhoon that missed us? Of course it missed us AFTER we had sandbagged several buildings! And talk about rain! When it did decide to rain, it flat got with the program. There was something a bit unusual about wading waist deep in water just to get down to the dock to board the boat. And Willy, do you remember standing shoulder deep in the river, holding fuel hoses while re-fueling was underway? River was well above flood stage and you and I had to hold the hoses against the current while “Boats” held the boat close to the river bank. Do you remember the large snake that drifted by us while we stood there? He was at least six feet long and as big around as my upper arm. He was also apparently not interested in us! Tallest was not always the best.

 

Then there was the company of Marines that pitched their tents in the low ground behind our “hooches” just prior to the monsoon season. As I remember, there was about two feet of water in their tents shortly thereafter. I’m sure that they were fighters second to none but every now and then they seemed to earn their nicknames of “Grunts” and “Jarheads.”

 

This definitely needs a commentator…to let you know where we are when my mind skips and jumps.

 

We now “flashback” to Cam Ranh Bay.

 

How did we manage to get part of the Miss America ’67 Tour to visit our boat? I think it had to do with the fact that Miss New York was with them and Stirlin probably fell all over himself begging. As I said earlier, Boats, my mind is sometimes fuzzy with the details.

 

Does anyone other than me…TJ (?)…remember flag football in the sand at Cam Ranh Bay. I seem to remember that the “enlisted swine” (that from a retired Army officer/friend of mine? Beat the officers two out of three! Were you aware that those games got me an offer to play football at Slippery Rock State Teachers College? Hindsight being what it is…I should have given that offer a try. That was also the second football scholarship offer I had…and turned down. May say something for my intelligence. Actually…it does show a spark of sense, since I really knew just how good a football player I was, or wasn’t. I was NOT a good quarterback…despite the strong arm. I DO think that I could have been a very good small college center. However, one thing that I did know…and that was that I was slower than I looked…and that was pretty slow! Also, had I gone to college right out of high school, I might eventually have been drafted into the Army, and none of this would have occurred! Good or bad? We’ll never know!

 

DaNang - How about ping-pong aboard the YR? Or softball? What I remember about the softball field was that there was a point at which you gave up on long fly balls and fouls. The outfield was relatively deep but it was pretty well “fenced” by stacks of supplies. Anything hit into that area was a homerun. Foul balls were a bit tricky since the foul lines were defined by rolled concertina wire. Person soon learned when to let the ball go foul…lest you became “fouled” in the wire. And to those who remember, that stuff was not to be messed with.

 

Back to CHINA BEACH. Yours truly made the mistake of walking the last few hundred yards from the main highway to the main entrance of the base by himself one day. No big deal, you say? I didn’t think so either at the time. I should have stayed on the bus for a few more minutes and gotten off right at the main gate. But I didn’t. After the first hundred yards or so, I had picked up a following of little kids who began to pester me…asking for money and just talking, so I thought! With a couple of hundred yards still to go to get to the main gate one of the little kids” tried to rip my watch off my wrist. Another tried to rip the front left pocket off my shirt. And about that time I felt a tug at the left rear pocket of my dungarees. One of the “kids” had slit open that pocket and was in the process of pulling out my billfold. It was at that point that I exploded, swung around and reached for my survival knife (which most of us carried) and began yelling. This backed the kids off a bit, and about that time, a couple of the MPs from the CHINA BEACH gate began heading my way. They said they had not seen that happen before…suggested that it might be a good idea to travel with company the next time. Needless to say, I agreed! That particular incident scared me more than I care to remember! And these were little kids…maybe 4-8 years old!

 

A couple of times I took the bus across the city of DaNang to the Air Force Base…Hill something-or-other. One day, I watched a Marine “Phantom” crack up on take-off. Watched the pilot eject and wondered in a rather detached sort of way if he could survive the ejection at that elevation. I never did find out…hope he did. Also on that trip I first noticed the long, air-conditioned Butler-type building across from the airfield and the rows and rows of long gray boxes that were stacked in an adjacent field. It was on my next trip that I learned that this was the military morgue, and the rows and rows of long boxes were in fact caskets. Ever seen 80 acres of caskets? That was the last time until May 18, 1968, that I went into that part of the U.S. Military complex in DaNang.

 

RULE #1 UPON ENTERING HARBOR! CLEAR ALL WEAONS OF AMMUNTION!

RULE #2 UPON ENTERING HARBOR! DOUBLE CHECK TO SEE THAT ALL WEAPONS HAVE BEEN CLEARED OF AMMUNITION!

 

Cua Viet…Fall…1967 - Rules 1 and 2 were violated by one of our brother crews! Unfortunately, they were tied up alongside us! A short time later, their gunner was cleaning their forward fifties, leaned against the trigger housing…and fired a single, fifty-caliber round into the expansion tank of our port engine. No one injured, but it certainly got the attention of a couple of us who were doing some clean-up work below decks. I remember that we (the 80 boat) had to limp on one engine down to DaNang for repairs. And of course when the engineers pulled the boat out of the water, “Boats” decided that it would be a good time to slap some good old Navy red and gray on the hull. New expansion tank and new paint job, check the screws and skegs…about four hours later we were ready to head back north to Cua Viet. Do you know what happens when the twin screws are put on in reverse order? As I remember, the thrust is reversed. I believe we ran about a thirty foot gash down the side of a Vietnamese Navy Gun Boat. Then there was a moment of pregnant silence as most waited to see what the Chief Engineman was going to do. I think most of us expected him to go ballistic. As it turned out, he almost fell off the dock as he staggered around with laughter. Needless to say, the Vietnamese Gun Boat crew was not as amused. So back on to the skids we went and an hour or so later we gave it another try and were soon headed on our way. We didn’t stay around long enough to find out what happened with the gun boat.

 

Someone once asked me if I was scared, or afraid, during my year’s tour in Viet Nam? Only for the first 365 days. I think that anyone who did a tour in Viet Name was probably afraid. If not, they were either crazy, or dead. While I WAS afraid, I was never petrified with fear…well, maybe not more than six or eight times…a week! The point is that most who were there were able to control their fear. Not let it overwhelm them. We were soldiers/sailors who responded to our superiors because of our training. Even those who resented that authority obeyed because the alternatives weren’t very good. And because of that training most were able to push their fear into the background and do their job. You weren’t ALWAYS scared out of your wits. We went to the exchanges, we played softball and football, we went to the beaches (would you believe that there was a China Beach Surf Club?), we went to the enlisted men’s clubs. But there was always the thought in the back of your mind that the situation was not entirely normal (“I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto!”) The baseball field in West Bend, Iowa was no great shakes when I played on it, but it didn’t have rolled concertina wire around it. (Tap your heels together and repeat after me: “There’s no place like home…etc., etc.”) Yes, I admit it, I was afraid!

 

May 18, 1968 - Stirlin and I are the last two out. The others have already departed. TJ was the first to go. Then Willie and Kell. Then Walt. Finally, Stirlin and yours truly. One year to the day! I think! I never did figure out just what the International Date Line did. I still think that the NAVY owes me a day or two. But I’m not going to go back to collect! Anyway, in typical military fashion we played the hurry-up-and-wait game. We transferred from Swifts the day prior to departure…to OGU (out Going Units) at Camp Tien Sha…overnight there. Up at Oh-Dark-Hundred to muster…then wait for two hours until buses were sent to transport us to the Air Base. Get off the bus and muster inside the terminal. Wait. 9:00 a.m. – Muster, again! Apparently to make sure that none of us had sneaked away…FOR WHAT REASON? 9:20 a.m. – a big Continental Airlines jet is ready to go. Muster at the gate (Lord help us!)…and board!!! At approximately 9:40 a.m. we are sitting on the approach strip waiting for our turn to take off. We wait…and we wait! Finally, the pilot comes on the intercom and informs us that we are waiting while airstrikes are scrambled off to go on an emergency mission…there are no disparaging remarks. We do understand! The only drawback to all of this waiting is that the air conditioning aboard the plane is either shut down or is set very low until we are airborne. It is HOT! MISERABLY HOT! Altogether we wait for almost half an hour. Stewardesses offer iced team, iced water. Finally, about 10:20 a.m., we are moving down the runway. We get airborne and bank sharply to the left, port, east…up and away from the China Beach area. Shortly thereafter, the pilot comes back on and informs us that we will be making one stop…Okinawa…for a couple hours and then on to Norton Air Force Base, San Bernardino, California. ETA…approximately 9:40 a.m., Friday, May 18, 1968! (There’s that International Date Line again!) There is a rather subdued cheer! The flight stateside is a very quiet one. I don’t think that we were sure it was happening. We would be once we touched down at Norton AFB!

 

Norton Air Force Base - 150 soldiers, sailors, marines…and a few civilians…walked off the big Proud Bird with the Gold Tail! We were stateside! Mothers and fathers, wives and girlfriends, brothers and sisters…many waited for individuals to step onto the tarmac. We had almost completely emptied the place…Stirlin and I were among the last off…a truck backfired, or a tire blew out…somewhere in the immediate vicinity of us. Two or three of the recent returnees quickly dropped to the ground. The rest of us ducked, flinched, looked for someplace to take cover. Then we remembered where we were. We may have felt a bit sheepish, but I think in that moment, many of the waiting people realized that we were going to need some time to adjust.

 

I think I’ll put this to rest for a while. My brain seems to have atrophied…I know!...that’s not necessarily a new condition. I may send this off to Tom and Stirlin and see if they can add something more intelligent.

 

September 23, 1995 - Once again, I’m back.

 

Not sure that I have anything to add, but I thought I’d make a comment or two regarding the MOBILE RIVERINE FORCES ASSOCIATION, of which I am a “plank owner.”

 

Recently the new SWIFTBOAT SAILORS ASSOCIATION was formed…and I am a member. It should be noted that without the efforts of the MRFA, this new organization would not exist. Through the efforts of some of the “plank owners” of the MRFA…who were/are SWIFTIES…many members of Coastal Squadron One (Swifts) have been located. The new fledgling association is growing very quickly and my understanding is that there is now a reunion planned for October, 1996, in Coronado, California. I will try very hard to make that trip. Will see. But again, without the efforts of the MRFA, none of this would be happening. I sincerely hope that the SWIFTBOAT SAILORS ASSOCIATION will acknowledge this work! Without their searching, I would not know the whereabouts of Crew 94A! A special thanks to the MRFA!!!