"The Hue River"
as told by then
LTJG Anthony Rodgers Taylor

The loss of PCF-77, at the mouth of the Hue River, was not that she was swamped, in the truest sense of the term, but was flipped bow-down, stern-up and sank immediately. Entering the Hue River was probably the most dangerous river entrance that I have ever known. The following is the way I remember that incident.

For those not familiar with the Hue River, in I Corp, South Vietnam, the following is a description of that white knuckle run. To enter the river you needed to run straight at the beach, with the entrance about 15 degrees off your port bow, and then, at just the right moment, give a full left rudder to swing around, almost broadside to the seas, and gun the engines to make it into the protection of the seaward side of the river mouth. The river did not flow directly into the sea perpendicular to the beach, but at nearly a 30 degree angle. So, anytime you were running toward the beach, prior to giving the hard left rudder, you had to play with the engines to keep the boat running with the seas and then get in a "smooth" trough to make that last run almost broadside to the seas. This was hard enough to do in normal surf, but during the monsoon season, it was extremely dangerous as your the boat was then surfing on some very high seas, with very short periods between the waves. And, of course, you had to also watch your fathometer so you wouldn't bottom out in the surf line.

PCF-77 was trying to enter the river, to take shelter from one of those horrendous monsoon storms, where you had to look up to see the crest of the waves. Visibility was limited to whether you were in a trough, at any moment, or surfing on the crest of the wave itself. As PCF-77 was surfing toward the beach, another huge wave overtook her, lifting the stern and flipping the boat end-over-end. As I recall, those who lost their lives in that tragic accident were below deck, in the main cabin, and as the boat went upside down, the deck plates, that covered the interior ammo/gun lockers, dropped down on those who had been standing on them only moments before. The survivors were thrown into the sea and washed ashore. When they looked out to where the boat had been, there was nothing to see. A few days later some divers went in search of PCF-77, but the largest piece they found was a piece of "rolled aluminum" not more that 18" in length. The boat had been ripped apart by the sea, the sandy bottom and during the course of the storm had been torn and shredded into small, unrecognizable pieces. The recovered aluminum piece looked as it had been rolled up, like a newspaper, and then been polished silvery bright.

As a footnote, my personal log, dated 30 October 1966, tells of my being directed, in PCF-16, to proceed to the area off the Hue River, and to search for a crewman, BM1 Kemper S. Billings, that had been swept overboard from PCF-56, the night of 29 October, while traversing the river mouth. During our patrol, in that area, we had a UDT sailor from the USS Thomaston (LSD 29) on board to assist in recovery of the lost crewman if we found him. We never did find him, but my log also notes that I entered the Hue River the next day, to make a delivery of some materials to the Hue Swift Detachment. I can see that surf run, into that river, to this very day...

If any of you have anything to correct or to add to my recollection of the loss of BM1 Kemper S. Billings or PCF-77, please fill us in. By the way, I believe that after the PCF-77 incident all the interior ammo/gun lockers had latches installed on their deck plates.