"The Loss of PCF 77"
as told by then
LTJG David Garner Wilbourne

On the afternoon of 14 Nov 1966 we were told to beef up the night presence due to an intelligence report that a Chinese sub might be crossing the DMZ to infiltrate arms. The increased presence was to be dusk to dawn. When the three boats got underway the weather appeared friendly.  As we were among the first 100 crews none of us had ever experienced the rapid onset of monsoon winds.  Prior to 2400 PCF-77 had closed the southern boundary of our patrol area and received Chief Baker (MRC Willy Scott Baker) to "daisy chain" into our camp the next morning.

Shortly thereafter LTJG Lou Velloni began sending scary weather reports from patrol area 1A1 on the DMZ.  Lou was a brilliant and innovative officer, but a natural stand up comic so some of  us down south were wondering if wasn't elaborating on his reports.  It wasn't long before we believed  him when he reported that a swell crashed over his stern and crashed through the rear pilot house windows causing him to run south at best speed.

The rest of the night our three boats bored holes in the South China Sea off the Hue (Perfume) River mouth. Most of the time we were stern to the swells to take advantage of the weight the engines and the long open after deck. 

At daybreak OinC soul searching began on the radio.  Lou opted to "shoot the curl first" and did so in true surfing style.  The second boat was doing well until they lost a man over board.  By this time I had relieved BM1 Twichell (BM1 Alma Twichell) at the helm. He didn't say a word. For over six months, since we had first laid eyes on the 77 boat in Subic, he had trained me to be every bit as good a coxswain as he was. I had also given my kapok life jacket to Chief Baker, our passenger. This was not an unselfish or heroic gesture. Since the age of sixteen I had been a lifeguard and swimming instructor and when I finished this tour I became an Underwater Demolition Team and SEAL officer for 23 years. 

I radioed the boat not to come about and that we would pick up the man in the water.  It was to no avail.  I watched the PCF come about , crash though a monster wave and exposed its entire bottom with its turning screws.  We continued to close and seconds later all I saw was water and foam. 

Fortunately for me the stress of the turnover caused the pilot house door to spring open and I swam for the light. As I surfaced I was struck by a huge wave.  The hull rolled and I could see the entire bottom with its screws still turning.  Another wave and roll and Twichell popped out of the same door.  It then occurred to me that these life jackets were a disadvantage to those still inside.  On the next roll I saw GM Hodson (GMGSN Thomas Doyle Hodson) struggling to open a cabin window and I began a series of surface dives to assist him.   I was successful and he too escaped as the hull sank more rapidly.  EN O'Neal (EN2 Arthur Buddy O'Neal), the look-out that had been ejected from the gun tub, who had been clinging to the bottom joined the rest of the survivors in the water. As those with life jackets were at the mercy of the waves, I tried to gather them together and proceed toward the beach.  The distance appeared to be at least 1500 yards.  As we stumbled ashore on the north side of the river, where we usually drew fire, I was loath to heed the gestures of the villagers who were attempting to get us to come into their hooch's to get warm.  Within minutes we were to see USMC AMTRACKS swim across the river, drop their ramps and take us on board. 

We were flown to a field hospital  to be treated for minor cuts and exposure.   During that trip we identified the bodies of Chief Baker and PO Brock (BM3 Harry Giles Brock), which had been recovered after they floated to the surface.  I will never forget their blue faces.  

The next day Commander Coastal Squadron ONE, Commander Art Ismay flew with me from Hue to DaNang.  He tried to comfort me by saying that he felt that I had done everything  I could under the circumstances.  It helped, but not a lot. 

Commander Naval Forces Viet Nam (COMNAVFORV) sent an officer to conduct an investigation.  I still have a copy of the document that includes a picture of the bow of  77 resting on the beach.  I was found responsible, but not culpable for the loss of PCF-77.  Among the recommendations was one that I be awarded the Silver Star Medal.  CINCPACFLT correctly decided that since we were not under fire at he time of the incident, I should receive the Navy Marine Corps Medal.  When I retired in 1990, I wore ten personal decorations, half of which were for heroism or heroic achievement.  I cherish that NMCM the most of any of my awards.