Five "Swifts" Hit

A five-boat raid of the Bo De River by Navy "Swift" boats (PCFs) ended seven minutes after it began, November 24, when the 50-foot, aluminum patrol craft ran into a wall of enemy machine gun fire.

All five boats were hit and three Navymen wounded, two of them seriously.   Three Viet Cong also were confirmed killed and four enemy machine gun emplacements destroyed during a fierce, five-minute firefight.   The Bo De River, probed for the first time in October by other Navy "Swift" boats, runs through an area of An Xuyen Province, 155 miles southwest of Saigon, which long has been controlled by the Viet Cong.

As reported in November 25, 1968 issue of  Stars and Stripes.


VC Gunners Pounce on Cruising Swift Boats

By Spec. 5 Randy Woods

S&S Staff Correspondent

An Thoi, Vietnam --- The tracers ripped apart the wheelhouse, a few feet away. Then the man wrestling the big machine gun behind me screamed -- his kneecap was ripped open by a .51 cal. slug. The bullet had smashed through the aluminum turret and streaked to within six inches of my head to get to his leg.

The swift boat was on an assault into the Bo De River at the southern tip of South Vietnam.

What was to have been a three-hour cruise through the river, blasting VC storage areas and headquarters areas, turned into a five-minute death trap. The Communist gunners were waiting in dug in positions with .51 cal. machine guns.

The 50-foot boats, which are armed with .50-cal. machine guns and 81mm mortars and are normally used for coastal surveillance, began to challenge the Viet Cong in their watery delta haunts two months ago. The swift boats went up the rivers in search of VC base camps and supply areas. It was part of the Navy's massive operation "Sea Lords."

The tactics worked well at first, because of the element of surprise, but now the law of averages was catching up. The Viet Cong were waiting.

Everything went wrong that day. The boats didn't get under way until almost dark. They ran aground at the mouth of the river. There was no air cover. The preparatory fire from the LST Washoe County's 3-inch guns fell short. It was raining. But the Navy gave the five small boats the go-ahead anyway.

The downpour almost obscured the shore, but VC bunkers were visible on both banks.

Suddenly, as the last boat entered the river mouth, the VC machine guns opened up from the shore. Bullets cut the water as the machine guns reached for the boats. The pilothouse exploded in a hail of flying glass, tracer flashes, shrapnel, hot shell casings and a pungent haze of gunsmoke as the VC gunners got the range.

There was a noise behind me. I turned to see the turret gunner sit down with a thump. He was holding his right leg where a .51-cal. slug had ripped it open at the kneecap. "I'm hit," he said.

His cry was echoed by the pilot, who was struck in the hand by a piece of flying shrapnel from a bullet through the windshield. Another crewman took his place at the wheel but couldn't see where the boat was going through the shattered windshield.

Over the radio came an urgent message -- a VC .51-cal. shell shot the leg off the Officer in Charge of another Swift. "We have another two wounded aboard," replied our skipper, "need immediate medevac."

The leader of the squadron called out "abort mission! Let's get out of here!"  The boats began to turn in an effort to escape as Communist fire increased. Our blinded boat ran into another, righted itself, and turned toward the sea.

Two other boats were hit in the steering gear and a third took a rocket grenade in one of its engines, cutting its speed in half.

A long time later the battered boats bucked on the first swells of the open sea. The echo of the gunfire still rang in our ears. We left behind three dead Viet Cong and three enemy machine gun emplacements destroyed, confirmed by air cover that showed up after it was all over.

The five Swifts limped back through the night at half speed on the 16-hour trip to Phu Quoc Island in the Gulf of Thailand. It was over.

As reported in November 26, 1968 issue of  Stars and Stripes.

 

The five boats involved in the November 24, 1968 incident were:   PCF 31, 38, 72, 82, and 93.

Personnel injured in the ambush:

Turret Gunner PCF-31 - Joseph L. Ponder, GMG3 - WIA
Helmsman PCF-31 - Robert W. McGowan, QM3 - WIA
Officer in Charge PCF-72 - James W. Harwood Jr, LTJG - WIA


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Chicagoan Tell Cong Ambush

CA MAU PENINSULA, VietNam, Nov 25 (UPI) - "Its miraculous any of us got out of there alive," said Lt. (jg) Larry Stoneberg of Chicago, commander of one of five United States navy patrol boats ambushed yesterday deep in the Mekong delta.
Viet Cong gunners hit the boats, wounding three Americans seriously, as the American vessels attempted to raid a guerilla stronghold 155 miles southwest of Saigon in an area never penetrated by allied forces.
The operation was part of the navy’s "Sea Lords" sweep aimed at destroying Viet Cong sanctuaries in the seldom patrolled Ca Mau peninsula,

Gunners Line Banks
Viet Cong gunners lining the banks of the Bo De river raked the 50-foot United States navy patrol boats with automatic weapons and recoilless rifle fire, forcing the Americans to abandon the mission and fight their way back to safe waters.
Two of Stoneberg’s five crewmen were wounded when Viet Cong machine gun fire peppered the pilot house and gun turret.
The other wounded American was a young officer who commanded a second boat in the American flotilla. Several other crewmen narrowly escaped injury when their flak jackets absorbed exploding fragments from communist shells.

Decides to End Raid
Lt. Robert Brant of Marquette, Mich., commander of the flotilla aboard PCF-93, decided to end the raid when it became obvious the boats had fallen into a trap.
Brant’s boat was first into the river, but it did not draw fire until the other four vessels moved in behind it. Then suddenly, the Communist opened up from both sides.
The Americans returned fire from their machine guns and rocket grenade launchers, but it was no match. The Communist were firing from well fortified positions.

Confirm 3 Cong Killed
"If we had gone any farther into the river, we’d have never come back," Brant said.  At least three Viet Cong were confirmed killed.
United States army helicopters pilots who joined the battle estimated that two Viet Cong companies – about 300 men – were in the area.
Gunners Mate Fred S. Prysock of Hattiesburg, Miss., manning a 50-caliber machine gun, knocked out the communist gun sites firing on his boat.
A ricocheting bullet narrowly missed the head of Boatswain Mate Steve Luke of Provo, Utah.
Gunners Mate Paul Lukaswicz of Worcester, Mass., had a close call when a 50-caliber slug tore thru his gun turret and sailed into the flak deflector he was wearing around his hips. The slug bounced harmlessly to the deck.

In Viet Since July
Lt. Stoneburg, who will be 25 next month, is the son of Mr. And Mrs. Charles Stoneberg, 7805 Catalpa Ave. He has been in Viet Nam since July.
A graduate of Taft High School, he attended the University of Wisconsin where he received a degree in political science in 1966. While in college, he was in the Navy’s ROTC program and was commissioned the day he graduated from Wisconsin.

As reported in November 26, 1968 issue of  The Chicago Tribune.


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TRANSCRIPT OF TAPE RECORDING

24 November 1968 - Song Bo De river

VC Ambush of 5 U.S. Navy Swift Boats

 

The following transcription is of a tape recording made by ABC's war correspondent, Frank Marriono. The tape recording is of the attack on 5 US Navy Swift Boats (PCF - Patrol Craft Fast), by approximately 300 Vietcong troops, in a VC stronghold located 155 miles southwest of Saigon, in an area, according to a United Press International report, "never before penetrated by Allied Forces." The attack took place late in the afternoon, on Sunday, 24 November 1968, while the Swift Boats were on a SEALORDS (South East Asia Lake, Ocean, River and Delta Strategy) mission up the Song Bo De river, located in the southern tip of Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. Reportedly, the Swifts left behind 3 dead VC and 3 enemy machine gun emplacements destroyed, confirmed by air cover that showed up after it was all over.

This recording was made aboard PCF-38. The 4 other boats on the mission were PCFs 31, 72, 82 and 93.

NOTE: All the following comments and remarks, in parentheses and brackets, were NOT made by the reporting correspondent but are descriptions, comments, remarks and sounds that were recorded on the correspondent’s tape recorder.

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

(boat engine noise and unintelligible radio traffic)

We're all starting to form up now, so I guess we're ready to go in. I'm reminded of a Western movie where the cavalry is about to greet the Indians. I can almost expect to hear the CAVALRY'S CHARGE with U.S. Navy Swift Boats as we approach the mouth of the Bo De River.

I asked the captain of one of the Swift Boats here, last night, why he volunteered to be a Swift Boat Captain, and his answer was, I guess there's a little bit of John Kennedy in each of us.

We're approaching the mouth of the river now, we're about 150 to 200 yards away. An ambush is expected as soon as we enter the mouth of the river.

Seemingly, all of a sudden the day has turned very gray. The water is very very brown with mud. Now I know why they call it The Muddy Water Navy.

These small 50 foot long boats travel the shorelines and the rivers and canals of the Vietcong held territory down in the Mekong Delta.

It looks like very thick jungle in there! I’m not close enough to see exactly, but I can’t see any daylight through the jungle, at all! There is somebody firing their guns, I can’t tell if it’s out going or incoming.

(receiving unintelligible radio traffic)

The gunners are going to fire on the starboard (right) side here in a moment.

[…Machine gun fire…]

They’re firing on the starboard side, I see the tracers hitting the trees and there seems to be a bunker there, apparently they received some fire from that area there doesn’t seem to be anymore coming from there. It’s a funny thing once we got inside the mouth of this river, which we are about one half mile at the present time, the boat seemed to have slowed up some. Maybe it’s just my imagination, it seems like we were going a lot faster out in the South China Sea, but da……, it seemed like we’ve slowed up … considerably! It’s a very uncomfortable feeling here, ah, being between two banks and in enemy territory! I see a very well fortified enemy bunker on the starboard side, we have not received any fire from it. It looks like, ah, I count one, two, three, four, five bunkers are right here on the starboard side as we’re passing. The Skipper has not called for fire yet.

[…Machine gun fire…]

WE’RE RECEIVING FIRE NOW! WE ARE RECEIVING FIRE!

[…Machine gun fire…]

ALL THE GUNS HAVE OPENED UP! ALL THE GUNS HAVE OPENED UP!

[…Machine gun fire…]

I DON’T KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON! I DON’T KNOW WHAT THEY’RE FIRING AT! BUT EVERYBODY IS FIRING AT THE SAME TIME!

[…Machine gun fire…]

(unintelligible radio traffic)

THERE’S SHOTS FIRED ON THE ... THEY’RE FIRING THE MORTARS NOW, THEY’RE FIRING THE MORTARS!

(unintelligible radio traffic)

THERE SEEMS TO BE FIRE ALL AROUND NOW!

(receiving emergency radio traffic, in an excited voice: Abby November 38, this is 31, my gunners’ been hit, my gunners’ been hit, over!)

(The skipper on the 38 boat says, who, one of the crew members on the 38 boat says, Joe’s been hit)

ONE OF THE GUNNERS’ HAD BEN HIT, ONE OF THE GUNNERS’ HAD BEEN HIT VERY BADLY! IT LOOKS LIKE THIS IS GOING TO BE A PRETTY BAD DAY! ONE OF THE GUNNERS’ HAVE BEEN HIT! I DON’T KNOW ON BOARD WHICH SHIP, OR WHICH BOAT, BUT ONE OF THE GUNNERS’ IS BLEEDING BADLY!

(receiving radio traffic: 38, 38, this is 31, did you get my message, over! This is 38, negative, over! (radio traffic from 31) my gunners’ been shot, my forward gun tub is out of commission over!)

[…Machine gun fire…]

THE GUNNERS’ HAVE OPENED UP AGAIN! NUMBER 31 IS OUT OF COMMISSION, BOAT 31 IS OUT OF COMMISSION! THE GUNNERS’ SEEMS TO HAVE BEEN KILLED!

(receiving radio traffic: Abort Mission! Abort Mission!)

WE’RE GOING TO ABORT THE MISSION! THEY’RE GOING TO ABORT THE MISSION, WE’RE GOING TO ABORT THE MISSION, WE’RE GOING TO ABORT THE MISSION, WE’RE GOING TO HEAD OUT!

(transmitting radio traffic: 31 this is 38, did you read me, over! 38 this 31, negative, say again, over! This is 38, Abort Mission, head out!)

WE ARE HEADING OUT NOW! WE ARE GOING TO TURN AROUND AND HEAD OUT! WE ARE GOING TO TURN AND HEAD OUT!

(unintelligible radio traffic)

[…Machine gun fire…]

THE FIFTY CALIBERS HAVE OPENED UP ON THE PORT (left) SIDE NOW. AS WE ARE GOING, AH, FOLLOWING THE LEADER HERE.

(receiving radio traffic: we’re going to need a medevac immediately, over!)

ONE MAN NEEDS A MEDEVAC RIGHT AWAY! APPARENTLY (interrupted by radio traffic: get the hell out of here) ALL BOATS ABORT MISSION, THE ORDER HAS JUST BEEN GIVEN FOR ALL BOATS TO ABORT MISSION! HIT THE STARBOARD SIDE!

[…Machine gun fire…]

THE STARBOARD SIDE!

[…Machine gun fire…]

EVERYONE’S KEEPING THEIR HEADS DOWN

[…Machine gun fire…]

EVERYBODY’S GOING TO GET OUT OF HERE. IT SEEMS LIKE WE WALKED INTO A TRAP!

[…Machine gun fire…]

THEY’RE FIRING THE MORTARS POINT BLANK AT EACH BANK!

[…Machine gun fire…]

THE FIFTIES ARE FIRING LIKE CRAZY!

[…Machine gun fire…]

(unintelligible radio traffic)

[…Machine gun fire…]

KEEP FIRING THE CAPTAIN SAYS, KEEP FIRING, THE SKIPPER SAYS

(receiving radio traffic: all boats abort mission, fight your way out!)

IT SEEMS LIKE WE WALKED INTO A TRAP! GET THAT PORT SIDE, PORT SIDE!

[…Machine gun fire…]

(receiving radio traffic: .all boats, get the hell out, shoot your way out!)

OUR BOAT’S BEEN HIT! A CREW HAS BEEN HIT AMIDSHIPS, A CREW HAS BEEN HIT AMIDSHIPS! EVERYBODY IS TO FIRE THEIR WAY OUT, EVERYBODY THE BOAT IN FRONT OF US SEEMS TO BE HIT, IT’S SMOKING! OUR BOAT, NUMBER 38, HAS BEEN … OUR, WE MAY HAVE BEEN HIT! WE HAVEN’T TAKEN ANY HITS I DON’T KNOW.

[…Machine gun fire…]

OUR AFT GUN JUST LET GO!

[…Machine gun fire…]

THEY’RE LETTING GO NOW! THERE SEEMS TO BE A GREAT DEAL OF FIRE

[…Machine gun fire…]

FROM EVERY BANK!

[…Machine gun fire…]

NO MATTER WHERE WE GO THERE SEEMS TO BE FIRING!

[…Machine gun fire…]

WE’RE STILL TAKING IT!

[…Machine gun fire…]

THERE’S FIRE ALL OVER THE PLACE!

[…Machine gun fire…]

OUR ENGINES HAVE PICKED UP SOME SPEED!

[…Machine gun fire…]

EVERYBODY’S KEEPING THEIR HEADS DOWN!

[…Machine gun fire…]

I THOUGHT WE WERE HIT BUT WE WEREN’T!

[…Machine gun fire…]

THERE ARE ROUNDS COMING OVER THIS BOAT!

[…Machine gun fire…]

I CAN HEAR THEM!

[…Machine gun fire…]

THE FIFTIES ARE FIRING LIKE CRAZY NOW!

[…Machine gun fire…]

EVERYBODY IS FIRING, EVERYBODY IS FIRING!

[…Machine gun fire…]

(receiving radio traffic: . all units, this is Romeo 1, blow your fuckin way out!)

[…Machine gun fire…]

(receiving radio traffic: Arouse...Arouse...Abby November 72...Abby November 72...Immediate Medevac...Immediate Medevac, over!)

THERE SEEMS TO BE A MEDEVAC. I GUESS IT’S THAT GUNNER IN BOAT 31, THEY’RE CALLING FOR A MEDEVAC RIGHT NOW! I DON’T KNOW WHAT THE SITUATION IS HERE RIGHT NOW, BUT IT SEEMS LIKE THE LST IS FIRING PLENTY OF ROUNDS RIGHT NOW! WE’RE OUT OF THE MOUTH OF THE RIVER.

(receiving unintelligible radio traffic)

THE INSIDE OF THE CABIN HERE IS LITERALLY FILLED, LITERALLY FILLED WITH SPENT AMMUNITION, SPENT CARTRIDGES.

(receiving unintelligible radio traffic)

IT WAS AN AMBUSH ALRIGHT, IT WAS AN AMBUSH OKAY. THERE WAS NO DOUBT IT WAS AN AMBUSH. THEY WAITED UNTIL WE GOT INSIDE THE MOUTH OF THE RIVER AND THEY JUST OPENED UP AND ALL HELL BROKE LOOSE!

[…Machine gun fire…]

I DON’T KNOW WHERE THIS COTTON PICKIN THING IS TO CUT OFF

[…Machine gun fire…]

BUT WE GOT INSIDE THE MOUTH OF THE RIVER AND THEY WERE JUST WAITING FOR US. FROM EACH BANK, ON EITHER SIDE OF US ERUPTED WITH AUTOMATIC WEAPONS FIRE. THE MORTAR IS FIRING AGAIN.WELL, WE'RE WELL OUT OF THE AREA NOW, I DON’T SUPPOSE WE ARE IN RANGE OF ANY SMALL WEAPONS FIRE. THE COMMAND GROUP OR THE COMMANDER OF THE TASK GROUP SAYS WE’RE HEADING TOWARDS THE LST. IT’S RAINING LIKE HELL NOW JUST TO MAKE THIS DAY A LITTLE BIT EERIE, JUST A LITTLE MORE OMINOUS! THAT WAS A HELACIOUS FIFTEEN MINUTES, JUST A HELACTIOUS FIFTEEN MINUTES! I DON’T KNOW WHICH BOATS BEEN HIT. ONE ENGINE WAS HIT, I THINK OUR ENGINE WAS HIT, I KNOW WE PROCEEDED OUT ON ONE ENGINE.

This is John Marriono reporting aboard Swift Boat 38 here in the South China Sea.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

NOTES:
Be advised that in the above transcript, when the following radio traffic was received: "Arouse...Arouse...Abby November 72...Abby November 72...Immediate Medevac...Immediate Medevac, over!" Immediately after hearing that radio message, he (the reporting correspondent) said, "THERE SEEMS TO BE A MEDEVAC. I GUESS IT’S THAT GUNNER IN BOAT 31, THEY’RE CALLING FOR A MEDEVAC RIGHT NOW!"

As a matter of fact, for the record, Abby November 72, was not calling in a medevac request for the wounded gunner aboard PCF-31! But in reality, a crew member aboard Abby November 72 (PCF-72) was calling for an immediate medevac for their wounded skipper, LT. James W. Harwood Jr, who just had his leg blown off by enemy machine gun fire.    (See the below Award Certificate)

The LST mentioned in the above report was the USS Washoe County (LST-1165). The three of us (QM3 Bob McGowan, LT. Harwood and myself), that were wounded in the above ambush were medevaced from the deck of the Washoe County and flown to the U.S. Army’s 29th Medical Evacuation Hospital located in Binh Thuy. We all survived our wounds.

The Washoe County began her last deployment of 1968 off the coast of South Vietnam at the Ca Mau peninsula for Operation "Market Time," sealing off the coastline of South Vietnam and adjacent waterways from communist infiltration. From 27 October to 9 December, the tank landing ship functioned as an emergency helicopter landing pad in evacuating eight Navy and Coast Guardsmen wounded in action and the body of one Coast Guardsman who had been killed in action ashore. She also dispensed fuel, food, water, and ammunition to 134 patrol boats and fired 42 naval gunfire support missions.

Submitted by: Joe Ponder, the wounded gunner onboard PCF-31, as mentioned in the above report.


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COMMANDER
UNITED STATES NAVAL FORCES
VIETNAM

 

The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Bronze Star Medal to

RICHARD ALAN TRUSSONI
ENGINEMAN THIRD CLASS
UNITED STATES NAVY

for service as set forth in the following:

CITATION

"For Meritorious Achievement while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in armed conflict against North Vietnamese and Viet Cong communist aggressors on the Bo De River.   On 24 November 1968, Petty Officer TRUSSONI was serving as after gunner on Patrol Craft Fast 72.   After entering the river, Patrol Craft Fast 72 came under a withering hail of enemy machine gun, recoilless rifle and semi-automatic weapons fire from both banks of the river which seriously wounded the Officer in Charge of Patrol Craft Fast 72.   Petty Officer TRUSSONI, seeing his Officer in Charge bleeding profusely from the severed leg, turned over his machinegun to the loader and went to his Officer in Charge's aid.    Petty Officer TRUSSONI applied a tourniquet to the severed leg with his belt and applied pressure on vital arterial points to slow the loss of blood.   He remained with his Officer in Charge, relaying orders to the helmsman and continuing first aid treatment despite the fact that no cover was available.   Petty Officer TRUSSONI's quick reaction, devotion to duty and courage under fire saved the life of his Officer in Charge and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service."

Petty Officer TRUSSONI is authorized to wear the Combat "V".

 

For the President

 

E.R. Zumwalt, Jr.
Vice Admiral, U.S. Navy
Commander U.S. Naval Forces, Vietnam

 


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This page was last updated on:  November 23, 2013 at 14:57