The Coast Guard in Vietnam

(Copied from The Coast Guard Reservist,  November 1996 by Vern Toler)

Editors Note: This is a thumbnail history of the Coast Guard in Vietnam with a detailed listing of the Coast Guard Cutters that were deployed there.

Vietnam is usually remembered as a war fought jungles and rice paddies. But there was another conflict as well, a sailor's war, much of it fought from the decks of United States Coast Guard Cutters. The Coast Guard played a significant role in securing Vietnam's 1,200-mile coastline. Some 8,000 Coast Guardsmen and 56 different combatant vessels were assigned to duty there. Coast Guardsmen destroyed enemy supply ships, supported ground units, rescued American and other friendly forces, and performed many more duties, including carrying out humanitarian roles which are common to the Coast Guard. Yet The Coast Guard's involvement in Vietnam Was is still little known. So this year, as America salutes its servicemen and women on Veterans Day, We pause to remember in particular our Coast Guardsmen who served in a land thousands of miles from home, Vietnam, roughly three decades ago.


Early in the Vietnam War, The Viet Cong and North Vietnamese obtained their supplies in many ways. Forces allied with the Republic of South Vietnam could not stop the enemy's flow of men, arms and supplies.

During February 1965, A U.S. Army pilot flying over Vung Ro Bay near Qui Nhon noticed an "island" moving slowly from one side of the bay to the other. Upon closer observation, he saw the "island " was a carefully camouflaged ship.

Intelligence sources determined the ship was North Vietnamese and engaged in supplying enemy forces. Air strikes were called in and the vessel was sunk.

A tight security and surveillance system was necessary. This would be no easy chore with 1,200 miles of coastline to patrol and over 60,000 junks and sampans to control. To provide this coverage, the Coastal Surveillance Force was established in March 1965, Called Market Time and after the native boats using the waterways for fishing and marketing, this task force provided a single command to integrate sea, air, and land-based units and coordinate U.S. Navy, Coast Guard and South Vietnamese naval units.

Squadron One

The backbone of the Coast Guard Fleet were the twenty-six 82-foot patrol boats (WBP). Known as Squadron One. The 82-footer's main job was choking off the enemy's sea borne supplies. Much of the action took place near the border, Division 12, out of Danang in the north, patrolled the 17th parallel. Division 11, based at An Thoi in the south, guarded the border between South Vietnam and Cambodia. At first, these patrol boats formed a barrier from the shore straight out into the ocean. They were to cut off the enemy as they tried to enter South Vietnamese waters. But the North Vietnamese sent their supplies in large steel-hulled vessels far out to sea and beat the blockade by going around it.

So, the Coast Guard and Navy changed tactics. Rather than trying to catch the enemy as they entered Southern waters, the Coast Guard and Navy decided to hit them as they approached the drop-off points. The boats formed a picket line along the shoreline and covered the area with radar. When a target was spotted, they would attack.

A year after the new defensive scheme was set up, enemy smuggling was stopped cold. In desperation, the communists tried a tactical change of their own. In February 1968, The North Vietnamese ran four large trawlers south all at once, in the hope of getting something through. Three were destroyed, and one retreated. After that, sea-borne smuggling was largely carried out in small sampans.

The patrol boats also worked with the Navy SEAL's and recon units. They also gave emergency support to Special Force's camps, transported personnel, evacuated wounded and provided naval-gunfire support. About two years into Operation Market Time, naval operations were extended further off-shore and expanded into the Gulf of Thailand.

Market Time units stopped many enemy vessels carrying supplies and men. The success of the operation forced the enemy to rely on the Ho Chi Minh Trail to transport supplies. As many of the trawler "kills" were in southern Vietnam near the Ca Mau Peninsula, the enemy had to carry supplies over an extraordinary long distance.

Squadron Three

As time went on, the Coast Guard was asked to increase its support and did so by providing five high-endurance cutters ranging in size from 255 to 378 feet. Coast Guard Squadron Three was born. The large cutters kept their peacetime white paint job instead of taking a coat of gray, like the patrol boats. They were quickly nicknamed "White Ghost" by the Viet Cong

Shortly after their arrival, Squadron Three ships began battling the Viet Cong. The cutter Rush, working with an Australian destroyer, brought its guns to the aid of a small Special Forces camp in the village of new Song Ong Doc. The village, located in the middle of Viet Cong held territory, was being overrun. Gunfire from the two ships drove off the attackers and left 64 Viet Cong dead. Like the patrol boats, the large cutters were multi-mission ships. They supported amphibious assaults and gave logistical support for Coast Guard patrol vessels and the Navy PFC's (Patrol Craft Fast).

Coast Guard Aviators

In addition to the patrol boats and high endurance cutters, 12 Coast Guard aviators flew in Vietnam between 1968 and 1967. They flew with the Air Force as part of a service exchange program out of Tuy Hua and Da Nang, Vietnam, as well as from Thailand and the Philippines.

Helicopter pilots flew Air Force HH-3s (known as the Jolly Green Giants) and later HH-53s, while fixed wing pilots flew Air Force C-130s. These aviators flew hundreds of rescue missions over enemy-infested jungles. Their actions kept a lot off pilots out of prison camps.

One of the Coast Guard's pilots was Lt. Jack Rittichier, who served as a pilot with the Air Force's 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron. He was the first Coast Guard combat casualty in Vietnam. ---  killed in a mountainous region west of Danang, while attempting to rescue a downed U.S. fighter pilot. Rittichier's helicopter came under hostile enemy fire and crashed in a ball of flame. A hanger at Coast Guard Air Station Detroit at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich., is named in Ritticher's honor.

Other Support Roles

Along with their combat role, Coast Guardsmen played an essential support mission. Coast Guard Port Securitymen a Reserve-only rate, were on hand as experts for safe loading and unloading of ammunition. Explosives Loading Detachments (ELD teams) were also set up. With one officer and seven enlisted men, they could stop any U.S. flag vessel from loading or unloading any cargo, and basically had carte blanch to enforce safety regulations. EDT teams encountered their share of bizarre and deadly situations as they struggled to keep the harbors from blowing up. Fire was a constant enemy. Vietnams families living aboard ammunition barges cooked with open flames, while both Vietnamese and American stevedores would smoke as they unloaded the cargoes.

Enemy attack was a constant threat. In February 1968, a merchant ship off loading took nine recoiless-rifle hits at Ca Lai. Fire started immediately. ELD team, battling against time, rushed onto the burning ship, charged the hoses, and dowsed the fire before the ship exploded.

Merchant Marine Detail personnel helped keep the merchant vessels sailing by providing investigative and judicial services, and diplomacy. They served the merchant sailor both float and ashore.

Other Coast Guardsmen were also assigned to keeping the harbors safe. Before ships could reach the docks, they had to safely navigate into the harbors. Coast Guard buoy tenders marked the channels to help keep the traffic moving and replaced batteries used in the lighthouses along the coast    Long Range Aids to Navigation (LORAN) stations were set up and manned by the Coast Guard. The stations sent out electronic signals to help mariners and aviators fix their positions.

 Lifesavers At Heart

Perhaps the most intangible, but no less important item a Coast Guardsman brought with him from the Unites States was his humanity. Lifesavers at heart, they never left that behind, even in combat. Coast Guardsmen performed many medical missions but also gave of themselves to Vietnamese program was phased in. The 26 WPBs and several large high-endurance cutters were turned over to the South Vietnamese. They became the core of their Navy.

By the time they left, Coast Guard cutters had cruised over 5.5 million miles, participated in nearly 6,000 naval gunfire missions, and boarded nearly 250,000 junks and sampans.

The services main job was to dry up the enemy supply routes --- which they did. With Coast Guardsmen guarding the coast, an enemy junk had only a 10-percent chance of slipping through. A steel-hull vessel had no chance at all. Not a bad job for the low-key warrior of the United States Coast Guard.


Coast Guard Squadron One

82-foot patrol boats assigned

Division 11

Cutter Name                             Date of Turnover

Point Banks (WPB 82327)                 26 May  1970
Point Clear (WPB 82315)                 15 Sept 1969
Point Comfort (WPB 82317)               17 Nov  1969
Point Garnet (WPB 82310)                16 May  1969
Point Glover (WPB 82307)                14 Feb  1970
Point Grey (WPB 82324)                  14 July 1970
Point Marone (WPB 82331)                15 Aug  1970
Point Mast (WPB 82316)                  16 June 1970
Point Young (WPB 82303)                 16 Mar  1970

Division 12

Point Arden (WPB 82309)                 14 Feb  1970
Point Caution (WPB 82301)               29 Apr  1970
Point Dume (WPB 82325)                  14 Feb  1970
Point Ellis (WPB 82330)                  9 Dec  1996
Point Gammon (WPB 82328)                11 Nov  1969
Point Lomas (WPB 82321)                 26 May  1970
Point Orient (WPB 82319)                14 July 1970
Point Welcome (WPB 82329)               29 Apr  1970

Division 13

Point Cypress (WPB 82326)               15 Aug  1970
Point Grace (WPB 82323)                 16 June 1970
Point Hudson (WPB 82322)                11 Dec  1970
Point Jefferson  (WPB 82306)            21 Feb  1970
Point Kennedy (WPB 82320)               16 Mar  1970
Point League (WPB 82304)                16 May  1969
Point Partridge (WPB 82305)             27 Mar  1970
Point Slocum (WPB 82313)                11 Dec  1969
Point White (WPB 82308)                 12 Jan  1970

Squadron One Statistics

(27 May 1965 --- 15 Aug. 1970)

Miles Cruised ..................................4,215,116
Vessels Inspected ................................283,527
Personnel Detained ................................10,286
Naval Gunfire Support Missions .....................4,461
Enemy Killed/Wounded-in-Action .....................1,055
Coast Guard Wounded-in Action .........................59
Coast Guard Killed-in-Action ...........................7

* All WPBs listed here were turned over to the South Vietnamese government as part of Vietnamization.


Coast Guardsmen Killed in Action in Southeast Asia

                           Hometown                      Age                  Date of Death  

LTJG David C. Brostom, 25,Los Altos, CA 8/11/66 

EN2 Jerry Phillips, 27, Corpus Christi,TX 08/11/66       

LT Jack C. Ritticher, 34 Barberton,OH 6/9/68 

FN Heriberto S. Hernandez, 20, San Antonio, TX 12/5/68       

ENC Morris S. Beeson, 37, Pitkins, LA 3/22/69              

EN1 Michael H. Painter, 26, Moscow, ID 8/8/69    

LTJG Michael W. Kirkpatrick, 25, Gainesville, FL 8/9/69    

Coast Guard Squadron Three

High Endurance Cutters Assigned


Barataria (WHEC 381) 4 May 67 - 25 Dec 67

Half Moon (WHEC 3 )  4 May 67 - 29 Dec 67

Yakutat (WHEC 380)   4 May 67 - 1 Jan 68

Gresham  (WHEC 387)  4 May 67 - 28 Jan. 68

Bering Strait (WHEC 382) 4 May 67 - 18 Feb. 68

Second Deployment

Duane (WHEC 33) 4 Dec 67 - 28 July 68

Androscoggin  (WHEC 68) 4 Dec. 67 - 4 Aug 68

Campbell (WHEC 32) 14 Dec 67 - 12 Aug 68

Minnetonka (WHEC 67) 5 Jan. 68 - 29 Sep. 68

Winona (WHEC 65) 25 Jan. 68 - 17 Oct. 67

Third Deployment

Bibb (WHEC 31) 4 July 68 - 28 Feb 69

Ingham  (WHEC 35) 16 July 68 - 3 Apr 69

Owasco (WHEC 39) 23 July 68 - 21 Mar 69

Wachusett (WHEC 44) 10 Sep 68 - 1 June  69

Winnebago (WHEC 40) 20 Sep 68 - 19 July  69

Fourth Deployment

Spencer (WHEC 36) 11 Feb 69 - 30 Sep 69

Mendota  (WHEC 69) 28 Feb 69 - 3 Nov 69

Sebago (WHEC 42) 2 March 69 - 16 Nov 69

TANEY (WHEC 37) 14 May   69 - 31 Jan 70

Klamath (WHEC 66) 7 July 69 - 3 April 70

Fifth Deployment

Hamilton (WHEC 715) 1 Nov 69 - 25 Nov 70

Dallas (WHEC 716) 3 Nov 69 - 19 June 70

Chase (WHEC 718) 6 Dec 69 - 28 May  70

Mellon  (WHEC 717) 31 Mar 70 - 2 July 70

Pontchartrain (WHEC 70) 9 May 70 - 3 Sep 70

Sixth Deployment

Sherman (WHEC 720) 22 Apr 70 - 25 Dec 70

Bering Strait (WHEC 382) 17 May 70 -  31 Dec 70 ++  +

Yakutat (WHEC 380) 17 May 70 - 31 Dec 70    ++  +

Seventh Deployment

Rush (WHEC 723)  28 Oct 70 - 15 July 71

Morgenthau  (WHEC 722) 6 Dec. 70 - 31 July 71

Eighth Deployment

Castle Rock  (WHEC 383) 9 July 71 - 21 Dec 71  +
Cook Inlet (WHEC 384)
2 Jul. 71  - 21 Dec. 71  +

+ Turned over to the South Vietnamese government.

++ Second deployment.

Squadron Three Statistics (4 Apr 1967 - 31 Jan 1972)

Miles Cruised -----------------------------------1,292,094
Vessels Inspected ----------------------------------50,000
Personnel Detained ------------------------------------138
Naval Gunfire Support Missions ----------------------1,368
Enemy Killed/wounded-in-action ------------------------722

Other Cutters

Buoy Tenders:
Basswood  (WLB 388)   

Blackhaw (WLB 390)  

Ironwood (WLB  297) 

Planetree (WLB 307)

Cargo Vessel:
Nettle (WLB 169)



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