The Owasco Chronicles
By Dave Moyer
The question we crewmembers asked ourselves over and over was, "just what the hell are we supposed to be doing here?" We had training in our respective jobs, better and more diverse than any other branch of the armed forces, but our combat training was next to nil. We trained on the M-1 rifle in boot camp, those dependable .30 calibres our dads carried in WW II and Korea. Oddly enough, they didnt use them in Vietnamthey used M-16s, and some Marines still used M-14s.
Since I didnt know one end from the other on a 14, I couldnt have used one effectively; as far as the 16 was concerned, our entire training consisted of standing on the fantail one afternoon before arriving in the combat zone while a Gunners Mate showed us the automatic and semiautomatic switch. He then proceeded to insert a clip and fired five rounds. As ordered, we lined up and each shot three rounds off the fantail into the South China Sea. It took all of about 12 minutes. End of training on the M-16. The next time I saw one was when I carried one into a possible combat situation. I said possible. Fortunately, I didnt need to fire it. After that I carried a .45 semiautomatic pistol, which I did know how to use.
We had M-60s mounted on each bridge wing also. These were belt fed automatics and an upgraded version of the old Browning Automatic Rifle. Proficiency on that piece was also learned by "on-the-job training." Perhaps someone figured we would learn eventually. Know what? They were right.
Still, just why were we, the U.S. Coast Guard, there? An explanation was given to the enlisted crew; however, I learned much more about our role 15-years after returning, from a book on the history of the war.
The Coast Guard was an important part of "Operation Market Time," a joint USN/USCG endeavor. In the mid-60s, most supplies and personnel from the north were delivered from the sea. Beaches and river mouths were receiving areas to funnel military supplies to the enemy. When one enemy receiving area was closed, another was born. The shoreline was simply too long with too many estuaries and coves to shut all down. Sampans, trawlers, and anything that floated, were used for transporting supplies, and they had to be stopped. From this military necessity, Operation Market Time was born.
Primarily, Market Time consisted of Coast Guard High Endurance Cutters (WHECs), CG 82-foot patrol boats (WPBs), Navy 55-foot patrol boats (SWIFTs), and a few USN DEs. Our job was to stop the infiltrations; in essence, set up a blockade. We had the authority to stop and board any unscheduled craft within a given number of miles from the coast of Vietnam. Every craft had to be identified, including huge tankers and freighters, down to the smallest sampans.
Operation Market Time boarded a craft every 15- to 30-seconds. Those that refused to identify themselves or would not stop were forced to at the point of a gun. Those that ran were sunk. A sister ship in early 1968 shelled and beached a trawler loaded with arms for the enemy. That action was the beginning of the end of the coastal supply line used by Hanoi.
The OWASCO herself detected 2,596 junks, inspected 2,341 of them, and boarded 178, the most of any Squadron Three Cutter. During one of those boardings, we captured three Viet Cong infiltrators. All in all, a pretty good record.
According to USN evaluations during and after the conflict, Operation Market Time was one of the most successful yet least credited operations conducted. Supply routes from the sea became non-existent, forcing the expansion of the Ho Chi Minh Trail inland.
I guess we did our job.
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