My Coast Guard Family

By Dave Stone

 

 

Note - The photo as received was unprintable. I will post them in the near future if Dave resubmits them - Jack

May 18, 1965 - This was my first day in the military. The Marines wouldn't agree that the Navy is a military branch, nor did the Navy feel the Coast Guard was a viable military branch. In just a few months though, I was not only going to go from a young kid to a man (well kind of) who through first hand experience would learn how wrong the Navy's perception of the Coast Guard had been.

 
I was a typical brain dead teenager whose only thoughts were, where's my girl friend and would she break up with me now that I'm gone. During boot camp in the Great Lakes, fellow "Screws" were getting Dear John letters from there once beloved girl friends on a daily basis. It was even worse for me since I didn't get mail from anyone.
 
Three months later, I was on a plane heading back to my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio with orders in my hand sending me somewhere to some ship called LST 1148, USS SUMNER COUNTY. I only had a few days to say good-bye again before heading off to San Francisco for a trip far away. My orders said, Clark Air Force Base, P.I. My dad didn't know where that was either. My mother came closest thinking it stood for Pacific Island. Being only 17 years old and never knowing anything about the daily news except how to fold and toss them for a paper route I had a few years earlier, Pacific Islands brought to mind visions of topless girls in grass skirts. That made the wholly overwhelming journey I was about to undertake a little more pleasant for me.
 
The rest is pretty much a blur. The train from Cincinnati to Chicago. Landing in St. Louis and seeing the brand new arch. Then off to San Francisco. A bus trip across the longest bridge I had ever seen. It wasn't until we had crossed it that I heard someone mention that it was the Golden Gate Bridge. The most exciting part of my trip was to Honolulu, Hawaii. It was pineapple harvesting season and the warm sweet smell of the fruit cooking was everywhere. Finally, the last and most traumatic part of the trip for me was the flight to what I found later to be the answer to the mysterious letters P.I. 14 hours flying backwards on a jet with one window to the Philippines. As most of you know, in boot came you salute and call "SIR" anyone who also isn't a boot. Much to my chagrin I am seated next to an officer in a blue suit with clouds and lightning bolts all over his hat. I could see that he was a Colonel in the Air Force. "Sir, YES SIR!!" I screamed when he said hello. This of course brought a lot of laughter from the rest of the passengers. He tried to set me at ease by telling me he was a doctor and that please feel at ease - we had a long trip ahead of us. Of course I remained at attention the rest of the trip. I thought I was going to faint when he fell asleep and his head ended up on my shoulder.
 
We landed in Clark Air Force Base around noon the next day. I of course was wearing my dress blues which was the travel uniform. I was burning up in the plane but was in for a real awakening about what heat was when I stepped out of the plane in to the noon day sun. They said it was cooler than the day before - only 109 degrees. The airport only had ceiling fans which barely moved any air around. We were told that the bus that was to take us to the Navy base at Subic Bay wouldn't be around until about 4 PM. and that we should make ourselves comfortable. Yeah Right!
 
We then were loaded onto a gray school bus (with no air conditioning of course) and began the long trip over the mountains to our next stop. Since it was already late in the afternoon, most of this trip was in the dark. If not for an occasional flicker of a candle here and there, I wouldn't have known anything existed outside of that bus. It was the darkest ride of my life.
 
Sometime in the late evening we came into this town Olongapo. We went from total darkness with only the sounds of the grinding gears on the bus to bright yellowish lights with people screaming and trying to climb through the windows shouting in some strange language. I kept looking around at the other guys on the bus for signs of the same fears I was experiencing. They seemed calm though so I tried my best to do the same.
 
We are now all billeted and given racks to sleep in for the rest of the night. I was for the first time in what seemed to be months, able to take a shower and change. I felt like a human being again! I was then told that my ship had left port three days earlier and that I would have to wait for another ship to take me to it.
 
After selling most of my heavy clothing for a few bucks I finally had some money and went to the lovely City of Olongapo. Understand now, I was a 17 year old kid who had never drank anything but a little foam off the top of my uncle Bob's beer. I came back broke again, throwing up at every conscious moment which weren't too many.
 
Finally I'm onboard the biggest ship I ever saw. Heck, it was the first ship I ever saw. It was the USS Vega, an APA full of supplies. We were a giant grocery store. It seemed like there was this giant parking lot at sea and once we were out in the middle of no where, they all lined up to get some of our goodies. I think every ship in the Pacific fleet was there to get provisions. I was assigned to work in the freezer hole. We worked 45 minutes in there followed by 15 minute breaks. It was funny to see us come up on deck. In the hole the temps were well below freezing while on deck the temps were in the low 80's. You could hardly see us for the first few minutes from all the fog coming off our clothes and skin. One time when I came up for a break I saw this giant steel wall beside our ship. I tried to lean over the side and look up but this ships deck came over the top of our ship. We were off-loading goods to a carrier. I was told it was the USS Independence, but I don't know for sure.
 
Finally, we emptied our ship's stores. It was about 2 am now and we were told to stand down and get some rest. I was awakened around dawn, got some chow and went topside. The sun was just starting to give enough light that I could make out small shapes which were little islands. I started to light up a cig. when another crew member about drop kicked me, screaming the "smoking lamp is out!!" "Don't you know we are in enemy waters?" Well, no I didn't. I was trying to think, "what enemy?" I could barely see that some of the crew were in full battle array, manning the nearby gunmounts. "What the......" is all I could think.
 
As the sun came up I found us in some gigantic Bay, surrounded by towering mountains. I asked someone where we were and was told Danang. Hmmm?? Where's Danang? Viet Nam sailor! Now that place I seemed to recall hearing about. What can I say, I was a brain dead teenager. Next thing I know, my name was being announced over the intercom to get my gear and standby to disembark.
 
I got my Seabag and found where I was supposed to go, all the time noticing we were anchored in the middle of this huge bay. Some sailor grabbed my bag and tied it to a rope lowering over the side of the ship. "You next" I was told as they threw over this web mesh rope thing and told me to be careful. I looked over the side to see a small LCVP with a few guys in it about 50 feet down. Of course everyone on board was leaning over the side to see this boot break his neck. I took a deep breath and over I went. It really wasn't all that bad once I got started. Off we went across the Bay to what was to be my home for the next ten months.
 
As we came around a group of palms I got the first glimpse of my ship which was secured to this long pier. It wasn't half the size of the ship I had just left but it was mine. We swung around the stern of the ship and I saw a smaller hill across a smaller bay. There were pill boxes made of cement with little slits on the hill that was about 500 ft. tall. Immediately the boat coxswain told me the number one rule around there was not to take any pictures in that direction or you could be court marshaled. No one ever made it clear what was going on at the base at the bottom of this hill, only that it was a top secret base run by our government. Later I would see or hear black PT boats rumble by going out just before dusk or coming back in the morning just before dawn. I have since found out that these were souped up PT boats from W.W.II which were called simply PTF's for Patrol Boats Fast. The secret personnel and missions were the Navy S. E. A. L.'s who went on still unknown covert missions. A recent news story in my local paper in Orlando, was about a man who happened to find one of these PTF's and is restoring it with the help of his Boys Scout Troop. He says that to this day, as far as the government is concerned, the unit never existed, although he refers to the boats as "Nasty's."
 
We are now coming about to board my ship. This is when I first saw the eight white CG boats lined up in pairs to starboard side of my ship. I grabbed my gear and climbed aboard the boats to make my way across to the ship. What a bunch of laid back guys, was my first impression. They were sitting around on their decks like it was some holiday. They all seemed to nod and smile as I crossed their decks.
 
Later, I found that having all eight boats along side at one time was to be a rarity in months to come. At best there would be four at any given time. We would hear it announced, WPB's coming alongside. The other four would be out in the bay or already underway as the others would come in to tie up alongside us. While they were physically attached to us, they were never really part of us. The CG men pretty much kept to themselves as did we.
 
The CG were attached to us like leach's was the common thought amongst my crew. We were stuck as their mother ship until some repair barge was towed in to replace us. That was pretty much the feeling. Nobody really thought of them as some viable force. They were just a bunch of boats that watched the coast and checked the little sampans and such.
 
One week all the boats disappeared. After about a week or so they finally returned but this time it was announced GPB's coming along side. Sure enough, here were all eight of them in their new battle ship gray color with the still bright day glow orange/red Life Savers on the sides. I remember someone saying "what are they trying to do, look like us?"
 
As the days went on and stories started coming back about what they were doing, the attitude of our crew started to change. I think some of the old salts on board my ship were even now starting to become jealous of these guys in their small gray boats. I heard about our crew asking permission to go out with them. There was even a waiting list.
 
Being a new boot seaman apprentice, I was immediately assigned to mess cook duty. Our cook was a 3rd class Commissaryman named Whitey. He was bald, had false teeth and could out drink anyone on the ship. He was a fair and friendly sailor and taught me the basics of cooking. Although he wouldn't let you know it, he really cared about the food preparation and went out of his way to make the chow presentable. It was through my duties as a messcook, that I really got to know the crew from the CG boats. As I look back, they saw me as an easy mark to get extra goodies from the ships stores while I looked to them for the friendship I didn't get from my own crew.
 
I started sneaking extra things to them along with the regular supplies. Apples were a big item that they were always after. It seems that apples weren't native to this country and were highly valued by the Vietnamese. The CG crew would use them in their encounters as a present to children or as an apology of sorts for ransacking a sampan or junk to find hidden supplies for the Viet Cong. Unfortunately, as I was later to discover, the South Vietnamese people were not too happy for the CG to board there vessels in search of weapons and other supplies. The apples and other goodies would ease, if only slightly, these encounters.
 
The CG would let me come over to their boats and befriended me when my own crew barely recognized my existence. One day, I devised a plan to smuggle a case of San Miguel beer over to the boats during supply day. Since the 8 oz. bottles were short and squatty, I saw that they could easily be put in the apple cases with room to spare around all sides. I then cut some apples in half and put them around the inner case so that from the outside you could easily see them. It worked like a charm and right in front of my crew and officers, the dirty deed was done. It went so well, I was able to continue this on an occasional basis.
 
For my efforts, I was invited over for a Bar-B-Q one weekend. At this rare social event I was given a little typed up letter of recommendation. It said something to the effect that I was the only known Navy Sailor to be given the an honorary CG commendation for duty above and beyond the call of duty, for my covert missions over previous weeks that were so top secret that no one but me and their crew will ever know. They then presented me with a K-Bar (a short bayonet) and after my whining said they would take me out on their boat.
 
This turned out to be a nearly impossible request for them to fulfill. I was only 17. President Johnson had just announced that he was pulling all the 17 year olds out of Vietnam because so many were being killed. All those who went out with the CG before had been officers or NCO's. The officer on my ship who was in charge of granting permission was our XO. He made it a point for some reason it seemed, nearly on a daily basis to let me know how much he didn't like me. I still to this day can't figure out what I did to so piss him off. 
 
I don't know who did what or how, but those guys managed to take me out on a short overnight trip. I'm sure if there's ships logs, my name isn't in it. The only thing I have to prove it are some slides that I took while out that day. Until just a few weeks ago, I had thought that somehow over the last 38 years I had lost them. I happened to open a box marked records and found the slides and my boot camp Blue Jacket's Manual.
 
Thanks to today's technology and some photo skills I have learned, I was able to copy all the slides and restore them to almost the same colors that I remember. I now see these familiar faces but alas can no longer remember their names. The boat I went out on had an insignia outside below the window to the bridge. It had a naked girl sitting on a surfboard with the words Champagne Patrol. I was later to find out the significance of this symbol. We were out in the middle of nowhere when the engines stopped and the surfboards were brought out. I remember asking how we were to surf with no waves out here...? The next thing I know they were tying a line to the stern and this guy is sitting on the board waiting for the boat to take off. There we were in November 1965, off the coast of who knows where with these guys surfing off the back of the boats. A few hours later near dusk we were firing mortar rounds off towards some islands only minutes from where we were playing.
 
For the first time in my life I had a new family. As soon as we got underway from my ship, I knew these guys were special. The shirts came off. The sun tan oil was passed around and rank disappeared. Everyone was on a first name basis. Everyone knew his job and went to it without a word being said. I learned quickly to respect this other Navy who had always treated me with kindness and respect even before the first smuggled beer went their way. I learned that only a couple months earlier, these guys were guarding our home front when asked to volunteer to come to Vietnam to do the same for our coastal bases. It seemed that our Navy was ill equipped to do this job. Someone in the Navy Brass had saw the problem and the answer too. It must have been quite a humbling experience for the Navy to admit to the Coast Guard that they were needed to assist them.
 
It was Christmas Day 1965. We were just sitting down to eat when it was announced that our replacement vessel had arrived. I don't even remember if we got to finish eating our dinner. Within a few hours we had detached the four boats and then our ship, re-docking on the other side of the pier. We secured the floating barge (I seem to remember it being called an APL). We were no longer the mother ship to our CG friends. The next morning we got underway for parts unknown never to see our friends again.
 
I never had a chance to say good-bye to my friends. I never heard anymore about them or their mission. It wasn't until I found these photo's that I even remembered them. I began searching online to see if I could find anything about these fine men who were not only forgotten by me but by most of America who didn't even know they were there in Nam. I mentioned to some friends at a DAV meeting about my find and about the CG friends I once had. The first thing out of this one fellows mouth was "what the heck was the Coast Guard doing there?" I told them my story. They were impressed.
 
Now my hopes are to reconnect through this page and with the help of these pictures.
 
My name is Dave Stone. I am 55 yrs. now. If anyone knows these guys or their families, please contact me at DStone@aol.com
 
Thanks to Jack for allowing me to tell my story the best I can recollect.
 

 

 

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