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
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
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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