The Owasco Chronicles

The “Mike” Boat

Or

The World Don’t Get Much Smaller Than This!

  By Dave Moyer

 

“Bridge….CIC….We have a slow moving contact bearing 200 degrees true.  Range 10,000 yards.  Course erratic but approximate heading of 015 degrees true at five knots.  Current position puts contact within 2000 yards of shoreline running parallel.”  As QM of the watch, I walked to the squawkbox, flipped the CIC switch and gave the obligatory “Con Aye.”  The Conning Officer took a quick look at the radar repeater on the bridge and had trouble finding the contact.  First, the return was weak indicating a small, possibly wooden vessel and second, the feedback from the shoreline partially obscured the blip.  Once located, he took the grease pencil and made the “X” on the screen over the contact and ordered a slow turn to port.  The Con then sent the messenger to find the Captain.  An intercept course was plotted and we were slowly on our way to closing the five mile gap between us.  Slowly because we were in a heavy fog, something we saw very little of in Viet Nam.

This was serious business.  It may have been Sunday and holiday routine was underway but intercepting unknown contacts was our primary job off the coast of South Viet Nam.  Operation Market Time Patrol was established in the mid-60’s for just this reason.  There hadn’t been a real attempt to land arms and supplies to the enemy via trawlers or small boats in nine months but they could be making another try.  The contact was small, close to shore and moving slowly.  That all fit the profile but this one was moving north.  That did not.  We were patrolling in I-Corps along the DMZ and, since the bombing halt went into effect, our other job was to keep all vessels from crossing that imaginary line at sea.  A few weeks earlier we had to “order” the USS St. Paul, a heavy cruiser, to move south.  Quite a feat for a 255 foot Coast Guard Cutter that was out-sized and absolutely out-ranked but nonetheless the big ship complied.  I should add “almost” all vessels were kept south of the line.  On some evenings small, unmarked and unlit fast US Naval gunboats would streak north just after dark and return before daybreak.  They never answered the signalman’s challenge and nothing was ever done to stop them.  The bridge enlisted types called them “What Boats” because after they came and went with no answer to our challenge we just sort of shrugged our shoulders and asked, “what boats?”  Those were never logged.

Captain on the Bridge” announced the helmsman as the CO came through the port bridge wing door.  The Con briefed the Skipper and all three of us huddled around the chart table checking position, estimated intercept time and depth in the area.  The fog was lifting with visibility now about 1000 nautical yards but improving.  CIC kept informing the bridge of the track and speed of the craft recommending slight course changes at our current speed.  We expected to have visual contact within ten to fifteen minutes.  We repeated this many times before with the final outcome resulting in South Vietnamese fishing craft, most of which we boarded and searched or small, armed friendly naval types that identified themselves either by flashing light signals or radio transmissions.

  It wasn’t long before the lookouts reported a small “Mike” boat (LCM) off our starboard bow.  By now the Captain, Con and myself were on the wing glassing the boat.  It was definitely a small landing craft, light gray and flying a small US ensign.  She was heading north and approaching the point of entering the waters of the DMZ.  The Skipper gave the signalman the order to challenge.  He began sending the “Alpha Alpha” waiting for the boat to identify itself but with no response.  The four letter verification code of the day was then sent but again without the coded four letter answer.  After a few minutes the Captain decided to try the radio.  He picked up the FM handset and began calling.  “Unknown vessel heading north, this is Enfield Cobra Zulu.  Please identify yourself, over.”  No reply.  “Unknown vessel heading north, this is Enfield Cobra Zulu.  You are about to enter restricted waters and must reverse your course.  Identify immediately, over.”  This transmission was repeated three or four times but still with no answer. 

  By this time we were nearing the boat and the Captain maneuvered us to within 150 yards of her running a northerly parallel course.  We could see a dungaree clad sailor in the small wheelhouse on the afterdeck seemingly ignoring the fact that we were almost within spitting distance of his craft.  The bullhorn was then used but still with no response from the sailor piloting the boat.  Hell, he didn’t even wave.  It was obvious that this guy didn’t care about our presence and wasn’t going to comply.  After one more attempt with the bullhorn the Old Man simply walked over to the M-60 mounted on the bridgewing, cocked the weapon and cut lose with about 25 rounds close across her bow.  That did get a response.  The pilot of the “Mike” shot an arm up into the air (we were too far away to see if a specific digit was raised) and immediately reversed his course and headed south.  We shadowed him for a while but broke off once he was about 4 miles south of the DMZ.  The Captain left orders for CIC to watch him closely to make sure he didn’t try a northerly run again.  He didn’t and eventually dropped off the radar.  We never saw the craft again and had no idea what he was trying to do or why he did what he did. 

  Now I realize that this event isn’t exactly overly exciting but it doesn’t end here.  The rest of this tale may be a bit hard to believe but, as the old saying goes, “this ain’t no sh#*.”

  Seven or eight months later I found myself sitting in the enlisted club at the Philadelphia Naval Base while on TAD for two days of damage control training.  I was assigned to the commissioning crew of the Alert and while waiting for the Curtis Bay yards to put the finishing touches on her the crew was scattered over much of the northeastern seaboard for these short refresher assignments.  I found an old Reader’s Digest and was sitting alone in a corner of the club reading and sipping a beer.  I learned early on that when you’re the only Coastie in a Navy EM club it pays to find an inconspicuous seat and mind your own business.  Guess I wasn’t as inconspicuous as I thought because in the middle of a story I heard a loud voice over me that kind of made me cringe.  “Hey…….Coast Guard!”  I looked up and saw a Navy First Class Bos’un with a face that looked like it spent the last five years lashed to the bowsprit of a Yankee Clipper plying the North Atlantic in winter.  His right arm was extended and he was pointing at my “duck hat” on the chair.  My only reply was, “yea.”

This “salt” slammed his pitcher of beer on the table, pulled out the chair and started to sit.  Fortunately I managed to grab the hat and shift it to another chair just before it became an expensive black and white Frisbee.  “Let me tell ya what one of your sons-a-bitching shallow water buddies tried to do to me.  I was over in Nam on my Mike boat…………”  I felt my stomach twitch and suddenly it got extremely hot in that club. 

I missed a couple of his words because I think my brain quit operating for a second or two.  “………picnic and the bastards tried to sink my goddamned boat.  They cut loose with a 50 Cal and missed!  Couldn’t shoot worth a damn!  Outran the bastards!  Sons-a-bitches!”  In the split second after he stopped his tirade and I picked my chin up off the table my thought was that out of all the hundreds of thousands of Squids scattered around all the Navy bases throughout the world…………………!

  I took a big gulp of my Bud and said, “Let me ask you, was the ship a big white one or a gray ’82.  “A white bastard!” was the answer.  “Well,” I asked trying to remain calm, “did it have a number 39 on the bow?”  This question caused him to sit back in his chair as he thought a bit.  “Yea, I think it did.”  Now he started getting the look on his face that I’m sure I had a few seconds earlier.  “First of all, it wasn’t a 50 it was an M-60 30 Cal.  Second he didn’t miss.  He was firing over your bow to get your attention.  Third, you didn’t out run us, we let you go and finally that son-of-a-bitch firing was a full Commander, the CO of our ship.”  His next comment was just two words, sort of a question.  “Our ship?”  I got brave.  “Yea and I was one of those sons-a-bitches that passed the ammo to the Old Man.” 

After all the “no sh#*’s”  passed back and forth we both started laughing.  It seems that my new found friend was headed for a Sunday picnic of all things.  He left his base early with permission of the CO with a few buddies and more than a few cases of beer heading for some island a mile or so north.  Because of the fog he missed the island.  When I asked him why he didn’t answer us he said no one on board could copy or send morse and he never did hear us on the radio.  He probably wasn’t tuned to the proper frequency for that area.  Finally, when the CO hailed him on the bullhorn he realized that he probably was too far north but, and here’s the kicker, he wasn’t going to let some Shallow Water Sailors embarrass him in front of his buddies.  He wasn’t aware of the DMZ restrictions and hadn’t realized he missed his island by that much.  His picnic guests razzed him relentlessly about the incident but no one, including us, ever reported it.  He rarely left the river and almost never ventured out into the open sea but because of the fog, the seas were extremely calm and he got permission for the trip.  He was almost an hour north of his destination.

  We ended up downing a few pitchers and swapping tales for the next few hours.

Turns out he was a great guy and one with guts.  That was his second tour and he was in the process of trying for a third.  I got my mind changed about the dumb SOB in the wheelhouse of that Mike boat and I’m sure he left with a little more respect for Shallow Water Sailors.  

 

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