Tragedy In Vietnam

By Tom Humerick  


In Vietnam I was attached to River Division 572 at Song Ong Doc, a mobile support base, brought to that location in the well deck of a ship. Our group consisted of about 46 men, with a corpsman, several cooks, a YN, RM, and a Seabee who could perform miracles, and a liaison officer. A SEAL Team Detachment was added, which brought our total to 60 souls. An LST offshore carrying two Sea Wolf helos was provided for air support.

I recalled medcaps (medical civil action program) with Coast Guard doctors and corpsmen. One in particular was at a small village up the river where a little girl was brought in with a broken arm. The team from the offshore Cutter wanted to take her back so they could set the arm and place it in a cast. We brought her and her father out to the Cutter. Traveling from a dirt-floored hooch in the U Minh Forest to a fast throbbing PBR, to a steel monster Coast Guard Cutter with air conditioning and lighted throughout had to be somewhat of a culture shock for them.

The doctor set her arm, the crew treated her and her dad like royalty, then we returned them to their village with a gift of a bale of clothes for the village. I heard that the Cutter came back later to remove the cast and to check on her progress.

There were times when we would chase down a destroyer or Cutter off the coast and ask if we could get a shower and use the Ship’s Store. We must have been a weird looking bunch of River Rats. Occasionally we would take some of the ship’s officers for a spin around the ship and fire off a few of the weapons they wanted to check out. The ships would feed us and let us have Hollywood Showers, open the ship’s store and did their best to care for us.

I remember getting the large containers of ice cream—six gallons, I believe—and trying to finish it all off before it melted during our return trip to the base. Six gallons was a lot for six or so sailors to eat but damn we tried.

Memories of the Coast Guard at this time were quite good, with one exception.

About 0400, 18 May 1970, CGC Sherman, hit us with 5”38 while we were asleep prior to going on the 0600-1800 patrol. The first round landed adjacent to the end of the hooch where the Boat Captains were quartered. I hit the deck immediately after the first shot. I intended to go out to the boats, but the airbursts kept us all inside. We had no dugouts or bomb proofs. Our CO, LCDR Roper, screamed, “cease fire.”

After the shelling ended, we looked after the injured. Habblett was dead in his bed, others were walking around in a daze. Singleton's hand was a mess, and one of the men had the front of his boxers covered with blood and was afraid he lost something that he didn't want lost.

We looked for him and then assured him he was well, just a light shrapnel wound.

We carried Habblett to the mess hall and then began treating the wound while we waited for medevac. Someone stuck a morphine syrette into Singleton because he was a great pain—he asked for a beer. We put Habblett on a helo and told them he was in bad shape—we didn’t tell them he was dead because we wanted him out of there and back to a hospital where they could take care of his body.

I don’t remember what the final body count was.[1]

The shower set-up was ruined from holes in the barrels, the nine-holer off the end of the barge adjacent to the shower unit was not messed up too bad, all the building’s roofs were holed, the generator was knocked out and therefore the reefers went down, the potable water storage was holed, and some of the boats were holed but not sunk. What a mess!

We got underway at 0600 in a daze and did our patrol duty. When we got back that evening, we were told that the CO of the Cutter paid a visit to see what happened. I was told there were tears in his eyes—perhaps he was envisioning his career going down the drain.

The Cutter was gone by the time we returned from our patrol. The Seabee busted his butt the next few weeks trying to patch things up and getting everything working again. The base remained a vital link in the Navy’s commitment to interdicting the movement of VC forces and supplies through the U Minh Forest. We turned the installation over to the Vietnamese Navy on 30 June, 1970 and departed Song Ong Doc 1 July.

 GMGC Tom Humerick is retired from the U.S. Navy.

[1] According to The Coast Guard at War by Alex Larzelere, one was killed and nine others, three seriously wounded, were evacuated by helo to SHERMAN for treatment by the Cutter’s doctors. According to Larzelere, the base picked up activity on a “duffel bag” (detection device) and requested 15 rounds of fire (five airburst and 10 surface detonating) on a target just north of the river. After 10 rounds the Cutter received an urgent ceasefire.


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