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Friday, May 16, 2008

"Build Up to M-Day" - "No Easy Days"

YFU-62 after being hit with a large limpet mine in Dong Ha. The Navy told us these YFU’s and LCU’s were unsinkable but I don’t think the VC or NVA got that memo.

The two boats I served aboard LCU-1493 and LCU-1475.

A little about the boats we were on;

Displacement 180 t.(lt), 360 t.(fl)
Length 119' (ovl.)
Beam 34'
Draft 6'
Design Speed 10 kts…on a good day.
Range 700 nautical miles at 7 kts.
Complement 14

Cargo Capacity 300 tons
Armament two .50 cal. machine guns, 2-twin 20mm AA, numerous small arms.
Armor 1/2" wheelhouse, 1/2" gun shield
Propulsion 3 Grey Marine Diesels, 3 shafts, Shaft horsepower 675 bhp per shaft

Operations in Vietnam were of a constant nature. The craft were required to operate twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. The crew's outstanding efforts were shown time and again by a minimum of down time and a maximum of service in the most adverse conditions. Danang; resupply runs to Hue/Phu Bai, Dong Ha, Chu Lai; and various day and night operations.

Equipment breakdowns were common for a variety of reasons, age, battle damage, and Mr. Murphy, you know who he is don’t you, but we had to keep the boat running no matter what. During one of the many trips up river we received small arms fire and took a few hits. One round from either a AK-47 or a SKS struck our starboard side electrical generator shutting it down.

Though we had two we needed both to function at 100%. 3 of us spent 36 hours rebuilding that generator. No sleep, no food, just lot’s of coffee. This took place in the engine room, a place with a ceiling of 4 feet, the main diesels running constantly and 130 degree heat. Luckily for us we had the repair parts aboard but because of external damage to the generators engine we had to improvise by cutting out the damaged metal and welding a hand fabricated piece in it’s place. Internal damage required us to literally take the entire unit apart and rebuild it from inside out. This was one of many experiences, but it was part of our job and we did it without complaint, many times without sleep.

The general public knows little about our mission in Vietnam. Basically our boats supplied food, small arms ammunition, weapons, heavier ordinance such as mortar rounds, recoiless 105mm, 155mm and 175mm projectiles in various designations. At times we were loaded down with as much as 300 tons of HE ordinance.

On ocassion we transported VC prisoners and served as river recon, but the saddest job we had was transporting Marine KIA. Those were solemn days and thank God there were very few of them.

The 3rd Marines always looked forward to our offloads but not because we brought them the tools of warfare. As often as possible we would bring ice cold beer and ocassionally ice cream thanks to large coolers filled with dry ice. Vietnam was a hot, humid place in summer and a very wet, humid place during monsoon season. Cold beer and cold ice cream were rare commodities but it was a small price to pay for our brothers and we did what we could for them.

The trips between Danang and points north were always treacherous. During monsoon season the seas were high and the winds were deadly. Though we never lost a boat to the sea there were many that sustained incredible damage only to wind up at the mouth of the Cua Viet where the surf was great…for surfers…lousy for heavy laden flat bottom boats. It was quite a trick to get the lumbering boat pointed correctly and then the wild ride into the mouth of the river…. nobody was yelling “surfs up”, except perhaps our Marine buddies watching safely on the beach…lol.

Our calling card was “U call we haul. Through wind and rain and the dark of night, in sea’s of twenty foot waves and nothing to navigate by except a compass and a flash light, we delivered on time everytime.”

The Cua Viet/Dong Ha in pictures.

And yet another story from later in the war; “U” boat sailors as we were called sometimes were a tough breed. Officially we were designated the “Brown Water Navy”. Not your typical Blue Water squids….haha.

We were also called the “Gator Navy” though the title didn’t stick. I don’t recall ever seeing gators in Nam. We did see tigers, water buffalo, monkeys and all manner of deadly snakes including one we named the “two step”. Cute little green asp that was virtually invisible due it’s size and color, had a nasty habit of dropping off over-hanging tree limbs into the well deck and hiding in unseen places. One bite and two steps, and it was all she wrote…

There were also a dozen or so different varieties of sea snake. All of them poisonous. No swimming in the ocean you swabs.

And the bugs were outrageous, especially mosquitoes that literally blocked out the sun when they were swarming looking for blood….or so it seemed at times. Military issue “bug dope” was essentially useless. We figured the stuff was more an attraction for the voracious little creatures and didn’t seem to matter how much of this nasty stuff you put on either. They still bit ya.

The pile of metal that you see to the left of the 78's bow was all that was left of the 1500's hull. A friend of mine back then was on an LCU 1600 class boat, several hundred feet behind both boats, tied up alongside a pier next to where the wharehouses were. One of the 78's 50 cal machine guns landed in their boat. Three sailors died in the first attack on the covered storage area, about 6 kilometers north of MMAF. The second attack probably would have caused as few casualties except for the lucky hit on LCU-1500, which was fully laden with munitions for transport to Dong Ha in Quang Tri Province. It was mostly the secondary explosions and fires which killed 20 sailors aboard LCU-1500 and YFU-78.

he 23 men were

LCU-1500, Assault Craft Unit 1, NAVSUPACT Danang

    • BMC Donald J. Fisher, Baltimore, MD
    • EN1 Bert E. Burton, Greenfield, IL
    • EM1 Cecil F. Bush, Bogalusa, LA
    • CS2 Marvin D. Avery, Warren, OH
    • RM2 David W. Hawryshko, Bristol, PA
    • GMG3 Ronald J. Gebbie, Rochester, NY
    • BM3 Donald M. Horton, Athens, PA
    • BM3 Ronald P. Yuhas, Shenandoah, PA
    • FN Joseph F. Burinda, Central City, PA
    • SN Bruno W. Demata, Milwaukee, WI
    • FN Charles A. Tavares, Fall River, MA
    • SA Craig E. Swagler, Endwell, NY

YFU-78, Assault Craft Unit 1, NAVSUPACT Danang

    • EN1 Earl T. Moore, Renovo, PA
    • QM1 Milton Shapiro, Palmdale, CA
    • CS2 Charlie M. Ellison, Kings Mountain, NC
    • EM2 Lyle D. Zacher, Spokane, WA
    • QM3 Earnest J. Buckelew, Arlington, TX
    • BM3 Daniel L. Overright, Bradley, IL
    • SN Melvin L. Sellers, Phenix City, AL

Supply Ops, NAVSUPACT Danang

    • BM1 Manuel Martinez, Taos Pueblo, NM
    • SN Thomas E. Adams, Topeka, KS
    • SN Theodore S. Hamner, Tuscaloosa, AL
“….fair winds and a following sea ship mates….”

"There were no easy days."
This is part of the "Build Up to M-Day" series. The other posts can be found here: