Refugees picked up in the Gulf

Fall, 1966 - Tonkin Gulf North of Hon Mat


I had recently become the Fire Control Officer aboard Reeves.  My gang, the Fire Controlmen, were the security platoon and the midships highline crew.  We were proud of that, and the guys took their jobs very seriously.  Fire Controlmen are the most technical crew on board, operating and maintaining the sophisticated radar equipment that tracks targets and guides the missiles to them when necessary.  The Chief, FTC Earnie Cooper, was probably the biggest factor in helping to maintain morale in all this.  He was always the one who came to me with ideas for instilling the pride that was so vital in combatting the boredom that comes with maintaining ready alert day after day with little or no action.


On this particular day, we were  getting reports that strike aircraft returning from their mission had observed a small craft with a number of people on board.  One of the people was  waving a shirt at the aircraft, as if they were in trouble and needed to be rescued.  Since they were far from land and way north of the DMZ, the obvious conclusion was that they were North Vietnameses,  had drifted out and needed to be helped back not a part of our mission.  Further observation indicated that they were taking pains not be seen by other fishing craft, so the decision was made that we would go North and pick them up.  We deviated from our usual night-time run out to sea to accomplish this impromptu mission.  We rendezvoused with them about a half hour before sunset three men, two women, and a child.  We picked them up with a whaleboat, searched them for weapons, and shoved their boat off after checking it over for weapons and equipment.  They were just about out of water aftr being out all day, and had no food. 


We rigged an empty compartment for them and took them to the crews mess, where the cooks dished up about five times more eggs and rice  than the NVNs could have eaten in a week.  I tried to find someone on board who could speak even a few words of Vietnamese, then we tried French, and finally just communicated with them in sign language and pictures. 


They were a family two brothers with their wives, the brother of one of the wives, and one of the children, a girl.  They had come out with the fishing boats that morning.  The boats were always carefully watched to keep them from slipping aweay, but they had managed it by waiting til an opportune time, then covering the boat with a canvas that helped them to not look like a boat.  They had then paddled and drifted until they were out of sight of the others so they could try to flag one of our bombers.  They wanted to get away from the incessant bombing missions in the north, and they wanted to get on the radio so they could talk to their countrymen and tell them that they should quit fighting and make up with the south and the U.S.  How much of this we could believe was our own choice, but they had risked their lives to come to us, so we made arrangements to get them to the carrier, where they would be flown to shore in Da Nang, interrogated, and their disposition was then up to the authorities in Da Nang.