picked up in the Gulf
1966 - Tonkin Gulf North of Hon Mat
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.
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
rigged an empty compartment for them and took them to the crew’s mess, where
the cooks dished up about five times more eggs and rice
than the NVN’s 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.
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.