My Time in Vietnam.
By: Paul Reuter
I joined the Navy after High School. My Dad was a Second Class Boatswain’s Mate during World War Two and going into Navy seemed natural to me. Another reason I joined was because I wanted to serve on diesel boat submarines. So off to boot camp I go where I volunteer for submarines and Submarine School in Connecticut. I was sent for a submarine screening physical where I learned that I was color blind. This disability meant that I was physically unqualified for subs.
After boot camp, instead of submarines, I received orders to an LST homeported in Yokosuka. There I was assigned to the engine room. I am not sure if they knew I was color blind when they put me into the world of color coded pipes and valves where I made my life in the Navy. Being color blind haunted me my whole life. But that is a story to tell another time.
The Yokosuka homeported LST’s were assigned to Landing Ship Squadron 9. These LST’s spent most of the early years of the Vietnam War supplying the coastal ports of Chu Lai, Da Nang, Qua Viet and others. In early 1967 the Navy established the Naval Riverine Forces operating PBR’s and Swift boats in the water ways of the Mekong Delta. The LSTs became mother ships to these boats. The T’s provided mechanical support for the boats and hotel and food services for the crew personnel.
Each LST would spend about ninety days in country supporting the Riverine Forces and would then rotate back to Yokosuka for two months for upkeep and then rotate back to Vietnam again. As an engineer (snipe) I lived and breathed the humidity, heat and diesel oil of the engine room.
While transiting the river and other inland waters the ship was always at General Quarters. At times the ship was up to ninety miles inland from the sea coast. The ship was armed with three inch guns and fifty caliber machine guns. From time to time, we were tasked with providing gunfire support to the Riverine forces.
During the night while at anchor in Vietnam waters we were required to throw concussion hand grenades into the water adjacent to the ship to prevent North Vietnamese or Viet Cong swimmers from placing explosive devices on the ship’s hull.
My early experiences in this first ship laid the basis for what was to become a successful and satisfying Navy career. I liked being a Westpac sailor. I was transferred from the LST after two years as a Second Class Engineman. I really wanted to go to PBRs but my Mother and Dad talked me out of doing so. Sometimes I question myself for not volunteering for the boats. After my initial WestPac tour, I was assigned to Assault Craft Unit One in Coronado Calif.
Stateside was a letdown. I was a twenty-year-old Second Class Petty Officer who had already experienced two years of war and Westpac liberty. I discovered that California liberty sucked for sailors my age. After about thirty days at ACU One, I volunteered to deploy to Vietnam as a replacement on an LCU crew. After about five months in California I was deployed back to the Nam. I spent about seven months on the LCU stationed in Da Nang tasked with resupplying units based on the rivers.
The Navy’s plan for me after ACU One was nine months of Vietnamese Language school in El Paso, Texas and three months of survivor, weapons and other schools at Coronado, California. I was then assigned to the U.S. Naval Advisory Group, Vietnam. This was the result of a special Z-Gram from the CNO that affected Enginemen. That is another story to tell another time.
During my time with the Naval Advisory Group Vietnam I was assigned to Vietnamese Navy Units at Saigon, Moc Hoa, Cal Lanh and Dong Tam. The duty mostly required time riding the rivers on U. S. Navy boats that had been turned over to the Vietnamese Navy. I was part of a two-man team that consisted of a LCDR and me. This two-year tour was cut short to just six-months in 1973, when U.S. forces left Vietnam. I was wounded during this tour and was awarded the Purple Heart Medal. Perhaps I’ll tell that story sometime.
All these events transpired during my first six years in the Navy. After the Vietnam War, I was assigned into USS Canopus in Holy Loch, Scotland and the rest is history. There are many more sea stories of Viet Nam and my first three years in the Navy. Only those of us who served in those days of the Vietnam War and experienced the liberty of the Southeast Asian ports can really understand the stories we tell.
Paul Reuter is a retired Navy LCDR /LDO (6130). He served for 23 years in the Navy in various ships and stations, mostly overseas in Westpac. After retirement from the Navy he worked in gas turbine power plants. Paul lives in North Hanover New Jersey.