From the Frying Pan Into The Fire
From the Frying Pan Into the Fire
For the first three months of my tour in Vietnam I served as Intelligence Officer for Task Force Clearwater, a security force on the Cua Viet and Perfume rivers. My base was at the mouth of the Cua Viet River, which ran from the West and emptied into the South China Sea five miles south of the Demilitarized Zone. The mission of Task Force Clearwater was to provide security for the boats transshipping cargo up to Dong Ha and Hue on the two rivers in our area of responsibility. We ran a variety of boats including the PBR, a fast attack small boat made of fiberglass with no armor.
Although I carried a weapon every day, a Colt 45 semiautomatic pistol and on occasion an M16 rifle, I never fired my weapon except in practice. As Intelligence Officer my responsibilities included collecting and analyzing data on enemy activity on and near the river, advising our task force commander and reporting to headquarters in Saigon. That, however, did not exempt me from experiencing the horrors of war first hand. During my time at Cua Viet I witnessed things I sincerely hope never to see again in my lifetime.
During my 90 days at Cua Viet, our little base came under regular attack from light to heavy artillery by the North Vietnamese Army positioned within firing range in the DMZ as well as enemy ground forces. Buildings were destroyed and men were killed and wounded. One building that was damaged by artillery was right next to my sleeping hooch. Another was our new mess hall about 50 yards away. The ammunition dump directly across the river just about 100 yards away was hit and the munitions cooked off for three days. I could feel the concussion from the explosions on my face.
I became so accustomed to the sound of incoming rounds that when an attack occurred at night I would be awakened by the sound of the incoming shells and run for cover in our little makeshift bunkers, holes in the sand reinforced with sandbags. The tension from the constant danger became so intense that sometimes I would go out with a relatively less dangerous river patrol or a sweep overland with the Marines just to get some relief from the constant threat of being blown away by exploding artillery rounds.
One day I had to go upriver to Dong Ha and hitched a ride on a PBR (small gun boat). Just before we got to Dong Ha the ammunition dump was hit by enemy fire. The ammunition began exploding throwing debris and unexploded shells everywhere. When we arrived and tied up alongside another boat, I jumped onto the boat next to us. I saw an unexploded rocket propelled grenade (RPG). I got off that boat as quickly as I had gotten on. I don’t remember what happened after that or where I went but I eventually made it back to my base. Life in combat was interesting like that.
Captain Herman W. Hughes, PhD
US Navy Retired