Week of January 24

Week of January 24

Week of January 24

On January 22, 1969, The United States Coast Guard (USCG) Cutter Point Banks, on patrol south of Cam Rahn Bay, received a call for help from a nine-man South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) detachment trapped by two Viet Cong platoons. Petty Officers Willis J. Goff and Larry D. Villareal took Point Banks’ small boat, a 13-foot Boston Whaler, ashore to rescue the unit. Despite heavy fire, Goff and Villareal evacuated all nine soldiers in two trips, which earned them both the Silver Star.1

Approximately 8,000 Coast Guardsmen served in Vietnam.2 The U.S. Coast Guard presence in Vietnam began with Secretary of the Navy Paul Nitze’s April 1965 request for Coast Guard assistance to combat seaborne infiltration of South Vietnam.3 Later that month, President Lyndon Johnson approved a joint Navy-Coast Guard plan to deploy 82-foot Coast Guard patrol boats (WPBs) and 40-foot utility boats to support Operation MARKET TIME in the South China Sea along the South Vietnamese coast.4 The first WPBs arrived in Vietnam in July 1965.5

In Vietnam, 82-foot Coast Guard Point-class patrol boats operated with a crew of thirteen. Each crewmember was armed with a .45-caliber pistol and had access to a robust small-arms locker that included M-16s, shotguns, and M-79 grenade launchers. The WPBs arms included four M-2 machineguns—the bow-mount was a combined over-under .50-caliber machine gun/81 millimeter trigger-fired mortar. The small boat used on the 82-foot WPBs was a 13-foot fiberglass craft known as a Boston Whaler. These “skimmers” were the size of a large dinghy, propelled by a 35-horsepower outboard Mercury engine, and were designed to hold no more than four personnel.6

At approximately 1:00 am on January 22, 1969, the crew of the Point Banksreceived orders to rescue a group of ARVN soldiers surrounded by enemy forces. The sea was the soldier’s only means of escape. There were two U.S. Navy swift boats on the scene when the Point Banksarrived at the appointed location, but the water on the shoreline was too shallow for any of the vessels to reach the shore.7

Armed with their .45-caliber pistols and an M-60 machine gun with a couple bandoliers of ammunition, Gunner’s Mate Second Class Willis J. Goff and Engineman Second Class Larry D. Villareal volunteered to use their patrol boat’s 13-foot Boston Whaler to go ashore to retrieve the soldiers. Villareal was the skimmer’s coxswain.8

The small boat, clearly silhouetted by moonlight, headed toward the shore. Defensive fire from the three large American boats was just as dangerous as the enemy’s small-arms fire as it flew just feet over their heads. In the darkness of the early morning, Goff and Villareal were to identify their passengers by a light signal. Yet, as they approached the shore, there were three light signals. The two reasoned that if had roles been reversed, they would signal from a point farthest from the jungle, so Villareal steered the small craft towards the light closest to a little rock jetty they could see jutting out from shore.9

As they nosed their skimmer against the jetty, out of the darkness emerged nine South Vietnamese soldiers, all eager to climb aboard the small boat. Goff had to forcefully limit their load to only five passengers. The small, overloaded craft, flooded with water in the rolling seas and motored at an agonizingly slow pace back to the Point Banks, where they off-loaded their five passengers.10

During their second trip to the rock jetty, an AC-47 “Spooky” gunship flying overhead added its defensive fire to Goff’s M-60 and the seven .50-caliber machine guns strafing the jungle from the three boats offshore. This covering fire gave the two men little comfort, though, when their skimmer was heaved onto a big flat rock on the jetty. A follow-on wave lifted the boat off the rock, but the rough seas flooded the engine, and the dinghy drifted to within 50 feet of the shore before Villareal restarted its engine—allowing the men to motor back to the jetty to pick up the remaining four soldiers hiding on the point.11

With six men aboard, the four-man skimmer returned to the Point Banksas fast as the little 35 horse power outboard engine could carry them.12

Petty Officers Willis Goff and Larry Villareal each earned the Silver Star for their “heroic courage and gallantry in action while engaged in armed conflict against North Vietnamese and Viet Cong aggressors in the Republic of Vietnam on Jan. 22, 1969." They volunteered to man their patrol boat’s launch to rescue a group of South Vietnamese soldiers who were trapped along a beach by two Viet Cong platoons. Under continuous enemy fire, they made two landings on the beach to successfully rescue South Vietnamese soldiers who would have met almost certain death or capture without the assistance of the two Coast Guardsmen. Their outstanding heroism, professionalism, and devotion to duty and to their fellow man were in the highest traditions of the United States Naval Services.

1U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office, "Time Line 1900's - 2000's," Time Line 1700 - 1800, accessed January 03, 2019.
2Emily H. Brockway, "The United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration," Vietnam Commemoration: 50 Year Anniversary, 2018, accessed January 04, 2019.
3Navy Secretary Paul H. Nitze, letter to Treasury Secretary Henry H. Fowler, April 16, 1965.
4USCG Historian’s Office, "Time Line 1900's - 2000's."
5Alex Larzelere, The Coast Guard at War: Vietnam, 1965-1975(Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1997), xix.
6Larzelere, 11.
7Larry Villareal, interview by Peter Rascoe, U.S. Coast Guard Oral History Program, conducted January 10, 2010, posted online January 11, 2018, 18-26, accessed January 4, 2019.
8Villareal interview.
9Villareal interview.
10Villareal interview.
11Villareal interview.
12Villareal interview.
13Larry Fuchs, "Squadron One Duty On Board the Point Banks," The Quarterdeck Log 24, No 4 (Winter 2009): 26, accessed January 4, 2019.
14Fuchs, 26.
15Fuchs, 27.
16Fuchs, 27.
17Fuchs, 27.

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Week of June 4 Week of
June 4
On June 1, 1967, Task Force 117, the Mobile Riverine Force, became operational. It was a joint U.S. Army-Navy task force whose goal was to search out and eliminate Viet Cong elements in the waterways of the Mekong Delta. During operations, Navy gunboats and landing crafts offloaded Army infantry units for amphibious assaults against enemy...
Week of May 28 Week of
May 28
On May 26, 1967, Operation UNION II began in the Que Son Basin in southern I Corps. The 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 5th Marine Regiments were initially supported by South Vietnamese Rangers. They drove off the entrenched 3rd North Vietnamese Army Regiment who left behind 118 dead. With the operation completed, the South Vietnamese...
Week of May 21 Week of
May 21
On May 22, 1964, the CIA-run airline known as Air America officially began to support search-and-rescue missions for downed American aviators in Laos and North Vietnam. Air America pilots flew piston-engine aircraft and helicopters for these and other covert operations throughout the Vietnam War. Their first rescue attempt occurred on...
Week of May 14 Week of
May 14
On May 10, 1969, U.S. and allied forces launched Operation APACHE SNOW, an effort to dislodge the North Vietnamese army from the A Sau Valley. The valley, adjacent to Laos, was a crucial staging point for Communist troops and supplies coming down the Ho Chi Minh Trail into South Vietnam. It was the setting for some of the most intense combat of...
Week of April 30 Week of
April 30
In April 1975, South Vietnam was on the verge of collapse as the North Vietnamese army closed in around Saigon. With almost all U.S. troops having left Vietnam in 1973, the few remaining American military and civilian personnel executed Operation FREQUENT WIND, the final evacuation of Americans, foreign nationals, and thousands of Vietnamese...
Week of April 23 Week of
April 23
On April 24, 1950, President Harry S. Truman approved the contents of National Security Council Report (NSC) 64. The memorandum was drafted by the State Department and the National Security Council. NSC 64 cited Ho Chi Minh's Communist connections, regional instability, the presence of Chinese troops along the border of Indochina, and an assumed...
Week of April_16 Week of
April 16
On April 17, 1956, three U.S. Army women nurses arrived in Saigon as part of a medical training team assigned to the U.S. Military Assistance and Advisory Group, Vietnam. They were the first U.S. servicewomen to deploy to Vietnam.
Week of April 9 Week of
April 9
At the end of 1964, with direct U.S. participation in combat operations poised to begin, there were about 23,000 U.S. forces in Vietnam. In less than five years, by the first weeks of April 1969, America's commitment in Southeast Asia reached its highest level, with 543,000 U.S. men and women serving in-theater. Two months later, President...
Week of April 2 Week of
April 2
By the end of March 1972, there were fewer than 70,000 U.S. troops in Vietnam (after peaking in 1969 at over 540,000). Following President Richard Nixon's "Vietnamization" plan, which called for gradually withdrawing American forces and handing responsibility for the war over to the South Vietnamese, the defense of South Vietnam was largely in...
Week of March 26 Week of
March 26
On March 26, 1964, Air Force Captain Richard L. Whitesides and Army Special Forces Captain Floyd J. Thompson were conducting a reconnaissance mission aboard a small observation airplane near the Demilitarized Zone. While making a low pass over a forested area, their aircraft was hit by Viet Cong small arms fire and crashed. Whitesides, the...
Week of March 19 Week of
March 19
In late February 1965, a U.S. helicopter pilot spotted a 130-foot North Vietnamese vessel anchored in South Vietnam's Vung Ro Bay. Investigators discovered the ship was carrying arms, ammunition, and other war materiel intended for the Viet Cong. By March 1965, the Vũng Rô Bay incident led to the start of Operation MARKET TIME and the establishment...
Week of March 12 Week of
March 12
As the United States commenced a bombing campaign against North Vietnam, American leaders grew concerned about the possibility of Communist retaliation against U.S. installations, especially the vital air base at Da Nang. To secure the base, General William C. Westmoreland, commander of U.S. Military Assistance Command Vietnam, ordered two...
Week of March 5 Week of
March 5
On March 2, 1965, U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps aircraft commenced the bombing of military, industrial, and infrastructure targets in North Vietnam. Called Operation ROLLING THUNDER, it evolved into one of the longest air campaigns in the history of warfare. It lasted—with some brief pauses—until October 1968, though...
Week of February 12 Week of
February 12
On February 12, 1973, a group of American prisoners of war (POWs) lifted off from Hanoi's Gia Lam Airport, in North Vietnam, aboard a U.S. Air Force C-141 Starlifter. These men were the first POWs to be released by North Vietnam and other Communist governments as part of Operation HOMECOMING.