Week of May 12

Week of May 12

On May 10, 1966, the USCGC Point Grey (WPB 82324) was patrolling the waters off the Bán Đảo Cà Mau (Ca Mau Peninsula), at the southern tip of South Vietnam, when it encountered a large steel-hulled trawler. As the Point Grey turned to overtake and inspect the trawler, the suspicious vessel veered off course and attempted to escape. In the attempt, however, the trawler approached too close to the shore and ran aground. The Point Grey engaged in a brief fire fight with the trawler, and was shortly joined by the nearby USCGC Point Cypress (WPB 82326). Suddenly, a large explosion detonated from inside the trawler. Those members of the enemy vessel who were not killed or wounded in the blast ceased resistance, and the Point Grey and the Point Cypress closed in to seize the boat.

It turned out that the grounded trawler had been supplying Việt Cộng troops in the region of the Bán Đảo Cà Mau (Ca Mau Peninsula) and the Đồng bằng Sông Cửu Long (Mekong Delta) with ammunition and provisions. The explosion had been the result of the steel trawler’s munitions cargo detonating, likely due to mortar and machine gun fire from the Point Grey and the Point Cypress. The incident was the most significant known Việt Cộng waterborne infiltration attempt in over a year. In the wake of this incident, the United States responded by beefing up Operation MARKET TIME—the operation to cordon off South Vietnam from enemy seaborne infiltration—and decided to send another squadron of Coast Guard cutters to South Vietnam to join the one squadron already there. Twelve months later, nearly to the day, on May 15, 1967, Coast Guard Squadron Three officially began supporting MARKET TIME patrols.

The first Coast Guardsmen to deploy to Vietnam arrived in mid-1965 to aid the Navy in preventing Viet Cong smugglers from supplying the insurgency from the sea. Squadron One consisted of 17 “Point” class cutters, including the Point Grey and the Point Cypress. These steel-hulled vessels were over 80 feet long and had a complement of two officers and nine enlisted men. Their primary armament included .50-caliber machine guns and an 81-millimeter mortar. Coast Guard Squadron Three, which arrived two years later as the war escalated, consisted of five much larger High-Endurance Cutters (HECs). These vessels were over 300 feet long. At least three of the five were kept continuously on patrol, while at least 75 percent of Squadron One’s smaller cutters were on patrol around the clock, no matter the weather conditions.

Coast Guard vessels performed excellently in their coastal patrol duties, searching tens of thousands of boats and ships for smuggled contraband, weapons, ammunition, and intelligence. They also earned credit for engaging and destroying the majority of the smuggling trawlers captured by U.S. forces.

Coast Guardsmen also performed critical duties in supporting U.S. Army Special Forces, Navy SEALs, and Marine Corps amphibious operations. Special warfare teams routinely went into combat transported by Coast Guard boats, and cutters often provided near-shore fire support and illumination during night attacks.

Coast Guardsmen served in a variety of additional roles in Vietnam. For example, Coast Guard Explosive Loading Detachments (ELDs), first arriving in 1966, took over supervision of the unloading and handling of explosive cargo. Coast Guard Port Security and Waterways Details performed port safety inspections and security operations, and Coast Guardsmen deployed and maintained numerous sonar, radar, and navigation buoys, including the Long Range Aid to Navigation (LORAN) network that aided navigation for U.S. aviators throughout Southeast Asia. The Coast Guard also provided helicopter pilots for search-and-rescue and aircraft-recovery missions. From 1964 to 1973 roughly 8,000 Coast Guardsmen served in the Vietnam War, and seven of them were killed.1

1“Coast Guard Squadron One, A Gallery of Historic Photographs,” http://www.uscg.mil/history/uscghist/vietnamphotoindex_c.asp (accessed 4/1/14); “U.S. Coast Guard: Point Grey, 1961,” http://www.uscg.mil/history/webcutters/Point_Grey.pdf (accessed 7/22/14). Eugene N. Tulich, “The United States Coast Guard in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam Conflict,” Chapter 3, http://www.uscg.mil/history/articles/h_tulichvietnam.asp (accessed 8/4/14); “U.S. Coast Guard in Vietnam: A Gallery of Historic Photographs: Coast Guard Squadron Three,” http://www.uscg.mil/history/uscghist/VietnamPhotoIndex_D.asp (accessed 4/7/14); “USCG in Vietnam Chronology,” (US Coast Guard) http://www.uscg.mil/history/uscghist/USCGVietnamChronology.pdf (accessed 4/7/14); Spencer C. Tucker, ed., The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History (2nd edition; Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2011), 1193–94.