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THE POINT WHITE IN 1966
I am quite sure that life on all the Division-13 cutters in 1966 was just about the same.
The POINT WHITE was originally stationed in New London, Connecticut. In December 1965, the POINT WHITE along with eight other Coast Guard 82 foot cutters were shipped to Subic Bay in the Philippines to form Division 13 of Squadron One. Subic Bay was where most of the crewmembers were assigned to the POINT WHITE. On February 19, 1966 the POINT WHITE sailed from Subic Bay with the eight other cutters for their new home in Cat Lo Vietnam 900 hundred miles across the South China Sea never to return to the USA.
Life for the POINT WHITE crew was exciting, interesting, boring, dangerous and tiring. The days were long, up to 12 to 16 hours a day when under way. Eleven men lived in very cramped quarters with intense heat ranging from 90 to 120 degrees, high humidity, monsoons, gale force winds, drenching rains, rough seas and dangerous river patrols. The crew consisted of nine enlisted men and two officers.
Although the POINT WHITE was 82 feet long and 17 feet wide, the actual living space for the crew was only in the forward narrow 35 feet of the cutter. Over half of the Point White was engine room and storage. In the bow were a very small enlisted crew’s head, shower and sleeping for six. The six enlisted men slept three high on each side of the bow. There was barely enough room to turn around. Just aft of that was a small mess deck for eating, the galley, food storage locker and sleeping quarters for two more crewmen. The commanding officer (CO), executive officer (XO), and one chief petty officer had their sleeping quarters just under the bridge with their own head and shower. On patrols, a South Vietnam Navy advisor would be on board and slept in the commanding officer’s quarters, making a 12-man crew on patrols. Patrols were usually four or five days long with in port periods of generally 48 hours or less.
In addition to their regular duties all of the POINT WHITE’S crew stood watches while on patrols except for the commanding officer and cook. When on coastal patrols the remaining nine crew members were divided into three watch sections with three men to a section. A watch section consisted of the officer of the deck, a helmsman and engineer. While one section was on watch a second section was on standby and served as the boarding party to board and search vessels. The third section was off duty unless there was some type of action.
Each section stood two four-hour watches every 24 hours. In addition to their regular watches each section served another eight hours as the boarding party. When on river patrols the watch sections were divided into two sections. Each section stood two six-hour watches every 24 hours. River patrols were more dangerous and required more men on watch. Each watch section was responsible for overseeing the entire operation of the POINT WHITE during their watch; however, overall responsibility always remained with the commanding officer.
Division 13 was sent to Vietnam to help cut off enemy supply lines. Ironically, few of Division 13’s supply lines were in place when we arrived. Fresh water was in critically short supply, and all the cutters were told not to return to Cat Lo until they had exhausted every effort to take on fresh water. Where do you find fresh water in the middle of the South China Sea? Returning from a patrol, cutters in Division-13 would try to find a friendly Navy or merchant vessel to bum fresh water from and anything else we could get. Usually there were freighters anchored in Vung Tau harbor waiting to go up river to Saigon that would help us out if there were no Navy ships anchored in the harbor.
While a fighting machine in every sense of the word, the POINT WHITE also carried one piece of equipment on deck that looked somewhat out of place on a small “man of war”. We boasted a real wringer washing machine, complete with a 55-gallon rinse tub, which was lashed to the deck between two aft .50 caliber machine guns. We would take turns doing our laundry in the wringer washing machine and rinse tub. Drying clothes was a matter of running a line from the bridge to the aft life rail and hanging them up. What a mess when we went to battle stations and got hung up in someone’s big under shorts.
The washing machine as one of our prized possessions; we bought it before leaving Subic Bay in the Philippines. Shortly after arriving in Vietnam we became involved in a lot of dangerous river patrols. CO John Lockwood and the crew felt that to improve our safety we should place sandbags around the forward ammunition locker, on deck gas cans, and yes the wringer washing machine. On one of our river patrols, we were running at full speed when CO Lockwood had to make a hard right turn. The POINT WHITE almost turned over from the extra weight of the sandbags on deck. As you can imagine, we quickly threw the sandbags overboard after that snafu.
Thousands of thirty to fifty foot Vietnamese vessels called JUNKS transported most commerce and enemy supplies in the Division 13 patrol area. Boarding and searching a JUNK was dangerous and went on all hours of the day and night. We boarded JUNKS in the dark of night, foul weather, drenching rains and high winds. Whenever we made contact with a JUNK we usually boarded and searched it. The boarding party had to jump from the POINT WHITE onto the JUNK with loaded automatic weapons.
Not only did we have to concentrate on safely getting from one boat to the other, but also what kind of situation we were jumping into. The JUNK could be friendly or full of Viet Cong ready to engage the POINT WHITE. More than one JUNK had a hole shot through their hull when a boarding party member accidentally squeezed the trigger on his automatic weapon as he landed on the JUNK. On one boarding the gunner’s mate hooked his .45 pistol holster on the top life rail as he jumped onto the JUNK. He fell between the boats, but quick action by the helmsmen and crew saved his life.
The POINT WHITE also provided humanitarian aid to the Vietnamese, even if they didn’t want it One day while we were on a river patrol, we spotted a JUNK that appeared to be sinking, as it was full of water from bow to stern. Recalling the days of search and rescue so prevalent back in the states, we quickly pulled alongside, threw a suction hose into the boat and started pumping it out. It turned out the boat was not sinking, but was transporting fresh water up the river.
The POINT WHITE engaged in a number of gun battles with the Viet Cong, from the shore and vessel to vessel. Our first engagement with the enemy occurred on March 9, 1966 just two weeks after we arrived in South Vietnam. On that night, the POINT WHITE under the Command of LT Eugene Hickey engaged a Viet Cong vessel on the Soirap River. A gun battle resulted and the POINT WHITE was forced to ram the Viet Cong vessel in order to stop the heavy gunfire we were receiving. By the end of the battle, eight Viet Cong were killed and four captured. One of those captured was a badly injured high ranking Viet Cong officer for that area, which was known as the Rung Sat Special Zone (RSSZ). He was so appreciative of the care that the POINT WHITE crew and other Americans had given him that he gave the U.S. Military Assistance Command valuable intelligence information about Viet Cong operations in the RSSZ. For years the RSSZ had been a Viet Cong stronghold, which was used as a training camp, mine factory, supply depot and base of operations. From his information the U.S. Marines were able to shut down much of the Viet Cong operations in the RSSZ. During the battle the POINT WHITE was hit in the forward ammunition locker, setting mortar propellant packets on fire and striking 81-mm mortar rounds. Had it not been for the quick action of the crew, the POINT WHITE could have suffered serious damage or been lost. For their actions that night, LT Eugene Hickey was awarded the Silver Star Medal and Gunner Mate 2nd Class Lester Gates the Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V”. LT Hickey (Captain USCG ret) had safely gotten the POINT WHITE crew through their first engagement with the enemy. He had arrived in Vietnam in July 1965 with Division 12 and in mid March 1966 he was reassigned to Division 13 staff.
LTJG John Lockwood (RADM USCG ret) took command of the POINT WHITE and for the next ten months under his outstanding leadership we were involved in several more gun battles and a number of gunfire support missions. On one of these gunfire support missions U.S. Army troops were pinned down near the beach. The POINT WHITE was called to assist the troops with gunfire support. We fired just over the top of the sand dunes, and when it was all over the U.S. Army troops got out safely. The POINT WHITE was credited with 35 enemy killed, and a number wounded. We saw several secondary explosions indicating our mortar rounds had hit enemy ammunition supplies.
We also inspected hundreds of vessels, landed and recovered U.S. troops on special operations, conducted rescue missions, and assisted other Coast Guard boats in Division 13 in the capture of a Viet Cong trawler. LTLG Lockwood safely returned his crew home in December 1966 when their tour of duty was complete.
THE 1966 CREW
Dates on POINT White
LT. EUGENE HICKEY (CAPTAIN USCG ret) CO 01/66 to 03/66
LTJG JOHN LOCKWOOD (RADM USCG ret) CO 03/66 to 12/66
LESSER XO 01/66 to 03/66
LTJG JOHN DOUKAS XO 03/66 to 12/66
BMC ARCHIE FRENCH (USCG ret, deceased) 01/66 to 12/66
ENC RAYMOND WEITZEL (ENCM USCG ret) 01/66 to 12/66
BM1 ERNEST WATSON (CW03 USCG ret) 01/66 to 12/66
EN1 JOSEPH MOODY (USCG ret, deceased) 01/66 to 03/66
GM2 LESTER GATES (USCG ret) 01/66 to 12/66
CS2 BUTCH CLIFTON (USCG ret, deceased) 01/66 to 12/66
ET2 GERALD SAMPONT (LCDR USCGR ret) 02/66 to 12/66
EN2 DELMAR WILSON (MKC USCG ret) 03/66 to 12/66
EN3 KARL ANDERSON 01/66 to 06/66
BUZZELLE 01/66 to 12/66
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