When I left the States, my orders had me going to RivSec. 543. River Section units were squads of river boats, supply, service and patrol, for use on inland rivers. However, when I checked into Saigon, I was informed I was going to RivSec. 552 a new RivSec just forming up. When I got Nha Be, I met my OIC and AOIC, both “short timers”. They told me that at that time our section did not have any boats. So for the first two weeks of my tour I was a relief Patrol Officer for other sections in Nha Be.
When I was not on the river I was assembling our boat crews from veterans of other RivSecs and “rookies” such as me. During week three we rode up to the docks in Saigon to get our boats [10 Mark 2] off loaded from a freighter. What a fun run back to Nha Be on our boats! We learned that we would not stay in Nha Be. We were waiting for YRBM 16 [Repair, Berthing and Messing Barge] [sunk during Tet 1968] to return from Japan after repairs. Once YRBM 16 arrived, we escorted her, and the tugs towing her, up the Mekong River from Nha Be to Chau Duc.
After our RivSec arrived in Chau Duc, we spent about a month patrolling the main river. Subsequently we were assigned to the Vinh Te Canal. The Canal was so shallow that our support ship YRBM 16 could not enter. I was the Senior Patrol Officer so I set up a forward operating base [FOB] at Tinh Binh, the main town on the Canal. The rest of my tour I would spend 10-12 days at the FOB and then go back to the support ship for 2-3 days for rest and replenishment.
Any exceptional or interesting anecdotes or incidents:
1. Going to Midnight Mass in Chau Duc. There was a ceasefire for Christmas so we were feeling safer than usual. We took 15-20 people to church.
2. Going to a wedding, in the same church, between a USAID Nurse and a Naval Officer. He met her during the Tet Offensive and extended his tour to court her. The Navy Officer’s job was to assist in Vietnamization so we saw him a lot. Another bunch of attendees came from the nearby Special Forces Camp.
3. I was on the first PBR [Patrol Boat Riverine] blown up by a mine on the Vinh Te Canal. We had just cleared the “French Locks”. Between Chau Duc, the provincial capital, and Tinh Binh, the main town on the Vinh Te Canal, one had to pass through the French Locks. The Locks had been built during the French Colonial Era. By the time we were there, the functioning part of the locks had been destroyed. However to get to Tinh Binh one had to go through the remains of the Locks. This meant going from a small canal to an even smaller enclosure. Accordingly, PBRs would go very slowly, one boat at a time. We had done this at least 15-20 times without incident. On this occasion, I was on the first boat. We cleared the locks and were going very slowly. I was on the bow with the forward gunner. We were sitting on 2 chairs the boat captain had obtained by trading with an officer from the Mobile Riverine Force with whom we had been working. We were sitting waiting for the “cover boat” to clear the Locks. That was when the mine exploded. The gunner and I were blown off those chairs like we were on a trampoline. The gunner hit the forward gun tube and broke his back. I hit the gun tube and dislocated my thumb and bloodied up my arm.
The boat was not damaged so we raced to Tinh Vinh. The gunner was medevaced and the medic from the ARVN advisors patched up my arm. Then we took 2 squads of ARVNs back to the ambush area to search for the VC. They were long gone. We did find the mining site. 2 cell batteries with wires leading into the Canal. The ambush sighting device was 2 sticks in the water that were aligned to indicate when the target boat was over the mine. We were lucky that this mine did not have enough explosive. About 3 weeks later another mine was detonated and took the bow off one of my boats. Miraculously, in that incident no one was seriously injured. That boat was later “married” by the repair crews to another boat that had had its stern blown off! It was amazing what the repair crews could do with those fiber glass boats.
Commands and locations:
River Division 552, Senior Patrol Officer.
Nha Be, Chau Duc, Vinh Te Canal.
Dennis R.Pelletier graduated in 1966 with a BA in History. He served 1966-71 with 68 & 69 in Vietnam.