Military


Patrol Craft, Fast (PCF) Swift Boat

Eighty-four Mark I Swift boats served in Vietnam, while twenty remained in the Western Hemisphere for training. These small modified Navy patrol boat were used for close in offshore security and inland water way patrolling. The speedy little swift boats helped cover the Market Time patrol areas in closer to shore, but depend upon the larger ships for support. Normally the six-man swift boat crews spend 24 hours on patrol, then switch crews for the next 24. On many Market Time stations the relief crews actually live aboard the cutters while waiting for their next patrol. The heroic Swift boat sailors patrolled the rivers and coastlines of Southeast Asia during the Vietnam war.

At 51 feet in length and a draft of only four feet, swift patrol boats operated in the shallow, confined waterways of southeast Asia during the Vietnam conflict, delivering and extracting combat forces in hostile areas. Capable of 23 knots, armed with .50-caliber machine guns and 81-millimeter mortars, the crews of these boats often performed routine inspections of papers and cargo of civilian vessels.

Task Force 115?the Coastal Surveillance Force?primarily utilizing the Fast Patrol Craft (PCF), was created in early 1965 to conduct Operation MARKET TIME, a coastal interdiction operation that effected a multiple layer ship barrier augmented by an air surveillance barrier. Task Force 115 (U.S. Navy Coastal Surveillance Force) which maintained close vigil over 1200 miles of Vietnamese coastline and 64,000 licensed watercraft. The Task Force seized large quantities of war materiel, preventing that materiel from reaching enemy hands.

The month of January 1968 saw increased patrol activity by Task Force 115 (Coastal Surveillance or Market Time) as the northeastern monsoon abated. There is no evidence that TF 115, commanded by Captain R. Dicori, deployed in a different manner than usual as Tet approached. Even so, a patrol vessel made what might have been one of the first contacts with enemy forces at the start of the offensive, when it intercepted five or six uniformed enemy personnel concealed in an unlighted sampan three miles south of Qui Nhon, late in the evening of 29 January. During Tet, Market Time forces became engaged in a number of firefights involving sampans and provided naval gunfire support to forces ashore.

During 1969 Task Force 115 PCFs mounted lightning raids into enemy- held coastal waterways and took over patrol responsibility for the delta's larger rivers. This freed the PBRs for operations along the previously uncontested smaller rivers and canals. These intrusions into former Viet Cong bastions were possible only with the on-call support of naval aircraft and the heavily armed riverine assault craft.

The new year witnessed the strengthening of the border patrol barriers and the expansion of SEALORDS into three regions: I Corps, the area north of Saigon, and the remotest reaches of the Mekong Delta. In April, Task Force Clearwater's I Corps efforts were enhanced by Operation Sea Tiger in which Task Force 115 Swift boats, River Division 543 PBRs, Vietnamese Coastal Group 14 junks, and River Assault Group 32 units battled to secure the Cua Dai and Hoi An Rivers in Quang Nam Province.

A Congressional bill authorized the preservation and public display of the two remaining boats, one in Washington, and the other in Norfolk, Virginia.

The last two operational Vietnam-era U.S. Navy swift patrol boats were transferred from active service in a ceremony at 10 a.m., Saturday, June 17, 1995, at the Washington Navy Yard. One of the boats will be donated to the Navy Museum for permanent display, while the other boat will be transferred to the Tidewater Community College in Norfolk, Virginia, to be used as a research vessel. Former Vietnam swift patrol boat commanders Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts and Representative Jim Kolbe of Arizona, as well as former Chief of Naval Operations and former Commander, U.S. Naval Forces in Vietnam, retired Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, Jr., attended the ceremony. Many other swift boat veterans also attended.

Harold Webster Gehman Jr. was born Oct. 15, 1942, in Norfolk, Va., the son of a Navy captain. He entered the R.O.T.C. program at the University of Pennsylvania. He served two tours in Vietnam, first as the officer in charge of a swift boat, and then in charge of seven swift boats. Harold W. Gehman Jr., the retired Navy admiral was recruited to lead the inquiry into the Columbia shuttle accident. He is a career military man whose hard-edged and dispassionate reputation have put him at the center of two investigations into violent episodes that shook the nation. The Clinton administration turned to Admiral Gehman to help lead the investigations into failures by the Navy that might have contributed to the terrorist attack on the destroyer Cole in Yemen in October 2000

Senator John Kerry was wounded in action and subsequently awarded three Purple Hearts, a Silver Star and a Bronze Star. Kerry has been under fire from Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group of veterans who served in Vietnam at the same time, about whether he earned the Vietnam decorations Kerry made central to his campaign for the presidency.



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