tv U.S. Military and the Mekong River Delta CSPAN December 26, 2015 3:14pm-4:00pm EST
contest asks students to tell what issues they want to hear from the presidential candidates. house road to the white coverage and get all the details from our student cam contest. sunday night on human day, tyler about the second volume of mr. pearson's tyree's, which give an insider's take to washington dc from 1960 to 1969. >> it was remarkable all the things he did. sometimes he would criticize himself. column was too strong. i shouldn't have said it quite that way.
he needed to be told what i wrote and i am glad i wrote it. >> sunday night at 8 p.m. eastern on q&a. american history tv, the its non-war veteran and author talks about u.s. military activity in the mekong river of vietnam during the war. they prevented the viet cong from transporting supplies. the u.s. navy memorial hosted this hour-long event. >> thank you for joining us at the navy memorial. we are pleased this morning to -- to welcome dr. edward marolda. his book was published by the navy and heritage command. it is available as a free pdf download and copies of the book are available at the ship's at
the navy museum. dr. merolda is an author of numerous publications on naval history that focus on the navy in southeast asia, korea, and the persian gulf war. he is currently an adjunct professor where he teaches courses on the war in the far east and the vietnam war. these join me in welcoming him. [applause] dr. merolda: good morning ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the suspicious occasion. it is important for this country and all of us to remark on the service of our navy men and women since the founding of the republic 200 years ago.
just this morning, i attended my grandson purports tory school ceremony. the kids sing god bless america, raised the flags, and read poems. it touched me. it was heartening to know our young children are still learning about what their predecessors did then and still do today. i will be reading from "combat close quarters." this booklet is part of his series on the u.s. navy and vietnam war. it covers aspects of coastal warfare, seal activities and whatnot. the entire series of nine booklets will hopefully one day be combined into a book. you can get the booklets through
the government hunting office. again, thank you for being here. how many veterans to have in the audience question mark i am sure it's the majority. how about it nonveterans? the question comes up, how did the navy get into vietnam? if you take a look at the map, it becomes obvious why the navy was needed for the war in vietnam. here's a map of the mekong delta. this consists of some 3000 navigable waterways. rivers, canals, other watercourse. 50% of the population of south vietnam at the time lived in the mekong delta. it was the bread basket for
south vietnam. a critical area. where the viet cong got its start was in the delta. they were there in great force in 1965. even though it is obvious to us now that the navy was needed there in vietnam, it was not as obvious to the naval leadership. vice admiral horatio rivero was the vice chief of naval operations in 1964 and when they started talking about putting naval forces into vietnam, he put out several memos. the u.s. navy will not be available in muddy water warfare. it was a put down. we are out here hunting soviet submarines. we are worried about the red
navy. this stuff in vietnam is army and marine corps. but, the navy did step up. general william c. westmoreland, commander, asked the navy for help.if you see up here, this is a region of swamp. a nasty area. nobody lived there. but the viet cong was there in force. here is a better map of a special zone. it needed special treatment. why was that strategic? it was strategic because it was right between saigon and the sea. 45 miles of tortuous what a way to saigon. saigon was the largest city in south vietnam. where all the materials that would come into commercial activity for the country.
ships would have to gather and work their way up the river. invitation to ambush. the enemy was there in force. rifles, grenades, mines. took a toll of some of the ships that worked there. it was called the forest of assassins for good reason. a law to of the bandits in pre-war days lived there and did their dirty work. here is one of the soviet-made minds that was recovered -- mines that was recovered. that could sink a ship. here is an occasion where it did sink a ship. seven merchant mariners, and merchant mariners did not get a lot of credit but they paid a price to do this run to saigon throughout the war. merchant ships and even ships from other countries made this dangerous run up the river. it was re-floated in and
in the mekong delta proper, you can see at the bottom of the picture that is a flag. the object was to cut any wires the enemy would string. setting behind a bush, they would trigger the mine. their tactic was to cut the wires before that could happen. they would circle the ships up and down the river to make sure that did not happen. it did not always work. sometimes the enemy was more cagey. i mentioned navy seals involved in looking for the furtive operatives. they are famous now, this was their coming out party -- not that, it is too flippant, but they really cut their teeth on the vietnam war.
they are worth their weight in gold. the main mekong delta, you had the river that went from you the river that went from cambodia down to the south china sea and then you had the mekong river, with its three tributaries toward the bottom. him this is a river patrol force. task force 116. their mission was to control those rivers and prevent the enemy from continuing to tax farmers to use the rivers. it was an imperative to really stop that activity from going
on. in 1965, the river patrol forces were established in december. in that year, the general was very concerned because the viet cong really had stopped commerce on the main rivers. you could not get rice to saigon. a big deficit. so a river patrol force when and with river patrol boats. here is one inspecting for contraband. they were all supposed to have papers. a 31-foot boat. off the shelf from a company in bellingham, washington. but guns on it, radar, other things. there was also a 32-foot one, a little bit longer, more structurally sound. who remembers the movie,
"apocalypse now"? going for marlon brando's cave. they have one scene where a guy water skis behind the pbr. for a long time, we thought what a bunch of ohlone. until i met someone who served and he said, we did it all the time. truth is stranger than fiction. here is another critical asset for the river patrol force. we had one squadron only of helicopters. better known as the sea wolves. and there were two detachments that would operate either from
the river were sure or bases. they would be overhead. you can see here a flotilla of pbr's. you can imagine you have watercourse where the foliage comes down right to the water. you need these guys overhead to be looking around to see who is out there. this unlikely hero, he does not look like rambo or someone you would see in a movie about seals or anything like that, this man made first-class. he was the senior enlisted guy in charge of the pbr's. they were patrolling the mekong river. he came upon a couple of enemies, and the bad guys returned fire.
he got to the other end, what do we do now? he turned around and came back again. this involved a three-hour battle. where he and two boats, each boat had four crewmen. these eight guys. they called in air support but he did not want to wait for it because it it was getting dark. so he made another run. he got the medal of honor. he destroyed 50 boats. that seems exaggerated. that is the river patrol force. another major naval contingent in the mekong delta was called the mobile riverine force. i met a man this morning who had been with the mobile wolverine force, with the army. the second brigade of the ninth infantry division was the army's contribution. they put together the wolverine assault force. general westmoreland, everyone
knows he was really hot on finding the enemy and clubbing them. search and destroy. looking for the enemy's main force unit and surrounding them and destroying them. he was very big on that. him so that was the mission of the mobile riverine force. it was to kill the enemy. here is some of the ninth division soldiers operating in some of the most inhospitable terrain in vietnam. mangrove swamps. rice paddies. many remember trench foot from world war i. this was called immersion foot. the soldiers were in the water so often every day that they found out after a while you can only put them in the film for about two days.
then you had to bring them back, let them dry their feet out and put new close on. -- and put new clothing on. very tough. the river assault force portion of the mobile riverine force, this was the battleship of the fleet. it is an old landing craft. a very small hull. they put armor on it, they put weapons on it. what he millimeter cannons, 20 millimeter cannons. machine guns. it millimeter mortars were on some of the boats as well. their job was to put out heavy firepower. the riverine force also had specialized boats. this is called a zippo boat. the old-timers here remember zippo lighters.
this is a zippo boat. clearing the brush. the enemy would hide in the brush. this was a way to clear way the brush. as we know, agent orange and various other defoliants were used for the same purpose. one of the problems with the mekong delta, there is only one road. to get around, you have to do it by water will stop the question came up early in the episode -- to get around you have to do a pipe water. they dredged the river and put the fill on the former swampy area and made a base out of it. with its own harbor and everything. it worked very well. the army for the most part use this as their staging base. when the troops and the sailors were involved in their work,
they also lived and worked in these types of ships called the mobile wolverine base. this was a self-propelled barracks ship. the soldiers would love it. they were hot, wet, tired. they would go under the ship to get hot showers. a place to chill out. very welcomed. you had a small fleet that supported the force logistically. this is what they were all about. a gruesome picture. but their object was to trap main force units.
even regiments on occasion. the tactic was this. you would have the wolverine boats on the waterside. the army guys would come in on the land. and others on the other side. they would corner the enemy and start moving in. very affect of in 1967 because the enemy never expected anyone to come from the water. they always came from the land. so the vietcong were unprepared for this tactic. in 1967 and worked fairly well, resulting in this type of carnage. unfortunately, as casualties were also very high for the mobile wolverine force. the force existed from 1967
until june of 1969. it was disestablished. why would you disestablished something that was doing very well? indeed, 1968, the tet offensive. they moved into the cities and took over the towns. what do you do? do you leave them there? if you leave them there, you have lost the war. you have to get them out. so the mrf was called upon to get them out. heavy fighting, the enemy resisted and of course there was great destruction and loss of civilian life.
some of you may remember the army major who said, when asked by a reporter, why did you guys blow up this place? he said, we had to destroy the town to save it. that sounds counterintuitive but it was a fact. they are in the main buildings and they are not going to leave. that was the unfortunate consequence of that. but during the tet offensive, the mrf supposedly saved the delta. they were disestablished the next year, although it was widely established they had pulled their weight. neither the army nor the navy leaders were very crazy about this force for very different
reasons. the nature of the war was changing as well. general westmoreland was really big on search and destroy. his successor came in and said we have done that, but now we are changing the mission to protecting the population. it made the mobile riverine force kind of anachronistic. and a general came in and learned from abrams and others that the predecessor was not well-liked by the folks. you can argue how effective that was that he was not liked by the army. but that was the bottom line. so he said, i don't know if our navy has will serve to. he was an acolyte of craig abrams from day one. he said, tell me what you want and we will fashion a strategy. in the past, where the river patrol force had patrolled the major rivers only and the mrf had gone out to find enemy units and destroy them, he said we going to take a different tactic. the enemy is still coming across from cambodia with supplies and
reinforcements, they are just avoiding the big rivers, going to the little rivers and canals. we have got to find a way to stop that transportation. the new approach was called southeast asia, lake river delta strategy. the guy who was going to lead it was going to be called the first sea lord. in an oral history afterward, he said, that is stupid.
the new tech was this, put up barriers. all the way between the gulf over to here. it was a barrier strategy. the enemy got caught short. a the enemy casualties rose. they were not getting as much as through. the second part of sea lords was to penetrate these areas. very few people lived there. it had been virtual sanctuaries for the enemy throughout the war. all the mobile assets, the zippo's the boats, had been taken. to stop infiltration, which was not happening at the time. he took those assets and started to put them together in task
forces. they started to go into the rivers and duke it out with the enemy. very effective strategy. in the short term, the mekong delta was safer than it ever had been before. more patrolled. more than just the military him andmore than just the military aspect, but another part of it was extending the writ of the government of vietnam. getting back into the villages to oversee voting and other things. will a lot of the vietnamese who were wood cutters, and at the fishery would come to the american bases or get close by for protection and commerce was on the rise again.
the guy on the right, the that is robert who said being the first sea lord was silly. to his left is colonel burt david. both of them were heads in the mobile riverine force. neither the army nor the navy could agree to who was going to command the mobile riverine force. it is a principle of strategy that you need one roller, one person running the show. but they had a dual setup. it worked on a personal basis.
as these joint operations often do. they throw doctrine out the window. their predecessors at the beginning, the navy guy said, look, the army has a recurrence of forces here. i will be in support of you. you call the shots. they pretty much followed that and it worked out well. here is an example of boats which accomplished their mission out there on patrol. that was called operation market
time. the enemy tried to infiltrate 100-ton trawlers. to the coastal points in south vietnam. this goes back to 1962, 1963. every year they would send a number of these trailers and wait until the dark of night, come into the shore, and viet cong would come out. it was discovered in february of 1965, they caught one of these guys and pretty much said, hey, this is an ongoing program. the boats came in along with coast guards, epb's and other cover. they stop that. every time the enemy sent a trawler, it was forced to turn back or was destroyed. which put more pressure on the enemy to use the ho chi minh trail. it was difficult because of the geography and typography and distance. they had support of neutral cambodia. the prince in charge in cambodia, he worked out a deal with the north vietnamese and
the chinese. he said, you guys can bring your ships in here to cambodia, but if you give a lot of money to cambodia and trucking company it will be a fair deal. sure enough, they unload their weapons and ammunition's, put them on the cambodia truck, bring them to the mekong river delta and the viet cong would take it in. so, unfortunately they were getting through because of that. so here is the swift boats in the rivers to take part in penetrating the sanctuaries. this is in the peninsula. look up close the foliage is. this is not a comfortable place to be. who can guess who was the commanding lieutenant of the pcf-94? john kerry. right. our secretary of state.
he was awarded medals. he was a controversial figure. in fact and then, and perhaps, now. here is an example of how tough it could be. a tough fight. on the right here, a lieutenant. before they had thought of bringing swift boats into the rivers, it was like, no. do not do that. maybe the pvr should be doing that. it was by the cambodian border. one day he took his swift boat of the canal. destroyed a whole lot of enemy sand pans and whatnot and showed it could be done. so, this guy here, we're admiral -- a rear admiral, you probably remember this with both command
that when after john kerry. this is the guy, cigar in his mouth. this is a lieutenant and one of the convoys in the mekong, his boat, pcf-43 was hit. one was killed and two others badly injured. the boat destroyed. it was not an easy proposition. when zim ok man, it was clear he had been told the u.s. strategy -- when the next leader came in, it it was clear he had been told the u.s. strategy was different.
they were going to take over the fight. that meant turning over 700 pbr's, landing craft, support craft. a whole slew of boats went to the vietnamese. that you couldn't just give it to them, they had to be trained on how to use them. i 1972, we had turned over all those assets that the river forces had used previously and the bases from which they operated. it was a massive turnover. the question comes up, were river operations successful or not? we lost the war, that is the bottom line. but the thing is, i think there are four reasons why the river
forces were successful. number one is, battle strength in the mekong delta. they did not go away, they were fighting until the last a but they had the be very careful where they launched attacks and how they did their operations. they did not just have total control of the area as they did previously. another factor, another example of how that was true, the mekong delta there was always a lot of fighting during the early part of the war even before we got into it. in 1970 when we went to to cambodia, the mekong delta diminished severely. in 1972, the offensive, when the north vietnamese launched major offensives and nothing in the delta.
it became much quieter there. it did help the government of vietnam to reestablish some control over the people and places in the mekong delta. it reinvigorated the commercial process. rice got into saigon, there was no starvation in vietnam. i did not mention another operation that is part and parcel of this. the mekong delta, there was another in 1967. they sent a force, a mobile riverine force and another force up to the northern part of along to danang. there are two critical rivers there.
one that goes from the south china sea right south of the dmz. all of those marines, regiments, battalions, protecting the supply lines to bring ammunition and troops up there. those rivers were critical, especially during the tet offensive. getting it to the marines fighting very hard to retake it. it was very important. i mentioned earlier the river to saigon. it was a hard fight. we lost votes to mines and ambushes. we lost a couple freighters. by 1968, the river was secure. we were getting the supplies and it became almost a milk run.
the navy and the army did the job. tactically, naval warfare in vietnam worked. strategically, another matter. that is at a higher level. major decisions that services had to live with. in terms of the army and navy fighting in the mekong out to and elsewhere, they did their job with dedication, courage, and sacrifice. i am ready to answer questions. i have enjoyed speaking with you. [applause] >> was that, when the chinese and russians were shipping supplies from cambodia back into vietnam, was that one of the reasons the americans went in start bombing cambodia? >> it was. it seemed ludicrous that we
allowed -- i mean, there were soviet freighters going right through our fleet. the seventh fleet. russian freighters were going back and forth loaded with surface to air missiles and we did not do anything about it because it was international waters. the johnson administration, nixon administration, had decided we cannot stop that otherwise will will get involved with the war with the soviet union and china. nixon stop that and had the blockade. that was late in the war. we knew they were coming in through there. it grew importance, along the cambodian border, in cambodia, supposedly neutral, you had all of these base camps. the object of the bombing and sending in troops was to take out the space areas and to support the government which had brought in a pro-american.
that was late in the war. >> can you explain the situation was john kerry and the swift boats? >> he was in vietnam for four months. most of us served one year at least. he was on a swift boat doing coastal patrol and was wounded and got a purple heart for that one. he was in heavy combat down here. now, i do not know the particulars, some of the swift boat guys say he was not as brave as some of the others. he did get wounded. he got a silver star. unless he wrote it up himself and got it approved, i do not know.
i am not an authority on john kerry. he did earn medals. he was there. he was definitely an hot action. were they deserved or not? i am not in a place to save. admiral hoffman and company did not think he was awarded the way he should've been.maybe that he should've been there longer. >> was their naval support for your efforts? >> i really have not given a lot of attention to the south vietnamese. the south vietnamese navy. they were there way before we got there. they had leftover french equipment.
some hand-me-down american equipment will stop sometimes they find -- american equipment. sometimes they fought very bravely. there was a book written about a commander. he was brave, there were others like him. there were others who did not write very bravely were effectively and that is the reason the u.s. navy had to get in there 1965. general westmoreland was not happy that things were going correctly in the mekong delta and the river force was really an appendage to the south vietnamese army. they dominated the navy. the highest guy in the navy was a commodore. the south vietnamese army dominated. they used the river force for transportation. they did not use them for patrol or assault. they were misused, if you will.
they fought long and hard. at the end of the war, the war was lost on land. both invasions from north vietnam. the rivers remained secure or almost until the very end. the mekong delta was secure almost until the very end. we had a strong unions who provided destroyers for coastal -- we had australians who provided destroyers for coastal bombardment patrol. that was about it for allied support at least in the rivers. no other questions? >> thank you so much on behalf of all of us at the navy memorial. for your service and all you have done to record the navy history of the conflict in vietnam.
>> thank you very much. [applause] >> since we do not have the book to sign, i do have some stickers we could have the author sign and you could paste them in your book. let me know. thank you. [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] you are watching american history tv. follow us on twitter at c-span history for information on our schedule and to keep up with the latest history news. >> has 2015 wraps up, c-span presents congress, a year in review, a look back at all the newsmaking issues, debates, and hearings that took center stage on capitol hill. join us at 8 p.m. eastern as we
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