Early 1966, Shipboard in Vietnam…Part 3
We had been in Da Nang harbor for just a week or two when we discovered a cache of lawn chairs down below. I have no idea why they were there or even who owned them but I do remember that we were allowed to drag them up on deck in the evening after the meal. We would do that to enjoy the sunset, the view, the weather…and one other thing. Every night around dusk, 3 PT boats, heavily armed, would roar right by the ship heading for the opening of the harbor. On the north shore of the opening (refer to that Da Nang harbor map I posted earlier) they would receive some enemy fire. We would be sitting in our lawn chairs watching a shore to boat battle. The tracers would give us some idea of the intensity of the fight and the colors (red for the US, green for the cong) would tell us who had the most shells to waste. Of course the battle would not make much of a difference in the war and it wasn’t intended to. What they were doing is laying down suppressing fire at the cong, to keep them from getting to close to shore and perhaps close enough to lob some shells at us. Or any other vessels that might enter the harbor. When we first arrived the firefights were pretty tame, but one evening, all hell broke loose and we watched at least 5 PT boats roar out there and just hammer the hill, firing at the tracers coming at them. It went on for a good hour with the boats parrying in and out from shore firing while tracers headed toward them, explosions going off all over the hill and in the sea. The congs weapons wouldn’t really reach very far into the harbor. The closest I ever saw a shell splash into the water was maybe 100 feet short of a PT boat, but they were testing their weapons I suppose, in what was really a fruitless effort. Or maybe they were just harassing us. But one large explosion and some secondary explosions that night up on the hillside probably meant that our guys had hit a weapons cache. And for many weeks after that the gunfire from the hillside was weak, and it got to be that only one PT boat would roar by us in the evening, send a few hundred rounds up to the hillside, wait for a response, which didn’t come, and then head back to base. So our evening show was over, and we missed having it.
A couple days after that big fight, there was a notice posted that the ship was going to host a beach beer & BBQ party. Word got around quickly that it was all the captains doing, and that he was paying for it since a beer party couldn’t be a Navy sanctioned event. It was to be held over on the south shore, on the beach, pretty close to the south mountain at the entrance to the harbor. The area was remote and choked with jungle, the beach was wide with amazing fine white sand. I signed up immediately and watched with surprise at how few sailors signed up! I found out that they were scared of the jungle. Both of the cong…remember the northern shore was cong territory…and of local animals like big cats. I can’t remember which kind of cat, maybe tiger. Anyway, out of 150 sailors, only 40 or 50 signed up for FREE BEER! I was bummed out because most of my friends would not be going, they all had these lame excuses but it boiled down to being afraid. Jeese. Maybe there was something that I should worry about? Nah.
So the big day comes and I’m up on the bridge till the last minute getting things done. I run down to my locker and get my beach clothes on and hot foot it out to the gangplank to board one of the two landing craft filled with sailors. There were at least five petty officers carrying automatic weapons. Loaded. With spare boxes of ammo. We motored over to the beach and beached the boats up in the sand, dropped the front of the boat and everyone debarked with the beer, food, guns, ammo, and gear, along with the BBQ’s. Then the boats backed off the beach and headed back to the ship to tie up. While we got everything set up the PO’s tested their weapons, sending a few 10’s of bullets into the sea. They weren’t allowed to shoot into the jungle. It was very dense, intensely green, and kind of foreboding. I could tell, having enjoyed the forests of the northwest, that this was a whole different kind of forest that would be easy to get lost in. Step into it, go 10 feet and you could be lost. It was that dense. I did wander up the beach to the jungle line but did not take a chance exploring since there might be something to bite me or someone in there ready to jab a knife into my gut. Besides, there was beer to attend to.
So we spend several hours having a good time, drinking beer, throwing rocks into the jungle trying to scare something out, eating and joking about the idiots that were too scared to come ashore. Their loss. At the end of the day, around dusk, the landing craft came back to get us, ending our fun. Gotta tell ya, many were soooo drunk as to need help getting aboard the craft, and then, even worse, to get aboard ship. Dummies. Meanwhile, the captain had taken all the officers over to Da Nang to an officers club and got them all drunk as hell. Ya know, I can’t remember what the occasion was at all. But it was fun. Thanks Capt’n! On Edit: I finally remembered what the occasion was…it was the Captains birthday and since he was stuck in another war zone during his birthday he’d decided to do it up good. Paid for all the booze that everyone enjoyed.