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  • Writer's pictureWar Correspondent Wanna-Be

Open Fire

The Cutter INGHAM was transferred to the Commander of the Seventh Fleet (COMSEVENTHFLT) and sent to Operation Market Time off the coast of South Viet Nam. Our job was to patrol the southern coast and intercept any vessel that turned west and headed toward the shore. The Communist Chinese (ChiComs) had been resupplying the North Vietnamese with guns, ammunition and other necessities of war and we were ordered to put a stop to it. Therefore radar tracked everything moving up and down the coast. If a sampan turned west we would fire one round across its bow. If it did not stop….? Boom! No more sampan. The ChiComs quickly tired of this loss of materiel and started devising various ways to thwart their enemy. All, to no avail. INGHAM’s CIC (Combat Information Center) crew was excellent, having received numerous awards from the Guantanamo TRACEN (Training Center) prior to departing for South East Asia. If the enemy vessels were close aboard, gunnery would take them out with 50 caliber machine guns and M-60 rifles. If they were several miles away we would fire the 5inch/38. In either case the result was the same: End of Enemy Story.

Unlike ocean station duty, we didn’t have 50 eastbound commercial aircraft headed to Europe to take care of each night. Our nights were boring. There was nothing to do. So I made it my job to talk to the Navy Swift Boat captains that we serviced during the day to find out what radio frequencies they manned and what frequencies the soldiers and Marines used on shore. During the night, I would scan across each of these freqs until I heard conversation. Off times we would hear these guys in the midst of a gun battle. We could hear the machine guns. We could hear the artillery spotters and we could hear the booms of the 105 Howitzers.

One particularly dull and boring night I heard two soldiers, obviously at two different locations, calmly talking about an enemy sniper or two somewhere between them that they couldn’t locate. They went on to say the snipers had wounded two or three Special Forces guys and they really wanted to silence these gooks. Thinking to myself ‘what the hell’ I keyed up my microphone and called them.

“Mallard 62 this is Swinging Kingdom Zulu (our call sign) and I’m sitting about a mile off shore of you. Do you think a little Harassment and Interdiction fire would help get your snipers?” One of them responded immediately, “You damn right it would. Stand by for target coordinates.”

I walked out of CIC and went to the bridge and told the OOD (Officer of the Deck) that “…Mallard 62 has requested some H & I fire. They are pinned down by snipers,” I said. “They are working up the target coordinates at this time.” The OOD said, “Roger that” and called the Captain to the bridge.

Within minutes, Mallard 62 had sent us the coordinates, the Captain was on the bridge, general quarters had been sounded and the gunnery guys and opened up and loaded the 5 inch 38.

The Captain said, “Open fire!” The gunnery officer yelled “Fire for effect!” and one round was on its way. Everybody held their breath. Soon the radio crackled, “Perfect, Zulu! Plop about 4 more rounds on that sucker!” said Mallard 62. We did and then waited.

After the four rounds had landed Mallard 62 called us to say how much they appreciated our work. The Captain thanked them and asked, “Do you need anything else from us?” Mallard 62 responded, “Well, sir, if you aren’t too busy, we could work up a few other coordinates.” “Work them up, soldier” said the Captain. We’re gonna be here all night.”

As the sun rose from the east, Swinging Kingdom Zulu had fired 34 H & I rounds against enemy positions and the pathway was open for me to find more ground forces that could use our help.

INGHAM’s Viet Nam cruise book document part of the Naval Gunfire Support missions:

“We pounded the South Vietnamese beaches both day and night from Da Nang to Cambodia with shells from our 16 foot barrel gaining many commendations from Army spotter aircraft and offensive forces on the ground. Accuracy on our last 50 missions even produced many favorable comments, even though the barrel was found to be 99% eroded from the 3,738 rounds fired on Market Time.” And in the very back of the cruise book there is a section called Special Accomplishments. In that section it shows a picture of RD-3 Josh Humphreys and says that he “requested 41 NGFS (Naval Gunfire Support) missions.” However, along with the accolades comes severe criticism. Every one of those 3,738 rounds that were fired had to be replaced by an Underway Replenishment Ship. We would steam alongside the naval UNREP vessel while helicopters would transfer pallets full of 5 inch 38 shells to our fantail. The entire ship’s company had to turn out and form a relay line from the fantail to the magazines forward. It didn’t take long for the crew to figure out that Humphreys had kept them up all night at general quarters and then kept them up most of the next day replenishing 5”/38 rounds.

It’s funny how shipmates react to certain events. About half the crew would cuss Humphreys, while the other half would give him credit for INGHAM’s second Presidential Unit Citation.

He told me once that he was honored and glad to have served in INGHAM at WestPac (The Western Pacific). He said he often thanked God that neither he nor any of his shipmates were killed, injured or lost in the combat zone. And Captain Neal Westfall told me at the end of the cruise, “This crew, working under arduous conditions, has carried on the Coast Guard’s wartime traditions with honor and tangible results.”

War Correspondent Wanna Be,

Berkley Base, Chesapeake, Virginia

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