Brown Water Navy Heroes

Those who served on the Patrol Craft Fast (PCF) boats were very different than their brother “blue water” sailors. Yes, they had the same ratings as their fellows on the traditional U.S. Navy ships, but their jobs, their training, their duties, were unlike anything else save the Navy Frogmen/Seals of the Vietnam War. These guys came to be known as the “Brown Water Navy.” You will see why in this video.

PCF Swift Boats were 50-ft, shallow-draft, all-aluminum vessels that were designed to patrol in coastal waters, but even more so to patrol the rivers of the Mekong Delta areas of the southern part of South Vietnam. They were built to be fast and maneuverable and were heavily armed with two .50-caliber M2 Browning machine guns in a turret above the pilothouse, an over-and-under .50-caliber machine gun, and an 81mm mortar combination mounted on the stern, which the gunner could fire at will. Many of these boats also mounted a single M60 machine gun just forward of the pilothouse.

Photo: YouTube/Zumwalt Committee

Their purpose was to interdict Viet Cong troop movements and ammunition and supply routes in the Mekong Delta. They also transported South Vietnamese Army forces into the area. One of their other functions was to insert Navy Seal Teams for counterinsurgency missions.

Needless to say, the canals and river systems they operated in were often narrow and lined with thick jungle or high grasses up to the river banks. Ambush was always a real and immediate possibility, and these crews were trained to be multi-taskers; they could handle the guns and all radio communication and had to be prepared for a variety of missions.

Photo: YouTube/Zumwalt Committee

This video concerns one of the most unique United States Navy units that served in Vietnam: the USN Swift Boat crews. The first part of the video gives a real-time sense of the controlled chaos that happens when a particular Swift Boat mission comes under an intense ambush from Viet Cong forces. It is narrated by an embedded reporter who was along on this mission.

The sounds of the Patrol Craft Fast (PCF) boat’s own weapons firing in response to the ambush make it difficult to hear what the reporter is saying, but you can hear the intensity both of the firefight and the tension on the boat and in the reporter’s voice. As is the reality of combat, and particularly of an ambush, the level of intensity of sound and emotions goes from 0-100 in the flash of milliseconds. It remains high throughout.

Photo: YouTube/Zumwalt Committee

The latter half of the video is in memory of those Black Beret sailors who served on these Swift Boats. It is backed by the song, “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke and photos of the fallen. You will see them as they were back then when they fell. It is very poignant.

The Veterans Site offers this video in memory of the “River Rats” of the Brown Water Navy who fought in Vietnam and came home and especially those brothers who fell in service to the nation on those PCFs in Vietnam. They were fighting men of the highest caliber. We will never forget their service or their sacrifices.

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