Washtenaw County, LST 1166, was attached to Landing Ship Squadron 9 home ported in Yokosuka, Japan from 1960 to 1973. During the early years of the war, pre 1964 through 1967, she was primarily used to transport troops, supplies, and equipment to Vietnam. She received her "brown water" baptism in early January, 1967 when she helped pioneer LST river based operations. Along with Coconino County (LST 603) and St. Francis River (LSMR 525), she made the first trip up the Co Chien River to support U.S. Marines during operation "Deckhouse V". This operation marked the first entry of U.S. combat troops into the Mekong Delta region.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF WASHTENAW'S VIETNAM SERVICE
During the remaining years of the war Washtenaw was attached to several of the Navy's task forces. The major "brown water" task forces include TF 115, TF 116, TF 117, TF 194, and TF 76. TF 115, the Coastal Surveillance Force, also known as "Market Time", was tasked with stopping enemy supplies from entering South Vietnam from the sea, and was home of the PCF "Swift Boats". TF 116, the River Patrol Force, also known as "Game Warden", was tasked with denying the enemy the use of the river system for troop movement and resupply. TF 116 was the home of the "PBR's", mine sweepers and SEAL teams. TF 117, the Mobile Riverine Force, was a combination of Navy assault boats and elements of the Army's 9th Infantry Division. TF 117 was tasked with seeking out and destroying enemy forces throughout the Mekong Delta. TF 194 was a combination of elements from TF 115, TF 116, and TF 117 and was commonly called "Sealords". Its mission was to form a blockade to intercept supplies and troops coming into the delta from Cambodia. The Amphibious Ready Groups of TF 76 (the Amphibious Task Force) provided amphibious beach assaults by U.S. and foreign country Marines mainly in the I Corps "northern" zone of South Vietnam, but also down the coast and into the Mekong Delta.
In mid January, 1968, Washtenaw joined the Mobile Riverine Force as "support" LST. Her duties included transporting and issuing the several hundred tons of ammo and C-rations she carried in her tank deck. She also carried a portable freezer used as a temporary morgue. She provided meals and berthing for the 9th Infantry Division troops on board and provided logistics for the Navy's various assault boats seen in the home page picture of Washtenaw. Helicopter refueling and rearmament was also provided. The Mobile Riverine Force moved throughout the Mekong delta to wherever the action was. Washtenaw was relieved in late March, having served through most of the '68 TET offense. She served again with the Mobile Riverine Force in June and July of 1968 and was assigned the emergency task of relieving her sister ship, Westchester County (LST 1167), in early November. Westchester had been severely damaged by the detonation of two mines on her starboard side and became the Navy's worst single incident combat loss of the war.
Washtenaw's service with the Coastal Surveillance Force began with operation "Bold Dragon VIII" at Phu Quoc Island near the Cambodian border in late October, 1968. Her duties were to provide a floating base and support for two Cobra gunships and a squad from SEAL Team 1. She also provided gunfire shelling of the nearby hills and fired upon a large junk in a restricted area. One of the Cobras was lost with an "accidental" landing in the water on a very dark night. The operation ended with emergency orders to relieve Westchester after her mining. She served again with TF 115 in February and March of 1969 as part of the TF 194 Sealords campaign, providing support for Swift Boats and the transport of an entire village of Viet Cong sympathizing prisoners. In 1971 she provided support from February to mid April and again in October, November, and December, ending with one last trip up the Cua Tien River for troop and equipment transport. Her last TF 115 service was at Qui Nhon in May, June, and July of 1972.
Other Vietnam duties include her attachments to Amphibious Ready Groups "Alpha" and "Bravo". The earlier mentioned operation Deckhouse V was a ARG mission. She also participated in operation "Defiant Stand" at Barrier Island just south of Danang in September, 1969. This was a U.S. and ROK (Republic of Korea) Marine beach landing with Washtenaw debarking landing vehicles (LVT's) from her tank deck. She joined the ARG's again in October and November of 1969. Her ARG duties ended with operation "Keystone Blue Jay" in February 1970. And in 1971 Washtenaw supported at least one MACV-SOG Bright Light mission. Bright Light was the code name for prisoner rescue efforts, although no American prisoners were ever freed in many attempts.
In late 1972 and early 1973 Washtenaw was converted to a special mine sweeper. Her compartments below the water line were filled with foam to provide floatation. She was re-commissioned USS Washtenaw County, MSS 2, and sent to North Vietnam to join Task Force 78 for operation "End Sweep". As part of our peace agreement with North Vietnam, the U.S. agreed to sweep mines planted during the war. Washtenaw was used to check the channel leading into Haiphong Harbor for mines. The magnetic mines had already self destructed or deactivated but Washtenaw made several trips through the channel, in April and June, to be sure it was clear. She was officially deactivated on August 30, 1973.
Information on Washtenaw's service and travels previous to the Vietnam era can be found in her "Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships" history.
Washtenaw's service to county did not end in 1973. "Unofficial" information received from a fellow shipmate says the CIA took over Washtenaw shortly after she was decommissioned. With a crew from Singapore, and a phoney name and home port painted on her stern, she proceeded to haul war materials to Iraq. Later on she was registered in Panama and it has been said that she was used for some of Ollie North's gun running missions in aid of Nicaragua's Contras.
Still aboard Washtenaw are her log books from the late 70's. These indicate that Washtenaw was owned by Mr. Ho and that many cargo trips were made between Taiwan and Singapore. The logs are written in English and several Spanish surnames appear.
On a trip to Hawaii she broke down and was towed to Portland, Oregon. In the early 80's during a cold spell near Christmas time her pipes froze, causing a leak, and she sank. With all the foam in place she only went down 3 feet. She was then purchased by a ship buyer with intentions of using her as a food processor in Alaska. He sold Washtenaw to friends who owned a tug boat company in Portland and they proceeded to refloat her, rebuild the engines, and start on a restoration.
According to three 1993 articles from the USLST Association's "LST Scuttlebutt", Washtenaw made one last beach assault on May 22, 1993. Crewed by USLST chapter members from Washington, Oregon, and California, including members of her Vietnam era crew, she cruised up the Columbia River. While anchored midstream, with bow doors open and ramp down, she took on amphibious DUKW's with WWII members of the Second Marine Amphibian Truck Company. She then headed up stream and beached on an island. The Marines secured the beach, and warned all debarking of the mine field of fresh cow pies.
Washtenaw recently changed owners, and is presently home ported on the Columbia River near Rainier, Oregon. At one time she was the largest vehicle in the Oregon Military Vehicle Collectors Association.
Note! There have been a few inquiries regarding photographing and/or boarding Washtenaw. Please read "Washtenaw's Restoration" page for information on contacting the owner.
Robert J. (Smitty) Smith, a retired minesweeper Electrician's Mate, sent in these two files written for his niece and nephew, which give a little of Washtenaw's history shortly after her final decommissioning in Yokosuka. He and friends at Yokosuka were hired to bring her engines back on line so she could make it to Subic Bay, Philipine Islands, which is apparently where the gun tubs and compartments along the tank deck were removed to convert her into a cargo ship.