SEAL Team One DutyApparently many visitors make their way to this site by doing a search of "SEAL TEAM", so I thought I had better put up a little more than the one sentence contained in the history file.
As mentioned in the history file, Washtenaw served with the Coastal Surveillance Force, TF-115, during operation "Bold Dragon VIII" at Phu Quoc Island in late October, 1968. Bold Dragon VIII was an amphibious search and destroy mission. Washtenaw's duties were to provide a floating base and support for Cobra gunships and a squad from SEAL Team 1. She also provided gunfire support, along with USS Weis, APD-125. Weis also had SEAL teams on board.
We started by taking two Cobras aboard near Vung Tau on October 26. Of course, they had to do a little showing off for the crew, so we placed a smoke pot on a pallet and set it adrift. Both Cobras proceeded to attack with miniguns and rockets while demonstrating tree line and higher altitude tactics.
We then headed for Phu Quoc Island, which lies near the Vietnam/Cambodia border. Other than An Thoi at the southern tip, Phu Quoc was supposedly owned by Charlie. After coming back from the bush, the SEAL squad came through the mess decks on their way to a shower and much needed rest. I recognized one of them, "Abe" (more below), and talked briefly. All he could say was they were out setting up ambushes for Charlie. They had been successful, either on this mission or others, as he and a couple of the other SEALs showed us their strings of ears.
The two Cobras provided air cover and probably did a little hunting on their own. One dark night the Cobras came back while I was topside. After the first one landed, the second came in and started to hover over the helo deck. He then took off and circled around the back of Washtenaw and started to make another approach. About 100 yards off the port side he went into a hover and just set her down in the water. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. As the bright landing light underneath entered the water, the ocean lit up with a dirty green glow. There was a wap, wap, wap as the rotor hit the water and that was it; down she went. We put a LCVP in the water to pick up the pilot and gunner. One of our crewmembers used his scuba gear to dive down and place a marker on the Cobra for later salvage. I believe the pilot claimed he thought he was over the deck when he set her down. My guess is that he was afraid of hitting the other Cobra or the highline/windsock tower, so he decided not to take the chance.*
We received a radio message that our sister ship, USS Westchester County, LST-1167, had been mined while serving with the Mobile Riverine Force near My Tho. We were ordered to relieve her so our Bold Dragon support ended on November 7th.
In 1967 I served with ACB-1 at the Naval Amphibious Base, Coronado; home of SEAL Team One. I had the priviledge of being assigned temporary barracks cleaning duty with the base, and worked with three guys who were waiting for the next BUD/S class (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) to start. I became friends with one of them, Abe, who made a brief attempt at recruiting me into BUD/S. He gave up when he found out I was partially color blind to red and green. It seems as though they don't want people hooking up wires to explosives in subdued light when they all look the same color. All three survived BUD/S with two becoming SEALs and the other going into UDT.
I mentioned talking briefly with Abe on Washtenaw during Bold Dragon. That was the last time I saw him. A few years later when all the news stations were panning parts of the newly built Vietnam Memorial "wall", I thought I saw his name. I remembered him telling me that upon completing BUD/S, they were told that 80% of the SEALs sent to Vietnam were coming back in body bags. In the early 90's I bought a book which listed all SEAL and UDT kia's. His name was not on the list. When I discovered the internet site listing all names on the wall, I found his name, but it turned out to be someone who served in the Army! The 80% kia story was apparently just one last attempt at weeding out the quitters, as relatively few SEALs died in Vietnam. It worked, as Abe said one guy did quit; he claimed he just wanted to prove he could make it through BUD/S. Now I wonder if Abe ever fulfilled his goal of starting a dive shop on the east coast!
*Washtenaw's Cobra incident may very well have been the reason a training program was undertaken by the Army to teach Cobra jockey's how to land on an LST. Visit Ira Will McComic's site, and read his story titled "LST's" for an outstanding dissertation on this training. Click on "back" to return.