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Vietnamese Joy Ride

At Sea — February 2000
By Capt. Bill Pike

Vietnamese Joy Ride
What happens when you cross a fiberglass patrol boat with a bunch of rock apes.

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The infantry company I belonged to in early 1969 was spending about a week in Qua Viet, a little R&R port near what was then the Demilitarized Zone dividing North and South Vietnam. Prior to our arrival in Qua Viet, we'd talked about the place for weeks. It had a wondrous reputation. Showers. Soap. Movies every night. Hot chow served on paper plates in a Navy mess hall. Cots. Tin-roofed hootches with screens to keep the bugs out. And all we had to do to earn our keep in this riverine paradise was provide our host, the U. S. Navy, with a three-man ambush team every evening. Each team would ride up the Qua Viet River onboard a Navy patrol boat, get dropped off at some predetermined spot, bushwhack to another predetermined spot or ambush position, and wait all night for some hapless Viet Cong or North Vietnamese regulars to fall by. If none did, which was quite likely in this relatively secure area, the team would come back to Qua Viet by boat the next morning, safe and sound.

Although I was a medic and technically a noncombatant, I volunteered to be an extra on the first ambush team, partly because I was new in the company and wanted to prove myself and partly because of the boat ride--I'd always loved boat rides. Sergeant Kirstedder, the noncom in charge of the first team, went along with me, believing having an additional guy along--especially a medic--on such an operation was cool.

So four, instead of three of us, assembled alongside the olive-drab patrol boat that first evening: Kirstedder, a crack-shot from Kentucky named Davis, a muscle-bound soul brother from New Jersey called Suggs, and me. The trip up the river was both dramatic and dream-like. A farm kid from northern New York State, I was enthralled by the patrol boat. The hull and decks were fiberglass, a novel material to me at the time and a far cry from the riveted-aluminum skiffs and jonboats I was used to on the lakes and rivers of the Adirondacks. Propulsion was derived from two big Caterpillar diesels bolted to monster waterjets that made the riverbanks sweep swiftly past like the backdrop to some exotic, green and golden travel documentary with the occasional grass hut or sampan thrown in. The armament onboard was impressive as well. One of the Navy guys demo'd his twin, stern-mounted .50-caliber machine guns for us, firing into the trees, the shell casings cascading onto the deck like chiming bells.

The sun settled onto the horizon and the shadows lengthened as the jungle gave way to broad fields that stretched off toward distant mountains, somber and ethereal. As we reached our "insertion point," the coxswain nosed our bow up into the reeds at the water's edge, and we jumped off the foredeck into the smelly mud and slogged ashore. The boat withdrew quietly and headed back down river, leaving us alone. After briefly checking for leeches and waiting while Kirstedder examined his topographic map, we set off for the place where we were supposed to set up our ambush, a Buddhist graveyard a few "klicks" or kilometers to the east.

Next page > Joy Ride continued > Page 1, 2

This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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