Sa Ky River Aftermath
July 1967
Chu Lai - Da Nang

Photograph courtesy of Jim Leatherwood

Remains of the trawler at rest in the Sa Ky
Morning of July 15, 1967

Remarks about the Market Time section

For the remainder of the early morning hours of July 15, three US Navy Ships (Wilhoite, Gallup, Walker) and two Swift Boats (PCF's 20 and 54) kept up a bombardment of the area around where the trawler had grounded. The ROK Marine artillery also conducted bombardments of the scene at periodic intervals. At first light, VNN Yabuta patrol boats from Coastal Groups 15 and 16 arrived and were the first to board the vessel. They were shortly followed by ROK Marines who made helicopter landings to secure the adjacent land area and also boarded the trawler. Because Mui Batangan was the Korean's Tactical Area of Responsibility (TAOR), they insisted, in terms that were not likely to be ignored, that all US and VNN Naval personnel leave the area of the trawler immediately. Later in the morning, US Marine CH-46 helicopters landed on the nearby small islet to carry away the large cache of small arms weapons which had been retrieved from the vessel. These were taken to the Korean Brigade Headquarters for their use and disposition.

Salvaged weapons displayed at ROK Headquarters


Box of recoiless rocket rounds recovered from the trawler

Photographs courtesy of Jim Leatherwood

So it was not until approximately one o'clock in the afternoon that instructions were relayed from Saigon for the ROK's to let the US naval and other units have access. A technical assessment team from MACV surveyed the vessel at the same time that salvage operations to extract the hulk from her grounded position were started. This operation proved more difficult than it initially appeared, so it was not until 1630 that two LCM (Mike) boats from NSF Chu Lai were able to pull the intruder off of the rocks, configure the trawler in a "sandwich" between them, and start the slow transit to the docks at Chu Lai ... accompanied, appropriately enough, by a Swift Boat.


Photographs courtesy of Jim Leatherwood

Photograph courtesy of J. D. Wiggins
Photograph courtesy of Raul Herrera

About this time, ole Fat Dumb and Happy #45 arrived in area Two Delta November to resume normal patrol along the southern shoreline of Mui Batangan ... the daily activities of Operation Market Time never ceased. PCF-45 couldn't resist moving into the entrance of the Sa Ky to pay their respects to the Coastal Group 16 Yabutas that were still conducting clean up tasks in the wake of the trawler's departure.

One of the Yabutas hailed the Swift and came along side. A VNN sailor approached the crew with the severely burned ChiCom ensign that they had confiscated from the rear of the intruder during their boarding at first light ... before the ROKs arrived. Through the VNN liaison, the CosGrp 16 sailor indicated that he wanted to make sure that the Swift Boat that had put the re-supply vessel to rest in the Sa Ky received this trophy of their actions. It was readily agreed to do so.

This discussion was rudely interrupted by the explosion of an artillery round about 100 feet from where the two craft were tied together. Just the Koreans providing a friendly reminder that allied force visitors in their TAOR space were not welcome. Buzz off !!

The next time the two Swift Boats (79 and 45) were off patrol at the same time, the flag was presented to Ed Bergin in a small ceremony at the PCF Junior Officer's Club back at Chu Lai.

"Kinda used. With holes in it. But I'll keep it!"

Meanwhile, back on the "Mike" boats, the long six hour journey to ferry the stricken trawler back to Chu Lai ended after dark at 2230 hours with the trawler moored to the LST pier inside the harbor. The plan was to start the unloading and inventory of her cargo on the following morning. However, before dawn, the vessel sank along side the pier due to the many holes in her hull from the bombardment she had been subjected to on the previous night. So the job became one of simultaneously refloating the hulk and offloading what turned out to be almost one hundred tons of armaments, ammunition, and explosives. Ensign Staubach and the NSF crew accomplished this task with professionalism and dispatch during the next day or so.

Photographs courtesy of Raul Herrera and Jim Leatherwod

The activity on the dock provided an opportunity for all personnel in the Chu Lai area to get a close up view of the direct evidence of North Vietnamese attempts to resupply their forces via infiltration from the sea. COMNAVFORV and other high ranking VNN officers also came up from Saigon to view the intercepted intruder. The disabled trawler was a tribute to the efforts of Operation Market Time to deny this avenue of support to enemy.

An Inventory of the Trawler's cargo. As reported in the US Naval Forces Vietnam Summary of July 1967

Photographs courtesy of Dan B. Odenweller, Dan Daly and Raul Herrera

Once the battered hull of the Sa Ky infiltrator had been refloated, and its cargo removed, both were transported north to the city of Da Nang. The trawler was made available for viewing by the Vietnamese and American military. Commander Stephans {on the left}, CTG 115.1, and Lieutenant Pete Reiling, the Psy Ops Officer that broadcast the surrender tape from the USCGC Point Orient are seen touring the vessel.

Photographs courtesy of Dan B. Odenweller, Raul Herrera, and
Henry Hansen (Pacific Edition of Stars & Stripes).

Many of the weapons from the attempted infitration were placed on display during a ceremony in late July. Nuygen Cao Ky, the Premier of South Vietnam, personally gave decorations to a significant number of Vietnamese and American military personnel who were credited with contributing to what was called "The Great Sa Ky River Victory". All of the crew of PCF 79 were included in these decorations. Ed Bergin was awarded the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry.

Credit for the Sa Ky River Trawler success is due not just to a single unit or individual, but to the combined efforts of a number of sailors, soldiers, and airmen .... American, Korean, and Vietnamese:

o The patrol aircraft that first spotted the trawler
o The excellent staff work and planning by CTG 115.1
o The four day covert tracking by the Wilhoite in the South China Sea
o The Coast Guard WPB's closure to broadcast the surrender tape
o The USS Pledge, God Bless her, for showing remarkable restraint
o The invlauable support by the Americal Helicopter flare and gun ships
o All the units that maintained constant interdictary fire during the night
o The brave Coastal Group VNN sailors that boarded the trawler at first light
o The ROK Marines that secured the area in a very dangerous river mouth
o The expert salvage and off loading efforts by the Chu Lai Naval Support Facility

   And many more whose contributions probably went unrecognized.

But when push came to shove, it was also the intimate knowledge gleaned from daily patrols, combined with single minded aggressiveness, that enabled a Swift Boat to be "at the very pointed edge of the tip of the spear" and make a well placed shot that prevented the infiltrator from either escaping up the river or self destructing.

"Give me a Fast Craft to Patrol with, for I intend to go in harm's way"



Delayed Recognition

It was not until over thirty years later that Boatswain Mate First Class Bobby Don Carver was recognized by his own country for the exemplary bravery and skilled marksmanship he exhibited on the pitching fantail of PCF-79 in the darkness of the dangerous night described in the previous section.

At the 1998 Swift Boat Sailors Reunion held in New Orleans, his former OinC, Ed Bergin {on the right}, was able read the citation and present to his son Donny {on the left} the Bronze Star posthumously awarded for Boats' heroic actions

But the Swift Boat sailors that were shipmates of Bobby Don, and knew of the Skunk Alpha story, had always remembered, acknowledged, and understood what he had accomplshed so long ago and far away. The award brought closure for them as well as to his son.



Post Script

Where is this trawler today? Who knows. The last she was seen or heard from was after a monsoon storm hit Da Nang sometime in 1968. The hulk broke free from her moorings and drifted into the rocks on the shore line. And very likely was left there. Unless, of course, the new proprietors of this real estate decided that such a reminder would not be useful to keep around. Based on their activities in Qui Nhon, this latter seems highly probable.

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