WESCO: Lest We Forget
The following "history" episode of the USS Westchester County, LST 1167 was written by former crewman and historian for the WESCO, Jere A. Beery. It appeared in the 1998-99, Winter edition of "Sea History" magazine, pg. 38:
Many stories of outstanding naval service during the controversial Vietnam War have gone untold. This is one such story:the extraordinary saga of a ship, her crew and their singular valor and sacrifice.
In the thick early morning darkness on the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, 1 November 1968, USS Westchester County (LST 1167) was anchored on the My Tho River with several other support ships of River Assult Flotilla One. A Terrebonne Parish-class tank landing ship launched in 1953 and known as WESCO throughout the fleet, LST - 1167 was acting as a temporary base for the 9th Division's 3rd Battalion and providing berthing for some 250 US Army personnel, along with her own crew of 140 sailors and officers. In her belly, she carried supplies for the entire flotilla, including 350 tons of ammunition and explosives. She was a "sitting" bomb!
At 0322 hours, with only the midnight watch awake, 1167 was wracked by two explosions. Sappers had attached and exdploded two magnetic mines at her waterline.
In the chaos crewmen tried desperately to find ways to their battle stations through the dark, steam-filled, diesel-soaked wreckage. Five of the ship's first-class petty officers had been killed instantly. Without hesitation, lower-ranked personnel manned damage control stations and assumed the responsibilities of their missing superiors. There was no panic.
The concern of the ship's commanding officer, LCDR John W. Branin, was stabilizing the ship, rapidly listing to starboard due to massive flooding below decks. Branin stated, "Just for a fleeting moment, I thought she might keep on going over." He would later credit his forward pump room personnel with stabilizing the ship.
The danger of flash fires igniting the tons of explosives on the tank deck was an ominous threat, as the ship had become enveloped in a cloud of atomized diesel fuel. Any miscalculations at all could have resulted in a catastrophic explosion that would have meant death and destruction for people and ships within a very large radius surrounding the WESCO.
Battle stations remained at-the-ready for many hours; it was feared this might be the beginning of a much larger attack, with the possibility that more unexploded charges were attached to the hull. Exhauseed damage control teams worked to control the flooding, while attempts were made to free trapped crewmen. Most of those killed were crushed between the deck and the overhead while still in their bunks, making rescue and body recovery difficult and hazardous. Rescues and repairs were hampered because it was feared that cutting torches or welding equipment would trigger explosions.
As damage reports made their way to the bridge, the names of the dead and missing began to add up: 17 ship's crew dead or missing, five US Army personnel killed, one US Navy riverine sailor killed, two Vietnamese military personnel killed, 22 others wounded. The 25 men killed that morning became the "US Navy's greatest loss of life in a single incident as a result of enemy action during the entire Vietnam War."
Since 14 December 1942, of 1,200 plus LST's commissioned into service, only three earned 15 Engagement Stars. In it's 19 years of service, WESCO achieved this unique distinction.
In 1974, LST-1167 was turned over to the Turkish Navy, where she serves today as L-402 Serdar. In 1990, a group of former officers, crew and family members founded the USS Westchester County, LST-1167 Association. Through their efforts, displays about LST-1167 can be seen in the Westchester County (NY) Office Building and the US Navy Memorial Museum, Washington, DC. Former crew members continue to donate unique artifacts for these two projects.
Their most ambitious project is to reacquire Sedar from Turkey and return USS Westchester County to the US, where she would be preserved as a museum ship.
Jere A. Beery, historian for the USS Westchester County, LST 1167 Association served on WESCO and aboard a PBR during the Vietnam War. He was awarded a Bronze Star with Combat V and three Purple Hearts.
From Vietnam Magazine, August 1998:
Following repairs in Japan, Westchester County continued to make regular deployments to Vietnam until the end of the American involvement. By the time she was decommissioned in 1973, WESCO had been awarded three Navy Unit Commendations, two Meritorious Commendations and 15 Engagement Stars, a combat record matched by only two other LST's. More than 36 awards and commendations were awarded to the ship's crew for it's performance during and immediately after the November 1 attack. LCDR Branin received the Bronze Star. Hospital Corpsman First Class John Sullivan was awarded the Silver Star and the Purple Heart.
Posted by Robert Spraitz
Oct 03 2004 09:11:26:000PM