Vietnam Veterans Share Wartime Stories at Coast Guard Academy

NEW LONDON -- For months William Carr thought about what he would say during a ceremony recognizing his Vietnam service.

"Quite frankly, I haven't talked about any of this for 48 years," Carr, who was commanding officer of two Point class cutters during the Vietnam War, said Friday morning, after speaking to Coast Guard Academy cadets and members of the Officer Candidate School as part of a panel of Coast Guard Vietnam vets. "So I had buried it very deeply."

Later Friday, Carr was inducted into the academy's Hall of Heroes, and to prepare for the ceremony he retyped his debriefings that detailed all the patrols he went on during the year he was in Vietnam.

"In the process of doing that, it brought my mind back to all those different incidents, some of which were positive, a few, and the rest were kind of traumatic," Carr, a 1965 academy graduate, said in a brief interview after the panel.

"It may be that what I decide to do is to put everything back into the Pandora's box and bury it again," he said.

Carr, along with retired Capt. Ernie Cummings, a 1963 academy graduate who served as commanding officer of the Eagle, and Jim Loomis, a 1965 Officer Candidate School grad, shared stories of their wartime service in a program commemorating Veterans Day.

Loomis participated in a Coast Guard/Air Force pilot exchange program and served as HH-3E Rescue Crew commander for the Air Force during the war.

"Our job was primarily to recover downed air crews throughout Southeast Asia," Loomis said, noting his unit had a very successful rate of picking up surviving crew members.

"Anyone who was shot down during that war had a 33 percent chance of being rescued, which was pretty high, considering a lot of them were killed on shoot downs," he said.

It was a search-and-rescue effort on a level that was never seen before in any war and will never be seen again, according to Loomis, because of current "bombing techniques, more precision bombing, high-altitude bombing, drones, what have you."

All of the men worked with other military services and various agencies. Cummings, who was commanding officer of the Point Grace during the war, in particular worked with the newly established SEAL Team One at the time.

The Point Grace would drop off SEAL Team One just after sunset in the Rung Sat Secret Zone just south of Saigon, Cummings explained, "where they would go in and do whatever they were doing," and then pick them up an hour before sunrise.

"And they would be dirty and muddy and actually bloody and a few other things from working there all night long," he said.

Cummings shared a few other notable anecdotes about the SEAL team.

One time they ate the pet monkey that was on board the Point Grace, and another time, when the crew picked up the team, the SEALs were all drinking their "bottle of courage."

The squadron commander turned to Cummings, he recalled, and said "Ernie, they're drinking on your ship, that's against regulations."

Cummings replied, "Look at those guys. You want to do something about it? I don't."

While CO of Point Arden, William Carr went on 24 patrols, but he specifically detailed "a very extraordinary circumstance that we found ourselves in the middle of" on March 10, 1968.

The Battle of Khe Sanh was in full swing. A Navy Landing Ship Tank, or LST, had come into the marine supply depot at the mouth of the Cua Viet River.

The crew of the Point Arden observed smoke and fire coming from the area. There had just been a mortar attack by the North Vietnamese army that had ignited empty sand bags, on top of which was a pallet of flares.

"The sand bags that were on fire were igniting the illumination flares that were popping up and then floating back down all through, not only the transition point, but the main ammunition dump for the 3rd Marine battalion in the rear," Carr explained.

Carr's gunner's mate on board the Point Arden, Gordon Landon, was injured during the incident and had to be medically evacuated.

While the crew was trying to figure out what to do, Landon took a two-minute video of the fire that was shown during the Hall of Heroes ceremony. He also was present Friday.

Carr and Landon would later find out that 89 men were wounded and nine killed.

"We did what we knew best to do, which was we were firefighting, search and rescue, and it was really basically Coast Guard duty but with the overlay of combat," Carr said.

In addition to Carr, Capt. Joseph M. Maka of the Class of 1964, Lt. T. James Crotty of the Class of 1934, and the late Capt. Charles Satterlee of the Class of 1898, were inducted Friday into the Hall of Heroes.

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Vietnam War Veterans