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Mission 24 - Tactical
John Kerry's Silver Star


From an interview with Thomas Forrest, member of the Swift Boat Sailors Association

I served in Costal Division 13 in Cat Lo from February 1968 until February 1969. In the beginning, we did regular combat patrols, stopping contraband coming down from the North.

But in September 1968, Vice Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, the COMNAVFORV (Commander of Naval Forces, Vietnam) paid us a little visit. We’d been getting shot up constantly while chasing junks that were hauling ass up the river. We’d gotten caught in ambushes up to that point. But he informed us that we were going on the offensive.

The rules at that time were that if you came under attack, you had to make a call to the corps commander before you could return fire. You had to make sure there were no friendlies in the area. But by the time you got permission, the firefight could be over, and you could have wounded already. We’d get hammered, and the only thing we’d have in our favor was speed. We had no armor. So it was a joke.

But Zumwalt said we were going on the offensive. We were not going to take a beating anymore. He wanted to hit the enemy on their own turf, and he wanted to know if there was anything we needed for the boat.

We wanted to put mini-guns on the boat, but there was no way we could carry that amount of ammunition. So we went with the M60. It had a lot of mobility. You can jump from one side of the boat to the other with the weapon on a tripod and just sweep it around. Plus, when we were on raids, we placed loads of ammunition all over the boat. We had thousands rounds on the bow and more in the back of the boat. If you ran out of ammo, there was ammo somewhere for you to grab.

On our first raid, we took five boats from Cat Lo and five out of An Thoi. And we went in and blew their mind. It was total shock factor. We went in to their areas and just leveled the place and sunk all their craft. I bet we sunk close to 300 junks and sampans. We ran three more raids in October, all back to back, hitting different areas. Then around November 24th, another raid went down with five boats.

When I left in February 1969, the fighting was still going on. But when we got done, we’d pacified the whole area. And when Saigon fell, the Communists took a long time to clean out that area because people there had rallied to freedom and democracy. Were we successful in clearing out the VC there? No doubt about it.
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Click here to watch a clip of Thomas Forrest talking about one memorable Swift Boat mission in his own words.

Q & A

Swift Boats and the Vietnam War

From an interview with James F. Dunnigan, author of Dirty Little Secrets of the Vietnam War and editor of Strategypage.com

Kuma\War: How much of a success were the naval interdiction missions like Sealords, Market Time, etc.? Did we prevent the North from supplying the VC by sea?

JD: When American armed forces first entered Vietnam in force in 1965, nearly all the weapons and men North Vietnam was moving south came by sea. This was about 350 tons of stuff a month, smuggled along the coast in the same small transports and fishing boats that were normally there. In March 1965, the U.S. Navy created Task Force 115 and began to shut down the North Vietnamese supply movements. This interdiction campaign was called Operation Market Time. TF 115 divided the 1,700 mile coastal zone into nine patrol sectors, each of which was patrolled by a mixture of aircraft, small vessels, and warships. The outer zone, 100 to 150 miles from the coast, was covered primarily by aerial patrols and a few larger warships. Closer in were smaller warships, such as destroyer escorts and Coast Guard Cutters. Right up along the coast were small, fast patrol boats (“Nastys” and “Swifts,” capable of 25 knots and usually armed with .50 caliber machine guns and an 81mm mortar), supplemented by motorized junks of the South Vietnamese Navy.

At its peak, in 1967-1969, TF 115 operated about 140-150 vessels, roughly half of which were fast patrol boats. Beginning in 1969, Operation Market Time was Vietnamized, and by 1971, TF 115 was shut down.

Operation Market Time had been remarkably effective. By mid-1967, TF 115 had virtually choked off Communist efforts to supply their forces in the south by sea. So effective was the operation that even after Vietnamization, the flow of supplies remained low. However, by the late 1960s, the completion of the Ho Chi Minh Trail more than made up for the shortfall.

Kuma\War: What was the biggest "dirty little secret" of our counterinsurgency operations in Vietnam?

JD: By 1968, the local Viet Cong had pretty much been defeated. The Tet Offensive had been a desperate last effort by the Viet Cong to turn around their decline. It was a major failure. So from then on the North Vietnamese had to send their own troops south to keep the war going.

Kuma\War: What was the biggest misconception people had about the Viet Cong and the NVA?

JD: The Viet Cong represented a large minority of people in South Vietnam, but the majority of southerners (as well as many northerners) wanted nothing to do with Communism. With support from North Vietnam, the Viet Cong insurgency in the south would have been defeated (as had most Communist insurgencies before the 1960s.) But the American government refused to extend the war into Laos, to cut the Ho Chi Minh trail, or to interdict North Vietnamese ports and cut the rail lines from China (because of the risk of nuclear war with Russia and China, which supported the north.)

Kuma\War: Is there a parallel between Vietnam and Iraq?

JD: The opposition in Iraq represents a much smaller portion of the population than did the Viet Cong in South Vietnam and have much less external support. In fact, no one will openly support the al Qaeda and Ba’ath Party gunmen in Iraq although there is a lot of “popular” support for the Iraqi “resistance.” Historically, a rebel movement that depends on a minority of the population will be crushed unless it receives a lot of external support. The Iraqi opposition is on its way to being crushed.
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John Kerry's Silver Star

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