U.S. Coast Guard — Military, Multi-Mission, and Maritime: Vietnam 1965-1973

HONOLULU — Recent U.S. Coast Guard Commandants have used the phrase “military, multi-mission, and maritime” to describe the essence of the service. Nowhere was this moniker better demonstrated than in the waters and steaming jungles of Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. The Coast Guard was involved in many facets of the war including maritime interdiction of Viet Cong infiltrators and weapons, combat search and rescue, port security, advising South Vietnamese officials, and aids to navigation. The latter, a rather innocuous sounding mission, included the highly classified Operation Tight Reign, a joint operation which had great impact on the high-tech prosecution of the war.

Operation Market Time was the Coast Guard’s entrée into Vietnam. The U.S. Navy was trying to stop North Vietnamese infiltration of personnel and weapons into South Vietnam, and turned to the U.S. Coast Guard to assist. The first forces, 17 Point-class patrol boats arrived in Vietnam in July 1965. They were based in Da Nang, An Thoi, and Vung Tau. From 1967 to 1971 they were joined by a string of their larger sisters, high endurance cutters that packed greater surface warfare and naval gunfire support punch with their 5-inch and 76mm naval guns. By the end of the maritime interdiction operations, 26 patrol boats and 30 high endurance cutters served in the war.

Eleven Coast Guard aviators served with the U.S. Air Force 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron in Southeast Asia. They earned four silver stars, 16 distinguished flying crosses, and 86 air medals rescuing downed pilots in combat conditions. One pilot, LT Jack Rittichier lost his life on June 9, 1968. His body remained missing until 2002 when it was found in Laos by Joint Task Force – Full Accounting personnel.

In addition to direct combat, the Coast Guard had many personnel serving in key support missions in Southeast Asia. Coast Guard advisors and buoy tender crews planned, established, and maintained an enhanced system of visual aids to navigation (ATON) in Vietnam’s overtaxed harbors. Five Coast Guard Explosive Loading Detachments were established in Vietnam to ease the U.S. Army Logistics Command’s concerns over the lax safety and security practices of the Vietnamese who were offloading the tons of ammunition and explosives. The patrol boat, ATON, and port safety personnel formed the bulk of the U.S. Coast Guard military advisory group in the Republic of Vietnam. They performed important duties during the “Vietnamization” phase of the war.

Some Coast Guardsmen participated in a formerly SECRET operation dubbed Tight Reign. The Air Force and Navy needed a reliable, all-weather, navigation system to support combat operations. The Coast Guard’s Long Range Radio Aid to Navigation , better known as LORAN-C, was at the cutting edge of electronic navigation before the age of GPS. Therefore, the Coast Guard supervised the construction and manned a chain of LORAN stations in Thailand and Vietnam. These units were protected by the elite Air Force Security Police and augmented by Army infantry units. During the Easter Offensive in 1972, the Coast Guardsmen of LORAN Station Tan My witnessed the bitter fighting near Quang Tri.

About 8,000 Coast Guardsmen participated in the war in Southeast Asia from July 1965 to Feb. 11, 1973. Seven U.S. Coast Guard personnel made the ultimate sacrifice, and 53 others were wounded in action. The Coast Guard is credited with destroying 2,000 vessels and killing 1,827 of the enemy. At the end of the war, all 26 patrol boats and four of the 311-foot high endurance cutters that participated during Operation Market Time were transferred to the Republic of Vietnam Navy. All of these cutters fell into enemy hands in 1975.

This article is one of a series of historical vignettes written to bring attention to the Coast Guard Pacific Veteran’s Memorial Project. You can find out more detailed information on how you can support this project by visiting the CGPVMP website.

Sources: USCG Aviation Hall of Fame, USCG Website, “Guardians of the Sea” by Robert Erwin Johnson, “The Coast Guard at War” by Alex Larzelere.

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14 Comments

  1. John Ault says:

    Hello, interesting article. I served at 3 of the LORAN stations, in Vietnam and Thailand, and visited others, and it’s amazing how many people still don’t know that we were there.

    I have two questions. Were the Point class patrol boats river rats? Were the Air Force Security Police undercover? I never saw any, except on routine patrol at Udorn,Thailand.

    Thank you
    John

  2. chuck zanti says:

    I served at Con Son Loran from construction days to full operation. (1966-1967) I never saw any security forces although we had the Vietnemese Army nearby at the prison.

    Like to hear from anybody there at the time

    Thank You
    Chuck

  3. Jim Burke says:

    I was in the US Air Force and was a Security Policeman assigned to USCG Loran C Station, Tan MY, Vietnam. don’t know about the other Loran C Stations, but the Air Force Security Police were on hand to guard Tan My from day one. We had about 32 Coasties and 32 sky cops on the base.

    Thanks,

    Jim Burke

  4. david dixon sgt usaf security police says:

    I was stationed at Danang air force base in 1972, after many rocket attacks, I volunteered to go to tan my to help provide security to the coast guard loran C station. We did not even have a usaf officer, we reported directly to a coast guard captian. I miss you all and hope that you made it home safe. Looking for andrew andrepoint and sugarbear.

  5. david dixon says:

    jim burke, we may have been at tan my at the same time. I think I recall your name, but cant place the face. send e-mail to dave dixon at notapian@aol.com

  6. Mike Thomas says:

    I was at Tan My Loran station from 1/72 thru 11/72, USAF Security Police. I can’t place you guys but I remember sugarbear and a few others. I have been looking for Marvin Greene (hootchmate) forever! I stay in touch with a couple of the Coasties. Would love to hear from anyone there.

    Mike Thomas

  7. Shandis Cardona says:

    My Father Eugene C. Haskell was in Da Nang in July 1965-1966. He was on Point Welcome. A GM2 class.He had a friend named Andy. I guess his last name was Andrews but he doesn’t know his first name. I would like to find him or anyone that he served with. If you know my Dad please contact me. Thanks. cardonashan@comcast.net

  8. Jim Burke says:

    David Dixon and Mike Thomas. Check out VSPA.com. Association of just Air Police/ Security Police who served in Vietnamd and Thailand. Mike Douglas is a member also and he was in Tan My from 71-72.

    Jim Burke

  9. I am looking for anyone who served in the Coast Guard with Jerry Jensen. He sailed on a larger ship. The years were 1968,69,70,71.
    I would appreciate any information.
    Thanks,
    Wanda

  10. SK1 William (Bill) Kuhn says:

    I was in Sattahip Thailand 67-68 where we had Thai guards on base for protection. 69-70, I was on Con Son Island where we were surrounded by prisoners in wood cutting camps and were strictly on our own. I know that Tan My caught it during both of my tours and that the Air Force took some hits protecting them. I would like to hear from any of my old shipmates. kuhn4710@bellsouth.net

  11. Charlie Spivey says:

    I was aboard the CGC Halfmoon, one of the first 5 Whec’s of the newly formed CG Ron 3. The other four were the Barataria, Yakutat, Gresham and Bering Strait. We were on station 3 June 1967 and were relieved for the final time on 14 Dec. 1967 and returned to our Homeport of Staten Island New York on 21 January 1968. We had left on 1 April 1967. One of my Shipmates, ENC Morris S. Beeson, is one of the 7 Coast Gurdsmen on the wall in DC. He put in to go back and was assigned to an 82′ and was in Quang Tri when he was caught in an ambush in March ’69. Another Shipmate, GM3 Rossi was also in the same firefight and was severly wounded, but survived. I remember one Gunfire Support Mission where we eased in close to the beach and commenced firing at around 0530 Hrs and continued to fire until sometime that afternoon. That was the longest one although there were others. We did a lot of boardings plus had one Distress Call in which we had to cut a barge under tow loose as it was sinking and threatened to take the tug with it. I did meet a guy who had been stationed at Sattahip Loran Sta. when I was in Groton Ct.in Jan.’67 before going to the Halfmoon.

  12. andy murphy says:

    I served in Thailand in 71, US Army in Udorn. Not on Air Base, but a little outpost on Thai Army camp. I saw a Coast Guard hooch hidden among the Thais, always wondered what they were doing there, no water for miles around. Were they monitoring the Mekong River traffic a little north or was their LORAN a land based operation? What about secret missions? Venturing into nearby Laos?
    Anybody know anything.

  13. david dixon says:

    check email correction (notapiano@aol.com) Hello Jim Burke,I remmember your name, cant make out your face or your rank and position

  14. hi i’m looking for person name is alan-wiss us coast gaurd base in QUI NHON-NGANH-RANG-MINH-HAI-DOCK SERVED 1968 TO 1969 IF YOU KNOW PLEASE LET ME KNOW THANK SO MUCH GOD BELESS YOU ALL