The expression "Coasties" is a nickname used to identify the United States Coast Guard servicemen and women.

The following article was written by Bill Wells who served on the USS LUCE (DLG-7), USCGC IRIS, USCGC DEPENDABLE, and the USCGC UNIMAK. Bill's service included duty in Vietnam (Da Nang), and he retired with the rank of Master Chief Gunner's Mate.

Bill Wells

Here are a few pictures to "wet" your appetite. This is me standing watch at one of our .50 caliber machine guns. Here is a picture of us providing "artillery" support with our 81mm mortar. Here I am a few years after the war. Click here to see a picture of one of our 82-footers at sea.

"Coasties Fit"

By Bill Wells

In the mid 60s the USN came to an uncomfortable realization that it was deficient in shallow water craft (something it again realized in the Gulf War) and in competent small-craft operators. The Navy recognized the experts in this field were the Coasties and the nation's fishermen; but, unable to get the fishermen to volunteer, the Navy Secretary asked for the Coasties.

The mission and vessels (82' WPB) fell into a near perfect sync with the need. This was 1965, and 1965 was also the last term of a CG WWII veteran of many harrowing convoys across the Atlantic and the invasion of Normandy. He understood what he was getting into, but he felt the CG had far too long ignored its military obligations.

All the crews were volunteers, as were the majority that followed. Most were professional career men of much sea and law enforcement experience. However, by the time of the transfer of the CG to the Department of Transportation in 1967, subtle changes began to occur. There was less emphasis on things military and more toward regulatory enforcement of federal laws. Toward the end of 1968 nearly all official and other references to the CG involvement in VN ceased. The CG then began a huge public campaign to inform the general public that they were "The Lifesavers."

I wrote once that some of our folks in VN had a hard time making the transition from saving Citizen Charles one day (about 60 days before) to killing Victor Charles the next. The mainstream Coast Guard did not want to hear or know about VN. To most, it was just another "isolated tour" just like the CG folks on Attu or Saipan. No biggie.

So where does the CG fit? In every area of the war. Don't forget, we had pilots flying SAR with the AF and lost one going after a downed jet pilot. All ammunition and I mean all, up to the fall in 1975, was unloaded under the supervision of CG Explosive Loading Detachments working for the Army. These units earned about eight Bronze Stars and a bunch of ARCOMs.

All the aids-to-navigation, including the LORAN used by the fighter and bomber aircraft, were maintained and operated by the CG stations at Tan My, Con Son, and Thailand (I can't recall the names). Maritime law enforcement and mutunies on foreign vessels were also under CG Control.

The buoys in the channels were no picnic. The Cutter Blackhaw picked up about six combat-action ribbons in its years in VN, and that was while working buoys. This cutter had no combat role.

The WPBs were sent to VN specifically to interdict supplies of men and material. Although living conditions were pretty good, the price was that you did it 85% of your tour. The mission was to seek out the enemy and his supporters and destroy him and them. And, if along the way to this end you ran a few MEDCAP teams, fired some gunfire support, performed some search and rescue, carried some mail or just anything, then it was part of the job.

I suppose that is where the Coasties best fit. It was a job. As I've said before, many went back home to similar jobs but with a much different slant. I know I was different.

In later years the lack of knowledge about VN hurt the CG. Having ignored a piece of its history, the CG lost valuable experience. No WPB skipper came back and made any changes. None. They, unlike their counterparts in the other services, found a VN tour to be detrimental to their careers. They had separated themselves for a whole year from the political forces that could help them.

WE know what we did, and it was damned good.

Semper Paratus,

BTW, on uniforms. As for the WPB crews I was with, just about anything went. I, for the most part, wore greens with cut off pants and Sears & Roebuck (green) deck shoes.

Some of the CG folks wore cammies when they were assigned to landing-party duty. I thought this uniform did stand out a bit on a white sand beach.

Copyright © 1994 By Bill Wells, All Rights Reserved