By Raymond Bruder
The Navy in its infinite wisdom has decided that, instead of sending the patrol boats out to us, why not send us to them. After all, it only makes sense that if these small craft are being shot up, then why not give Charlie a larger target that didn't move to try to hit.
We are anchored around 4:00 p.m. in the evening. The river is narrow; you can almost throw a rock across it. We have just been resupplied with oil for this trip, and the main deck on both sides is lined with 55 gallon drums of oil.
After spending three months 5-6 miles out and only seeing water, it is rather refreshing to look out and see all the green. It is a beautiful view; you would never know that you are in a combat area. We have been told that there are friendlies around us and if we have guard duty, NOT to shoot at anything until targets have been verified.
After supper, I go back to work. It is time to start to work on monthly reports. There are two others working with me in the office. The movie tonight is "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly." I have seen it before, so have no desire to watch it again.
One of the engineers comes down with a request for some C batteries. I start into the supply room when the ship is rocked with an explosion that passes about 10 - 15 feet in front of me. The water is rushing in, and I turn and yell to get out; we have been hit. When I get out of the supply room, I find I am the only one there -- the others have already left me alone.
As I rush up the ladder, I hear the call, "General Quarters, General Quarters, we have been hit on the port side."
In all the commotion, I realize why we have spent all that time on what seemed like meaningless drills. Up the starboard side, down the port so everyone knows where they are running. As I run to my General Quarters station, a 50-caliber machine gun, I am passing all the drums of oil and wonder if it is smart to be up here on the main deck.
As we set up, I see one of the guys who left me in the supply office without first checking whether I was alive or even hit. I yell at him and tell him that if we make it out of here, I'm going to kill him myself. He is a young kid (18), and he starts to cry; he is scared shitless, like most of us.
We are told we are NOT allowed to shoot because we now have friendlies all around us. Then the Captain receives orders that allow us to open up on the port side; my station is on the starboard side, so I just keep my head down. It is pitch black out; and, as close as we are to the shore, I can't even make out the shoreline.
A lot of things go through one's mind now. All the time we had been at sea, we were bored with the job and the view; but I would give anything to have it back. Always greener on the other side. And, thoughts of, if we sink, where do we go. These are not things that we had been prepared for. Most of the men on board had gone through firefighting school, and I doubt any of us put any thought to spending any time in the jungles.
Shortly after receiving orders to open fire, we have helicopter support. I don't know where these guys come from, but they open up on the shoreline. We didn't know how much damage was done until daylight the next day. What had been green was now brown, and there were no signs that trees had ever been there.
We stay at General Quarters all night and maintain about a 20 degree list. We have been hit just a little below the water, and the men attached to the firefighting unit work to clear away the debris so we can put up temporary shoring to enable us to pump out what water had come in. They start pumping the water back out in the morning to straighten us up. It will be much later in the morning before we can determine the amount of damage. (Captain Newby's comments)
We are not able to get underway under our own power -- our propeller shaft has been damaged. We had a YTB tied up to the starboard side the night before. Captain Newby had him make up to the port side, and we used him as a port screw to get out of the Bo De River. They had rigged a sound-powered phone from the bridge of the Krishna to the bridge of the YTB, and the captain would send shaft and rudder orders in this manner. (Captain Newby's comments)
A tugboat is called in, and we are towed out of the river with four other patrol boat escorts and two helicopters. We have talked to many of the river patrol boat crews, and most of us think these guys were pretty crazy; but we thank them all that day. On the way out, one of the helicopters spots Charlie again; and he opens fire. I can't see anything, and they are on our starboard (my) side. One of the patrol boats runs his boat aground, and three of the crew come charging off the boats with guns ablaze.
I think this is kind of strange and wonder why they wouldn't just open fire with the guns from the boat, but I am in no position to be wondering what they are doing. These guys live here; I was only on a one-day visit.
After we were out of the river, the YTB took up a stern tow and assisted us in the 175-mile trip to the mouth of the Soirap River, at which time he was cast off and steamed alongside as we transited on one screw, up the Soirap past Nha Be to the Song Long Tao River where we took a left for about 5 miles then took a left into the Saigon River just before Cat Lai; and it was on to the shipyard in Saigon -- driving directions and distances are estimates. (This paragraph from Captain Newby)
We are docking in Saigon and end up spending two months in dry docks for repair. We are very lucky. After inspecting a recording tape that one of the officers was sending home to his wife that night, it is determined that we were hit by a magnetic mine.
*** I have just been informed, 30 years later, that it was NOT a magnetic mine, as I had been previously led to believe; but rather the following morning, they discovered body parts on the shore from apparently two sappers. It appears the two sappers carried the device up to the hull and then triggered the device. As to what type of timer would make the sound that we all heard, no one knows for sure. (This paragraph comes from a discussion that occurred between Ed Barth, a machinery repairman, and Captain Newby.)
The ship's supply officer, Lt. Bettis, was making a tape to send home to his wife at the time of the explosion. The tape picked up a sound that appeared to be a timing device before the explosion. The tape included the explosion and call to General Quarters. Needless to say, everyone on board the Krishna that night has a copy of that tape. ***
We considered ourselves pretty lucky. The explosion damaged the M storeroom, GSK, the barbershop, the access trunk to the port shaft alley, and the shaft alley. In addition to the compartments, there were four tanks damaged for a grand total of 9 compartments and tanks. The Krishna crew reported no injuries, but there was one death -- Lanny Burof, QM2, a 26-year-old sailor from Chicago, IL. Lanny was attached to PCF40 and had only been in country for approximately three months. His nickname was "Ahab the Arab."
They say the low injury and death rate is because of the attendance at the movie that was shown that night. The explosion hit the same time that the bridge is blown in the movie. Those watching the movie marveled at the realism of the explosion. Those watching say they didn't even know we had been hit until the call to General Quarters. I have never seen the movie since.