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School for Patrol Boat Crews (cont'd)
Many of the teachers are veteran boat crewmen of the Korean conflict and Vietnam. They teach their charges how to get the job done and how to survive.
One instructor drills home the meaning of what may lie ahead, with the statement, "Expect, but don't ask for, casualties."
"The boats are fast and highly maneuverable," the instructor tells you. "This is your best defense against attack."
As you pull into the bay from the berths at Mare Island, you notice that the boats are quieter than most. Their sound is soft and whining. A chief petty officer has the small wheel in his hands. The junior officer is on the radio. Two seamen are at their gun positions.
Behind you, the boats move out and split into formation. You're heading for your first night patrol. The air is cool and quiet as you move into one of the sloughs. A slight breeze plays over the water, causing ripples.
You move into the shadows and slow the engines to minimize the noise. You can hear the water lapping at the sides of the boat.
Suddenly there's a voice chattering Vietnamese communist slogans in broken English. Just as suddenly, the flashes and sounds of gunfire slash at your boat.
As a student, this is your first taste of a night "firefight." Tomorrow there will be more classroom work and swimming. Then you'll be out in the boats again.
The course is tough. But you try to be the best student they've ever had -just to keep from being part of the casualty statistics.
Photos by R. W. Conrad, PHC, USN