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VN Historical Issue Resolved

I've been down in the delta on the Cambodian border with a TF-116 shipmate doing research for his next book. We found the answer to a question of interest probably only to Navy Riverine Forces, a few SEALs, a few USN EOD, some Navy Helicopter people, some US Army 9th infantry, and a few Army SF personnel.

The US Navy had a number of bases of varying sizes mostly more or less mobile scattered through the Delta and the rest of 4 corps. These ranged from large traditional bases like Nha Be, that were similar to Army base camps, to small places like Phouc Xuyen that were a collection of small floats moored to the shore of the Grand Canal. There were even LSTs and other ships that were moored for varying periods of times and various places on the river system.

The YRBM-21 was a fairly large mobile repair base that could be (and was) towed from place to place as needed. It spent most of its time in the Mekong river either at An Long or Tan Chau close to the Cambodian border.

I spent a tour and a half assigned to this facility serving in various support and advisory capacities for the US, VN and Cambodian Navies. My wife, Bac Thi, was a VN civilian employee for approximately 2 years and also served in a number of jobs including interpreter for Dr. Carling the USN MD in charge of sick bay. In appreciation for her efforts and service, my wife, Bac Thi, was accepted for full regular membership both in the Gamewardens of Vietnam Association (TF 116) and the Mobile Riverine Assn.

During my second tour, the YRBM-21 was turned over to the VN Navy. Some time after the turnover, my counterpart was able to take over my responsibilities and I was transfered to Nha Be near Sai Gon to assist with the turn over of additional USN assets as an advisor and interpreter. The question of the fate of the 21 has been one of the unanswered questions that have bothered those of us who were involved with her.

There have been two people who actually went to An Long and tried to find out what happened. For those of you who had dealings with the Vietnamese, you can understand that we came back with two different answers. You can also understand that both of us made an honest effort and that the Vietnamese that we talked to also gave honest answers. To borrow and mangle a line from the Clinton era, " It depends on what the meaning of Yes is." Those who understand the Vietnamese, "Yes." you understand. Everyone else, I ain't going there.

I went to An Long in 1995 to visit and in many cases meet my in-laws. I also asked about the 21 and everyone agreed that it had been towed away. As it was over 20 years later and my in-laws lived in a different part of town than the downtown area, details were a little thin. No one remembered the date. No one knew the destination, although the general consensus was that it had gone to the Philippines or maybe Sai Gon to become a floating restaurant. I wasn't able to run down anyone from the downtown area who could give me any answers. They weren't my family and there had been a lot of changes. Most of the Hoa Hao had left town and most of those who had been associated with us were Hoa Hao.

In 2000 another YRBM-21 veteran, a UPI reporter now living in South America, went to Tan Chau with an official interpreter to find his answers. His interpreter arranged transportation to An Long and they found an old "VC," who he understood to say that the 21 was sunk near Tan Chau and that the "VC" had personally killed the last 3 Americans on board in November of 1971. They then went to Tan Chau where a rusty cargo mast was sticking out of the water.

In November 1971 I was serving at Nha Be attached to Activity Craft and worked in the Harbor Masters office. I remember the Harbor Master a Warrant Bosun (Mr White?) coming over and and telling me it looked like my old unit got hit hard. I ask for details. and he described a sinking in Tan Chau. I reminded him that I'd left the 21 at An Long, had visited her not long ago aboard the YF-866 and did not remember any orders for tugs to move her coming through his office. He got thoughtful and said that I was correct and that he would check further. Several hours later he came back and told me that the 21 was not involved and that a civilian Cargo Ship had been sunk near Tan Chau.

Ralph Christopher (author of "River Rats") and I just got back from An Long. We rented a boat from one of the local people and went to the site where the 21 was reported sunk. The boatman while too young to remember the 21 personally, was quite familiar with the wreck at Tan Chau. His version of events (that he'd heard) was that a cargo Ship had been hid in Cambodia and had drifted down the river, eventually sinking at the place reported. He went into detail about the position the ship lay, which way the bow pointed, etc. He also stated that in 2000 the cargo mast was still sticking out of the water although it was now removed and that 3 unsuccessful efforts had been made to raise the ship for salvage. Key point, he also remembered that the mast showed remnants of grey paint. The 21 was painted Green.

Ralph also brought a number of our CO, LT (USN O-3) Fry's personal pictures of the local An Long people. Using these pictures we were able to locate a local business man, who at the time owned the marine fuel dock at An Long and was very involved with the YRBM-21 MED-CAP and Civil Affairs efforts. He informed us that in October 1975 the VN government towed the 21 to My Tho where it was surveyed found to be too old for further service and scrapped.

End of Story.......

This story was contributed: Sam Eaton