As I write this from my loft in northern Minnesota on March 13, 2017, it’s already March 14 in Vietnam. Forty-nine years ago this morning, on March 14, 1968, while patrolling the Cua Viet River just south of the DMZ, Armor Troop Carrier 112-7 was mined. I was driving our boat (Tango 112-11) , about fifty yards astern Tango 7. In my Memoir, Muddy Jungle Rivers, I wrote,
“Suddenly Tango 7 was out of the water, sun glittering on the red-brown bottom of the wet hull, her propellers still spinning. A geyser of water shot skyward, the boat hidden for an instant. In a slow motion ballet, Tango 7 became visible as she flipped upside down, the bow lifting up over the stern, the capsized boat returning to earth, settling to the river bottom.”
Six sailors died in that instant.
(Later that day, divers connected a cable from the boat to a a Marine tank retriever and turned it over.)
Tango 7 turrets at low tide
Today I remember
03/14/68 – Edward J. Hagl, BM1, McAllister, MT – BC – ATC-112-7 (Quang Tri)
03-14/68 – Frankie R. Johnson, EN3, Toppenish, WA – ATC-112-7 (Quang Tri)
03/14/68 – Ernest W. Wiglesworth Jr., BM3, Greensboro, NC – ATC-112-7 (Quang Tri)
03/14/68 – Eugene Nelson, FN, Lug Off, SC – ATC-112-7 (Quang Tri)
03/14/68 – Robert W. Cawley, SN, Butte, MT – ATC-112-7 (Quang Tri)
03/14/68 – Joseph S. Perysian, SN, Oak Lawn, IL – ATC-112-7 (Quang Tri)
I was the cox’n on our boat. This is the last stanza of a poem I wrote many years ago, as I tried to visualize the cox’n’s last thoughts on Tango 7.
Tabasco camo’d powdered eggs
rise, clog, choke.
Vietnam slime blows up through nose
in a black tumbling squeezing screaming choking
muck inhaled nightmare.
Arms locked tight, legs pinned back,
marl snakes seethe, as toes curl, searching
for a toe-hold
Home free, I lay on sun-warmed sandy bank.
A parts-missing puzzle
divers dismember from mined mangled hulk.