18. A Close Call With The Boat By Tifis Flinn
Sometime in late 68, Danny Flynn, a gunner with the slicks, began building a boat out of a drop tank from one of the Mohawks at Phu Hiep, or maybe it was from a C-130, I'm not sure. I got involved because I'd been around boats most of my life. I grew up on Galveston Bay where my uncle was a shrimper. We lived on the water and swimming, like eating, came naturally for me. Eugene Molek, my crewchief on 019, and Nate McClain, a black crewchief in the gun platoon, also became involved in building the boat. Danny Flynn and I were decent swimmers but Eugene and Nate could not swim.
We cut off the top of the drop tank, chopped the internal partitions out and made some oars. We had no floatation but we weren't concerned about that. To provide more stability I added a set of outriggers on one side, sort of like a Polynesian canoe. We joked about taking it back to the States.
On launch day with all four of us aboard we took it out to sea and rounded the peninsular off Phu Hiep. At first everything was fine but then waves started building. Someone turned the boat in the wrong direction so that the outrigger faced the waves. The outrigger then started to come over the top of the boat, turning it over on its side. Nate tried to grab it but the waves were stronger than he was and pulled his arm out of socket. We hollered for help from some Vietnamese on boats close by but they just watched and didn't move. I'm certain they were hoping we'd drown. They never tried to help. We were on our own.
We all spilled into the water. Nate's arm was out of socket and over his head. He couldn't move it and couldn't swim. I swam to Nate and Danny to Eugene. Eugene couldn't swim but at least he could dog paddle and Danny was able to eventually get him to shore.
When the boat turned over we were maybe 200-300 yards offshore. I remember Nate being so scared he tried to crawl on top of me. To keep from drowning myself I swam away and let him take in some water and tire himself some. I then went back and grabbed him from behind. Him being a non swimmer and his arm out of socket made it very difficult. There was a pretty strong current and I swam until my arms got so tired they felt like useless noodles.
Nate sensed that I was tiring out and told me to leave him and save myself. He knew I couldn't drag him much further. I guess that was what kept me going. We were still a good ways from shore but I found I could sink to the bottom and push his feet then his body toward shore while I was on the bottom. The water must have been 8-10 feet deep at that point. I continued sinking to the bottom and pushing him toward shore until we reached shallow water. All the while Vietnamese from the village near by just stood there watching, not lifting a finger to help.
Once I got him to shore I put my foot in McClain's armpit and pulled his arm into place. I caught hell from the medic for that but Nate was real happy. From then on we tortured the Vietnamese village every time we flew over it with CS grenades as did a lot of the other guys in the gun platoon. Sometimes the gas would blow into our compound when the pilots landed downwind. No one would ever admit to throwing the CS.
Last modified: Monday June 27th, 2022