Salmon Days Festival to feature Vietnam-era patrol boat
October 2, 2012
By Christina Corrales-Toy
Salmon Days revelers can get a firsthand look at a Vietnam-era river patrol boat, similar to the ones featured in the film “Apocalypse Now,” at this year’s event.
The Northwest chapter of the Gamewardens Association Inc., Vietnam to Present, will participate in the parade aboard a fully operational Mark II Patrol Boat, River, or PBR, on Saturday. The group will also offer guided tours of the boat at the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery.
The association is an organization whose members fought or supported combat operations as part of Task Force 116, also known as Operation Gamewardens, on the rivers and canals during the Vietnam War, according to Stephen Morrison, the Northwest chapter’s president.
While people might recognize the boat from “Apocalypse Now,” the association wants the public to know that the real mission of the boat was far different, said Jim Wood, an associate Gamewarden member.
“It’s a great honor to bring this boat and to share this mission with the public because a lot of people think of ‘Apocalypse Now’ and that’s a movie,” he said. “The mission of this boat is totally different from the movie, and I really wanted to stress that.”
During the Vietnam War, the boat and its crew patrolled and cleared the waterways of Vietnam aggression, but they also took on a strong humanitarian mission, Morrison said.
“Some missions were humanitarian in nature in that when entering a new area, it was not uncommon to establish a connection with the local populations,” he said. “These were missions that involved providing medical and dental services to the local people, some of whom had never seen a doctor or dentist but who had emergent medical or dental problems.”
The crew brought in a doctor to help the local population and inoculate children. Doctors gave the bewildered children a bar of soap and a treat after each visit, Wood said.
“The children had never seen soap before, and dysentery was a real problem, so we showed them how to be more hygienic and we also gave them a sucker,” he said. “The hardest thing was to tell them, ‘You can eat the sucker but not the soap.’”
The attention allowed the group to establish a comfort with the local population, making the communities more likely to assist the Americans as they sought the enemy.
The boat was lightweight, designed to travel at speeds of about 35 mph in just 6 inches of water. But the boat was not well-armored and as a result, its crew took a lot of hits, Wood said.
“We took a lot of hits and we are the most highly decorated of any unit at any military organization,” he said. “Silver Stars, Medals of Honor, Bronze Stars, and the list just goes on and on.”
The boat that will be on display at Salmon Days did not see action in Vietnam, but it did see action in the Panama Canal during the siege of Gen. Manuel Noriega.
The boat will be parked on the backlot of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery on Saturday from 2 to 5 p.m. and then again on Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Attendees can receive guided tours, though the group is asking for a donation.
“We are asking for a donation, but we don’t want to put a number on it,” Wood said. “That donation will be used in the community of Issaquah. Half of the proceeds will be shared with the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery and the other half will be collected by the local Veterans of Foreign Wars group.”