Tag Archives: WJHC

Brown Water Navy

Brown Water Navy

Brown Water Navy


The Vietnam War was fought in every nook and cranny of the country, from the mountains to the cities and most especially on the rivers. The waterways that spread across the country served as highways for the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet-Cong. They could use the ships to move men and supplies faster and  quieter than  over land. In response to this the United States dusted off a concept that had seen little use since the Civil War. The brown-water navy. These were Naval ships designed to operate on the rivers and along the coasts that would extend the reach of the US Navy where ever it was needed.

The concept of the brown-water navy came into its own during the Civil War when the Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee and other major rivers became the fronts in the conflict and the entire coast of the Confederacy became fair game. Outside of the river and coastal regions, the “blue-water” navy ruled supreme.

The boats in the picture above are PFC (Patrol Craft Fast) class Swift Boats. 50 feet long and made of aluminum these boats formed the base of the brown-water navy in Vietnam. This was a joint venture between the US Army and Navy. It operated in groups of three to five boats. Their missions consisted of patrols, interdiction and inserting special operation forces into their target areas.

Towards the end the focus of the war shifted as the United States military looked to get out.  The South Vietnamese military was to take on the bulk of the fighting.  Besides training and land based equipment, this also included the transfer of several Swift Boats. With the fall of the south many of the surviving boats ended up in the service of the communist regime.

The Vietnam Generation – Those That Fought

American soldier in Vietnam

The Vietnam Generation – Those That Fought

The Vietnam War is still a controversial topic today. The question of should we have been there and what the goals were will never go away. The one thing that can not be questions is that many of our country’s young people served in the war. Some volunteered and some were drafted. Some fought for a cause, some because they were told to. Below are some statistics on those who served.


The total amount of military personnel on active duty during the Vietnam Era numbered 9,087,000. (1964 to 1975)

Of them 2,709,918 served in uniform during the war.

Out of those, 240 received the Medal of Honor.

The average age of the soldier during the war was 22 (not 19 as a song would have you believe.)


58,148 American soldiers died during the war.

61% of those were under 21 years old.

Almost 20% were under 20 years old.

17,539 of those killed were married at the time.


Veterans of the Vietnam War have a lower unemployment rate then non-veterans in the same age group.

Personal income of Vietnam Veterans exceeds that of non-veterans in the age group by 18%.

Only one-half of one percent of Vietnam Veterans have served any prison time.

97% of veterans received an honorable discharged.

91% of Veterans say they are glad to have served.

74% say they would serve again, even knowing how the conflict turned out


For such a  long time the Vietnam War was at the center of the American consciousness. Every conflict since them has driven it deeper and deeper in the collective memory. As we stand now with so few WWII and Korean War veterans left, that Vietnam generation are the next ones to pass into history. Some believe that the First Gulf War was partially fought to purge ourselves from the uncertainty of Vietnam. That might be, however many of the wars fought since has given us a new perspective.

Was the fight in the jungles of Southeast Asia worth it? is any war really worth it? I don’t have the answer. All I know is that those who fought, for whatever reason, need shown the respect they deserve. Maybe even a VA Hospital system that actually looks to help them instead watching them fade away? I think it’s the least of what they deserve for their service.

For more statistic on the Vietnam War, click here.

Lt. General Hal Moore, A True Hero

A few weeks ago I posted a movie review of We Were Soldiers, one of the best Vietnam Era movies and for many people the method to which they were introduced to Hal Moore, the commander of the American forces in battle in the Ia Drang Valley.  A few days ago no Lt. General Hal Moore passed at 94 years old. It is strange when these kind of coincidence cross our lives, but I wanted to take this chance to tell you a little more about Moore.  Before I go on I want to say that the picture above is not Moore, but it is from that era and General Moore will always be tied to the image of the helicopter as the modern-day cavalry. So just a little reminder.

Hal Moore graduated from West Point in 1945 as a second lieutenant in the infantry, just missing serving in WWII. he served in post war Japan and eventually found himself assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, NC. While there, and I am not joking, he tested experimental parachutes making over 130 test jumps in his two-year term. Yep, he jumped out of airplanes with experimental parachutes, that alone should make you say wow.

He served in the Korean War and made a name for himself as a regimental officer. In 1964 he went to Fort Benning and was given command of the newly formed air mobile 11th Air Assault Division where he was one of the men who developed the strategy and tactics that would see the helicopter become the staple of the Air Cav.

As the commander of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment in Vietnam in 1965 he led his troops into battle against the North Vietnamese Army in the Ia Drang Valley. 450 American soldiers faced off with over 2,000 of the enemy over three days. Under Moore’s leadership the Americans not only held the field but drove the enemy from it. An unbelievable testament to his talents.

In the wake of the battle Moore was promoted and spent the rest of his career in and out of various posts inside the Pentagon, finally retiring in 1977.

The links below go to the two books about the Ia Drang Valley that Moore wrote along with Joseph Galloway. I encourage you to read these books and watch this movie. General Moore did the country a proud service and he will be missed.


We Were Soldiers Once…and Young: Ia Drang – The Battle That Changed the War in Vietnam

We Are Soldiers Still: A Journey Back to the Battlefields of Vietnam


Fire Support Base in Vietnam

Firebase Alpha

The Fire Support Base in Vietnam


During the Vietnam War there were times when enemy action was likely to occur outside the range of the artillery from the permanent established bases in the interior. So what the military did was build a series of smaller, cookie cutter bases that became known as a Fire Support Base.

These bases were basically smaller versions of the full size bases, but could be placed quickly and anywhere that helicopters could reach. The general make up of a base would include a battery of six 105 or 155 millimeter howitzers (like those in the photo above), at least two helicopter landing pads, a platoon of engineers and troops to support and defend the installation.

Originally the fire base design was to be highly mobile and moved every couple of days as a security feature. Towards the end of the war however they became very reminiscent of the frontier forts becoming permanent installations.

The main purpose of these bases came down to providing artillery support to the soldiers in the field. This was one of the major advantages that the US had in the war and proved to be the turning pint of many battles. As such these bases were constantly under attack. Click Here to see actual footage of an attack on Firebase Jerry. The attack occurred while the press were on location doing interviews. Thanks to the user who posted it.

The following is a recollection from William Hatfield who also provided the picture above. “After being out in the bush for a long period of time, finding your way back to a fire base was something of a mixed blessing. Hot food, a place to sleep and some big guns that could really pack a punch. On the other hand you were walking into a target, someplace that was almost guaranteed to be hit at least once while you were there. It was a trade-off.”

Another Bad Day

If this is how your flight ended up, well you have had a bad day. This transport plane was shot down by a surface to air missile as it made its approach to the airfield.  Another ghost of the war in Vietnam.

According to the story told by US Navy Corpsman William Hatfield, who took this picture, this was the third plane shot down that week.  Unfortunately Hatfield was not able to document where the airfield was before passing. He did recall that when ever planes were coming in there was always a feeling of mixed emotions.  Often they would be bringing reinforcements and even supplies, two things that there was never enough of, but there was also a feeling of dread.

No matter how often they patrolled the perimeter or how well the area was “secured” every flight in and out was in danger. “Sometimes we would just watch as the missiles flew up towards the planes, wondering if they would make it or not,” he relayed in a 2012 interview.

“As soon as the missiles were in the air artillery would fire on the position and Marines would be sent. By the time anyone got there was never any sign of the VC (Viet Cong). They sure did have a system figured out.” Hatfield went on. In this case, to the best of his recollections the flight crew did not survive the attack. “It was always tough when is happened like that, as a corpsman I usually had to help with the casualties and recovery. Gunshots, shrapnel, grenades were all things you learned to deal with, but messes like this were just something else.”

Of course being determined to document what he could of his time “in country” once the debris was cleared he took the picture above.

A Bad Day at the Office (Tank)


Don’t you hate when this happens?

This photo was taken by William Hatfield during one of his three tours in Vietnam. Serving a US Naval Hospital Corpsman he spent most of his time in country serving as a medic attached to various Marine units.

The story behind this photo is one that is both amazing and a little scary. This is how is was related to me:

US forces would use mines to block off certain approaches to villages that were considered “non-pacified”. On occasion once the mines were deployed. The Vietcong  would use the villages children at night to go out and move the mines, making it very hard for the US troops coming in the next day. The children became particularly adept at this sort of maneuver.

The next morning as the Marines approached the village they would be meet by the children and in exchange for candy, would show them where the mines had been moved to. This sort of arrangement usually worked out very well.

On the morning that the picture above was taken the same scenario played out, except one of the children did not make it out in time to conduct their business. When you aren’t sure if all the mines are out of the way you tend to be cautions. When you are in a tank, that caution slackens a bit. As expected, the tank found the mine and had a tread blown off, leading to the picture you see where the tank is being towed.

What you don’t see in the picture is that sitting on top of the tank at the time was a young Mr. Hatfield who, along with some squad-mates, decided to take the ride instead of the long walk into the village. When the mine exploded Hatfield and his squad were blown off the tank suffering shrapnel wounds all around.

Being the Corpsman, Hatfield treated the other wounded men before himself and as a result, everyone survived. By the time the other Corpsman had shown up Hatfield was weak from loss of blood, but still had the presence of mind to take the photo above. He was awarded the Purple Heart for this adventure.


The Face of War

In some of the posts were we have looked at the Vietnam War, it has been mostly through photos taken by a man who was engaged in that war. That is him above. Not the most flattering photo, but one of the few where he is not behind the camera. His name is William (Bill) Hatfield, and he is my father. These pictures that I share on this site are his and a part of our family legacy and I Thought it was time to share a little about the man.

Bill was a US Navy corpsmen during the war. He graduated High School and found himself in the Navy very soon after. After graduating boot camp he was assigned to submarines, with a decent sized land war going it seemed like the safest place for a young man to do his time. It did not take him long to decide that being shot at was a much better option than being in an actual submarine so he switched specialties. The Navy was short of Corpsmen so the encouraged it. He underwent six weeks of Corps school before being sent to Vietnam.

Why were they short of Corpsmen? It’s the navy, they stay on ships and do out to sea things. Right? Not those guys. See the Corpsmen server as the medics for the Marines, they go where the Marines go. So Bill spent a lot of times with the Marines in country. Medics and Corpsmen are usually called Doc, and for the longest time I really believed that was his name.

He survived the war and spent almost twenty-five years in the Navy before calling it a career. He never really talked much about the war. It weighed on him and had an effect on him, it is easy to see that now. Talking to family and his friends that knew him before and after, they all saw it.

These pictures, that he took and converted to slides (which are why some are reversed if you look close) were somewhat of a family legend. Every couple of years he would find them in a closet break out the project and screen (which I have now also) and take us for a tour, He remembered names and places, had stories for everything. He was not afraid to talk about it, just never saw much point. As he got older and we grew older the shows became fewer and fewer. When they did happen the names did not come so easily and the places all melded together.  Just a few years ago we decided we were going to scan in all the slides, and he would go through and write down everything he remembered about them. We never got the chance to finish the project. So most of the stories are second-hand, the names lost to time.

When I see pictures like the one above I have a hard time imagining myself doing what he did at that age. He did it though, he survived and he never let the war tear him down. Now all I can do is my best to keep that young man above alive, even if just as words on the page.