A Vietnam-era Swift Boat, U.S. Navy #PCF 816, made a three-day stop at the Oceanside Harbor last week.
The Swift Boat Sailors Association restored the boat over the past year, taking it down to bare metal. It had been housed at the Maritime Museum of San Diego.
Oceanside’s harbor hosted the first public viewing in what will be ten Southern California ports-of-call. Emotional Vietnam veterans stood by as the boat pulled up to the harbor’s public dock.
The Navy had 121 Swift Boats designed to patrol the coastal waters, inlets, and rivers of Vietnam. They were originally designed as a service vessel for the workers on oil islands and platforms. In 1970, the remaining boats were turned over to the South Vietnamese Navy.
“This boat never was used in Vietnam,” said former shipmate John Paul Jones (his real name), part of the volunteer crew. “But we all trained on it in Coronado.”
The Swift Boats, manned by a crew of six, were made of aluminum and capable of reaching speeds of up to 25 knots. They could carry out 400- to 500-mile patrols. Their radar spanned up to six miles, and long-range communications were compatible with the Army and Air Force. The boats were armed with 50-caliber machine guns.
After the war, the boat that visited Oceanside became part of the country of Malta’s coast guard fleet. It was retired in 2010. As a way of saying thank you to the United States, the Maltese government donated the boat to the association. The boat arrived at Shelter Island in August 2012. A call was put out for former Swift Boat sailors to help with the restoration; 36 showed up and worked for four months on the project.
Over 3500 men served on Swift Boats during the Vietnam War. The boat and its tour are dedicated to the 50 sailors who died and the 350 who were wounded in missions aboard Swift Boats.
I asked the guys if they had served with our secretary of state, John Kerry, a member of the Swift Boat patrols. “Let’s just say he and I were in the same place at the same time. That’s all I want to say about it,” said the former first-class quartermaster, Dave Bradley, with disdain on his face. He wasn’t however, part of the Swift Boat veterans’ movement that tried to derail then–Senator Kerry’s bid for president in 2004.
On August 6, Swift Boat PCF #816 will pull into Santa Barbara, its last stop on the tour.