Military Traditions

April 2, 2019 By Les Westling

Heroism on the Delta Canal

I was on a river patrol boat (PBR) with a crew of four sailors on the Cambodian border in the darkness of the jungle night. We were hidden on the north bank of the Vinh Te Canal to prevent infiltration from the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Normally, with only four sets of eyes to scan for enemy intruders and four pairs of ears listening for them, the circuit-riding chaplain’s presence to help through the night was always welcomed.

One night I was on one of the PBRs and there was no moonlight to break the darkness. All of us stood alert in our ambush position — called a waterborne guard post.

I was standing on the steel engine cover aft of the canopy that shelters the boat’s controls but forward of the rear gunner. Suddenly at my feet with a metallic clank something fell into the boat. The 19-year-old boat captain screamed “GRENADE!” as he fell on it to save my life and the lives of his crew. Although we all wore flak jackets, he was willing to be blown to bits for us.

I wrote this sailor up for the nation’s highest honor, the Congressional Medal of Honor. In doing so, I regretted having to tell the truth, and I chastise myself to this day that I did. Of course, the boat crewmen were witnesses to the event, as there must be in such a case. So, the report I submitted included the following words for his citation: “While serving as PBR boat captain on waterborne guard post in the darkness of the night, without thought for his own life and intending to save his crew, petty officer spontaneously threw himself on a live catfish.”

I never got a response of any kind from Saigon to my field correspondence — as I had for the nineteen other awards that were given for heroism that I had witnessed. Good heavens! This sailor was willing to give his life for mine and for the others. I am still sad that he did not get the recognition he deserved.

Adapted from All that Glitters: Memoirs of a Minister (page 244), with permission of Hillwood Publishing Company, Fairfield.


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