Largest Loss of Life by U.S. Navy During Vietnam War

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by Jere Beery 

Halloween means different things to different people. For me, Halloween is the eve of the date when I lost friends of mine in a little known historic sneak attack in Vietnam. Please take a moment to remember these brave Americans with me. 

U.S.S. WESTCHESTER COUNTYwesco4: LST-1167

As the result of enemy action, on November 1, 1968, the United States Navy suffered it’s greatest loss of life in a single incident as the result of enemy action during the entire Vietnam War.

At 0322 two very large mines were detonated on the starboard side of LST-1167 killing twenty five.

Most Americans have never heard of the U.S.S. Westchester County, or knew this incident ever occurred. Below  you will read the names of those that were killed that morning. You will view Official JAG photos of the aftermath from the November 1st attack never before publicly published. You will hear how a devastated crew fought to avoid an even greater loss of life. And you will learn about the naval history of this great American fighting ship and the many awards she won.

This article is dedicated to the twenty five who lost their lives in the service of this country, and to the preservation of their story. 

     





U.S.S. WESTCHESTER COUNTY Crew

wescoshield_400Killed In Action on November 1, 1968

  • SA, Jackie Charles Carter
  • SK1, Richard Certez Cartwright
  • QM2, Chester Donald Dale
  • RD3, Keith William Duffy
  • SMSN, Timothy Charles Dunning
  • PN2, David Gleasen Fell
  • ETN2, Thomas George Funke
  • RM3, Gerald Eugene Booth Hamm
  • QMSN, Floyd William Houghtaling
  • SK1, Aristotoles Del Rosario Ibanez
  • YN1, Jerry Smith Leonard
  • RM3, Joesph Anthony Miller
  • RM1, Rodney Walter Peters
  • YN3, Cary Frank Rundle
  • RM3, Reinhard Joseph Schnurrer
  • QM2, Thomas Herbert Smith
  • CS1, Anthony Richard Torcivia

RIVER ASSAULT DIVISION 111

Killed in Action aboard U.S.S. WESTCHESTER COUNTY November 1, 1968

  • EN3, Harry John Kenny

U.S. ARMY, Ninth Infantry Division

Killed in Action aboard U.S.S. WESTCHESTER COUNTY November 1, 1968

  • SP4, Leslie Von Bowman
  • SP4, Wilfredo Cintron-Mendez
  • PCF, Ernest Frissel Cook Jr.
  • SP4, Paull David Jose
  • SGT, Dennis Kenneth O’Connor

Vietnamese Forces

Killed in Action aboard U.S.S. WESTCHESTER COUNTY
November 1, 1968

  • 1- Vietnamese sailor, VNN – (Unidentified)
  • 1- Vietnamese Interpreter, ARVN – (Unidentified)

I served aboard the U.S.S. WESTCHESTER COUNTY from September of 1965 until July of 1967. Several of the sailors killed on November 1, 1968 were former shipmates and friends of mine. The information and photos appearing on this page were compiled by me while researching the Mining Incident for my screenplay "Smoke on the Water". If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me. Jere Beery

wescojere50cal

Seaman, Jere Beery aboard U.S.S. WESTCHESTER COUNTY, 1966

NOVEMBER 1, 1968

Battle stations remained at-the-ready for many hours, as it was not known if this was the beginning of a much larger attack, or if more unexploded charges were attached to the hull.  damage control teams worked frantically to suppress and control the flooding, while attempts were made to free trapped crewmen.  Most of those killed were crushed between the deck and the overhead while still in their bunks, making rescue and body recovery very difficult.  All damage control teams were instructed to conduct rescues and repairs without the use of cutting torches or welding equipment.

At on point, the ship’s Corpsman, HM1, JOHN SULLIVAN climbed down into the wreckage to locate and rescue two men pinned in the lower compartments. Although wounded himself, HM1, SULLIVAN administered medical attention to his injured shipmates and helped extract the two men. SULLIVAN would later be awarded the Silver Star for his actions and the Purple Heart for his wounds. (HM1, JOHN SULLIVAN passed away on October 2, 2006)

As damage reports made their way to the Bridge, the names of the dead and missing began to add up.  17 – ships crew dead or missing, 5 – U.S. Army personnel dead, 1 – U.S. Navy Riverine sailor killed, 2 – Vietnamese military personnel killed, 22 others wounded. The USS WESTCHESTER COUNTY had suffered a great loss, and would remain in great danger for many more hours to come. One of the two explosions had breached the tank deck bulkhead and pallets of 155 artillery shell had been broken open and strewn about the lower deck. Her  350 tons of explosive cargo was very unstable and extremely venerable.

The 25 killed that morning have come to represent the “U.S. Navy’s Greatest Loss of Life in a Single Incident as the Result of Enemy Action During the Entire Vietnam War”. . .

This is merely a thumbnail sketch of the events as they occurred that November morning. Every man that survived that day has a story to tell. Twenty two of WESCO’s crew would later be awarded the Purple Heart for wounds suffered in  the sapper attack. WESCO was patched up and returned to her home port at Yokosuka, Japan. LCDR. BRANIN would receive the Bronze Star for his leadership under fire, and continued his career in the Navy. (LCDR. JOHN BRANIN passed away in April 1998).

[ Footnote ] If LST-1167 had gone to "High Order’, "exploded", that morning, the headlines in the newspapers here at home would have read; "Between 400 and 500 U.S. military personnel killed or missing in single Viet Cong attack!" One can only speculate to how the U.S. would have responded to such a loss in 1968.

In 1974, LST-1167 was turned over to the Turkish Navy, where she serves today as L402, SERDAR.  During U.S.S. WESTCHESTER COUNTY’s 19 years of service, the ship and crew received many awards.  Among her many awards, 15 Engagement/Battle Stars.  Of 1200-plus LST’s commissioned into service since December 14, 1942, only three (3) have ever earned 15 Engagement Stars.  The U.S.S. WESTCHESTER COUNTY served above and beyond with distinction.

wescoturkishnavy_400

Turkish Navy, L402, SERDAR – (Formerly USS WESTCHESTER COUNTY, LST1167)

Retrospect

Too many stories of outstanding military service during the Vietnam War have gone untold for many decades.  The previous is just such a story, as it has gone untold for 36 years.  It is the history of a great ship, her brave and heroic crew, and her service and sacrifice.

wescounderway 

USS WESTCHESTER COUNTY underway

The unpopularity of the Vietnam War has created a stigma on “positive stories” about such a “negative war”.  Sometimes, we as a people are guilty of spending more time trying to appoint blame for Vietnam, than we do recognizing acts of Courage and Valor, Heroism and Bravery, Above and Beyond Service rendered by our military personnel. 

The personal irony to this story for me is – in 1967, when I volunteered for duty with the river patrol, some of the very same sailors that were killed on November 1st 1968 had warned me against the danger I faced with the PBRs. After all, it was considered "safe duty" aboard a ship in Vietnam and you still collected hazardous duty pay. My friends urged me to stay aboard WESCO. It would have been very easy to extend my duty aboard LST-1167, as the ship’s company was very short-handed at that time. As fate would have it, every single man in my former berthing compartment (Lower Operations), that wasn’t on watch, was killed in the sneak attack, and I lived… I still feel guilty about that. 

wescobeerylight_400 

SMSN, Jere Beery on the Signal Bridge of LST-1167, 1967.

In 1990, myself and a small group of former crew members and family founded the U.S.S. WESTCHESTER COUNTY, LST-1167 ASSOCIATION.  The association’s primary objective is the historical preservation of the service and sacrifice of LST-1167.  In the short time the association has been active; a very large commemorative showcase to LST-1167 was dedicated in the County Building of Westchester County, New York (LST-1167’s namesake). 

Another display appears at the U.S. Navy Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.  Former crew members continue to donate unique personal items for these two projects. For more information about the USS WESTCHESTER COUNTY ASSOCIATION, visit: http://www.lst1167.com/

Author Details
Although Jere Beery only served 4 years in the U.S. Navy, he has an impressive military history. Twenty seven months of that service was in the combat waters of Vietnam. His first duty station in 1965 was aboard the USS WESTCHESTER COUNTY, (LST-1167) as a Seaman. The WESTCHESTER COUNTY was involved in many operations within the combat waters of South Vietnam and received many awards and accolades for her service. The WESTCHESTER COUNTY was the recipient of 15 Battle Stars for her 19 years of service. LST-1167 was one of only 3 ships of her type to earn 15 Battle Stars (out of over 1200 LSTs built since before WWII). Beery’s second duty station in 1967 was with the legendary PBRs of the Brown Water Navy. As a volunteer, Beery saw combat on a fairly routine basis with this elite group and their high speed patrol craft. On March 1, 1968, Beery’s patrol was ambushed by a sizeable force of NVA and Viet Cong. The boat Beery was aboard took two direct RPG hits to her starboard side badly wounding four members of the boat’s crew. Seaman Beery was the most severely wounded and not expected to live. The first RPG had exploded right where Beery was standing as he manned his 50 caliber machine gun. To this day, Beery contributes his survival to the live-saving actions of his patrol officer, LT. RICHARD GODBEHERE and his other crew members. Beery spent the next year and a half hospitalized and recovering from his wounds. THE GODBEHERE PATROL On November 1, 1968, while Jere Beery was recuperating at NAS Hospital, Jacksonville, Florida, USS WESTCHESTER COUNTY was attacked on the My Tho river. At 03:22 in the morning two very large mines were detonated on the ship’s starboard side. 25 men were killed, 17 were ship’s crew. Several of the men killed that morning were friends and former shipmates of Beery’s. This incident has gone down in history as the greatest loss of life by the U.S. Navy in a single attack during the entire Vietnam War. USS WESTCHESTER COUNTY In mid-1969, Jere Beery was medically retired from the Navy. His service record reflects 1 Bronze Star, 3 Purple Hearts, and 5 military campaigns in Vietnam. Beery was also rated totally and permanently disabled by the Veterans Administration. Over the years since Vietnam, Jere Beery has attempted to do some things many thought impossible for someone with physical injuries such as his. During the early 80s, Jere Beery, as a member of the Screen Actors Guild pursued a brief career in the motion picture business as an actor. Beery landed a few small parts in a number of movies and television programs. On several occasions, to the amazement of many, Beery even executed his own stunts. In the 1986, Jere Beery gave up his career in the movies to crusade for his fellow veterans. Since that time, veteran’s rights advocate Jere Beery has been a noted driving force in the Veteran’s Rights Movement and effort to improve services for our veterans. Beery’s efforts have been extremely well documents and many articles have been written about his quest. A few of these articles can be found on this page. You can also type the words “Jere Beery” into any search engine to find out more about Beery’s efforts. www.google.com Jere Beery’s multifaceted story is truly an amazing one. From his survival in Vietnam, to risking additional injury executing stunts in the motion pictures, to fighting to protect the benefits earned by our troops, Jere Beery has forged his own trail and continues to amaze and baffle many. – Place and Date of Birth: Orlando, Fl – 03/13/48 – Raised: St. Augustine, Fl – Place & Date Enlistment: Jacksonville, Fl – 05/20/65 – Branch of service: U.S. Navy – Highest Rate/Rank: E4/PO3/Signalman Third Class – Duty Stations: USS WESTCHESTER COUNTY, LST-1167 and TF116, River Patrol Force, River Section – 511, (PBRs), Binh Thuy, RSVN – Date of Discharge: 5/14/69 – Type of Discharge: Honorable, Medically Retired – VA Rating: 100% Totally and Permanently Disabled Military Awards and Medals: – 1 Bronze Star – w/combat “V” Citation – 3 Purple Hearts – (1/5/68, 2/14/68, 3/1/68) – Vietnam Service Medal – w/1 Silver Star – (5 military campaigns in-country, RSVN) – Republic Of Vietnam Campaign Medal – w/1960 device – Combat Action Ribbon – Meritorious Unit Commendation Ribbon – Presidential Unit Commendation Ribbon – National Defense Medal – Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation – Gallantry Cross Medal Color, w/Palm – Republic Of Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation – Civil Actions Medal, First Class Color, w/Palm Military Training: – River Patrol Craft Training, (PBR), Mare Island, CA – Special Weapons Training, Mare Island, CA – J.E.S.T. (Jungle Environmental Survivor Training) – Cubi Point, Philippines – S.E.R.E. (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape Training) – Whidbey Island, Washington State – Vietnamese Language – Mare Island, CA.
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