USS Newport News CA-148 Naval Research - Deployment Report
"Thunder" USS Newport News CA-148 off North Vietnam October 1967 / image adapted from photo by John Glass  
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USS Newport News CA-148 off North Vietnam
( image from photo by John Glass October 1967 )

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USS Newport News CA-148 Deployment Report
Vietnam 1967-1968

The Deployment Report has more official detail about the POW capture than I've seen anywhere else.  It seems to me to be significant enough to quote in detail.

Here are the three pages that mention the POW's:

Page 522 Oct 67 - 23 Oct 67Operational ActivitiesPOW Capture
Page 3122 Oct 67Action ReportPOW Capture
Page 3223 Oct 67Action ReportPOW Delivery

Excerpts with POW information

Here are text excerpts from those three pages (followed by my comments).   All of these pages are marked "DECLASSIFIED"  (previously marked SECRET)

The operational activities summary for 22 Oct 67 - 23 Oct 67 on page 5 says

"On 22 October NEWPORT NEWS and HMAS PERTH picked up 7 survivors,  believed to be members of the North Vietnamese Army,  that had their boat destroyed by carrier aircraft.  After receiving all survivors aboard NEWPORT NEWS departed SEA DRAGON operations area enroute Danang to deliver survivors to III Marine Amphibious Force Representative,  Danang.  Delivered survivors on 23 October and returned to SEA DRAGON operations.  No feed-back information was received confirming identity of survivors."

The action report for 22 Oct 67 on page 31 says

"At 1154(H) while making approach on target,  ONG DOI FERRY APPROACH,  observed 2 friendly A-1 aircraft,  not under control of NEWPORT NEWS,  making an attack on 2 or possibly 3 surface craft at a range of 12 miles.  Upon completion of above mission,  1209(H),  proceeded easterly,  with HMAS PERTH in company,  to investigate in vicinity of aircraft action.  At 1237(H) picked up skunk making 7 knots,  heading toward shore,  range 12000 yards.  Skunk identified as a small covered motor driven boat approximately 35 feet in length,  apparently not damaged.   SKUNK then stopped dead in water..  NEWPORT NEWS continued to close,  and stationed PERTH 2,500 yards ahead.  At 1313(H) SKUNK sank at position XG395848.  Shortly thereafter PERTH reported visually identifying two conical shapes  (International Orange).  PERTH was ordered to investigate debris.  PERTH originally reported no survivors and proceeded to sink markers with machine gun fire.  Approximately 10 minutes later HMAS PERTH reported possible survivors to the north of the marked area about 1000 yards.  PERTH proceeded to the area and confirmed survivors at original position where attack had been earlier observed.  NEWPORT NEWS stood in to assist.  At approximately 1430(H) both ships put boats into the water to rescue survivors.  A total of 7 survivors were picked up by both ships,  it is estimated that 8 to 10 persons may have been in the water,  one of which was seen struck by sharks.  All survivors were taken aboard the NEWPORT NEWS at 1500(H).  Survivors were provided food and clothes.  Condition of survivors was 4 good condition,  3 wounded by shrapnel  (fractured left forearm plus shrapnel wounds).  All ambulatory.  NEWPORT NEWS departed area to deliver survivors to 111 MAF REP,  Danang,  RVN."

"Due to language barrier NEWPORT NEWS was unable to interrogate survivors.  However,  from the little identification that was available,  it was believed that the survivors were members of the NVN army."

The action report for 23 Oct 67 on page 32 says

"0538(H)    Delivered survivors to III MAF Danang in Danang Harbor.  Departed harbor for rendezvous with unrep ship,  for replenishment enroute back to SEA DRAGON operations."

Charlie Hurd's Confirmation

On December 21,  2004,  Charlie Hurd wrote:  " I was the OOD when we first observed the sharks attacking and killing the NVN.  The account is factual as seen by my own eyes.  Called the skipper to the bridge........the rest is history. "

Later,  Charlie shared the following recollection:  " When CAPT McCarty came running onto the bridge and saw what was happening,  he,  like all watch standers present,  expressed total revulsion at the sight of huge sharks attacking and devouring one of the group and  'going after'  the others.  He immediately ordered rescuing survivors by lowering the motor whale boats.  This group of NVN army was our enemy but to observe sharks on the surface as well as coming up from the depths and pushing bodies clear out of the blood red water before devouring them was a horrific sight.  The sharks were in a  'feeding frenzy'  and any sailor,  no matter what his feelings towards the enemy at the time,  would find what we witnessed to be unacceptable.  Among so many of yours trulys nightmare-like memories* of duty off NVN aboard our beloved Grey Ghost,  the shark attack is one that still churns up in my mind from time to time and I wish I could forget it. "  Charlie adds:  "  *  Of course,  I have many fond memories too !  "

My Comments

My own memories of the POW's are less intense that Charlie's memory of the shark attack but have a similar conclusion of seeing them more as simply human than as the enemy.  I stood a few feet away as they were brought from sick bay through the CR division berthing compartment to the brig.  These were the survivors of the shark attacks,  most uninjured.  They'd been treated and cleaned up a bit by then and wore only white shorts  (and maybe tee shirts);  there was nothing about them that identified them specifically as combatants.  Since I'd done a tour in Saigon the previous year,  even their Vietnamese features were unremarkable to me.  I have little doubt that they were the enemy but the people I saw seemed just vulnerable,  frightened,  human.

There are several details in the Deployment Report's account that I find interesting:

1.   The WBLC's were destroyed by friendly aircraft, not by NN gunfire
2.   The WBLC's were destroyed just a few hours before we completed our gunfire mission and proceeded rather promptly to search for and pick up survivors.
3.   The specific location that they were picked up is identified,  viz. 1000 yards north of XG395848.  It should be possible to precisely plot that location.
4.   The specific unit to which they were turned over to in Danang is identified,  viz. III MAF Danang, an American command.

I consider this account to be authoritative and,  where it differs from various shipmates' memories,  I accept this report's version.  Since we actually destroyed WBLC's on a number of occasions,  it seems possible that bits of the conflicting memories are from other events.  The conflicting memories are no doubt honest and heartfelt,  but eye witness accounts and memories are notorious for inaccurate detail,  especially as time goes by.  This report,  however,  was recorded soon after the events took place and carries much less risk of such inaccuracy.  In addition,  this is an official record and there would have been significant disincentive for recording anything that wasn't scrupulously factual.

From this report,  I conclude that there is nothing in the conduct of the crews of the Newport News and Perth for which we should not "stand tall".  There's no evidence here of a questionable decision to attack possible fishing boats  (no attack by our ships at all),  there's no avoidable delay in searching for survivors,  there's the appearance of an operation that was as much rescue as capture,  and there's only evidence of good treatment of the survivors.

Follow up:   I'll post any additional information that my Vietnamese friends are able to uncover.  (See Notes about Vietnamese POW Inquiries.)  It has,  however,  been more than a year since their initial inquiries and I doubt that there is much chance of finding any new information.

Carl W. Cole
James Island SC
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