Aids to Navigation entered Vietnam as an afterthought. The
rapid rise in tonnage of materiel being delivered to Vientam to support
the growing American presence quickly outstripped the Vietnamese French
developed aids to navigation system. The lone Vietnamese buoy tender was
ill-prepared and ill-manned to handle the task. Later one Coast Guard
officer reported it took the Vietnamese buoy tender 42 days to set eight
In early 1966, the Navy's concern over this important function led
to an informal request by the Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet for
the services of a Coast Guard buoy tender. The Coast Guard agreed, making
the cutter Planetree (WLB 307) available for the placement of,
at first, sixteen mooring buoys at four different Vietnamese ports.
Deploying from Honolulu in April 1966, much of the Planetree's time
was spent positioning Vietnamese floating aids back to the Vietanamese
((international) system and using creative methods to solving problems
not encountered in the United States and its territories.
Following Planetree's initial, and eye opening, experience deployments
to Vietnam the 14th Coast Guard District began regularly scheduled for
30 days in July 1967. The buoy tenders remained 14th District assets.
The next buoy tender to try her boom work was Ironwood (WLB
297) homeported at Agana, Guam. She is officially the first tender to
serve Vietnam under the new plan, however, the arrangement was still
informal between the Coast Guard, Navy and Army. Just as Plantree
before her she worked the major ports of Vietnam in addition to marking
the dredged Cua Viet (river) just a few miles south of the DMZ. The
Delta to DMZ runs and heavy work loads would become the pattern for
the next few years.
Duties and jobs expanded for the tenders from those beginning mooring
buoys. In October 1967 it was Basswood's (WLB 388) turn. She
was involved in the routine aids work but also set large channel markers,
offshore buoys and mooring for Market Time forces at An Thoi Island
in the south. Her work was cut short by the monsoon weather and she
departed for home in late November.
The Coast Guard decided that sending tenders from such large distances
was not productive and greatly increased the where and tear on the vessels.
Indeed, Basswood broke down on her transit and had to be towed
During November 1967, to ease transit time and wear and tear on vessels,
the tender Blackhaw (WLB 390) was reassigned to be the dedicated
Vietnam buoy tender. She was transferred from Honolulu to Sangley Point
in the Phillippines and became, outside the patrol boats in Vietnam,
only the second cutter permanently stationed outside United States ports.
The other was the Courier in Athens, Greece, serving with the
Voice of America.
Blackhaw's crew expanded to seven officers and sixty-three enlisted
men, about thirteen more total than a comparable stateside cutter, or
about the compliment of a medium endurance cutter.
In March 1968 Blackhaw began her adventure into the combat zone, the
firs of fifteen deployments to work the 70 United States set aids and
all the Vietnamese aids. The Vietnamese had all but ceased working their
aids - they didn't have to the Americans would do it for them.
The agreement was still informal until July 1968 when the Joint Chiefs
formalized the 1966 informal arrangement. The agreement, not signed
until February 1969, set out reimbursement parameters. Essentially the
Coast Guard would provide services to the aids-to-navigation it had
been all along but now the Army and Navy would pay for it - officially.
There was a 60-40 split between the Army and Navy for the costs of working
the aids. The Army paid for services in II, III, and IV Corps and the
Navy in I Corps.
The work of Blackhaw took her into some dangerous waters. Before
her final Vietnam deployment in May 1971 she was awarded more Combat
Action Ribbons than any other cutter to serve in Vietnam. She was then
transferred to San Francisco.
There were a few other deployments made by Basswood out of Guam.
Her mission was to Vietnamize the aids to navigation system which included
replacing floating aids with shore aids and training Vietnamese personnel
in how to maintain the aids. However, the track record of Vietnamese
in the maintenance of aids was poor and like their patrol boat counterparts
most likely allowed the aids to fall into as great as disrepair as the
nation as a whole.
The black hulls of the Coast Guard are the constructors of the service.
They began with no charts, radios or even instructions save go and do.
This they did and did it magnificently.