~ 720th Military Police Battalion Reunion Association Vietnam History Project ~
River Patrol Unit
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Last Updated
10 May 2015
18th MP
Brigade
89th MP
Group
720th MP
Battalion
This was the first time in the history of the U.S. Army that a Military Police Battalion was assigned to fight as light infantry to perform a counterinsurgency - pacification mission in their own Tactical Area Of Responsibility.
The River Patrol was borne of "Operation STABILIZE"

    The entire western and southern border of the newly defined 720th MP Battalion 22 square mile Tactical Area of Responsibility (TAOR) was freshwater tidal river. In addition to the borders there were also many large and small river tributaries that crisscrossed the interior of the TAOR. A fair estimate would put the size of the main rivers and their tributaries at 25 to 30 nautical miles.
    The rivers were the highways of the local Viet Cong, the life blood of their transportation program for the movement of men and supplies. They also provided convenient avenues for forced recruitment and war taxation on the many Vietnamese farmers and fishermen that used them to support their families and the South Vietnamese economy.
    The formation of the 720th MP Battalion River Patrol Unit was not unique to the MP Corps in South Vietnam. Many other MP units also had a responsibility for riverine and port security tasked to their units. They like the 720th also used a combination of smaller Boston Whaler type boats called “Skimmers," powered by outboard motors, and the larger faster and better armed top of the line PBR’s (Patrol Boat River) of the 458th US Army Transportation Company, OPCON to the 18th MP Brigade.
    However, there was one thing that did separate the 720th River Patrol Unit from all the other MP boat units in Vietnam, the ambush and reconnaissance patrol transport, and Battalion tactical support missions. With the 720th MP Battalion having been assigned to Operation STABILIZE, the only military police counter insurgency infantry mission in South Vietnam, this added task had become a very important responsibility that was unique to the Battalion River Patrol Unit.

The Mission

   The mission assigned to the unit consisted of policing the Dong Nai, Bien Go, Buong Rivers and their many back water tributaries throughout the TAOR. Their specific task involved; performing river security for other military and civilian boat traffic; guarding the various ammunition and fuel supply barge convoys that traveled the river and often waited at anchor near the Dong Nai River Bridge and Cogido Docks; checking civilian sampans for enemy contraband and infiltrators; providing firepower and logistical support to Battalion tactical operations within the TAOR; and day and night transport and logistical support of the Battalion Ambush and Reconnaissance Teams. And just like their road bound counterparts in MP gun jeeps, they would respond with their gun boats to any other emergencies that occurred on the brown water highways within the TAOR.

Time Line

   Most of the more specific details of the missions carried out by this unit are incorporated into the chronology of the more comprehensive daily Battalion Time Line, and linked from this page for your review. If you find a specific mission or incident that is not linked, please notify the History Project Manager via the Email Link at the top of this page.

1967

September SGT Richard Walker of A Company was assigned the responsibility of forming and supervising a River Patrol Unit to support Operation STABILIZE. It was composed of volunteers from all three of the Battalion’s organic companies. The unit would supplement and assist the Battalion with the counterinsurgency-pacification mission of the newly established Tactical Area of Responsibility (TAOR).

   It was an interesting assignment considering that there were no boats, outboard motors, or other equipment assigned to the Battalion at the time and the items were not in line with the Battalions Military Police TO&E.

SGT Walker
   Volunteers were requested, and all three companies quickly responded. Once the unit was formed, SGT Walker, who was known as a good scrounger, and probably why he received the assignment in the first place, went to work.

   Along with scrounging equipment and materials the members were also trained in the use of the boats and motors they would be operating on the river.

   As popular rumor would have you believe, everything in the early days was scrounged outside of normal TO&E procurement channels. However, since the 720th was officially assigned this task by the 18th MP Brigade, there was some assistance provided through regular military logistical sources.

   Six light cargo transport boats [some descriptions have also identified them as pontoon type utilized to support floating bridges] were obtained from the Coast Guard unit stationed at the Newport Docks at Saigon. The 25hp Chrysler and 55hp Johnson outboard motors needed to power them were obtained from the Special Forces Unit at Gia Dinh. It‘s rumored that the motors were obtained in exchange for a large quantity of steaks borrowed from the Battalion Mess.

   Now that they had the boats and motors, they had to find some way of docking, equipping, and securing them. The first dock assigned to the new unit was the old French Pier located by the Cogido Docks and Barge site.

   This site was quickly abandoned and ruled unsuitable when the boat motors became fouled in old dock ropes and debris in that area. What would become the River Patrol Unit docks until late 1969 were located in the northwestern portion of the TAOR, under the southern end of the Dong Nai River Bridge.
   Prior to the Battalion being assigned the TAOR, the only dock service under the bridge was a rickety two plank foot bridge that was used by the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) and Regional Force /Popular Force (RF/PF) bridge guard security details. The old wooden plank docks were built for sampan traffic and were not large or strong enough for regular marine use. In addition, they didn’t extend far enough out into the river during low tide.
October SGT Walker and his men went to work once again, scrounging and obtaining enough of the right building materials to keep his boat crews busy working on the new floating docks for the unit during October and November 1967.
   The location under the southern end of the bridge gave them security from enemy mortars, bad weather, and they would not have to concern themselves with constructing any outbuildings and shelters until later.
   The PF bridge security detail lived in an outpost across the highway from the southwestern end of the bridge. The security of the entire span was their responsibility. As in most of the Vietnamese military compounds, their families resided in the compound with them. The quality of life at the compound depended on the collective trade skills of the men that worked there.
   As luck would have it, and according to the rules of Murphy’s Law, just several days after the new floating docks were finished, a bad storm during the night with a higher than usual fast running tidal river severely damaged the dock. The docks had to be rebuilt, however, this time the lesson was learned and they were made much stronger to withstand the worst that the always unpredictable weather and river would send their way.
   The fledgling River Patrol Unit, or as they like to be called "The River Rats," consisted of six three man crews, enough to man two boats for each company. The training was strictly on-the-job, however it was hoped that additional men with some degree of boating experience in their civilian life would volunteer.
   Each of the boats armament consisted of a pole mounted M60 Machine gun on the bow, the crew members M14 or M16 rifles, and a 40mm, M-79 Grenade Launcher. Each boat was also equipped with a PRC25 (pack) radio that permitted them to maintain constant communication with the other boats and the Battalion Tactical Operations Command (TOC) on Long Binh Post. Depending on the mission the boat crews consisted of two or three MP's. One man would operate the motor, the second the radio, and their third would operate the machine gun.
   The only advantages the smaller boats would have over the top of the line PBRs was the low profile, size and, their ability to maneuver quickly in close quarters. These factors gave them a distinct advantage over larger patrol boats that were much more susceptible targets to VC small arms and Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) fire on the backwater tributaries, some not wider that an old country lane.
3 November PFC Duane Elwood Carter age 20 of A Company, would become the first and only Battalion River Patrol Unit casualty when he drowned in the Dong Nai River after a River Patrol boat he was a crewman on is swamped while transporting an A Company ambush team on a night operation in the Tactical Area of Responsibility. The other crewmen and ambush team members survived the accident. PFC Carters body and the boat were later recovered from the river.
PFC Carter
19 November SP/4 Jerry Lawhorne a B Company member of the Battalion River Patrol Unit dove into the swift running tidal currents and saved another crew member from drowning when he fell into the river at the boat docks.
December The Navy arrived at the Dong Nai River Bridge landing and constructed portable floating docks for a large contingent of air boats.
   The boats were Navy and used by members of the 3rd Brigade, 9th Infantry Division who at the time worked the Area of Operations (AO) to the south of the Battalion Tactical Area Of Responsibility. They were docked at the river for approximately one month. They were used for training before the 9th Infantry Division's, 3rd Brigade started moving their main operations to Tan An in the Mekong River Delta region in IV Corps Tactical Zone.
4 December The VC ambushed a B Company day reconnaissance patrol consisting of SGT Edward L. Hall , PFC Jeffery B. Watt, CPL Le Van Muon (PF), and others yet to be identified, and directed sniper fire at B Company River Patrol Boat operated by SP/4 Larry F. Culver, when the patrols unknowingly surprised a planned ambush of several ammunition barges traveling north on the Dong Nai River. During the fire fight the VC still managed to hit two of the barges with RPG fire. One VC body was recovered from the scene. Two days after the incident the same B Company patrol returned to the area and recovered one of the VC RPG tubes.
6 December B Company Ambush & Recon team set up their operations base for site security at the Old French Fort in the Battalion TAOR during the recovery of ammunition from the barge sunk during the 4 December river ambush. The detail lasted approximately 5 days ending on or about 11 December without further incident.
9 December A Viet Cong arms cache was uncovered by a four boat force of the 720th MP Battalion River Patrol Units of A and B Company. The cache that included an M-16, ammunition, explosives, a VC sampan and two VC bodies was found in a cove on the Buong River. During the recovery operation the patrols came under small arms fire from the hidden VC force.

13 December PFC John Edward Davis of the 615th MP Company was on board one of two Riverine Air Boats conducting a river patrol on the Buong River in the Tactical Area of Responsibility. Both boats turned off the Buong River into a small cove. The lead air boat, on which PFC Davis was a passenger, made a sharp turn to exit the cove and the trailing air boat unable to take evasive actions rammed the rear end, broadside. The impact occurred where PFC Davis was sitting next to the fan cage causing him severe injuries that resulted in his death.

   WANTED: If you have a photograph of PFC Davis please take a moment to contact the History Project Manager at the Email Link provided above.

Photograph

Needed

 

PFC Davis
Miscellaneous Photographs
G0022
 Suspected Viet Cong questioned at Boat Docks.
G0136
 SP/4's Larry Watts, Max Ross, Thomas Lane and Andy Anderson of B Company.
G0557
 SP/4 Robert "Twiggie" Henslee, A Company, taking a break.
G0598
 PF's & MP's in boat on back river.
G2908
 PFC's Datola and Lippy Berzino of B Company on the river.
G2909
 SP/4 Webb, Larry Pritchard and unidentified crewman of B Company on the river.
G3497
 SP/4ís Coleman Heathington, Larry W. Fisher and Jerry C. Claburn of C Company on the river.
G3498
 SP/4’s Fisher and Claburn of C Company transport a B Company ambush squad.
G3500
 SP/4’s Heathington, Fisher and Claburn of C Company on the river.
G3501
 SP/4 Collins and PFC Simpson of C Company on the river with unidentified ambush squad.
G3502
 SP/4’s Fisher and Claburn of C Company on the river.
G3503
 SP/4 Richard G. Silver of C Company returning from enemy base camp search.
1968
   All three Battalion organic companies continued staffing the unit until just before the Communist Tet New Years Offensive in January of 1968.
    The PBR’s (Patrol Boat Riverine) from the 458th US Army Transport Company (PBR) who were attached to the 18th MP Brigade, were assigned to the mission on the Dong Nai River increasing the size, speed, maneuverability and firepower of the unit. The Navy PBR's (first) on station, were replaced by Army PBR's, and the B Company MP gunners first assigned to them continued  to supplement the Army PBR crews.
22 January Members of a C Company River Patrol unit were notified by an Air Force reconnaissance plane of a suspected enemy complex on the Buong River. The patrol discovered a recently deserted Viet Cong (VC) base camp and hospital consisting of two buildings and a bunker with a trench line in front. The patrols searched the empty facility and were called out for an impending artillery strike in the area. The river patrol linked up with a joint B & C Company and Popular Forces (PF) recon squad. They returned to the base camp 90 minutes later, and came under enemy fire immediately after leaving their boats. During the fire fight two VC were killed. Inside the bunkers the MPs found medical supplies, a Viet Cong flag a rifle and various documents which later proved to be of considerable intelligence value. No MPs or PF's were wounded in the engagement.
B Company Take Over River Patrol Unit Duties As Part of TAOR Operational Consolidation

   The members of A & C Company were eventually detached and reassigned other duties within their units organic mission.

  The Battalion transferred sole responsibility for staffing the River Patrol assignment to B Company.

February B Company River Patrol Unit members assisted an engineer unit in laying communications cable across the Dong Nai River near the bridge.
   WANTED: If you can provide any further information on this assignment, please notify the History Project Manager via the Email Link at the top of the page.
27 February The pontoon-cargo boats obtained to start the River Patrol Unit were replaced with six sleeker Boston Whalers called "Skimmers," and the older 25 and 55 hp outboards were upgraded to newer 85 hp. Johnson’s. Several of the older boats were kept for troop transport duties.
   Most of the back river tributaries in the Battalion TAOR were narrow, winding, and the banks were covered with trees and brush making them perfect ambush sites.
   When the tide went out the shallow tributaries were even harder for the boats to negotiate due to the low water level. As a result the larger PBRs were restricted to the main waterways and were only authorized to enter the smaller tributaries for special missions or emergent circumstances.
   The smaller Boston Whaler "Skimmers" would be the workhorse of the unit and even they were restricted from using the small tributaries unless specifically assigned a special mission or to transport the ambush and recon teams.

April The B Company MPs decided to have an official group picture taken of the unit. The first photo was the formal pose. They followed the formal group photo with one that they felt was more befitting their personalities as "The River Rats."

        The photos were put in a frame back-to-back and hung in the unit building at the docks. Whenever any brass visited the boat docks they would turn the photo around from the "informal" side to the formal side until the visitors left

April 1-3 View the new U.S. Army Film Archives, converted to video (with music and graphics) of Alpha & Bravo Company River and Reconnaissance patrols the TAOR in Vietnam during April 1968. The link has a long "load time," so be patient.

If you can "positively identify" anyone in the video, note the time in the lower left side and notify the History Project Manager via the Email link on this page.

FORMAL SIDE
May B Company members began construction of a River Patrol Unit building by the boat docks.    WANTED: If you can provide any further information on this assignment, please notify the History Project Manager via the Email Link at the top of this page.
20 June, 1600 hours A massive barge fire which began when a fuel barge loaded with diesel caught fire on the Dong Nai River required land and water patrols from the Battalion to perform multiple duties. The fire which started accidentally quickly became a raging inferno when it spread to the barge’s cargo of fuel. Members of the B Company River Patrol unit checked for victims and assisted in the evacuation of other personnel and barges. Members of A Company set up and manned traffic control points on roadways leading to the area. The fire burned for 14 hours before being put out.
12 September At 2031 hours [8:31PM], a B Company River Patrol PBR apprehended four Vietnamese personnel on the sand ridge at Grid Coordinates [map location], YT012072, approximately 1,000 meters north of the Cogido Docks. One had no national identification card, the suspect was taken to 720th MP Battalion S-2 (Intelligence) for interrogation.

13 September At 2033 hours [8:33PM], D Company, 87th Infantry (Rifle Security) personnel at the Petroleum Oil Lubricant (POL) site reported they received 10 rounds of small arms fire from what they believe to be a sampan traveling north on the Dong Nai River from Checkpoint #9. B Company River Patrol PBR #69 was notified and checked the sampan finding it empty. They destroyed it at Grid Coordinates YT014045 with 6 rounds from their M-79, 40mm Grenade Launcher.

   SGT Zane K. Pucket, B Company, received minor fragmentation wounds to his abdomen while firing the M-79 Grenade Launcher at the sampan, and was transported to 24th Evacuation Hospital where he was treated and released by Dr. Baldwin.

14 September At 0225 hours, B Company, PBR #67, spotted approximately 6 Vietnamese personnel carrying weapons on the west side of the Dong Nai River at Grid Coordinates YT018017 in the ARVN AO. They notified Thu Duc Advisors and requested that their ARVN unit conduct a sweep of the area. At 0420 hours on 15 September, Thu Duc Advisors reported that they believed the personnel sighted by the PBR were members of an ARVN patrol that was in that area.
15 September At 1130 hours [11:30AM], a boat from the River Patrol, B Company, discovered the body of a Vietnamese male floating in the Dong Nai River at Grid Coordinates YT 015054. The body had no clothes or identification and was taken to Bien Hoa Provincial Hospital for disposition. The cause of death appeared to be drowning, there were no signs of violence on it.

Exact Date Unknown The River Patrol Unit removed a suspected enemy explosive devise found in the river by the boat docks under the Dong Nai River Bridge.

   WANTED: If you can provide any further information on this incident, please notify the History Project Manager via the Email Link at the top of this page.

December The River Patrol Unit dismantled their compound under the bridge and prepared to move to a barge on the river in January 1969.

Miscellaneous Photographs
G1328
 SP/4 Ranier "Hippie" Trappe of B Company.
G2397
 Members of a 458th & B Company PBR crew in late summer.
G3067
 SP/4 Trappe, SGT Harding (212th) other patrol & ambush team members on the river.
G3068
 SP/4 Trappe, SGT Harding (212th) other patrol & ambush team members on the river.
G3504
 SP/4's Herring, Aceto, Collins, and PFC Simpson of C Company on a back river tributary.
1969

   The National Archives has reported that there are no Battalion Daily Staff Journal/Duty Officer’s Logs, DA form 1594’s, from Battalion S-3 on file for the year of 1969. If anyone can provide access to any or has any information on any 720th MP Battalion activities for this year please contact the History Project Manager via the Email link above.

From Under The Bridge To The "Houseboat"
   The River Patrol Unit continued to be headquartered under the Dong Nai River Bridge until late December 1968 or early January 1969.

   During that time the units operations were moved to a floating converted 40’ by 12’ barge they called the "Houseboat" that was anchored in the river between the Dong Nai River Bridge and the Petroleum Oil & Lubricant off loading barge.

   The barge was provided by the 458th U.S. Army Transportation Company (PBR) and included a sleeping quarters, maintenance area, and tactical operations room.

 

   The 458th was a U.S. Army Transportation Company attached subordinate to the 18th MP Brigade. During the year when the headquarters of the 458th moved from Vung Tau to Saigon, the detachment was billeted with B Company on Long Binh Post.

The 458th PBR (Sea Tigers) has a dedicated website, click on the (unofficial) 458th patch >

458th
PBR

   Ground transportation of boat crews during shift change was readily accessible when the docks were under the bridge, with the floating dock the crews would once again utilize the old French Pier at Cogido like they did in September 1967.

   The pier was located north of the bridge by the Cogido Docks and Barge site. The boats would stop at the pier and crews would be exchanged with those going off duty transported back to Long Binh Post by the shift change vehicle.

Snapshot Photographs
Bien Go River
Bien Go River
Bien Go River
Bien Go River
Bien Go River
Miscellaneous Photographs
G1059
 Unidentified PBR crew on the Dong Nai.
G2586
 SP/4 Ed Aldrich in a Skimmer on the Dong Nai.
G3373
 PFC John “Joe” Vandemark, B Company on a PBR under the southern end of the Dong Nai River Bridge.
1970
 A Terrible Tragedy On The River As Operation STABILIZE Comes  To An End
31 January A tragic mishap during which a large wake swamped one of the transport boats resulted in the death of three members of a B Company Ambush Squad. SP/4 David Allan Johnson, PFC David Lee Hemke and PFC Robert Lamar McArthur members of one of two B Company Ambush Teams being transported that night in three Boston Whaler "Skimmer’s" on the Bien Go into the Dong Nai River.
SP/4 Johnson
PFC Hemke
PFC McArthur
March Members of the River Patrol transported Ambush Teams, guided by a Hoi Chanh (amnesty program) to a  Viet Cong base Camp in the back river of the TAOR. They provided security as the MPs in the Ambush Teams searched the area.

April, Exact Date Unknown,

Not So Friendly Fire  SGT Douglas D. Newman, HQ Detachment & B Company, 720th MP Battalion, 89th MP Group, 18th MP Brigade, 1969-September 1970.

17 April At 1815 hours, [6:15 PM], A UH1 Huey helicopter from the 25th Infantry Division crashed into the Dong Nai River after striking two steel cables. One passenger survived and was rescued by a Vietnamese fisherman, seven other passengers and four crew members died.

        PBR's from the Battalion River Patrol Unit assisted in the search and recovery operation for the bodies.

In July 2002 a 32 year old mystery would be solved by SP/5 Robert Bogison, B Company, a member of one of the PBR's involved in the recovery process.

18 May B Company River Patrol PBRsresponded to assist a Navy Tug Boat that was ambushed on the Dong Nai River just south of the Battalion Tactical Area Of Responsibility. Members of the crew were wounded when the Viet Cong ambushed the tug striking it with two Rocket Propelled Grenades. The PBR’s provided security and assisted with the air evacuation of the wounded crewmen.
   Even with their busy schedule on the river the members of the unit managed to find time to indulge themselves in some "unauthorized activities" while on patrol. Getting caught in the past was known to result in a severe reprimand or a possible Article-15 and loss of rank.
25 July As a result of the Vietnamization Program, Operation STABILIZE came to an end when all B Company missions in the Tactical Area of Responsibility were turned over to the 25th Infantry Division and Army of The Republic of South Vietnam.
   The Barge (Houseboat) situated by the Petroleum Oil & Lubricant (POL) off loading site, staff and elements of the 458th Army Transportation Company (PBR) were transferred to the command of the 95th MP Battalion.
95th MP
Battalion
   The last remaining riverine commitment supervised by the 720th was the Harbor Patrol Unit situated with the Vung Tau Detachment The PBR and Boston Whalers used for patrol of Vung Tau Harbor remained active.
 A Proud Record Of Accomplishments

   Throughout it’s four year history, the River Patrol Unit saw its share of hostile action, captured enemy soldiers, enemy supplies, civilian criminals, and successfully completed numerous hazardous combat and rescue missions. Many of the missions were often performed while operating in total darkness on the muddy brown waters of the Dong Nai River and its tributaries.

   The MPs that worked on the boats of the 720th MP Battalion River Patrol Unit conducting Operation STABILIZE, can look back with pride in their many accomplishments.

Miscellaneous Photographs
G1552
 SGT Torres and PFC Keene cleaning the 50's on their PBR.
G1553
 Unidentified PBR crew members.
G1554
 SP/4 Mason and other unidentified PBR crewmen.
G1560
 Unidentified Quan Canh and PBR crewmen.
G1561a
 SGT Torres and unidentified PBR crewmen.
G1572
 Unidentified PBR Crewman.
G2596
 SGT York, 458th.
G2602
 March: Weapons, ammunition, supplies recovered from VC Base Camp on back river.
G3222
 Dropping off an ambush team on the Dong Nai.
G3224
 Checking sampan on the Dong Nai.
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