Friday, April 14, 2006

 

Patrol boat now a memorial

_________________________________________________________________

Herald Net
By Jim Haley
April 11, 2006



Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Leah Quinton
Robert Brower sits inside a refurbished Mark II
patrol boat at a memorial for veterans at the
Jim Creek Radio Station on Monday. The boat will
become a traveling memorial for those who patrolled
Vietnam rivers.



A boat used during the Vietnam War is refurbished to honor those who patrolled dangerous rivers.

ARLINGTON - Plying up and down rivers with Viet Cong soldiers lying in ambush along the shoreline was not a dream job for most in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War.

You had to volunteer to man the 31-foot Mark II river patrol boats on the Mekong Delta or some other river in that war-torn country.

Known as Task Force 116, Operation Gamewarden, the "river rats" armed themselves with machine guns and grenade launchers to take the waterways from the Viet Cong, guerrilla soldiers allied with North Vietnam.

Some were wounded a number of times and kept coming back to man the boats. Many others were killed, and Puget Sound-area residents who were there wanted to show that they remember.

On Monday, the 40th anniversary of the creation of the unit, the 30 members of the Northwest chapter of the Gamewardens of Vietnam Association wanted to honor those who served and died.

About a third of the chapter's membership gathered at the Jim Creek Radio Station near here to dedicate a refurbished Mark II boat as a memorial to the fallen. The vessel will be towed in parades, put on display at Naval Station Everett and even powered up for events such as the opening day of boating season.

The object is to call attention to the little-known group that did such a dangerous job.

"We wanted to do as much as we can with (the boat) to get the public to know what we did," said Tom Restemayer of Lynnwood, a chapter member who was wounded three times.

The Gamewardens were formed in 1966, after the Viet Cong took over waterways as its main transportation routes.

"We went back in to open that up," Restemayer said. "We opened up the waterways all the way from the ocean to Cambodia."

Restemayer said the vessels carried a crew of four: a driver and three men to tend the guns, the engines and the radio.

The vessels, powered by two large diesel engines and jets, were extremely maneuverable and could travel in just inches of water. "That really made them effective," Restemayer said.

Chapter member Robert Brower of Tacoma, who was on a similar Army patrol boat, said the group has two of the vessels, and only one is operable. He said the chapter has been working in a covered space at Jim Creek but hopes to find a covered area at Naval Station Everett someday.

Restemayer, 58, was 18 when he arrived in Vietnam less than a month after the unit was formed. He recalled a lot of trees and bushes along the rivers where someone could hide and "open up on you."

It became a deadly game of cat and mouse.

"They would set up ambushes for us, and we'd set up ambushes for them," he said.

But some modestly said it wasn't that dangerous.

"When you're young you don't think anything is dangerous," said Heinz Hickethier of Belfair on the Kitsap Peninsula, who is president of the chapter.

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