Heavy Boat Operations and Harbormaster at Dong Tam

Pictures and stories from Frosty Frothingham

Frosty with Captain Pagonis [Later Lieutenant General] at Vung Tau
Aerial Shot of Dong Tam

In the aerial shot,in the fore ground is an ammo storage compound, on the
left side of the basin, you can make out the airstrip, and just in front ofthe helo pad in that corner of the basin is where my Harbormaster facility was located. In the center of the photo you see a street running towards the top of the pix,about one block up is where the 9th Infantry Hqs was located, and a Mash hospital, that got lots of business. Out of sight on the right side of the basin, was a Navy repair facility, with heavy lift crane and barges. We used to anchor our barges to be loaded in the middle of the bay, and then as space became available, I'd move them into a pier for unloading. Infantry units, artillery units, The 1097th Medium Boat Company were all housed here at the base, plus some other support units, signal, quartermaster, etc. The purpose of the base, was for the 9th Inf, to secure the "Rice Hiway", in other words secure the routes of trade from the delta to Saigon. Dong Tam was the base chosen for this job

LCUs, and Large Tug

I was going thru some old stuff, that brought to mind and incident at
Dong Tam in 1968. We had tied to our piers a few LCU's from the 5th
Heavy Boat, and there might have been one or two from the 329th Heavy Boat. Anyway , I was in my Harbormaster Tower trying to keep things sorted out. The boats were there in support of an operation involving units of the 9th Infantry Division and its supporting Artillery. As darkness fell, as usual we come under mortar and Rocket fire on the base., and as usual it came in
from several different directions at once. I had standing orders for all boats in port, to hold their position, and not move unless I told them to get out of Dodge. This particular night, the Infantry people started counter-mortar fire, and over in the corner of the Dong Tam boat basin was a unit of 4.2 mortar crew. So they started blasting away. One of the LCUs was loaded with Ammo for the next mornings operation,
anyway, I received a call on my radio, "Ah, Hotel Mike, this is LCU 15--, I have a mortar round in my cabin sitting on deck spinning around smoking!" Now this is a CWO Don Sorenson, calling me on the radio, as calm as he could be! "15--, I replied"," What are your intentions?"."Well, I'd like to leave here  if you don't
mind", was his reply.He had other boats tied up on either side of him loaded with infantry! "Do you have any crew aboard?", I asked. "No, " he replied, They all got off the boat!" The long and short of the story is, Don, very calmly got his assistant engineer to light off, the engines, and moved his vessel out of the crowded moorage. I dispatched a demolition team by tug out to his boat where they took over the spinning 4.2 mortar round. Fortunately it had not traveled far enough to arm itself before crashing thru the plywood cover over the deck, thru the steel softpatch over the Captains cabin and onto the middle of his deck! I put Don in for a medal, but don't know whether or not he received any thing or not,he left on the mission that he was there for as tho' nothing happened. Being a junior warrant officer at the time, I did not carry a lot of authority with my titles of Harbormaster, Port Commander, Stevedore Platoon Leader, Rear Detachment Commmander, Tugboat Master. You would think all that would carry some weight.!! CWO Don Sorensen,and his
crew, was a boat that you could assign any task to, and it would be accomplished!!, No bugles blowing, just get the job done! Sort of like our Seattle Mariners!!

LCU Beached at Nha Be for repairs

The second shot is my crew getting ready to change screws, a job none of them
had ever done before.! WO Pappy Poitras, on left was an electrician from the
Navy, and he sure as hell never changed a screw, he was my Chief Engineer.
I could'nt get permission to go to the yard to get the screws changed, so I turned the radios off, after we had completed a mission, found a beach I could back onto, waited for the tide, and taught my crew how to change screws. At first there was a lot of grumbling, but once they got in the spirit of it,  and having beach party complete with hot dogs and beer, they were very proud the next day when we got under way and almost fast enough to get a breeze going over the deck!!!!

LCU Crew

We were changing screws, because all three screws were bent over from
previous operations. LCU 1588, was a boat that had been loaned to the SVN,
when it was turned back to US forces, it was in pretty bad shape. It became a "dock Queen", and crewed by personnel that were kicked off of other  boats. It was in very bad condition , morale and crew wise, when I arrived on board. Ittook me three months of wheeling dealing to get anything for my crew. We could only make the run from Vung Tau to Saigon, because we only had 1 and 1/2 engines running. So not only were we slow, we were dangerous. When we picked up a load of ammo at CatLo, we also picked up a wire on the port screw (My good Engine), that's when I decided to disappear and change screws.
It really made a difference, and then we got a new head on the center engine, and I could make 8 knots Light.! We now could participate with the other crews on missions that were assigned to the 5th Heavy Boat. I was quit proud of my crew and what they were able to accomplish in my short tenure with them. All they needed was someone navigating that showed some concern for them. I learned how to retype TCMD's, so we could take needed items for our crew, and I had a Bos'n that was well connected in Saigon. I'd let him off the boat and he'd come and meet me at Newport with a deuce and half loaded with goodies I wanted for the crew and the boat...
At Dong Tam, I was charged with running all port operations, that included all vessel movements in an out of the Harbor. We unloaded LCU's and LST's and barges, to a storage yard for further dissemination to the requesting units. We also provided port communications, I also had charge of the stevedore platoon, that did all the unloading with three rough terrain forklifts. They were like watching a concert orchestra unloading an LST or LCU.! I also Skippered a ST2198 to move barges into the piers for unloading, and for general harbor work. We did rescue a French Freighter that had run aground in the main river. The 2198 had a few holes in her superstructure from shrapnel for mortar and rocket fire. Most of our cargo arrived via LCU from Vung Tau. Usually transhipped down from Saigon,or the occassional LST from Vung Tau, Most of the cargo coming over our piers was designated for the 9th and its supporting units, some stuff was shipped out by truck to nearby villages and small bases supporting the operations in the del

Harbormaster Tower at Dong Tam

The BG from 4th TC came down from Saigon, one morning, unannounced , this was
in 68, and right after I had gotten my tower built. He really liked it and the widows walk I put around the second deck. When I left the Boats to become Harbormaster there, They gave me a radio and a box of nails, and said go be a Harbormaster! I arrived at Dong Tam, and had to convince every one there that I was going to run the Harbor. Needless to say, a Navy LCDR in charge of the Mobile Riverine Force base, on the north end of the basin , told me a junior Army warrant officer to stay off of his turf. So I made up a set of orders from Gen Westmoreland, and gave myself the authority to set up an Army Port. I waved that piece of paper around as if it was the Holy Writ. After about a month I got people believing me, and wrested control of the waterfront, and all attendant activities. Built a little empire, but a the same time I increased the daily tonnage coming over
the beach...So nobody cried too loud, when they saw results. I had more problems with the artillery people trying to use my Harbor radio frequencies. I got into a few battles with Arty Colonels over that, but usually won out. I found it was one of the greatest challenges of my life. I did a lot of other stuff after Vietnam, but mainly that was just ship handling stuff, Panama  Canal Pilot, and Tug Skipper, North Slope Ice Pilot, and Geological Survey Skipper for 7 years. But Vietnam was the greatest challenge, and setting up the port at Dong Tam was an accomplishment I was proud of. Now that's a lot of wind for you..

Pallets of Ammo in the LCU

I think we were discharging ammo, not loading. I remember we had to sling load by crane when we loaded up near Cat Lai south of Saigon.
I also remember we had to get the right tide so we could get under a bridge, to get in there. It was mighty tight, we had to step the radar Mast and clean everything off the top, and then go thru where the expansion joints were on the bridge so we could clear the light on top of our plywood shelter.. Close stuff.

Nasty Load of Ammo

The last shot is of an LCU that was ordered to retrieve an Artillery
unit and its gear, and this is how they had to load out.. Not much fun here, and all sorts of ammo handling regs went out the window!

LCU Bridge Art

This is a shot of a special services worker we transported to Dong Tam, and
then I think she went on to Vinh Long. Could not resist taking the shot!

Army pilots Navy Ship!

LTC . Pleier appointed me as Harbormaster, Vung Tau, with supervision of the
subports @ Dong Tam, Vinh Long and Can Tho. This was after I had set up Dong
Tam Port. He brought me out of the delta and back to Vung Tau. One day he
asked me if I could act as a pilot for a Navy LST and take it to Dong Tam and
beach her there for unloading and any backloads. I had never handled and LST
before, but what the heck, it had two screws and rudders, and a stern anchor,
so what kind of trouble could I get into. It was made to run aground, and I
knew how to do that!
So off I go to LST Beach Vung Tau, board over the bow ramp of the LST loading
out and report to the Captain on the bridge, A new LST and a new LCDR,
Captain. I presented myself to him with salute and a " Good Morning Captain,  
I am CWO Frothingham, and I have been assigned as your pilot to Dong Tam."
You've never seen anybody come unglued so fast in your life. "No Army SOB is
taking the ship of mine anywhere!" was the first words I heard from the now
red faced, red necked Captain. I said , " Fine, We need a new lighthouse
anyway, Bon Voyage, I'll report to MSC, that you have declined pilot services
and are going to make the trip on your own!", I saluted, about faced, and
made my way down to the bow ramp. There was a Ltjg, waiting there for me, he
said, " The Captain is waiting for you in the wheelhouse." I said , "No, he's
not he just chased this Army SOB off his ship." Well he would like you to
return to the bridge. So about face again, and again report to the Captain on
the bridge." Are you really a pilot? ".he inquired as I reported to him again
.Feeling my oats, and being a smart ass kid from Brooklyn, my reply to him was
"Are you really a Captain?" What is your background that makes you a
ship handler in the Army?," he asked. " Captain, I am not here to take an
examination from the Navy as to my abilities to pilot this vessel, I was
assigned by the Port Commander acting on a request from your bosses at MSC
to take this vessel to Dong Tam and put her on the beach and get you
unloaded!", "Those are my orders , Sir if you don't want an Army SOB,
piloting your vessel, I could care less, as I said before, we could use
another lighthouse along the route and it seems like you just volunteered to
do the job ". Seething with anger he said to me in a very tense statement
with blood in his eyes", Alright mister, we'll be done loading at 1300."" I
said fine Did he want to retract from the beach or did he want me to do it? He
said  he would retract from the beach and get us to the river entrance at
which time I could take the conn. I said I would wait in the wardroom, and to
please send for me at the river entrance.. Well to get to the matter, we got
to Dong Tam after dark, and we anchored out in the main river waiting for
daylight to enter port. I requested we darken ship and show no exterior
lights so we didn't become aiming light for a VC mortar tube.
In the morning we started in, I told the Captain, that we were going to hit a
mud bump in the entrance, but to keep her in gear and we would slide right
over it. We bumped as predicted, and made the tight little turn to line up
with the newly constructed LST Ramp, We got lined up, dropped the stern
anchor, opened bow doors, and headed for the beach, dead slow ahead, drag on
the anchor wire, until just off the ramp, I moved the conn to the bow, dropped
the ramp, made contact, all ahead slow, two broaching lines out, and stop
engines. We are there!, I came back to the bridge, and reported to the
Captain," We are beached at Dong Tam, and Thank You Sir. Believe it or not,
the expression on his face was one that I will always remember, and he
apologized , and said he was impressed with the talent he didn't think the
army possessed and he did write a nice letter to my CO. He asked me how many
times I had piloted  vessels, because I appeared very sure of myself, and
gave the right commands at all the right times. It would have been fun to
tell him that this was my first time putting an LST to the ramp, but that
would not have been the right thing to do to him. So I just told him that I
had made many landings, which was true, but just not LSTs'.

\Long winded story, but I had fun doing it!!! The Army /Navy rivalry

Army Y Tanker

Y100 with CWO3 Ferguson in white T shirt entering Dong Tam.with a POL Load.
Jim and I became shipmates again in the Panama Canal in 75/76.

Army Small Tug

A shot of ST2198 at Dong Tam 68. She suffered a little battle damage there

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