New Material at end of page

The Mysterious Sinking of LCU-63{short description of image}

{short description of image}
329TH Transportation Company
VIETNAM
Heavy Boat
   
Personnel Lost
Dennis I. Day,
Richard C. Dority,
David L. Ginn,
Perry C. Kitchens,
Arlie R. Mangus,
Jerry D. Martin,
Calvin A. Norris,
James R. Pantall,
John D. Shewmake,
David W. Woods
Billie Hammond Peeples 
{short description of image} 
  Robert Garcia, Edmund Sugdinis, Lee Manning, Ralph Grambo 

Material from Robert Garcia

Source: Compiled from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews. Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK in 1998.

The Incident

SYNOPSIS: The 5th Transportation Command (Terminal) had the duty of running the extensive Qui Nhon port and served under the U.S. Army Support Command, Qui Nhon. The 5th Transportation Command was later deployed to Da Nang, and had Battalions serving Vung Tau and Cat Lai. Among its duties were support of amphibious operation and supplying ammunition and ordnance to operational units, primarily by heavy boat.

On the afternoon of November 2, 1970, Sgt. Dennis I. Day, Sgt. Richard C. Dority, Sgt. David L. Ginn, Sgt. Perry C. Kitchens, Sgt. Arlie R. Mangus, Sgt. Jerry D. Martin, SSgt. Calvin A. Norris, Sgt. James R. Pantall, SFC John D. Shewmake, Sgt. David W. Woods, and PFC Billie Hammond Peeples were the crew of a landing craft, LCU #63, which departed Da Nang en route to Tan My, South Vietnam on a resupply mission.

The LCU was a heavy craft able to carry large loads of ammunition. At 1010 hours on November 3, 1970, helicopter pilots sighted the craft capsized about 5 nautical miles south of Tan My port. In an initial search by air/sea rescue, however, no sign of the crew of the LCU were observed. There was no apparent hostile action, and the reason for the incident is unknown.

On November 6, the remains of Billy H. Peoples were recovered near Cu Loi Island, fully rigged in a life jacket. During the period of December 4-20, attempts were made to salvage the craft and locate the crew. Divers gained access to all compartments and voids of the craft, but no survivors or evidence of remains were found. Pieces of clothing, small arms ammo, cans and a radio were recovered. On March 16, 1977, the body of Perry Kitchens was returned to U.S. control and subsequently positively identified. There has been no word of the rest of the crew. The missing eight men were all presumed to have drowned, and the U.S. Army believes there is no chance to ever recover the eight men missing from LCU-63.

There are several discrepancies in the case of LCU-63 which should be noted. First of all, the U.S. Army, the State Department and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Directory lists all the crew except Peeples as Sergeant, Staff Sergeant, or Sergeant First Class, which are ranks one grade above those listed by Defense Department and Joint Casualty Resolution Center records. The lower grades are listed as follows: Ginn, Martin, Pantall, Peeples - E3 or PFC; Day, Dority, Kitchens, Mangus and Woods - E4 - which can be either Corporal or SP4; Norris - E5 or Sergeant; Shewmake - E6 or Staff Sergeant. Secondly, the Memorial Directory lists the entire crew with the exceptions of Peeples and Kitchens as missing on 4 November 1971 (a year and a day later than all other records). Third, the military occupational specialties of all 10 men on whom information can be gathered are classified. It was not uncommon for promotions to be given during the period between the time personnel went missing and the time they were declared dead.

This group is classified as having had "non-hostile, died while missing" deaths, leading one to assume that for a brief time, at least, they were declared missing, so that it might be possible to have attained a grade increase during that period. It is uncommon, however for grade increases to be given to those whom are considered dead and non-recoverable. It was also uncommon for a group of 18 and 19 year-olds, as was most of this crew, to attain the rank of sergeant.

Given that the LCU sank with no witnesses, and sank in the proximity of an island, it is imaginable that the crew could have survived to be captured. This could be said to be supported by the fact that Peeples was found fully outfitted in his life jacket. It is, of course, only conjecture. Tragically, thousands of reports have been received that indicate Americans are still being held captive in Southeast Asia. Whether the LCU crew is among them is certainly not known, but they could be. The evidence suggests that hundreds are alive, waiting for their country to free them. It's time we got answers.


Material from Ned Sugdinis

As I remember my friends and the 63

Early November 1970 I was a crew member on the YOG 56, it was a small tanker. We would refuel all the military boats and facilities in Da Nang.

We also would travel out of Da Nang. One night the 63 came in for refueling. They were on their way to deliver a cargo. But not an ordinary cargo. This one was all covered, but I did see the markings on the crates. Billy Peeples was one of my best friends, along with the rest of the crew. I remember that one of the sergeants had his foot in a cast, but he was making the trip anyway. Billy had been a member of our crew for a short time, but his home town buddy was on the 63. He transferred there.

They left after dark from our position after taking on a full load of fuel.

We heard of the tragedy the next day.

As I was informed, the entire cargo was missing, along with the crew. One member of the crew was found, with what was believed to be a hatchet wound to the head. He was found some miles from the wreck. The rest of the crew was never found. I found out a short time later that it was Billy. Divers did indeed get inside, but as there was so much sand and silt in the compartments the search was given up on. The army then sent a demolition team to destroy the capsized hulk. Thus destroying any remaining evidence.

Speculation was that they were boarded at night and the crew killed in their bunks or captured. Although the divers did report that there were no bodies in the living quarters. There was no storm or squalls reported that night that could cause the craft to capsize. My skipper was one of a few select sailors to try and capsize an identical craft. All to no avail. We tried everything, but the craft would not capsize. Speculation was that another larger craft had pulled it over. This would explain why none of the cargo was found. A search of the shoreline showed no heavy equipment or recent trails had been there.

In 1989 I wrote a book, A Lighterside of Vietnam. In this there are no stories of blood and guts, it contains only the crazy stupid things we did to maintain our sanity. I have a dedication page in it. "Dedicated to Billy Peeples, the crew of the 63, and things never done." It is available from me for $6.75 plus $1.50 s&h, but in honor of those we lost and your wonderful web page retelling this, lets make it $7.00 total. Thanks for listening


Material from Lee Manning

At the time of the incident involving the LCU, I was the Tan My Port's CO driver. I do not recall how we heard of the 'sinking,' but the CO, XO, and myself we headed to the wreckage within a very short time (by jeep). The only signs of humans was on our arrival at the site of the LCU, and there was a small fishing village on the west shore of the island and the LCU was beached on the east shore. Village children told us "VC got them," and I do not recall seeing any Vietnamese adults. The LCU was almost totally upside down at maybe 165 degrees from upright, buried in the sand and showed no visible damage. Likewise, we did not see any signs of cargo - no pallets, debris or anything similar to indicate that the villagers may have looted the boat. In fact, I do not recall many, if any at all, footprints near the boat. I don't remember the tides, but I thought it puzzling that the LCU was so close to the shoreline. I seem to remember it only being 10 - 20 feet from the waters edge and buried in sand as if it had been there quite a while, although we reached it the morning after it was overdue. It was obvious the wheelhouse was very deeply imbedded in sand and angled toward the sea. For some reason we did not attempt to climb aboard the LCU, maybe because it was pretty clear that we had no chance of access, plus we didn't have any equipment with us. Also puzzling is that the LCU was well within radio range of the Tan My Operational Control Center and should have had no trouble calling in the event of a distress, but no call was received. I do not remember how or why, but our CO must have turned over the recovery efforts to another unit, although no other US personnel were on site when we returned to Tan My. To my knowledge that was all that our unit had to do with the incident. If anyone has specific questions maybe my old tired memory will be jogged into action. Lee  

Also ironic, I saved an article from the Stars & Stripes newspaper about the incident, and I have it in my scrapbook. Here is the text of the article: ---------------

LCU Missing, 11 Lost

Compiled from AP and UPI DA NANG, Vietnam -- An air and sea search was continuing Sunday for possible survivors of a U.S. Army landing craft utility (LCU) boat with 11 men on board which apparently capsized in the choppy waters of the South China Sea while carrying ammunition from here to Tam(sic) My. A body, tentatively identified as one of the crewmen, was washed up on the shore of Cu Lau Re island Friday, some 25 miles east of Chu Lai and 125 miles south of the capsized craft.

The spokesman said murky and hazardously shallow water is hampering recovery operations. No survivors of the stricken craft have been spotted since the boat was reported overdue Wednesday, he said. The spokesman said that air and sea surveillance are continuing in the South China Sea off the entire coast of northern South Vietnam. "The Army is investigating the incident," the spokesman said. At least half dozen other American servicemen were killed in other incidents during three days of heavy flooding in the northern region a little more than a week ago. The floods, spawned by two typhoons and a tropical storm that hit the region within a two week period, took a toll of more than 200 Vietnamese dead. At their peak, the floods left more than 200,000 homeless. ---------------

LCU Problems?

I found the following that may be of interest:

Operations Report - Lessons Learned for Headquarters 5th Transportation Command for Period ending 31 October 1970

Page - 4

2. (C) Lessons Learned: commanders Observations, Evaluations and Recommendations.

c. (C) Shallow Port Watercraft

(1)(C) Observation: Numerous problems have been encountered in the operation of 501 class LCU's. The age (25-27 years) coupled with a shortage of repair parts has resulted in a serious deadline rate. One LCU began to break up during a small storm. Although rescued and towed back, it was beyond repair and was deactivated.

(2)(C) Evaluation: Continued operation of the 501 class LCU poses a major problem of repair and safety.

(3)(C) Recommendation: All 501 class LCU's be examined for structural defects, condition of all machinery, and need to the command.

[Declassified NND927622]

Opinion of Former Skipper of LCU63

YES I DID SKIPPER THE LCU 1563 AND IT WAS COMMON PRACTICE TO SAIL AT NIGHT SO AS TO ARRIVE AT DAYBREAK, AND WE ALWAYS SAILED ALONE.

YES THE ACCOMMODATION HAD WATER TIGHT COMPARTMENTS i.e. THE OFFICERS CABIN THE GALLEY AND THE CREW'S QUARTERS WITH THE WATER TIGHT DOOR OPENING INTO THE WELL DECK THAT WAS NORMALLY LEFT OPEN AS WAS ALL THE OTHER DOORS.

I HAVE SAILED THE LCU 1563 IN SOME VERY HEAVY WEATHER AND NEVER HAD ANY PROBLEMS WITH HER, IT IS POSSIBLE SHE WAS TAKEN TO THE BEACH AND BROACHED AND FLIPPED OVER BY A BEAM SEA??? BUT WHO KNOWS. I STILL HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THE RANK STRUCTURE OF THE CREW ALL BUT ONE BEING NCOs

 

Excerpts from the Official Incident Report

Excerpted from the official report supplied by Bill Wandall who was President

FINDINGS

  1. Established the Identity of the crew.
  2. LCU 63 was moored at Tien Sha Ramp on 2 November 70
  3. Positive ID of the members of the crew on board
  4. Additional positive ID from Y-118
  5. LCU 63 departed Danang in the afternoon of 2 Nov, communicated by radio.
  6. LCU observed heading in the direction of Tan My by LCU 64
  7. LCU was sighted capsized at Grid coordinates YD 925 275, 5 nautical miles south of Tan My Port at 1010 hours 3 Nov by helicopter
  8. Action taken to salvage the craft from 4-20 Nov
  9. Divers gained access to all compartments and voids of the LCU63. No survivors or bodies were found.
  10. A visual search of the area was conducted by the salvage team
  11. The body of PFC Billy Peeples was recovered by military authorities on 6 Nov on Cu Lao Island South of Chu Lai. An autopsy revealed that death was due to drowning.
  12. 12. Testimony taken from villagers in the vicinity of the capsized craft indicated that the villagers saw the craft floating upright and later saw the capsized craft in the water. They also stated that they observed ammunition boxes floating around the draft and it appeared to be without crew or power.
  13. Recommendation: The board was unable to determine the causes of the incident and the actions of the crew cannot be determined.
  14. The crew was determined missing in action
  15. PFC Peeples was dead.
  16. Further investigation by Military Intelligence was recommended.
 

Material from Royal Australian Navy Salvage Team

The following information from the Australians working with us helps to clarify what happened to the LCU and the cargo.  Please visit their website and sign the guestbook.

http://www.gunplot.net/

http://www.gunplot.net/vietnam/CDT3SVN5.html

Our tasks varied from dealing with booby traps through to major salvage operations. During the typhoon season in November 1970, a U.S. Army YFU carrying 150 tonnes of 81mm and 105mm White Phosphorus shells had capsized off the coast to the north of Da Nang and was driven ashore on a remote section of beach near the village of Tan My. Four team members along with U.S. Army Divers and a U.S. Navy Salvage team, all under Jake's command, were immediately flown to the site aboard CH47 Chinook helicopters to commence salvage efforts. Sadly, none of the eleven YFU crew members had survived. Conditions were atrocious with typhoon 'Patsy' still in full force. After numerous attempts in high surf conditions, tow lines were finally attached and passed to Naval tugs standing offshore . Repeated efforts to tow the craft to seaward were finally abandoned in favour of attempting to drag it further up the beach using bull dozers and tank retrievers. This too failed, so a ramp of sand was built by the dozers to afford easier access to the hull. With the weather abating, the hull was opened and the ordnance removed, and I'm sure to this day, the wreck remains, embedded in the sands of Tan My. I have a vivid memory of this task when after several days on site, we radioed for a re-supply of drinking water and rations. When the chopper arrived, it was loaded with C rations and cases of warm Budweiser beer. When we asked, "Where's the water?", the crew Chief replied with a smile, "We heard you guys needed a drink". Warm beer and cold C rations on a miserably wet day are a little tough on one's digestive system.

http://www.gunplot.net/vietnam/CDT3RVN6.html

On 3 Nov 1970, as the MSC 116 salvage operation was drawing to a close, NSF personnel, returning by helicopter to DaNang, observed an overturned YFU grounded near shore off Tan My. US Army Support Command, DaNang confirmed that YFU-63 and its crew were missing and requested the assistance of Commanding Officer, US NSF, DaNang. An initial investigation of YFU-63 on 4 November indicated there was no possibility that any of the eleven crew members were trapped alive in the compartments. Commander Seventh Fleet was requested to provide a salvage ship and salvage operations began on 5 November with the assistance of USS COHOES, a large fleet tug, a NSF diving barge, many salvage personnel, perimeter security forces, and much equipment, such as air compressors, pneumatic tools, cutting torches, tow wires and heavy lines. Efforts to pull YFU-63 off the beach and to right her were severely hampered by adverse weather and heavy surf conditions. Nevertheless a helicopter, two tank retrievers and two bulldozers were added to the salvage forces and efforts to recover the craft continued until 15 November when, after Herculean efforts to refloat or parbuckle YFU-63 were unsuccessful, it was necessary to cut into the hull to remove ammunition and other material and to search for bodies of crewman who might have been trapped in compartments. In spite of heavy seas constantly breaking over YFU-63 and perilous diving conditions, the salvage team recovered the ship's engineering log, quartermaster's notebook and other documents but discovered no bodies. On 21 Nov 1970, with a tropical storm imminent, Commanding Officer, US NSF, DaNang determined further salvage efforts were no longer feasible and terminated the operation.

Summary

It is clear that the LCU-63 was lost under mysterious circumstances. Possible causes:

 

What do you think? If you have more information to add to this story please contact us.

The eleven men lost deserve to have the complete story told here.

{short description of image} {short description of image} {short description of image}