U.S.S. Montrose Crew Give Hearts to Vietnamese
The following article was published by the Star Newspaper in Glendale, California on
July 27, 1967. The Montrose Elementary School, which had adopted our ship, saved
this story and other memorabilia pertaining to the USS Montrose. When the school
closed down in 1979 they gave everything to the Glendale School District. A picture of
the USS Montrose still hangs in their administrative offices in Glendale, California.
Pacific Fleet Amphibious Force navy men from the attack transport USS Montrose
(APA-212) have put their hearts, minds and professional talents to work in Vietnamese
fishing villages along the Long Tau river, Saigon's river route to the sea.
Volunteers from the Montrose joined U.S. Army advisors in friend making civic action
projects at the strategic villages of Can Gio, Dong Hoa, Thanh An and Can Thanh.
Some weeks ago, after the USS Montrose anchored in Vung Tau Harbor near the river
mouth, an army advisor visited the ship and outlined the situation in the river villages, their
needs and the opportunity for giving them aid. The amphibious warship's crew
immediately set in motion a plan for an effective "People to People" program in the four
villages located within a 20 square mile district.
To carry out the program, USS Montrose had 25 pallets of Operation Handclasp material,
paint and plenty of willing volunteers available. The crew got some wooden crates from
the USS Askari (ARL-30) for repair work and additional supplies from the USS Kemper
Operation Handclasp in the designation of the People-to-People program in which U.S.
Navy ships transport items donated by Americans to needy people all over the world. This
material normally includes toys, clothing, medicines and various other items.
For the next three weeks until she weighed anchor, at least one landing craft departed
USS Montrose at dawn with materials and volunteers almost every day. Usually included
were the ship's doctor, Lt. Donald E. Banicki, his assistant Hospital Corpsman Third Class
Michael E. Mycka (who has since been transferred) and Dental Technician Third Class
Michael A. Hancock.
In each village there were two basic objectives in addition to medical aid. These were
projects which gave tangible results and allowed the people to do the work so they could
take pride in it.
First the schools and dispensaries were painted under the supervision and instruction of
the Montrose "Amphibians". Then Handclasp material was distributed to vietnamese
troops who protected the villages, families and school children.
After the Handclasp material presentation in Dong Hoa, the village mayor invited the USS
Montrose sailors to a picnic in appreciation for giving a helping hand.
"Perhaps the most lasting results of the ship's trips to the fishing villages will not be
brightly painted schools and a little tooth that no longer aches", said Capt. Donald C.
Davis, then skipper of USS Montrose, "but a better understanding of the Vietnamese by
those who chose to help and the remembrances in young minds of those who came to
Captain Davis was relieved on June 24 by Captain Gautier and will take command of the
aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk at Long Beach in August.
Ed Nicholls USMC/US Army Ret.
A year or so ago, Russ McDonald and Tom Gamel were remembering a Marine
mascot named Combat, who had traveled with the Marines aboard the Montrose. He
had been quite a hit with the crew. "Wonder what ever happened to that dog?", Russ
asked. Tom gave Mac one of those looks and dryly commented "He died Mac!". they
both cracked up at the obvious absurdity. "You know what I mean" said Mac. "Did he
make it back to the states and have a good life?"
Recently Mac came across an article written for the 3rd Marine Division, personal
stories. Both uplifting and sad, it answered his questions about a special little dog, at
a special time in many of out lives. The following story is taken from that article, in
Regimental landing team-7 (RLT-7) had suffered culture shock, homesickness, heat
exhaustion, heat stroke and jungle rot. They had stings and bites from a wide variety of
They had been in-country since March. Most had lost at least 20 pounds. They had lost
a dozen buddies to "Victor Charlie". It was a fierce summer, in a horrid place.
When RLT-7 commenced "Operation Starliet", August 1965, the temperature was a
brutal 110 degrees, 96 percent humidity, but these were lean, mean, hungry, hot green
Marine "grunts". Gyrenes with spring steel muscle and no padding. Like the predator,
their eyes were always searching, never still. They wore the same uniforms they'd worn
back in the "World"; wool socks, full black leather combat boots and long sleeved, cotton
utilities. Word had it, they might be getting jungle utilities and flack jackets one day soon
(an old story to the grunts). Each man carried on third his weight in munitions, C-Rats
and explosives. They had trained to be the best fighting men in the world.
The first big battle of Vietnam began in multi-unit force. The enemy were the 1st NVA
Regiment, 60th and 80th NVA Battalions (rein), and the 16th VC Brigade. It was their
During the 12 hours of savage fighting on August 18, forty-five Marines lost their lives,
two hundred and three were wounded, eight of whom later died. Two Medals of Honor
and seven Navy Crosses were awarded for sacrifices that day.
To Lcpl Ed Nicholls, a former LAPD cop, the number of casualties were hard to imagine.
Not only his fellow Marines, but a reported 600 to 2000 of the enemy. It was the start of
a new war term, "Body Count". During a lull in the battle, one of the Marines found a tiny,
emaciated puppy in a burned out village near An Coung. The puppy was put in the care
of Lcpl Nicholls. He was so small, he fit nicely into an M-60 ammo pouch. The Marines
named him "Combat".
Combat adapted quickly to Marine life. After a first disliking, he even learned to enjoy
ham and lungers, pork sausage, pound cake and even peaches. Each day he became
more like a Marine grunt; smelly, ornery, cranky..always looking for shade. No one could
be too chummy with Combat; he was his own dog. He grew larger on the Marine chow.
If you gave him too much affection, he'd do a "wild thing" on your leg. Many a 10 1/2 EE
boot made contact with his derriere. To Combat, it was all part of being a mascot, part
of a Marine thing. After Starlite came Operation Piranha. Combat stayed behind with the
gear. He didn't make Triple Play or Blue Marlin I & II. He became the REMF (Rear
Echelon Maintenance Force), the envy of every Vietnamese cook, a fat little rascal.
Wherever the troops went, Combat went with them, stoned to the gills (ala US Navy
Corpsmen Goodies). He traveled on board the troop ships from RVN to Okinawa, to the
Philippines and back to RVN. He participated in jungle training on Okinawa and drank
San Miguel beer with the Marines in Subic Bay before returning to DaNang, late
He was with the Marines at Cade Song Bridge (Namo, Dia Loc, An Tan and Hill 367.
Because of his enlistment with the Marines, Combat picked up friends back in the
"World". His picture was in major newspapers and he began receiving fan mail. A
kindergarten class in Costa Mesa, California would draw pictures of combat and send him
notes, wishing he and his Marine friends well. The teacher, Miss Darcy, sent many
packages to Combat, via Lcpl Nicholls.
Alas, Ed Nicholls became a "short timer", then he was next, and finally he was GONE.
Sadly for Ed Nicholls, the "dawg" stayed in Vietnam with a new master. Years later, Ed
learned Combat had been killed in action (KIA) near DaNang, by a VC "booby trap".
Sgt. Nicholls eventually returned to Chu Lai on a second tour. Now retired from the
military and living on his Texas Hill Country ranch, the Sergeant gazes off occasionally and
imagines he sees Combat, that wonderful little dog, wagging his tail, dog grinning,
mooching a tidbit or happily eyeballing a shapely boot. Combat was the only thing that
made any sense in Vietnam.
Always Remembered... "Rest in Peace"...Semper Fi, Old Buddie.
|ROOTIN', TOOTIN' HUMDRUM SHOOTIN
On the way to Hong Kong on Sunday June 11, 1967 we picked up an international distress
call from the ship "Winsome". She was sinking. We changed course and hurried to help
her. We arrived at 14:22 and the waves were filled with debris; she had already gone
under. A Russian ship had arrived first and rescued the crew of the Winsome.
In the sunken ship's debris were three large drums which were considered hazardous to
vessels entering that area. "Mighty Montrose" went to General Quarters and on mount 41
nd from 16:30 to 16:45 fired away at those drums. In 15 minutes of pounding out rounds
she didn't score a single hit. If memory serves the Russian ship had already left (Thank
God). At 16:54 "Rose" again opened fire, this time with a 50 caliber machine gun. I don't
remember if we hit them with the 50's but the log said "unable to sink three drums" and at
17:21 we departed the scene.
If only those drums had held still! Can't help wondering if they're still out there
somewhere...destroying ships! Isn't there a picture of DON JOHNSTON on page 117 of the
1967 cruise book, as a gunnery officer teaching his gunners mates how to fire a machine
I was on "medical guard" for the entire ships squadron one Friday night. At that time the
"Ramblin' Rose" was berthed at one of the docks in Subic Bay.
About 2300, I received an earnest call from our own Executive Officer to proceed
immediately with a medical rescue team, consisting of two corpsmen and four Marines (for
carrying purposes). The garbled report was that one of our own crew had apparently "died"
in our of the numerous girly joints in Olongapo, called The Green Door, while being
"entertained" by one of the hostesses.
Upon arrival, since this was the rainy season in the Philippines, there was mud everywhere,
and we had to walk about an eighth of a mile from the base perimeter, to what passed for a
road in the town, through mud that came up to the top of shoe level. At the Green Door bar,
where there was a great deal of excited screeching from the hostesses, we were quickly led
into a small upstairs cubicle, complete with wall crucifix, where a huge mound of a man,
naked from the waist down, was lying prone on a cot. On sight, just the size of the man
caused a few groans from my two corpsmen.
Quick examination soon proved that not only was this sailor not dead, but that he was in a
stupor induced by Filipino Rum and (we found by questioning other patrons) 'Red Devils',
given to the sailors by the hostesses, allegedly to give them greater potency. The
combination was particularly dangerous since it caused sedation to the point where even
basic breathing reflexes could be diminished and cause unconsciousness and ultimately kill an
affected person. This is what probably had occured to this guy while he was being
Our subject was none other than our own Chief Bos'n Mate, otherwise known as "Moose"
who, apparently, had been up and down the ranks from Chief to Second Class, more than a
few times, for undetailed previous transgressions. He also weighed in excess of 300 pounds,
which was still permissible in the Navy at that time.
Needless to say, it was a very big hassle to get this dead-weight body onto a stretcher,
down from that cubicle, and back through the mud to the ship's Carryall, which doubled as a
makeshift ambulance, even with all six strong young men straining to carry such a load. To
make it worse, it also was raining, as only it can rain in the Philippines. I heard a number of
profanities, that were very colorful and some that I had never heard, before or after, from the
stretcher bearers, including some pleas to just dump the s.o.b. and let him drown, to do him
and the Navy a favor...It even was a tremendous job to get him into the Carryall on the
Once back at the wharf where the Montrose was berthed, it soon became obvious that there
was no way that this guy could be hand carried up the gangway, since, at best, only four
people could possibly maneuver this way, and he literally was dead weight. One of the
options actually considered was putting a pup tent over him at the base of the gangway, with
a Marine guard, until he could be roused, but this was quickly negated for a lot of reasons, as
It was then that I made a request of the young O.D., out of my ignorance of the Navy in what
I was asking, and not knowing how much risk this would entail for this young Ensign, if he
I asked if we could possibly winch Moose aboard to the deck with one of the booms. Within
5 minutes this was accomplished, after some of the Bos'n's own men rigged a sling to
allowed us to winch him aboard, aided immensely by the fact that the Captain
was not aboard, attending a party at the Subic Bay Commandant's place. (I later found that
this whole caper had had tacit, but not "official" approval from the Exec., who knew that
Moose was one of the best Bos'n Mates in the Navy when he wasn't drunk and didn't want to
lose him in that capacity for the rest of the cruise.)
The cadre of Chiefs who were aboard quickly got Moose down to the sickbay, where we
poured in I.V. fluids to wash out the Seconal and booze. They also spirited him away the
next morning as soon as he awoke, groggily, and apparently none the worse for wear. This
also avoided having to log him in as a sickbay "patient" with all the attendant paperwork and
explanation for his sickbay time, which went daily to the Captain.
My official report of the incident was basically of a "false alarm" with report of death of
American serviceman, unfounded.
I had found that the crew of the Montrose was basically wary of any new officer, medical or
otherwise, until that officer revealed himself as to his own characteristics. Shortly after this
incident, I found that both the crew and most of the officers were far more open and trusting
in discussing not only physical ailments, but in discussing family problems or any interpersonal
problems they were having, the traditional role of the physician, as a trusted friend, rather
than that of just another member of the brass. I owed that to 'Moose', who by the way,
really was one helluva Bos'n.
|STORIES OF MY NAVY CAREER
Roy R Ridderbusch
USS Montrose APA-212 1963-1965
The Montrose was a troop transport. She could carry 1500 troops and their equipment. At
meal time, the tables on the mess deck would be raised and the troops ate standing up.
That was so they wouldn't get too comfortable and would clear the area as soon as they
were done eating. Their bunks were seven high in some quarters.
I was the first Master Chief on the ship. I relieved a warrant officer. Having an enlisted
man replacing an officer didn't go too well with the other officers and t hey didn't know how
to treat me. I did my job and stood my watches like the other chiefs and every thing
worked on me.
The ship was scheduled for a FRAM (Fleet Rehabilitation And Modernization) and of
course, it would be in San Francisco, not our home port of San Diego.
Once the ship was in the yard, all hands were moved to an APL (floating barracks). The
ship was completely shut down; boilers and engines were overhauled, air conditioning was
installed in the living quarters and reading lights were put on all the bunks. The mess deck
was redone as well as the galley. We were busy checking and approving the yard work as
it was completed. On long weekends, which was about once a month, I would fly to San
Diego to see my family. The four month yard period went by pretty fast and soon we were
on sea trails and underway training. After a few practice landings with troops, we would be
on our way to West Pac, for a six month deployment.
Jim Garvey reported aboard shortly before we shipped out. We immediately became
friends. He was from Boston, my friend Russ was from there, too. I must have a "thing"
with people from there.
On arriving at Pearl Harbor, Jim suggested we go to the Willows restaurant in Honolulu. It
was very nice. We ate in a large outdoor, garden area. Ducks wandered in and out
between the tables and koi ponds. The restaurant was famous for its mile high coconut
cream pie. After finishing our meal, we ordered their famous pie, only to be told that there
wasn't any left. So much for their pie! The next time we were in Pearl, Jim said "Let's go
to the Chinese restaurant again" I said "We never went to a Chinese restaurant." He said
"Sure we did, the We Lo". That's what we called it from then on. We had a fine dinner that
night, but again they were out of mile high coconut cream pie. On our last trip to Pearl, we
again went to the We Lo, again no pie. Jim asked the waiter, "How do we get the famous
mile high coconut cream pie?" The waiter replied, You have to order it when you make
your reservation." We never did get back to order the pie. Years later, Leona and i were
celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary in Honolulu. We found the Willows restaurant. It
was now under new management and was truly a Chinese restaurant. We looked at their
menu, no mile high coconut cream pie; so we went to the Crouching Lion restaurant and I
finally got my pie! No reservations required.
Jim and I made our liberties together. We stayed clear of the waterfront beer joints. He
said "It costs only a little more to go first class." We would go to fine restaurants and
sightsee places that sailors seldom got to. When the ship was in Kobe, Japan, we took a
train to Osaka for a weekend. People there were not used to seeing navy men. One
person asked what four gold stripes on a sleeve meant. Jim said those would be captain's
stripes. The man then said, in broken English, "You captains?" pointing to our hashmarks.
We let them think we were captains and had a great weekend.
The Montrose was busy with practice landings, several were made at White Beach,
Okinawa. Sometimes there would be liberty after the exercise was completed. There was
really nothing at White Beach, so we would go to Kadina Air Force Base near Naha. There
was a nice NCO club at the base. On our way, we passed a rock formation that looked
somewhat like a monkey. It was a few miles in the distance and I made the mistake of
wondering, out loud, how a person could get to Monkey Rock. Jim told me how to do it,
"You go to Monkey Rock Road, on to Monkey Rock Creek, which is a tributary of Monkey
Rock River, cross on Monkey Rock River/Creek Bridge. He went on and on, thank God we
got to the base before his story ended on how to get to Monkey Rock.
We took troops in to Pusan, Korea. There was no liberty for the electricians. We were
responsible for the movies. We picked them up at the movie exchange, showed them and
then returned them to the exchange. Somewhere, someway, one of the films disappeared,
perhaps stolen. They were valuable on the black market. We were all restricted to the
ship until the film was returned. (the missing strawberry syndrome) We never found the
films, perhaps it left with the troops. After we left Korea the restriction was lifted with no
Promotions came in while we were in Subic Bay. The fellows in engineering who made new
rates, bought a pig in Olongapo. A Philippino family roasted it for them and they put on a
regular luau. All the engineers were invited. It was quite a party, better than handing out
While at Subic, Jim and I went into Olongapo for dinner. Jim liked gin. Only locally made
gin was available and Jim had a couple of drinks of it. We were walking past a restaurant
when Jim said he thought he was going to be sick and running around the corner of the
building, he threw up. Then he noticed that he was standing in front of a large window.
People were looking out, their dinners ruined. Jim retreated. Back at the ship he told the
story, only in his story I was the one who threw up in front of the restaurant window. For a
long time, even Leona believed his story. I had a hard time setting the story straight.
We were sitting in the chiefs quarters discussing our up coming trip to Hong Kong.
Someone wondered if Mary Soo would be out to the ship to pick up the garbage and paint
the ship. Our cook said he thought Mary Soo was dead. When we got into Hong Kong,
Mary Soo was standing on the pier at Fleet Landing. She ran up to the cook and said "Why
you tell I died?" To show him she was really alive, she invited him to dinner, saying with a
laugh "I don't give you Montrose garbage, I give you carrier garbage. They had a fine
dinner at a good restaurant. How she knew the cook had said she died, I'll never know.
Going between ports we usually carried a thousand troops. Sometimes they were
replacements and other times they were there for training. We very seldom went anywhere
without troops, the exception would be going to Hong Kong. That was for R&R for the
crew. We needed it after hauling troops for months.
We left the States in January, it was now August and we were back. It had been a long
"six" month deployment. We went to the yard in Long Beach, so we had to commute to
San Diego to be with our families. I put in my papers, requesting retirement for June.
The Montrose was to make a practice landing, called Operation Silver Lance, at
Oceanside. We picked up marines at Pearl Harbor, bringing them to San Clemente. We
formed up there with other ships and started to land the troops when we received orders to
stop and backload the troops. The war in Viet Nam had escalated. We returned the troops
to Pearl Harbor. Picking up new troops, we took them to Okinawa to replace troops that
had been sent to Viet Nam. Our three week operation had turned into three months.
My time was getting short. The Captain tried to convince me I was too young to retire from
the navy, but this last operation convinced me it was time to get out. June 18, 1965 I was
transferred to the Fleet Reserve and I was piped off the ship, with the remaining chiefs as
my side boys. As I reached the pier, I heard the call to set the special sea detail. That
was one call that I didn't have to answer and it felt strange, but I knew that I did the right
thing. My career in the Navy was over.
|THE AMBUSH OF MIKE 2 ON THE SONG TRA BONG RIVER
By Russ McDonald
As told by Dale Pickett
The day started like any other day in the Navy onboard Montrose revalle at 0600 and
sweepers at 0615. We had been steaming all night with "TASK GROUP 76.5"
composed of Valley Forge LPH-8, Monticello LSD-35, conducting "Special
Operations" in accordance with Conseventhflt employment.
At 0655 Montrose detached from the formation. At 0720 Montrose set the Sea and
Anchor Detail. Montrose went various courses and speeds to Anchor in Baie de Dung
Quat, South Vietnam. Ships present include various units of the U.S. Seventh Fleet.
SOPA is CTG 76.3 (COMPHIBRON FIVE) embarked in USS Paul Revere APA-248.
The Montrose had received orders to send a "Mike Boat" (LCM) up the "SONG TRA
BONG" River to help a LST running low on fuel oil. Montrose Mike 2 was picked and
manned by Ens. Albrecht as Boat Officer, Dale Pickett as Boat Coxswain, D.P.
Hartman GMG-3 Boat Gunnersmate, R.H. Guptil ENFN, Boat Engineer, C.R.
Westlake SN and K.N. Alexander SN both Mike 2 crew members.
They cast off from Montrose and entered the mouth of the "SONG TRA BONG" river.
They were to go about a mile up river and turn and find the LST. They had gone for
some time and seen nothing, Mr. Albrecht and Pickett decided they had missed a turn
and gone too far up river. Mr. Albrecht gave the order to turn around and go back
down River. On the way up river they had seen a lot of villagers on the banks of the
river swimming, cooking and fishing. They gave no reason for the boat crew to be
alarmed. As soon as they turned back down the river and around a bend all hell broke
loose. The crew heard automatic weapons fire. They then noticed it was coming
their way. All hands were ordered to take cover as the rounds were hitting the boat
on the starboard side.
Dale Pickett opened up both engines to get out of danger of the ambush. The boat
crew was ordered not to return fire as there were a lot of innocent people in the
area. One round went through the skin of the boat and hit the Starboard engine block
and rendered the Starboard engine useless. Through the skills of boat handling
exhibited by Dale Pickett the boat was able to limp back to Montrose without further
action. In closing Dale said, "I think God was watching over us, and I thank him for
not being taken prisoner or killed in this action."