Interview with Jeff Bramblett, Part 5
This audio interview details Jeff Bramblett’s time with the U.S. Coast Guard during the Vietnam War. In this segment, Bramblett discusses his unit’s mission in Vietnam and also describes his training at SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) School.
BRAMBLETT: My … My conception of time … I know when I got there. I remember a couple of dates: December the fifth was a horrible day. The Coast Guard was … was lucky. We didn’t lose a lot of people there and yet we … We had … For us it seemed like we had a lot of people there but we were so … such a small service. We had twenty-six boats. There were thirteen men to each boat. Our division’s headquarters … the three different headquarters … probably had thirty people at each one of those and we only had like eight or nine officers in Saigon that dealt with MACV (Military Arm Command, Vietnam). So when you consider that the Army and Marine Corps at times had a quarter of a million people there. Our numbers were small.
WONGSRICHANALAI: What was your specific mission as a service … as a branch of the armed forces?
BRAMBLETT: Our specific mission in Vietnam was to stop the flow of personnel, weapons, and supplies from … leaving South … Mekong Delta and going towards Saigon, and being … being dispersed into the rest of Vietnam to supply the NVA and the Viet Cong people. That was our … That’s what we were set up and … and … and trained to do. The small boat operations … When I was on the small boat, we did a lot of reconnaissance for the Mobile Riverine Force … Get it off … It’ll come off … Be the first time it’s ever been off. [Chuckles] [Mr. Bramblett took the pin on his cap off to show to the interviewer.] That was our insignia for the Mobile Riverine Force. It’s … What you’re looking is obviously an anchor, the two things that cross it are actually matchlock muskets and the reason for them being matchlocks was that was some of the first armed rifles that we had in … in the world. People didn’t know much about them and we were learning as we went. We didn’t … We didn’t know how to go about doing what we were doing but we did a dagum fine job of it and so that’s how that came about. And the Mobile Riverine Force Association is … I’m part of … But this was actually the patch that we wore when we wore a patch. Most of the time none of us carried any type of identification on us. If we were captured, we were going to try to refrain from giving out any information for at least three days because for … They figure if you can hold out for three days under interrogation, that you will … nothing you can tell them after that will be very vital. We went through a training program called SERE before we went. That’s S-E-R-E (Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape). And part of that, you go through a POW … a week of it … You go through a POW camp where you’re brought in, you’re literally stripped down, all your clothes are thrown into a pile and after they search you … and they’re pretty brutal. You actually sign a paper before you start the training that says you relinquish all your rights as an American citizen, that you have no rights just like you will have no rights if you’re a prisoner of war. They’re not going to hurt you to the point that you’re not going to be able to go to Vietnam but they did things like put us in very small boxes. They stood me in water one time because I wouldn’t give them any information and I literally had to stand on my tiptoes to keep my mouth out of the water. And it was cold. It was in the mountains of Southern California, a place called Warner Hot Springs. It was a Marine Corps owned … Camp Pendleton is … It’s part of that base. They wore uniforms of the … of the North Vietnamese. Quite a few of them could speak Vietnamese and so when they were around you, they didn’t speak English to each other. They spoke in Vietnamese. It was a pretty tough week. You really start to think that … Your mind starts telling you that this is never going to end. And that’s what they’re trying to do to you and they’re good at it. When it’s over with, you … you really wonder. I saw one man break. He actually stood in front of us and had been put in a uniform of the Vietnamese … the North Vietnamese and he was standing there cutting up an American flag. He snapped, literally snapped, and they used that. They say it doesn’t happen very often but I don’t know. You only know what the week that you’re there. But … It was that tough. It was real. It seemed real.
WONGSRICHANALAI: So if you didn’t pass they probably didn’t send you to Vietnam.
BRAMBLETT: Right, right. Yeah, but they wanted you to pass. You were expected to go. That man, from what I heard, I don’t know for a fact, but I heard that he was actually discharged under medical discharging because he did break down.