GMC John M. Staehle, USNR (Ret.)
12-05-08 GMC John M. Staehle, USNR (Ret.)
It's good to know that we small boat sailors are still out there.
I went into the Navy in 9/69 to 8/73 and after going to GM “A” school found myself going to Naval Inshore Operations in Vallejo and having the first ride on LSSC and other small boats. During that school from 4/70-6/70 I went through SERE and three of the camp guards were from the USS Pueblo. That was quite an experience for all. After completing NIO and learning who the SEALs were all about as they were are instructors for the most part many of us went to BSU1 in Coronado, at the end of the piers and watched as the BUDS students ran to the chow hall every day and back to the beach, we knew we were in for training with a SEAL det as a boat crew for MSSCs was being put together about August 70.
I was a GMGSN at the time and volunteered for the boat crew. After about 4 more weeks of night training with a SEAL det as the bad guys we were sent over to ‘Nam on a creeking Navy DC-6 right to Saigon.
After reporting to the Navy command and receiving signed orders by Adm. Elmo Zumwalt himself we were sent to Can To where we met the OIC of all SpecWar in the area. Our MSSC and LSSC operated from Solid Anchor at the time and our patrols were closely watched by the VC and as often during the day as night we were fired upon with automatic weapons and sometimes B-40 rockets, two of which hit out MSSC below the waterline but never detonated with enough force to injure anyone. After many night ops the SEALs in the area conducted a daylight raid on a heavily fortified VC compound and blew everything sky high with the help of the Black Ponies. The next night VC sappers swam up to an Alpha and Mike 8 and blew them clear out of the river. That was the only big attack on SF/SA that I recall while I was there, I’m sure Bob Stoner has more stories. If you get a hold of him, ask him about having to toss 2 mint condition WW2 Tommy Guns into the river after taking them apart! He’ll love that story!
Around Thanksgiving we moved back to Can Tho for re-fit and re-painting the boats and liberty. We were surrounded by real Navy and they didn’t think too highly of us until told by myself who we were attached to, when an O-2 bought me drinks for the rest of the morning after I had respectfully told him that by saluting him I would make him a good target for a VC sniper. The SEAL det OIC made him apologize and he felt kind of insignificant for rest of the day.
Around Christmas we moved up the Delta to Bac Lu/ Bihn Thuy near an Army FAC base were the Sea Bees built us hootches and we proceeded to operate there until March ’71. No one in the boats or SEAL team got hurt, wounded or anything in spite of the action. All the while there we heard the stories about the ANZACs and how they conducted ambushes on the VC and never lost anyone, I think the SEALs adopted many of their tactics. 12 guys in a circle with firing points pre-selected are pretty hard to pin down!
When I got back to Coronado I was assigned to the PTF squadron on Boat #20, as a GMGSN my duty was on the Sea Mortar/.50 cal mount, the best combination weapon I had ever seen. Our MSSC in ‘Nam had a 60mm Sea Mortar mounted on the Starboard stairwell.
Along about Sept ’71 we were training to go back to ‘Nam on the PTFs but that never took place, one of the boats did come back with bullet holes in it from ‘Nam but no one was supposed to know were and what it was doing there. We found out later.
As of April ’72 I was transferred to the Great Grey Fleet and the USS Mount Vernon (LSD-39). At least I was still part of the Gator Navy!
After a long break in service I went back on active duty in 1981 as a GMT and made Second Class during that time while assigned to NAVMAG Guam and then the USS John F. Kennedy. As I mentioned I then went directly into the Reserves in Little Creek after getting off active duty in June 1985. I went to the SBR-2 HQ and worked with the Chief Staff Officer’s Department. They read my service record only to find out I had been with BSU-1 years ago and made me the Supply and Logistics PO for the new SEAL boats at the time, the one’s with the colapsing canopies, Sea Fox if I’m correct. I also served in the weps shop and kept my quals in small arms and the M-60 and M2 machine guns.
After numerous assignments in the NAVSTA Rota Det 0167 including Base Police and Instructor I retired from SelRes in 1999 after making GMC, a goal I had set in 1969 during boot camp in Great Lakes, my CC was a GMGC and definitely made an impression on me that has endured all challenges and I would never trade anything for the experience.
Thanks very much for the opportunity to share this with you.
John Staehle, USNR (Ret.) firstname.lastname@example.org
I'm glad you've been in touch with Jim Gray and Jim Thomas.
There were several sapper attacks that I remember when we were at SF/SA.
The mining of LSSL HQ-225 was one (30 July 1970, if I recall). Two halves of a 55-gallon oil drum filled with plastic explosive and floated down with inner tubes with the current to snag her anchor chain. Both mines pivoted on the cable strung between them when it fouled the anchor chain and hit her midships. The explosions broke her back and she went down in about 5 minutes with quite a few of her crew.
One sapper attack was on USS GALLUP (PG-85) on 23 August 1970. The VC tried to mine the PG that was anchored about 1000 yards off the West end of SF. The swimmers were flushed by a skimmer boat on patrol. One of the sappers was killed by the bow sentry and a couple others were killed by Mk III concussion grenades in the water. I know two bodies killed by the grenades were recovered later.
The RAG boats got mined while nested up at the West end of the SF base on 25 September 1970. I recall that at least one or possibly two were sunk and others damaged. An Alpha got torn loose from the nest and was floating backwards with the current. (I was in the UDT shack when the explosion went off; I peeked around the side of the hut just in time to see the boat go floating past with its stern on fire.) Anyhow, BMC Leon Rauch (SEAL) ran down to the beach with about four other guys and borrowed an LSSC. He took off after the drifting Alpha boat, caught it, and while two of the other guys fought the fire, he got the engines started and beached it to keep it from sinking. He saved the lives of the two Vietnamese sailors aboard (they were knocked-out by the blast) and won a Bronze Star with Combat "V" for his bravery. The next day, he went out and was ambushed with his 14-man Kit Carson Scout (KCS) recon group of Viets. He was able to get extracted under fire by helo and received a a gold star device in lieu of second award of the Silver Star. I don't know if you met Leon, but he was one crazy guy. He and his brother-in-law, Bob Searls ran the KCS camp across the canal that formed the East boundary of the SA base.
A photo of Leon as a PRU advisor. He was a twin to actor James Coburn.
Tossing two mint Thompson guns in the river is downright sacrilege. I carried an M3A1 Grease Gun. I'd have loved a Thompson! Damn.
One thing that I'd like you to do John, is to look over the MST/SEAL/UDT rousters on the Warboats.org site (under the Vietnam section). You may find some names that jog your memory cells. Better, you may be able to help us complete some of the missing names.
Glad you are aboard with us. BTW, if you have any photos, we'd love to post them on the site.