Patches and Uniforms
used to signify different levels of qualification
was authorized locally in lieu of the Small Craft/POIC
pin. I think between 1973 until late 1984 the pin
was not authorized for issue. So, an OD patch with a
silver PCF and a black PBR superimposed on top of it
was made locally for wear on the left, top pocket
flap of the utilities/BDU’s. The stars were color
coded originally as stated. Blue for Crewman, Red
for Boat Captain, Silver for Patrol Officer. In
early 1984, the star colors were changed by GMGCS
(SW/DV) Ray Stewart to Blue for Crew, Silver for
Boat Captain and Gold for Patrol Officer. Remember
the times…. Stewart didn’t like the idea of his Boat
Captains running around with red stars on their
After the Pin was
reauthorized, we continued to wear the local patch
until HPU became SBU-26.
We started wearing
Vietnam era cammies, and then switched to BDU’s.
Until we got rid of all the ‘Nam era stuff and
enough of the BDU’s it was not uncommon to see the
two mixed and matched. I myself was issued the mixed
variety when I checked aboard. I went to the Army
Uniform shop to get sets of BDU’s that matched. The
first few orders sent to HPU even had winter BDU’s
in the mix. When the Marine exchange was out of
hats, we had to wear army caps. You can see me with
one on in the “HPU Rats Get Ready for Fun” pic that
Scott Cruse submitted in his section here. I’m the
guy sitting on the gunwale of the Ramo Raider with
the M203. I was taking the new guys on an Escape and
This stuff was
overlooked because we were an unknown unit in the
far corner of the world that the supply chain didn’t
know about. Getting simple things was sometimes
difficult. No one was authorized to wear Tiger
Stripes. Stewart would kill you if you did. Looking
back they look rather silly anyway. The only truly,
at the time, outlandish thing was Sam Green’s beret
that was in the old WWII Marine Corps cammo pattern.
But, that was Sam. Stewart was already gone then.
Sam’s in one of the pics here talking on the radio
inside the pilothouse of PCF-4.
BDU’s were the
standard fare at 26. Modifications to them were
acceptable for the “OP Cammies”. Remove the pockets
on the blouse. Sew the bottom pockets on the chest
and the smaller top pockets on the upper sleeves and
tuck you shirt into the pants. This was good so you
always had access to your knife scabbard/case and
your holster. Some guys wore the low-rider holsters
but they sagged and since you at least seemed to be
in knee deep water at any given time, a pancake
holster worked better for me and my boys in Det
For headgear well,
that all depended. Most guys wore bush hats, some
utility caps some black berets. My boys wore starter
team ball caps when we were just cruising I’m a
Redskin fan so I wore a Maroon cap. If I was hiding
I’d wear an OD bush hat, which had better visibility
than the wide brimmed BDU one. Most of the time
though, no hat would stay on. You had to have one
of the Doo-rags for a neckerchief that you get out
of a first aid kit. If it rained that tropical
downpour stuff I had some clear shooting glasses on
with my doo-rag over my mouth and nose like a bandit
to keep from drowning in those big drops of rain at
50mph. Well extravagance in some gear seemed to be
better than getting your dick pierced. Everyone had
the now dreaded fanny packs. Mine was kind of large.
I had some freeze dried food, a purification suction
tube for water, .45 mag (So, I’m a Purist, My logic
later), Spare 5.56mm mag, pencil flares and my
monkey….a spare can of Copenhagen. Don’t need the
jitters on an E&E.
Lock lines. 150 ft
mooring lines required by the PANCANAL Commission as
well as a Boat Operator’s license, also required.
See my Life in the Locks article for the fun that
could be had locking through.
Don’t let anyone tell
you a sea snake is only found in the Pacific and
Indian Ocean areas. They can lock through just like
The Gaillard or
Culebra Cut is the place where most of the guys that
built the canal that didn’t succumb to malaria,
died. It runs north form the third Miraflores Lock.
The builders blasted through the continental divide,
not an impressive as you think. They didn’t cut
through the Rockies but it was imposing in those
days. Mostly because of the landslides. On the west
side is Contractor’s Hill. It is set back from the
waterway a couple of hundred yards. On the east side
however, is Gold Hill. At times rocks can fall on
your boat. Got dusted by a few pebbles once in my
PBR days with HPU.
There is truly a
traffic signal at the north end of the cut to tell
southbound traffic if a ship is moving north in the
cut. Two large vessels cannot pass there.
As I said in the HVT
article, Gatun Lake is manmade. The boy line runs
along the old Chagres River bed. The islands in the
Lake are actually submerged Hills with their tops
protruding above the surface. Frequently, outside
of the buoy line are the tops of 70ft tall tropical
hardwoods. A tough life for any boat. PBR’s did ok
as long as they stayed out of the banana weeds. You
know the ones you pay a fortune for at the pet store
for your fish tank? Same ones. PCF’s, PBL’s and PB”s
had a problem with the “stumps”. In the HPU days, we
worked with the US Army Boat Company at Ft Davis.
They would load something like a 2 ˝ ton or 5 ton
truck and clear a path through the stumps.
Twenty-Six had Jorge, BMCS (SEAL) George Angered,
and yes he lived up to the anger (another story). We
would go out with C4 Charges in an F470 and blow the
stumps. I always thought that the LCM with the 5 ton
worked more efficiently but it was a nice intro to
Best part of the
Lake….here comes a fish story...is, in fact, the
fishing. More to the point, Peacock Bass fishing.
Bless the heart of the man, who, when the Lake was
initially filling up, brought back a couple of
thousand bass fry from Venezuela and dumped them in.
I swear and the guys will tell you, if you don’t
catch 50, yes 50 fish in 4 hours, then Bob’s your
Uncle. Between the Bass, Turtles and Caiman, one
never starves on MRE’s.
An odd note of fact.
Next to our training Base Camp just north and west
of Gamboa, there is a creek named Quebrada Agua
Cuello, Or for those that don’t habla, Butt Water
Creek. Now is it coincidence that and entire SBU
survival class came down with Leptosclorosis (Spell
Check)? Seems when the dry season occurs from
November through May, the water level in the Lake
drops up to 7 ft. The streams and runoffs dry up.
The beasties come out from deep in the jungle to get
water at the Lake’s edge and of course, the piss and
shit mostly just inland where they live seasonally.
When the rains start in May, this old waste
disburses just around the water’s edge, as not
enough rain has fallen to dilute the nastiness over
a wide area. It is, so to speak, concentrated where
we play. Since a half mile swim is the first thing
the students do in the morning, except to walk to
the water and add their own piss to the brew, the
entire class went on a free helo ride to Gorgas Army
Hospital. Good thing we had an LZ that was cleared
by none other than, you guessed it, George.
MMMM, Let’s Go Fishin’!
The Only Bridge
At the north end of
the Canal, near Limon Bay, is Gatun Locks. The final
three chambers before you’re in the Caribbean. If
you transit though, no problem. If you trailer the
PBL’s overland, which is much faster, then you have
to cross “The Bridge”. The Bridge is on top of the
last lock doors, on a northbound heading. To get to
Jungle Operations Training Center (JOTB) at Ft
Sherman, one must wait for the doors to close. You
have until the ship in the chamber is ready to head
into Limon Bay and ultimately, El Caribe. Many a
good driver has gotten hung up on those pop-up rails
that fold down when the doors open. Obviously not
made for a boat trailer but, that kind of thing
never stopped a Boat Dude, did it? Pissed off a
Lockmaster or two though.