Bill Adkins - Beirut trip


ETC(CC) Bill Adkins, USNR-Ret  SBU-24 to Beirut


I was stationed at Special Boat Unit (SBU) 24 at NAB Little Creek from 1983 till 1985.  Our command was a Naval Reserve Facility (NRF).  We had about 60 active duty personnel but we swelled to about 240 one weekend a month with Reservists.  I was there as an active duty sailor.  My first CO was LCDR (SEAL) Tom Truxell.  I was trained as a 9533 NEC Electronics Technician on both Seafox and MK III Patrol Boats (PB). 

During the fall of 1983, we sent a DET of Seafox and MK III PBs out on the USS Fort Snelling (LSD-30).  Our CO then was LCDR Ross Brooks.  SBU-20 (our sister boat unit) also sent a DET.  The ship picked up US Marines in Morehead City and not long afterwards, they were diverted to Grenada for a short vacation (ha ha), and then onto Beirut. My DET was the replacement crews for those first guys, and we were prepped and ready to go. 

Here’s my recollection of our deployment to Beirut in January 1984.  We flew out of NAS Norfolk in an old C-118 USN Reserve prop plane.  The crew chief wouldn’t let the pilots take off until he saw a small stream of oil blowing out of the engines.  He said it showed that we had oil pressure.  Next stop was Bermuda.  After we left there, we flew at 10,000 feet (non-pressurized) all the way to the Azores.  We could see the faces of the crewmembers when we would fly over a commercial ship.  We landed late in the Azores and they opened the chow hall to feed us.  When we took off later that night, we flew into the tail end of a water spout that threw sailors all around the plane, and up into the overhead.  We thought it was cool, like riding a roller coaster.  That is until we landed later and the crew chief told us how close we were to ditching the plane.  He said the pilot was a Vietnam Vet, and plenty smart.  He kept the plane from stalling and saved us from going down in the ocean that night. 

Our next stop was Sicily.  As I recall, we spent the night outside Palermo, and the Italians were the craziest drivers I’d ever seen.  This is where I first tasted espresso and I still have the receipt from the hotel.  We spent most of that night, drinking and playing with the bidet in our hotel room (dumb sailors).  The next day, we flew in a C-130 (jump seats) all the way to Cyprus.  I believe the city was Larnaca.  After we de-planed, the Cyprus Police kept us in one corner of the runway, under a machine gun guard.  The US Navy sailors stationed at that runway had long hair and wore civilian clothes.  They even had civilian passports. 

From Cyprus, we caught a CH-53 helo that flew us out to a big amphib (don’t recall the ship).  The CH-53 helo pilot was a full-blooded Cherokee Indian and wore a red headband under his helmet.  From the big amphib we loaded onto a CH-46 that took us to the Fort Snelling.  Once on that ship, we stowed most of our gear in the CONEX box and then it was over the side and down a Jacob’s ladder into the waiting MK III PBs (I don’t remember the PB hull numbers, but they may’ve been 775 and 777).  

We headed into Juniyah, a little city just north of Beirut, which was our home port in Lebanon.  In Juniyah, we were only allowed “Wall Liberty” which meant we were able to peer over the wall (between the barbed wire) at the locals.  The women all had olive complexions and seemed prettier than I would’ve thought.  There was a beautiful statute high on the mountain overlooking the city, but the only thing I thought of was, it would’ve been a good place for someone to shoot a mortar from.  We had two options for taking a bath.  One was a spigot on the perimeter wall – all cold water.  The second was a bucket in the engine room of the PB.  At least that gave us hot water. 

I remember the beer at that base as being very strong, and there seemed to always be stuff floating around in it.  The other thing that stood out was the delicious chocolate candy bars.  Both items were locally made and seemed to taste much better than I would’ve thought. 

We had one memorable patrol where we escorted a US Marine landing craft from the beach, out to one of the waiting LSTs.  We heard there was an ambassador or someone important on the landing craft, but we never heard who it was.  One of the crewmembers on my PB said they saw bullets zipping over the water by our boat, but I didn’t see them.  I was too busy manning the 20MM on the port side sponson.  I don’t think we were scared, but we were aware of the gravity of the situation.  We were very well trained before we left the US. 

We didn’t patrol too many days before the big brass determined we were to either head home, or head to the Gulf.  So we followed the Fort Snelling down the coast into Haifa, Israel to on-load the PBs and await their decision.  The only thing wrong with that plan was the Israeli patrol boats patrolling the Haifa harbor.  They let the ship into port, but wouldn’t let our PBs in.  Even though we were flying the US flag and clearly were Americans, they held us at gunpoint for a few hours until someone at a higher level cleared up the misunderstanding, and they let us in. 

We spent a day or so in Haifa before the PBs were loaded onto the ship, and then it was decided we would head to Spain, and then home.  Along our way across the MED, we had to clean the PBs and the ship from top to bottom so we could pass “de-snailing” in Rota (that may be an outdated term nowadays).  The morning after we cleaned the ship, we awoke to find an inch of sand on the whole ship from a sand storm off the North African coast.  The QMs said we were about 200 miles off the coast, so that sand had to blow a long way.  Anyway, we had to clean everything all over again. 

We spent a few days in Rota and then headed home.  Half way across the Atlantic, the ship lost steering twice.  Each time we ended up steaming in circles, waiting for the crew to repair the problem.  So all in all, that entire deployment was fairly short.  The guys we were supposed to replace came back home with us, but they were over there when the Marine Barracks was bombed, and when the Fort Snelling ran into and sank a commercial ship that refused to yield the right-of-way.The rumor was that the commercial ship was on a suicide mission, but I don’t think that was ever proven. 

Some of the guys from the original crews that I remember were:  ET2 David Kotvis, EN2 Bob Davis, and ET1 James Rosekelly.  Some of the guys in my DET were: QM2 Mike Tuepker, BM1 John Dudzic, EN3 Paul Ewing, BM2 Scott Mercer, and EN3 Mike Uyeda (killed later in Honduras along with a Navy SEAL, while clearing waterways for the locals).  There were others (see the attached SBU-24 DET group photo) but I can’t remember their names.  I was on watch the morning that photo was taken. Our OIC was a tough old SEAL Warrant Officer named “Bos’n” Holland.  My memory is not what it once was so I hope others from that time will write in and add to this.  Thanks for letting me ramble.

v/r, ETC(CC) Bill Adkins, USNR-Ret

Me on C-130 with Scott snoring

Me on deck.

Me on watch


Mike Tuepker on Fort Snelling

PB Bow 40MM

Mike Uyeda and Scott Mercer

Me on Fort Snelling

Juniyah, Lebanon

PBs on Fort Snelling helo deck


Loading PBs in Haifa

PB escort into NAB

More PB escort

SBU-24 DET on Fort Snelling




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