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Vietnam-era 'Sea Tigers' patrol boat returns to Fort Eustis

Fort Eustis' museum gets a Vietnam War era patrol boat to highlight a little-known Transportation Corps unit.

DAVE RESS/THE DAILY PRESS

By DAVE RESS | The Daily Press | Published: February 9, 2021

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (Tribune News Service) — They were a small, tight-knit crew of Army Transportation Corps soldiers who came to Vietnam to run a combination barge and truck but who took on the dangerous work of patrolling harbors and rivers — and now, Fort Eustis’ museum has one of their boats to make sure nobody forgets their hazardous service.

The “PBR” — Army talk for riverine patrol boat — arrived Monday from Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, where it had been stored for decades. A couple of old “Sea Tigers,” as the 458th dubbed itself, plan to swing by this week to help U.S. Army Transportation Museum staff learn about the boat.

Getting it to Fort Eustis was a project — trucker Joseph Brooks, an Arizonan who specializes in hauling oversize heavy loads, had to dodge a weekend snowstorm as he hit the Virginia line. The soggy ground after the weekend rains meant lifting the 8-ton boat and easing it into in the museum’s outdoor rail yard was a muddy challenge.

“It’s another example of a part of the Transportation Corps that people don’t realize exist ... not even some in the Army,” said museum curator Marc Sammis.

Fort Eustis, long the home of the corps, still houses the 7th Transportation Brigade — sometimes called the “Army’s Navy,” because its soldiers run the boats and tugs that bring military supplies the final few yards to shore. They’re also the Army’s longshoremen, moving cargo at places that rarely have the cranes, wharves and road connections of commercial ports.

The 458th was formed in World War II to operate the Army’s amphibious trucks and continued to specialize in operating vehicles that could drive from the land into the water and back again.

Operating those amphibious vehicles was the unit’s initial mission when it went to Cam Ranh Bay in 1966, at which time it was the only such unit in the war zone.

In 1967, the Army sent it six Boston Whaler powerboats and a new assignment — patrolling the vital harbor, an attractive target for sabotage.

The 32-foot-long PBRs came in 1968. A crew of two Transportation Corps soldiers — a coxswain and engine room specialist — teamed up with a military policeman and a Vietnamese translator to take on harbor security and patrols of some 500 miles of rivers and canals in central Vietnam.

Visitors to the Fort Eustis museum can see an small exhibit about the Sea Tigers in the section of the museum devoted to the Vietnam war. The patrol boat is housed in the museum’s outdoor exhibit of Army locomotives, rail cars and tank-carriers. On the other side of the museum, an outdoor exhibit of Army watercraft includes two of the amphibious trucks the 458th and other Army units operated in Vietnam.

dress@dailypress.com

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