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    Remembering A Navy Legacy during the Tet Offensive

    Remembering A Navy Legacy during the Tet Offensive

    Photo By Douglas Stutz | Honoring a Navy legacy…retired Chief Boatswain Mate Jerry Irvine was surprised with...... read more read more

    He wasn’t a Navy doc, nor nurse, or hospital corpsman.

    Yet on the field of battle, his concern for others saved many a life.

    Long before retired Chief Boatswain Mate Jerry Irvine was delivering salty quips when receiving medical care at Naval Hospital Bremerton, the grizzled veteran was providing his own type of health care during a bitterly contested combat campaign.

    It was 55 years ago, January 31, 1968, when the Tet Offensive was launched by the North Vietnamese Army as a coordinated invasion of the south.

    Irvine was smack in the midst of the offensive which would drag on until September, from major cities to rural hamlets, river valleys to shallow waterways, rutted roadways to pitted tarmac.

    He was mentioned prominently in numerous dispatches, such as on February 25, 1968, ‘where as a courageous chief petty officer with much combat experience, during the first attack in Tet Mau Than, he advanced under enemy fire, conducted patrol boat river operations, directed precision fire destroying the North Vietnamese regular forces in the south bank of the Perfume River, raised the siege for friendly forces at Con Dau near Hue, effectively providing protection to the vital supply ships going to Hue, which contributed substantially to the reoccupation of the city. Irvine and his PBR team were also responsible for helping to ferry military and civilian casualties out of the immediate lines of fire. For this he was awarded the Gallantry Cross (Vietnam),’ read the dispatch.

    Boats, as he was affectionately called by all who knew him at NHB, attests that his team was in so many fire fights that they simply became a normal part of the day. They would go back to their floating barge base for ‘beans and bullets’ and then head back out. There were times on a routine three-day patrol that they would be so fatigued, that they didn’t care, they just up and did their jobs.

    A few months later on May 30, 1968, a 15-man Marine Corps combined action platoon was in ambush position with popular forces around the hostile village of Thon An Duong. The CAP reported being surrounded by enemy forces and taking personnel casualties from hostile fire.

    Six PBRs, led by Irvine and two other chiefs, sped to the rescue. Despite coming under enemy fire, they evacuated all of the Marines and South Vietnamese troops without any further casualties. Because of his expert handling of his units, his courage under fire, and expert direction of his unit’s fire within 50 feet of friendly positions, the massacre of the entire CAP unit was prevented.

    While serving as a PBR patrol officer and boat captain in the Navy’s River Patrol Force, he participated in 215 combat patrols on the island waterways of the Mekong Delta and I Corps. His patrols involved the boarding and searching of indigenous craft, enforcement of the curfew, assisting Popular Force Outposts under enemy attack, aiding friendly forces in search and destroy operations and medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) of numerous wounded personnel.

    His patrols also played a vital role in securing a landing zone for MEDEVAC and resupply helicopters in the besieged city of Hue during the 1968 Tet Offensive. His patrols were instrumental in maintaining the flow of supply craft to and from the city of Hue throughout the month of February and greatly enhanced the defeat of the NVA and Viet Cong forces in that city.

    On March 27 and 28, Irvine’s patrol participated in the destruction of an entire NVA company which had moved into Toan Tuan Hoa Village on the banks of the Perfume River.

    The Bronze Star, with Combat “V” for valor, was awarded to Irvine for meritorious achievement in connection with operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force while serving in the Republic of Vietnam, from September 20, 1967, to September 18, 1968.

    “BMC Jerry Irvine was the epitome of an American hero, amazing chief petty officer and gentle soul. He gave more to this country than anyone I’ve seen during my time. His commitment to the Marines he saved are noted in his bronze star citation and what he did in combat,” said retired Master Chief Hospital Corpsman Tom Countryman.

    Irvine ended up doing three tours in Vietnam, serving on nine ships, including being assigned to River Section 523 in the Mekong River Delta, and with River Section 521 near the ancient Vietnam capital of Hue.

    By the end of that first day of the Tet Offensive, more Americans were killed in action – 246 – than on any other day during the Vietnam War. For the entire offensive, the NVA and Viet Cong sustained huge casualties with losses were estimated anywhere from 40,000 to 60,000. Civilian losses in the fighting were reported at over 7,700.

    Irvine became an unofficial adopted son of NHB, volunteering ample time and effort such as holding classes on what he considered to be the dying art of nautical knot work. When deployment waves of active duty were departing and returning home in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, he was there. Retirements. Notable Navy anniversaries, he was present, even when it became difficult.

    With his health failing, Irvine passed away, March 26, 2017, at age 82.

    “We say we stand on the shoulders of American heroes who came before us. I was honored to stand on his shoulders and be in his presence. He was the kind of American hero who only comes along once in a lifetime,” Countryman said.

    “This country lost a true American hero and patriot. He loved his family, this country, the Navy and his fellow chiefs. He was a great friend and shipmate,” added Casey Pruett, NHB Suitability Screening and Exceptional Family Member Program coordinator.



    Date Taken: 01.31.2023
    Date Posted: 01.31.2023 17:39
    Story ID: 437579
    Location: BREMERTON, WA, US 

    Web Views: 128
    Downloads: 1