Port Charlotte man haunted by Vietnam memories

Bill Schwartz was a “River Rat.” He was a brown water sailor who skippered a PBR patrol boat in the Mekong Delta area of South Vietnam in 1968 during the Vietnam War.

When he arrived in ‘Nam he was a 1st Class Signalman attached to the 593rd Boat Division as the skipper of a PBR 32-foot fiberglass patrol boat. These boats were light, fast and lethal.

“I could turn a 360 on a dime in my boat,” the 78-year-old former Navy man explained. “We had twin .50s up forward, an M-79 grenade launcher amidship along with an M-60 — .30-caliber machine-gun — on a stand there, too.”

This was Signalman 1/C Bill Schwartz’s PBR patrol boat skipper in Vietnam. He and three crewmen took on the Vietcong and the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) while patrolling the Mekong Delta in South Vietnam in 1968. He is pictured amidship. Brown, his chief gunner in the stern, was killed during a firefight with the enemy. Photo provided

These boats ran 30 knots full throttle and once on a plane they could speed along in 4-inches of water. They could almost chase the VC and the NVA troops into the woods.

One incident he was involved in during his first tour in Vietnam has haunted him for decades.

“We had gotten an intelligence report that upwards of 1,000 VC were coming through the jungle into our area at night,” Schwartz said. “The report said there was a main body of VC, about 500 troops, preceded by two groups of 100 VC each.

“We snuck into the area aboard two patrol boats and covered ourselves up pretty good. We sat there for several hours and waited for them. Then all of a sudden our white mice, our interpreter, said, ‘Okay guys, lock and load.’

“He told me before he got up and walked toward the two lead figures in the jungle, ‘If they start to lift either arm, shoot ‘em!’

“I didn’t know it at the time, but two 16-year-old girls were leading the VC into our area. Our interpreter turned a Q-beam (light) on them. When they started to lift their arms I emptied the 20 rounds in my M-16 (rifle) on ‘em,” Schwartz said.

Then all hell broke out from above. Three Huey helicopters, with infra-red equipment with them had been tracking the enemy soldiers from overhead. They opened up on the troops in the bush with their Gatling-guns.

“The next day we found about two-thirds of the VC soldiers dead in the jungle. They had been killed where they stood from the withering Gatling-gun fire,” he said.

“After I killed the two girls our white mice walked up to their bodies lying on the ground and cut open their blouses with his knife.

“’I want to show you why you had to do what you did,’” he told Schwartz.

“On their breasts were hand grenades with partially pulled firing pins. A wire on their arms was connected to the pins. If they lifted their arms that pulled the pins and when that happened they blew up and my white mice and I would have been blown away too,” he explained.

The drill:  the “River Rats” were on patrol in their boats for 12 hours at a time. A crew of four: consisting of a skipper, two gunners and a mechanic manned a PBR patrol boat. A two boat team would search the Mekong River or wherever for enemy trying to infiltrate the area or move equipment through.

When they weren’t on patrol they were sleeping or chowing down aboard the LST “Hornet” docked at the big Navy base on the Delta in South Vietnam. After 10 days of constant patrolling they’d get a little time off. If they were lucky they would go to Bangkok, Thailand for R and R.

One night when they were in the lead patrol boat, the second boat was hit by a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) that didn’t explode.

“It hit right near where the boat’s captain was standing. They had to helicopter in a demolition expert to extract the RPG,” he said. “After that the boat continued on its way.”

Occasionally Schwartz’s boat crew would dream up some shenanigans on its own.

“We were out in the ‘Horseshoe,’ in the Delta doing some patrolling with another boat when one of my guys said, ‘I’ve got my water skis on the boat.’ Seemed to me like a good time for us to go water skiing,” Schwartz said with a grin. “I asked the j.g. aboard and he agreed.

“We were out there skiing in the Mekong River when a helicopter flew over and ordered me to pull the boat up to the bank. The chopper landed and out stepped Gen. (William) Westmoreland (commander of all troops in Vietnam),” he recalled.

“We got our tails chewed out. He wanted to know who the boat captain was. I told him it was me. Then he wanted to know: ‘Who authorized you to water ski?’ I said, ‘He did’ and pointed to the j.g.

“Okay, you people better get back to patrolling. I never want to see any more water skiing,” the general admonished.

Then he flew off in his chopper.

This is Bill Schwartz when he retired from the Navy after 30 years in 1978. His wife, Althea, is on his arm during the retirement ceremony held at the San Diego Naval Base. Photo provided

With 30 years of Naval service under his belt, a crow on his shoulder and gold hash marks up to his elbow, each signifying four years of service, Chief Bill Schwartz retired. It was October 1978 and his wife, Althea, was on his arm as they were piped over the side in a retirement ceremony at the San Diego Naval Base. The couple moved to Port Charlotte that same year where they have lived ever since.

Schwartz’s File

Name: William I. Schwartz
D.O.B: 26 August 1931
Hometown: New York, NY
Current: Port Charlotte, Fla.
Entered Service: 12 October 1948
Discharged: 24 April 1978
Rank: Chief Petty Officer
Unit: 593 Boat Division
Commendations: Purple Heart, Presidential Unit Citation, 2 National Defense Service medals, Good Conduct Medal
Battles/Campaigns: Mekong Delta

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Friday, August 6, 2010 and is republished with permission.

Click here to view Schwartz’s collection in the Library of Congress.

Click here to view the War Tales fan page on FaceBook.

Click here to search Veterans Records and to obtain information on retrieving lost commendations.

All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be republished without permission. Links are encouraged.


  1. Greetings, I am a probation officer in Oklahoma. I have an offender on my case load that says he was a river rat in vietnam. He is an african American. I have not been able to validate the information he has given. Were their any african American river rats in vietnam? Has anyone published an roster on the men who served in this unit?
    Brian Jasper

    • Brian – You should be able to verify his military background by getting his DD-214 (Military Discharge Papers). This is a single page that explains who he is, where he came from, what his military service was, his unit, when he got in and out of the service. It should provide everything you need to know about the guy. The government is making it easy – http://www.archives.gov/veterans/ is the website. Ask for specifically a DD-214. If you know his unit, you can probably find if that unit was River Rats.

      Thank you for contacting me and good luck with your search.

    • Yes, River Division 593 had several black members. During 1969/70 we lost my shipmate Nedward Estes, from Hiram Ga. The Navy was fully integrated before the 60s.

    • Sir..I was on a p.b.r. stationed out of Binh Thuy in the delta from 67 to 68…if i can help..contact me…

  2. Dear sir,if you google tf116.org the river patrol of Gamewardens there are men’s names beside their units. Also, ask him what division he was in and then you can check the guys who are listed in the same unit. He could have been in the Mobile Riverine Force, so you would have to check with the mrfa org which you can find if you google.

    Also, he could have served with the Swift boats so there are three different river rat units and the 9th Infantry also consider themselves river rats and they are listed with the mrfa org.

  3. To. Brian. Jasper. Comment if any blacks served. In the. Brown water navy. I:M. A American. Indian and. I served brown water navy I Corp DANANG, QUI TRI. YOU THINK ONLY WHITES SERVED ASS HOLE , WHITE MICE , THAT’S YOU BRIAN

  4. I think the man in the hat (in the pic on the boat – Signalman 1/C Bill Schwartz’s PBR patrol boat skipper in Vietnam) is my dad – even though the caption indicates it is CPO Schwartz. What can I do to confirm yay or nay?

    • Chris,
      I appreciate the info about the mistakes in the “Wild Pussy” B-24 Story. I’ve made the changes and updated the story. Check it out.
      Don Moore
      Sun Newspaperss
      War Tales

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