Richard Hartley served 2 tours aboard USS Mathews, AKA-96, off coast of Vietnam

Seaman Richard Hartley of Port Charlotte is pictured in one of three battered pictures he still has of himself in 1967, about the time he served aboard the USS Mathews, an attack transport, in Vietnam. Photo provided

Seaman Richard Hartley of Port Charlotte, Fla. is shown in one of three battered pictures he still has of himself in 1967, about the time he served aboard the USS Mathews, an attack transport, in Vietnam. Photo provided

Until he sailed for Vietnam in 1967 aboard the USS Mathews, AKA-96, Richard Hartley of Port Charlotte, Fla. was a 21 year-old auto worker making Jeeps at Ford’s giant Rouge industrial complex in Dearborn, Mich.

He joined the Naval Reserve about the time he got out of high school and made two six months cruises to the Southeast Asian war zone as a seaman and eventually a boatswains-mate on the 459-foot-long attack transport.

“We left California with a ship load of military supplies that we off loaded at Da Nang harbor in Vietnam,” the 67-year-old former sailor explain. “Over there we spent much of our time taking ammunition up and down the coast.”

Hartley also served as a coxswain aboard a 40-foot landing craft. He was the seaman at the wheel of the LCM. It had a bow ramp that dropped down when it hit the beach to let the Marines charge into battle. They carried 23 landing crafts aboard the Mathews.

“When we first arrived in Vietnam we took beer ashore for the Marines. We lost one case of beer while moving it on shore,” he recalled with a smile. “By morning we had lost a whole pallet of beer that was sitting up on the dock. It was a big deal. They brought in security, but they never found the missing beer.

“As we were unloading some of our other cargo we watched one of our fighter planes crash into Da Nang Harbor. It had apparently been hit by enemy fire somewhere else and was attempting to land,” Hartley said. “A couple of our landing craft rescued the pilot. He wanted nothing to do with us because he said he was headed home in four hours.

“One night we were unloading napalm out of the hold of our ship when the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) or the Vietcong started firing at us with mortars from up in the hills surrounding the harbor. They weren’t very accurate, but I was still a little nervous,” he said.

After their first six months at sea off the coast of Vietnam the crew of the USS Mathews was replaced by her sister ship. They sailed back to their home port of Long Beach, Calif.

When they returned to the war in Vietnam, Hartley and the crew of AKA-96 accompanied a battleship along the coast as she pounded enemy emplacements with shells from her 16-inch main guns.

“I think it was the Battleship New Jersey we ran along the coast with for several nights, but I’m not sure,” he said. “They were noisy nights. Her 16-inch guns were big.”

As part of the “Gator Fleet,” what they were called over there, the crew of the Mathews was given a weeks shore leave at a time. Once they visited Honolulu and three times his ship sailed into the port of Hong Kong for R & R.

On one of their trips to Hong Kong they provided the crew of the aircraft carrier USS Constellation (CV-64) with ship to shore transportation for most of its 2,500 sailors.

“The carrier was anchored just outside the port of Hong Kong and we gave the crew ferry service. I think we did this for 10 days. We were 20 hours on and four off for 10 days. We were very tired by the time we got through,” Hartley said.

The USS Mathews (AKA-96) was an attack transport built at the end of World War II and used throughout the Vietnam War. The 459-foot-long ship transported men and equipment to enemy shores in the Pacific and deposited them on the enemy beach with the 23 landing craft it carried. Photo provided

The USS Mathews (AKA-96) was an attack transport built at the end of World War II and used throughout the Vietnam War. The 459-foot-long ship transported men and equipment to enemy shores in the Pacific and deposited them on the enemy beach with the 23 landing craft it carried. Photo provided

A typhoon was the most exciting thing that happened to him on his second cruse to Vietnam.

“We sailed out of De Nang Harbor about the time the storm hit. We spent three days out in the open sea fighting the storm,” he said. “Thirty to 40 foot waves were breaking over the Mathews’ bow. I had never seen waves like this in my life.

“At the time I was one of three guys the captain designated to steer the ship. He picked us because we were good at the helm. When we got back into Hong Kong after the storm we got extra liberty because we did such a good job of steering the ship.”

It was during his final tour off the coast of Vietnam, a serious fire broke out in the ship’s hole. Some how the hemp landing nets the Mathews carried caught fire and smoldered below deck causing the fire control system to activate.

“For four hours we fought the fire. I was the guy down in the hole with the two-inch fire hose pouring water on the fire,” he said. “After I went through two bottles of oxygen for my mask I was replaced down there by someone else.”

The blaze caused no serious damage to the ship.

Toward the end of his second tour aboard AKA-96, Hartley received word his father had died back home in Michigan. He was granted leave and flew home for his funeral.

He rejoined the crew of the transport 45 days later when it returned to its home port of Long Beach. A short time later he was discharged from the Naval Reserve and continued life as a civilian.

“I returned to Ford, where I had worked, before I went to Vietnam. For the next 38 years I worked at ‘The Rouge,’ Ford’s giant auto complex in Dearborn, Mich. until I retired and my wife, Carol and I, moved down to Port Charlotte in 2005,” Hartley said. The couple has two grown daughters:  Jennifer and Jamie.

Hartley’s File

Richard Hartley is pictured at 67 at home in Port Charlotte. Sun photo by Don MooreName:  Richard Wilson Hartley
D.O.B: 23 May 1946
Hometown:  Highland Park, Mich.
Currently:  Port Charlotte, Fla.
Entered Service:  Navy Reserves in Jan. 25, 1967 to Great Lakes for basic
Discharged:  25 Oct. 1971
Rank:  E-4
Unit:  USS Mathews
Commendations:  Vietnam Service Medal w/1 Bronze Star, Vietnam Campaign Medal w/Devices, National Defense Service Medal
Battles/Campaigns:  Vietnam

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Wednesday, July 24, 2013 and is republished with permission.

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Comments

  1. I was on the ship USS Mathews during the same era and was a crew member on the sm boats which went up the perfume river.The story of the missing beer brings back fond memories since I remember I was one of the lucky men who got to drink the beer while being part of the crew running up the river.
    I also was one of the crew who pulled the downed fighter pilot out of Danang harbour.The capt had a ceremony on the fan tail of the ship and I received a letter of accomodation as being one of the crew who directly pulled the fighter pilot out of the water in Danang harbour.

    Living and working on that ship was not fun at all !!!!! We are talking a ship built in 1944
    Between many fires on board and the ship breaking down in the middle of the ocean having to deploy our smaller boats to tow the ship to try and make the next port on time was nerve racking to say the least.There is a good chance I was on the same mike boat with Richard Regards seaman Terry Judge ps I have photos of many of these events

    • Finding this article was a miracle. Reading it brought back so many memories. Terry I was on the Papa boat with you, the ships Dr., Lt Prawl, Keplinger, ships PC & the coxswain the day we were all going ashore to Da Nang to pick up supplies for the ship. I remember it was early morning and looking over to see the plane hit the water and then the parachute.
      I still have the commendation letter hanging on my wall. I’ve got the pictures. You even took some of me during the fan tail presentation. I remember the fire in one of the holds. Capt. Bachert’s cherry wood furniture that he bought in Hong Kong went up in flames. It always remained a mystery as to how or why it started. But the general consensus was that no one liked the Capt. and someone put a torch to it. Merely speculation I’m sure. I also remember the time outside Subic when all the generators went out. It was so hot below everyone had to sleep topside. Yes who can disagree that Ol’ Ma Mathews was a heap.
      But with all it’s boils and sores I was saddened during the decommissioning ceremonies in San Diego. I think some were not there due to the which hunt held onboard. Some of the guys were kicked off because of smoking pot. Can’t remember who though. They do much worse nowadays. So many memories. To many to list here.
      Thanks Richard for writing this article. A Navy “Well Done” to you.
      Storekeeper SN Rick Franco

      • Hey Rick good to hear your post !!! I also have the letter and photo I assume you took it of myself recieving the letter on the fantail while we were underway. Would love to contact you if you like !!!!Its veterans day tomorrow email me terryhotshoe@yahoo or go to facebook im on there now looking forward to hearing from a fellow shipmate and friend.

  2. I was on board the same time. Remember delivering Budweiser to the DMZ bases. A lot of pallet loads broke and was returned to the hold. Later supplied the ships party on the Long Beach breakwater moorage before the ship left for decommissioning at San Diego. Remember the trip where we supplied airstrip matting to construct Marine airstrips at the DMZ. Also remember running liberty boats for the Connie. I was a ETR3 and since we couldn’t run radars, had a week off in Hong Kong. I remember standing watch at Danang, having to worry about Viet Cong swimmers that were attaching mines to cargo ships…stressful watches. Liberty in Kaoshiung Taiwan where everybody loaded up with 19 cent record albums and cheap books.

    • Terry, Great read. Really enjoyed it. Wow, I don’t remember this guy but he hit the nail on the head.

      Hope you’re doing well. Thanks,

      Rick Franco’s IPad

      >

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