One of the last remaining river patrol boats used by the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War is lifted from the Vietnam Naval Support Base display at the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum in Mount Pleasant S.C., on March 26. (Bruce Smith / The Associated Press)
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MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. — One of the last remaining river patrol boats used almost a half century ago by America’s so-called Brown Water Navy in Vietnam was lifted by a massive crane on Tuesday and trucked to a nearby boat yard for repairs.
The MK1 River Patrol Boat, or PBR, was originally brought to the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum on Charleston Harbor back in 1989. Twenty years ago it was put on display at the museum’s Vietnam Naval Support Base Camp display on high ground not far from the World War II, and Vietnam-era, aircraft carrier USS Yorktown.
The 31-foot patrol boats were used for everything from inserting Navy SEALs on missions to night ambushes to routine river patrols.
“We nicknamed them fiberglass coffins,” said 65-year-old Buddy Sturgis, who served for a year aboard a PBR on the muddy creeks and rivers in Vietnam.
The patrol boat vessel will get $30,000 worth of repairs — with all the labor and parts donated — at Pierside Boatworks in North Charleston. It’s expected to be back in a small pond at the Vietnam support base display in about a month.
Dave Coker, the general manager at Pierside, said he was asked by the staff at Patriots Point to come up with an estimate for repairing the boat and told about the difficulty of getting public money for such repair work. So they came up with the idea of getting both the labor and the parts donated.
“It’s mostly cosmetics that we will be doing,” he said. “We don’t have to make it run.”
The work on the 8-ton boat will consist of removing old paint, making fiberglass repairs, repainting the boat and putting on new canvas.
The original MK1s were deployed in 1966. Another model, the MK2 followed in 1967, said Sturgis, formerly the Patriots Point curator now director of the South Carolina Military Museum in Columbia. He said by phone from Columbia that maintaining the vessel is important to preserving the history of a conflict where it was difficult to tell friend from foe.
David Clark, now Patriots Point curator, said the boat is on permanent loan from the Navy. He said he knows of only one other MK1 in the country while there’s “probably 8 or 10, perhaps even more” of the MK2s still known to be in existence.