Category Archives: History

PBR 721 history as well as history of other US Navy River Patrol Boats, Vietnam War and related history.

Next Project

The 458th Sea Tigers showed up to assess the condition of the PBR. Our detail helped them get some measurements and were fascinated by the stories that these Vietnam veterans told them. The 458th is planning to work with the museum to completely restore the PBR. Contact the museum if you are interested in volunteering to assist on this project or another restoration project at the museum….we have trains, aircraft, trucks and more boats that need work.

Dennis’ Time On Research Vessels

I’ve dabbled in stuff I always thought was interesting, but never thought I’d be swept up in an unusual sea rescue with Ed Link Sr., the famous aviator and designer of the Link Trainer of WWII fame, that taught many an aviator to fly blind at night, and the designer of that sub.

I crewed three (3) Research ships, and the Sub rescue occurred while I was on the R/V A. B. Wood. The other two (2) ships were the R/V G. W. Pierce, and the R/V Daniel Harris III, a former World War II US NavySubchaser.

But after we salvaged the sub and removed the bodies of Ed Link II, and the sub’s pilot, and the other two still-alive researchers, we returned to Fort Lauderdale!

And it was the next day, when the R/V A. B. Wood was tied starboard side to the dock at our base at the Navy Sound Lab, at the mouth of Port Everglades harbor, and I was the only crew member onboard that morning servicing the gyro, when I was surprised by having a visit from Ed Link Sr. and his team to the R/V A. B. Wood, to personally thank the crew for all they did in salvaging the sub and its crew, and to present our crew with his compliments, and several cases of booze. A fine man!

The Navy tried for 36 hours, against a 7-knot current forcing that sub into the antennas of the USS Berry’s hull, lying on her side, to get air into that sub. We, on the other hand, had the means to grapple that sub and rip her from the antennas, and pull her to the surface, (which in the end is what we did), but were refused because of Navy pride. And to this day, I will never forget what the Navy did that Day!!!!

Below are some items that have never been seen, and there is another story about my time serving on the R/V Daniel Harris III, formerly a WW II 173ft US Navy sub chaser, that I was third engineer on out of Port Everglades, working for the Navy Sound Lab testing sonar arrays out in TOTO (tongue of the ocean) in the Bahamas, which was kind of like deepest part of the Bermuda trench. We were towing and testing the Navy sonar array miles behind the R/V Daniel Harris III, so we needed depth and distance.

This sonar array was classified back then, it looked like a 2-1/2″ fire hose. Inside it was filled with a special oil and thousands of hydrophones and other sensors.
Fascinating to watch it in action when it sent back info to the ship/sub, and it could pick up a ship miles away, and give bearing, distance, speed, shaft revolutions, how many blades on the propellers, and the name of the ship or sub! The Navy knows the machinery sound of every ship!
Have you ever seen that Movie “The Hunt for Red October”, where Jonesy the sonar man yells out “Crazy Ivan”, or the “magma displacement” scene? That comes from that array we were testing, which is towed behind the sub!

But I can tell you about rebuilding a Sub engine and replacing a pneumatic clutch in situ, on that boat that really showed a guy what mechanics were about! Only sub guys can appreciate that work!

Medal of Honor Recipient James Williams

Honoring a legend: the story of the most decorated enlisted sailor in Navy history

BY Jack Dorsey The Virginian-Pilot
Jul 17, 1997

James Elliott Williams wasn’t looking for medals when he went to Vietnam, even though he ended up with nearly all of them, including the Medal of Honor.

He just wanted to show he had “something else between the ears” other than his ability to chip paint and salute. He got that opportunity more.

Williams is credited with damaging or destroying 65 enemy sampans and junks during a three-hour fight on the Mekong River, where he led his two small patrol craft in a fierce battle.

This morning, the 67-year-old Florida man is being honored again.

Special Boat Unit 20, based at the Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base, will name its new headquarters the BM1 James E. Williams Building.

“I’m excited and pleased,” Williams said earlier this week from his Palm Coast, Fla., home near Daytona. “There are very few times in a man’s life he gets these kinds of honors.”

Williams has become a legend to the sailors who fought aboard the small special warfare craft during the Vietnam war.

At 36, with his retirement papers nearly in hand – he enlisted when he was 16 – Williams asked to go to Vietnam to finish his career in command of a river patrol boat. His was No. 105. He actually became boat captain and patrol officer, in charge of two boats.

The 32-foot fiberglass and armor-protected boats carried a crew of four and plied the inland waters of Vietnam, searching for supply-carrying junks and sampans that aided North Vietnam.

Williams had served in Korea and spent most of his time aboard large Navy ships. But it was the river patrol boat he wanted most.

For a ninth-grade dropout who thought of the Navy “as my second mom and daddy,” this was an opportunity to show that a senior enlisted man had something more to give, he said.

“I looked at it as an opportunity to do something better. So did all the others. That is why the PBR was so successful in Vietnam. The men were so proud.”

Williams recalls the afternoon of Oct. 31, 1966, in vivid detail: “When you want to forget, you can’t,”‘ he said. It was a day patrol, sort of a “relax-and-recreation” patrol as opposed to the more dangerous night operations the crew had just completed.

“We were just dee-dee-boppin” down the river when the forward gunner . . . hollered there were two high-speed boats crossing ahead of us,” he said.

“We all got real alert. These boats had twin long-shaft motors, Mercury outboards, and they were tremendously fast, over 40 mph. That usually signified some high-ranking officers aboard.

“Then they started firing at us. We returned fire. One went to the north bank and the other to the east. We gave chase to one and . . . eliminated him.”

Williams’ crew then turned to pursue the other boat and watched as he cut into an eight-foot-wide canal in front of a rice paddy.

“Looking at the map, I could see where he had to come out. I turned hard right to wait for him. As I did that, lo and behold, we found a big staging area. All I could see were boats and people.”

Putting out a large wake as he sped across the water, Williams plowed through the middle of the formation.

“They were shooting at us from the right and left and we were shooting. They were doing more of hitting each other than we were.

“We got through that and I am trying to zigzag. . . . I go by a couple more corners and turn into this area . . . and lo and behold, we hit the second staging area.”

Again, they sped down the center, guns blazing and radio squawking for help from friendly helicopters.

As his commander appeared overhead in a helicopter, he told Williams he was about to make a strafing run and asked Williams his intentions.

“I said, ‘Damn if you are going to leave me in here.’ So I followed him back out and that is when we hit the big (ammunition) junks and blew them up,” Williams said.

It was a rout of the enemy. When it started getting dark, Williams could tell the enemy was ready to give up. He ordered his boats’ search lights turned on, despite the added attention it drew to him.

“I know people have questioned my judgment many times since then and probably always will, asking why did I turn on the search light,” he said.

“It was obvious they were whipped, giving up, throwing their arms down. We didn’t lose a man. That’s saying something. We had some wounds, but nothing serious.”

Williams received shrapnel wounds in his shoulder, chest, side and head.

When he returned home a year later, Purple Heart in one hand, the Navy Cross, two Silver Stars and three Bronze Stars in the other, Williams was asked to remain in the Navy. He was promised a promotion to chief.

But he had accepted a job with the U.S. Marshal’s office in South Carolina. He retired from that second career in 1983 after taking over all field activities in the nation.

Besides, he wanted to go home to his wife and family. He has been married nearly 48 years, has five children and eight grandchildren.

The Navy made Williams an honorary chief in the 1970s, he said. Made him go through the traditional initiation and all.

As for the Medal of Honor – the nation’s highest military award for bravery – Williams said he was stunned when he learned it was to be presented to him two years after he retired from the Navy.

“I was just doing a job to the best of my ability. I wasn’t out there trying to win medals. Events just happened.

The 105 and the crew, we were always into something or other. We weren’t looking for it.”


Photo – HUY NGUYEN/The Virginian-Pilot James Elliott Williams

Graphic THE NAVY THIS WEEK [For complete graphic, please see microfilm]


Seabee’s of 11 Honor Vietnam Veteran’s Service

GULFPORT, Mississippi (NNS) — On March 29 2019, Seabee’s assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 11 participated in a 2.3-mile interactive run on board Naval Construction Battalion Center Gulfport, Mississippi, in honor of the men and women who served during the Vietnam Conflict.

“I was glad to be able to be a part of the event and assist in raising awareness of the sacrifices that Vietnam veterans made,” said Chief Utilitiesman Charlie King, NMCB 11’s command fitness leader. “We take for granted how much Vietnam vets had to actually endure.

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Vietnam Vets Honored by Hampton Roads Naval Museum

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Keia Randall/Released)

VIRGINIA BEACH (NNS) — Service members and guests paid tribute to the service and sacrifice of Vietnam War veterans during the National Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Day commemoration at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story (JEBLC).

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For more information about National Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Day and the Vietnam War visit

Los Angeles Harbor Police Boat: Uniflite Corsair

Way back in the late 1990’s, when I was out in Long Beach, California , I stumbled across this “Uniflite Corsair” in the guise of a Harbor Patrol Boat. This of course is a civilianized-Hard Top PBR .

After a lengthy conversation about the PBR with the officers in charge, I did get invited for a ride , which I eagerly took. 🙂

Keep Up With Riverine Reporter

Patrol Boat, River, used in Vietnam War

Sea Tigers Association – a publication of the US Army 458th Trans. Co (PBR):

Mike Hebert Riverine Reporter – 458th Sea Tigers

Slideshow from Michael Hebert,”Riverine Reporter” for the U.S. Army’s 458th Transportation co., (PBR) Vietnam Veterans Assoc., and Owner/Operator of the “Miss Hampton II” tour boat in Hampton, VA:

Riverine Reporter covers PBR Veterans Reunion Riverine Reporter covers PBR Veterans Reunion Riverine Reporter covers PBR Veterans Reunion Riverine Reporter covers PBR Veterans Reunion

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U.S. Navy SEAL Museum Features PBR 721

Pics of restoration of PBR 721, taken by a U.S. Navy SEAL, who was at the boat yard where I was working on restoring my boat. Navy SEAL then gave pics to the U.S. Navy SEAL Museum in Fort Pierce, Florida. Photos are now part of

Visit the U.S. Navy SEAL Museum for more information.

(Click any image below to view details)