Category Archives: History

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

Riverboat rekindles perilous memories for Vietnam War veterans.


Bill Ferguson steered a Vietnam War riverboat up the Pasquotank River.
The scene was strikingly similar to his experience nearly 50 years ago when he went around the Mekong Delta searching for the enemy.

Only instead of dodging bullets or fretting about what waited around the next bend, Ferguson, 74, casually took in the setting. (Read More…)

Two Boat Patrol

Dave Pizzoferrato of PBR 6927

Today marks a small historical event not seen in some time here on the East Coast,  when there will be two (2) PBR’s on the same river! 🙂  Dave Pizzoferrato  is trailering his PBR 6927 down here from Richmond, Ohio to the Pelican Marina here in Elizabeth City, NC today, to join up with PBR 721 on the Pasquotank River.

Two Boat Patrol: Dave Pizzoferrato’s PBR 6927 leading PBR 721 into the Deep Creek lock at the head of the Dismal Swamp Canal.

Two Boat Patrol, Hampton, VA. PBR 721 and PBR 6927 on the water together, and just before historic joint #USNavy and #USArmy PBR Veterans reunion.

Two Boat Patrol, Hampton, VA. PBR 721 and PBR 6927 on the water together, and just before historic joint #USNavy and #USArmy PBR Veterans reunion.

Monday we will be taking both boats from Elizabeth City, NC. up through the Dismal swamp canal to the Elizabeth river, then past the Portsmouth Naval shipyard and the Norfolk Naval base,  to the Crown Plaza hotel in Hampton, Virginia for our Joint US Army and US Navy, PBR combat crewman reunion!

Dave and I have been working on the event for over a year, not only for the reunion , but to get our two PBR’s in the water on the same river!  I hope we will get some good pictures of the event to pass on to you all, next weekend perhaps!

The Gig-Line Articles

For those who haven’t seen the two articles written by Marsha Brown in the Gig-Line, printed in “The Coastland Times”, out of Kill Devil Hills and Manteo, North Carolina, about PBR 721.  Here is a reporter who gets it, and has expressed herself in a very powerful way to promote PBR’s in a very positive way!  I hope you enjoy the read!

171st GIG LINE – Sunday, 8-23-15 (Dreams Matter)

By Marsha M. Brown
‘Dreams Matter’

Life is busy! Even with all the time saving conveniences afforded us, we still struggle to make the hours in a day count so that come sundown we can sit back, take a deep breath and know it was productive. But even if the items on our work and personal ‘check list’ are processed/completed, what about our ‘dream’ list? Do you have a dream? Is there at least one special thing we’ve always wanted to do but we just haven’t had or taken the time to do it? If not, why not? What are we waiting for?

Last week on the way home from a doctor’s appointment just outside Elizabeth City on the Camden Causeway, our grandson Ben noticed a boat docked at the PELICAN (Marina). There were quite a few boats there that day but none were quite like this one. It was special…it was unique…it was historical…it stood out like a diamond in the rough…it was a magnet to history buffs. Ben asked, “Pappy, is that a 50 cal?” which Pappy replied “Yep Ben, it sure is…how ’bout that?” At the time I was driving and with cars behind me, we couldn’t just stop to stare. Being just beyond the entrance to the Marina, Billy asked me to turn around and go back. When we did, the up close and personal sight was awesome and the look on both of their faces was priceless…they were looking at a ‘PBR’…in essence…a River Patrol Boat.

I looked at Billy and his eyes were fixed…as a Vietnam veteran the sight before him was striking…a flood of remembrance, appreciation for the weapon itself and of those who operated it…a meaningful mass of metal valued much like the Huey Cobra…the figure resonated…it recalled defense, protection and a chance to come home. In a few words, Billy attempted to explain (to me) that “the PBR was an awesome war weapon…an awesome piece of machinery” he said. Our 12-year-old grandson who’s all about the military, the Civil War and everything historical (written about in GIG LINE) already knew what the term ‘PBR’ meant. I didn’t know the term itself but I recognized the boat immediately for its use in the Vietnam War; the vessel – a predominant figure known for its speed, maneuverability, security and resistance to the enemy. I had seen it on news accounts, in military books and in magazines and I knew it was a critical piece.

About that time I asked a man walking by if he was the owner who told us that he wasn’t but that he knew the owner whose name was ‘Dennis’. When I told him that Billy was a Vietnam veteran and that it would be really nice to meet the man who had preserved such a piece of history, he offered to go see if he could locate him. When he returned saying that Dennis had already left for the day, Billy suggested to Ben to go up on the dock beside it so he could take a picture with his cell phone. The next thing I knew Billy wason the dock too looking inside the PBR next to our grandson. That moment…is one I won’t forget. You see, Billy never bombards Ben with information about Vietnam but he does answer Ben’s questions as honestly and as gingerly as possible. He wants him to understand but not go overboard with intense details for obvious reasons but Ben’s interest in veterans, their service in general and his thirst for knowledge about his ‘Pappy’ and what he experienced while serving means a lot to Billy. Will Ben always maintain that hunger to learn more? I don’t know but for this time in his life his showing to my husband and to all vets who read GIG LINE that history matters; that men and women in uniform are critically important to our past and our future…and that they are all heroes and NOT to be forgotten.

That afternoon we weren’t able to meet ‘Dennis’ but we were able to get ‘A SHORT HISTORY OF THE PBR’ paper that was provided for onlookers. After we got home we emailed Dennis Ambruso (owner) who called us back and at that point we had a lengthy chat with him. At the end of the phone call he invited Billy to come back (with Ben & our son Bill) so he could take them out for a ride on the river. Oh my! Oh my! Oh my! That…my friends will be an experience of a lifetime and I can’t wait to write about it next week! It was great talking with Dennis who seemed especially nice, determined and committed obviously to a dream that he saw to fruition. Hearing his story struck you especially knowing he was a Vietnam veteran and that the project took years to complete…the time and financial sacrifices he made…the devotion of his friends who helped him see it through were nothing short of touching…and the thought that other Vietnam vets will have a chance to see a masterful piece of history, preserved for future generations is a blessing. Dennis did this for Dennis…it was his dream and his heart’s desire but perhaps he didn’t realize at the onset of his project…or maybe he did…that families like ours will embrace his dream because it’s personal to veterans like my husband and our grandson. Dennis would like others to see his masterpiece if they want to and are up for it so, the next time you’re in Camden, please stop by and see it. Thank you Dennis Ambruso…thank you for all you went through to re-create this PBR…your PBR for yourself and for those like us who appreciate its extraordinary value. If you’re interested in learning more, Dennis invites you to visit his web site: His story will inspire you, make you laugh and make you proud that a veteran cared to protect and defend the demise of a historical PBR for future reference. Next week after the boys have had a chance to meet and actually ride in it (good Lord willing), I’ll share their thoughts…and mine too of course. Also, I’ll write about special events coming up over the following months to acknowledge, celebrate and honor our veterans so you can save those dates!

We couldn’t be happier serving on the Dare County Veterans Advisory Council which has made great strides reaching out to our vets. Our seven Council members are working daily to reach out to our veterans and it shows! We now have close to 400 Dare County Veteran ID Cards issued to veterans who can appreciate savings at nearly 50 local businesses; we have initiated interest across not only Dare County but with other counties near and far inspired by the work we’ve done and while we can only share some of the things we do due to the privacy factor – we are proud and grateful for the overall boost in veteran interest and the positive feedback we have gotten from the public! Last week when Billy attended a V.F.W. District 1 meeting out of town, he presented information on what our Council had been doing since its inception and how other counties should consider establishing a council or committee etc. if they hadn’t already to reach out and provide similar help and services to their veterans as well. Following his ‘talk’ several fellow vets approached Billy and clearly indicated they were inspired to grow their outreach potential. That’s GREAT!

God bless all of you who not only say you support veterans but show it in many different ways. You are all GOLDEN! Until next time, thank you all for reading GIG LINE. Be happy, be safe and be proud of our veterans and their families! Please support those who volunteer on behalf of veterans everywhere and if you have a question, please write to or call us. Billy’s cell: (252) 202-0798 or mine: (252) 202-2058. God bless you all and stay tuned!

Gig-Line Follow Up

By Marsha M. Brown
‘Veterans Always & Forever’

If you read GIG LINE last week, you heard the story about a dedicated U. S. Navy veteran whose name is Dennis Ambruso. He is the awesome gentleman who had a dream, made a plan and saw it through realizing his hearts desire in tangible form – restoration of his very own PBR721 (river boat) formerly used to combat the evil in Vietnam.

Until last weekend I had only spoken to Dennis over the phone following an email I had sent him about the interest Billy and our grandson Ben had after seeing his PBR721 and to thank him for what he had done…preserving an instrument of history. If you remember from my last GIG LINE, Dennis had called us last Tuesday night at which time he kindly extended an invitation to take a boat ride with him which Billy and our

Between that call and last Sunday Ben could hardly wait. He grinned from ear to ear researching everything he could find about PBR (river boats) through the Internet; in books and magazines and every publication he could get his hands on. He talked to his Pappy about the vessel; he talked to his friend Sam about them…he could hardly wait…Ben’s anticipation about meeting Dennis and taking that special ‘guy day’ trip with his Pappy consumed him. His genuine enthusiasm reminded me of the popular holiday classic movie “A Christmas Story” about little ‘Ralphie’ (played by Peter Billingsley) who simply couldn’t wait to see if Santa had brought him his much anticipated “Red Ryder Carbine Action 200 shot Range Model Air Rifle”…remember? (our whole family loves that movie!) Anyway…Ben was so cute…he asked me if it would be O.K. if he wore his U.S. Army outfit that he had pieced together one item at a time from military surplus stores, thrift stores and private donations and I said, “Of course Ben! Mr. Dennis might get a kick out of seeing such military pride in a 12 year old!” So…come Sunday morning Ben was rearing to go…all decked out in full gear…including his olive green helmet. He was ready to meet another ‘hero’ and to rock n’ roll and before Billy could get to Wanchese to pick him up, I’ll bet he called or text’d us at least five times to make sure they would be on time to meet “Mr. Dennis”.

Yes, I had planned to be there too…I really wanted to be and to witness their reaction to actually riding in Dennis’ river boat but sometimes guys just don’t need women around…they want to do their ‘guy thing’ and I wanted that memorable event to be just for the two of them…so, I took the opportunity to enjoy special time with my granddaughter Elizabeth – nickname ‘Bay’ before school started. However, trust me when I say…I might as well have been there because I got a minute by minute account and by the end of the day I felt as if I had been right there!

The guy’s arrival at the PELICAN marina on the outskirts of Elizabeth City was a great start. Meeting Dennis alone they felt was a reward all in itself…not to mention actually seeing and riding in his PBR721. My fella’s impression of Dennis was clear…that he was a devoted and dedicated veteran always and forever.

‘Mr. Dennis’ explained in full detail the features of his river boat to the guys; he was a nice man they both said, who appreciated others love of military history; he was proud of his vessel and of what he had accomplished and of being able to show others what very brave and committed men used to carry out missions long ago.

A few people who are anti-gun may not see the glory in this story about ‘Mr. Dennis’ and his preservation of his PBR and some may even look at his PBR721 as a killing machine. But let me tell you my impression of it…my impression is that it was mighty…it was hard core…it was a mechanism of defense and a mechanism to save lives as much as it I’m not a proponent of destruction…but I AM a proponent of anything and everything that will protect, defend and bring home our military men and women; I AM a proponent of politicians, lawmakers, leaders and clergy when they support our fighting men and women wholeheartedly and beyond that…I thank God that He gave an abundance of courage to the soldiers, seamen and airmen, that have had the task of using weapons whenever necessary in order to protect our American troops…wherever they might be no matter what got them there. Furthermore it hurts me to hear that some people nowadays back down easily to pressure to dismantle our symbols of patriotism, love of country and respect for our military. Personally I don’t give a hoot nor a holler about a worry that a red, white and blue American flag will “offend” someone and to the folks who whine and bellyache because they are so accommodating to those who don’t wish to support our standards or our symbols…our history and our American way of life…I say this…put your big boy and big girl panties on and get a grip! We cannot afford to be passive…no matter our political preference…we cannot afford to keep letting things slide into oblivion or the abyss…as Americans we stand for justice and peace and honor and anyone who can’t deal with it…oh well! I’m sorry for you and I pray for you. I pray that you will set aside your nit picking and move on toward something positive like protecting our symbols of “…life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” [for all]. Life is too short not to do our best to embrace it, preserve it and defend it. To do otherwise is lame…lame I said.

So…its true…I didn’t make the trip to ‘Mr. Dennis’ PBR721 but I will make every effort to see him soon, hug his neck, thank him for his service to our country having served in our outstanding U. S. Navy and I will further encourage him to take on another dream be if for restoration of a helicopter…a Huey maybe? (Billy said he’s thinking about it). My hat is off to Dennis for his tenacity and his ‘go-getter’ spirit and attitude and to all veterans especially the older ones…just remember…if you’re reading this…no matter what…you’re still upright and vertical 🙂 and much like cheese and wine…the older you get…the better you become! God bless our military men and women all over our nation.

Thank you all for all you have done and continue to do to keep us safe. We love you and appreciate you more than you may ever know!

If you have a question or comment please call us: Billy’s cell: (252) 202-0798 and mine (252) 202-2058 or write to me at Remember Dare County Administrative Bldg. (Manteo) Rm. 142 each Monday between 10:00 AM -1:00 PM for walk in access to acquire your Dare County Veteran I.D. Card, just bring your DD-214 showing ‘Honorable Discharge’ (only for our review – you do not have to leave it with us nor bring your original – a simple copy will do and also please bring your local Driver’s License). There is no charge for the ‘Card’ and once you receive it as a Dare County veteran; you will be entitled to discounts at 50 businesses or more on the Outer Banks. (Special note: Dare County offices will be closed Monday, September 7th).

Until next time…be happy…be safe and be proud of yourselves (as veterans) and be proud of people like Dennis and Billy and Ben. They love our country and if you can find a way…as a veteran or not…please show how much you love it too!

Next week’s GIG LINE will be ‘loaded for bear’ about the upcoming event on Hatteras Island that veterans Pete Groom, Frank Miller and other island vets are working on together through the Hatteras Island Veterans Support Group. I will include a personal message from Pete’s lips to your ears too, so don’t miss it! I’ll also talk about the very special September 11th event planned for in Nags Head (on 9/11) and a host of other matters of great importance to be held in our veterans honor! Until then, God bless you & God bless our country so by all means stay tuned!

From Dane Hoyle SMC USN Ret. – 12 Aug 2010

Letters and Memories From The Chief

From: Dane Hoyle
To: Dennis Ambruso

I was one of the Boat Captains of the first “Cadillac” PBR: 721 “back in the day.” At least it was back in the day for me. I had worked my way up from crewman. She was a hardtop back then and the first of that configuration and the first PBR built in 1972. The Unit had two hardtops: 31RP721 & 31RP722. Both were later converted to rag-tops.

721 and I had a connection from the start. I learned every nut and bolt, wire, fitting, this, that, and the other thing. I went to sin city, West Sac, and bought an injector timing gauge and injector wrenches. I bought injector jumpers and exhaust valve bridges for “just in case” and various other items as I saw the need. Of course I bought a deep socket for the bowl bearing with a one inch drive because when the lipseal on the sandcap fails or the setscrew decides to go on holiday it’ll get it “righty loosey mosty skoshi.”

I fawned over 721 and she returned the affection. She was fast. She was quiet. She was dependable. She never let me down. She never broke down. She never caught fire.

We communicated… not just by sound and feel but by something else… and it was the same with the crew. All I had to do was look at a crewman. He, also, had already heard it or sensed it and understood the look to mean “go check out the port tiller arm; it’s working its way loose” or “stick the starboard tank” or whatever as the case may have been.

She never left me high and dry or stuck in the mud. Often we were accused of having tank tracks on the bottom of the hull. There is even photographic evidence of 721’s trail in the mud snaking its way around one and then another PBR aground in the mud of Cutoff as viewed from Suisun Slough.

On one occasion we were assigned to insert an Army squad at an asininely inaccessible location. There was no water and the Army guys sunk to their armpits in the mud when they attempted to traverse unloaded the two hundred or so yards to shore. We were up on the mud healed over to port with muddy shivering Army pukes and their huge ungodly heavy rucks on the bow. I figured, this time for sure, we were parked for the night and waiting for high tide… but what the hell? We checked the simplex strainers. They were good. I paralleled and hit starboard; paralleled and hit port; slammed the Morse controls forward and quickly helmed over starboard, back to port, back to starboard, back to port. She rocked. She shimmied. She shook. She ground her fantail down like she was giving a lap dance and enjoying the hell out of it. Then she spun to port and wiggled her way to deep water like a gator with its tail on fire. We were nose down and flying — seemingly skittering across the water like a crazed out-of-control skipping-stone. This was the first time that evening we were at full-tilt-boogie in thin water. It felt wonderful. I eye-balled the temp gauges… in shallow water, they can peg in a heartbeat. She was running cool and stretching her legs. She was loving it!

The Army guys were saucer-eyed and pressed up against the deckhouse hanging on for dear life. A few looked back at me accusingly — sure that at any moment the bow would dig-in, be buried in the mud, and we would nose-over and go end-over-end to our deaths. For them it must have been like going over the top on a rollercoaster, the wind tearing at them, stinging them; the mud and an ever increasing load of super-hydrated bugs weighing them down. An impending muddy doom in the blackness of a moonless night would surely be their hapless fate. They didn’t understand the dynamics of the boat. It sort of defies a lubber’s reason and logic. If the bow had dug-in, only the aft gunner was endanger of conducting impromptu flight-ops and he was safely wedged between the midship splinter-shields. Army was in the safest place on the boat.

When our wake finally creeped aft of the beam and we had escaped to a couple of feet of water, I idled her down; checked my posit; extinguished my hair; wiped the bug crunchies off my teeth; the snot off my face; and unstuck my eyelids. I shutdown port, had the strainer cleaned, relit; shutdown starboard, had the strainer cleaned, relit; and checked overboard. Then I had the crew go forward to get the Army guys pealed off the deckhouse, reassured, and treated for shock and hypothermia with a thermos of Joe.

From the coxswain flat, I instructed our guests that we would make for their alternate and they should stay absolutely quiet, as low as possible, hang on, and most especially do not to move as we would be navigating as much by mystic forces as by dead reckoning. That’s judging the depth of the water and the difference in the depth to port and starboard by sound and where on the hull the wake would break while we were “on step” (traveling at full speed and planing). It feels like ice skating but it is, in reality, more like riding a bike. Remember when you were a kid and immortal… coasting down hill and going so fast the playing cards in your spokes sounded like menacingly angry radio static… riding the curb between soggy wet grass and parked cars? We had to make best speed to hit the insert window. That meant running the shallows way outside the channel. We would be trying to keep about eight to eighteen inches of water under our keel and would be going hell bent for leather. We had to “judge” the charts, read the water, and most of all feel the boat. Only she could tell how deep the water was, the composition of the bottom, the undulations and depressions in the bottom, where the thin water was, where the seagulls were walking, all sorts of dangers, and communicate that information to us. We were connected to her… and, she was connected and communicating with us.

She did her job – no sweat GI. We safely made the transit and the secondary insert without further incident. Then she brought us home as she always did.

721 was a nimble, responsive, elegant, magnificent dance partner with great legs and a sassy little vixen when surfing. I miss the metallic varnish smell of her paint… her perfume of diesel and burnt gunpowder. I miss sleeping on her and more often than not staying awake the whole night through to appreciate the beauty of another sunrise in her embrace… just so long as the birds and bugs were noisy as hell. But then, WTF, a little rock & roll and smoking LSA in the morning is as good as pears & pound cake and a pack of ‘bros to set you right: kick-start your brain-pan big-time.

Dane Hoyle SMC USN Ret.