The following is a press release dated 20 September 1967.
1097th Transportation Company – War at Sea in Vietnam
By US Army PFC T. L. Farley
Long Bihn, RVN – To overcome the problem of finding form ground for its big guns in the Mekong Delta, the Army is mounting howitzers and mortars on floating barges.
Achieving complete mobility on the endless waterways, the artillery barges are hauled and maneuvered by the 4th Transportation Command’s 1097th Transportation Company (Medium Boat).
The 1097th, part of the Saigon Support Command, uses 16 Landing Craft Mechanized (LCM-8), known as "Mike" boats, to tow the barges, but they have made many modifications to the venerable vessels to ensure the operation is as efficient as possible.
Artillery fire direction centers were constructed on the well-decks of three Mike boats. Living quarters were built in the rear of the vessels, and because the armada navigates the perilous canals and rivers of the Mekong Delta, armor plating was welded around the pilothouse and machinegun positions.
One Mike boat has been converted to a damage control vessel (DCV) to provide the 1097th’s mechanics with "on the spot" maintenance capabilities should one of the boats develop trouble during an operation. The DCV is equipped with a workbench, welding apparatus, and a salvage pump. Quarters for eight mechanics have been installed in the well-deck.
The mechanics who live on the DCV have a motto "Never deadline a vessel" – a difficult task considering that most of the Mike boats are more than 25 years old. However, with the use of the DCV, the 1097th has been able to keep 90 percent on their Mike boats operational throughout the summer.
The DCV also serves as the field headquarters of Captain William G. Pagonis (wife, Cheryle, 538 Water St., Indiana, Pa.) commanding officer of the 1097th Transportation Company.
Occasionally one of the boats may require more extensive repairs than the DCV can provide. "We can’t afford the loss of time involved in shipping one of our Mikes to Saigon for repairs. So we have designed and built a floating maintenance barge equipped to do major repair work," Captain Pagonis explained.
The maintenance barge can be towed anywhere by a Mike boat and is equipped with vessel supply offices, maintenance office, tool room, machine shop, and engine rebuild shop. "We can maintain all of our vessel in the field using the concept of the maintenance barge," the Captain added.
Because 90 percent of the 180 man company is normally on lengthy support missions 60 to 70 miles from their home base at Dong Tam, the 1097th has mobilizes their entire orderly room, barber shop, and communication on the maintenance barge.
"This idea was developed to ensure that individuals receive immediate attention on all administrative matters," Captain Pagonis stated.
In order to keep the morale of the men high, Captain Pagonis had his engineers construct a dayroom in the well-deck of one of the Mike boats. "The men’s workday is long and hard, so they welcome this bit of home away from home," commented Captain Pagonis.
Along with the direct support of the artillery battalion, the 1097th Transportation Company has undertaken a general support mission for the Dong Tam area. It handles the delivery and pickup of infantry and long range reconnaissance patrols, transportation of armored personnel carriers, and the transporting of engineer squads for demolition work.
The 1097th has taken steps to provide first aid for casualties. Not only have they built a first aid station in the well-deck of a Mike boat but they have also constructed a platform on top of the first aid station as a landing pad for helicopters to evacuate the wounded.
"We had no instruction manuals for this unique type of direct combat support. It was sometimes necessary for the men to work 20 to 24 jour shifts in order to meet a deadline. The men did it and they’ll do it again. They’ve sacrificed, but they’re proud of it. There is no doubt in my mind this is the best boat company in Vietnam," concluded Captain Pagonis.