As the result of enemy action, on November 1, 1968, the United States Navy suffered it's greatest loss of life in a single incident as the result of enemy action during the entire Vietnam War. At 0322 two very large mines were detonated on the starboard side of LST-1167 killing twenty five.
Most Americans have never heard of the U.S.S. Westchester County, or knew this incident ever occurred. During your visit to this web page you will read the names of those that were killed that morning. You will view Official JAG photos of the aftermath from the November 1st attack never before publicly published. You will hear how a devastated crew fought to avoid an even greater loss of life. And you will learn about the naval history of this great American fighting ship and the many awards she won.
This page is dedicated to the twenty five who lost their lives in the service of this country, and to the preservation of their story.
I served aboard the U.S.S. WESTCHESTER COUNTY from September of 1965 until July of 1967. Several of the sailors killed on November 1, 1968 were former shipmates and friends of mine. The information and photos appearing on this page were compiled by me while researching the Mining Incident for my screenplay "Smoke on the Water". If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me. Jere Beery
Seaman, Jere Beery aboard U.S.S. WESTCHESTER COUNTY, 1966
NOVEMBER 1, 1968
In the predawn darkness of November 1, 1968, the USS WESTCHESTER COUNTY, LST-1167 (WESCO), was anchored on the My Tho River with several other support ships of River Assault Flotilla One. LST-1167 was acting as a troop carrier and supply ship for a large number of Tango boats and Monitors used by the Army’s 9th Division, Mobile Riverine Force. The WESCO provided berthing for approximately 250 U.S. Army personnel – in addition to her 140 crew and officers. In her belly, she maintained a massive amount of supplies for the entire Flotilla. Among the cargo on her Tank Deck, 350 tons of ammunition and explosives.
Despite all precautions taken, including picket boats circling the ship and dropping concussion grenades at random intervals to ward off swimmers, LST-1167 fell pray to Viet Cong sappers. At 0322, while most onboard slept, two very large mines were detonated on the starboard side of USS WESTCHESTER COUNTY directly under fuel and crew berthing compartments. In the first few moments following the explosions, crewmen tried desperately to find their way to their battle stations through the dark, diesel-soaked, wreckage. Crewmen showed up at their battle stations in their underwear, dazed and bleeding. Five of the ship’s “key” First Class Petty Officers had been killed instantly. In many cases much lower ranked personnel, without hesitation, manned damage control stations and assumed the responsibilities of their missing department heads.
The ship’s Commanding Officer, LCDR. JOHN W. BRANIN’S immediate concern was stabilizing the ship, as she was rapidly listing to starboard due to the massive flooding to the lower decks. LCDR. BRANIN stated, “Just for a fleeing moment, I thought she might just keep on going over.” Commander BRANIN would later credit his forward pump room person (Rick Russell) with stabilizing the ship. (Rick Russell passed away in December 1995).
The danger of flash fires igniting the 350-plus tons of explosives and ammunition on the ship’s tank deck were of great concern to the captain, as the entire ship had become engulfed in an atomized cloud of diesel fuel. There was no doubt in the Commander BRANIN’s mind any miscalculations at this point could result in a catastrophic explosion. Which could not only cause the loss of the ship and all 400 aboard, but could result in death and destruction of anyone within a very large radius surrounding the ship, Ground Zero”.
Battle stations remained at-the-ready for many hours, as it was not known if this was the beginning of a much larger attack, or if more unexploded charges were attached to the hull. damage control teams worked frantically to suppress and control the flooding, while attempts were made to free trapped crewmen. Most of those killed were crushed between the deck and the overhead while still in their bunks, making rescue and body recovery very difficult. All damage control teams were instructed to conduct rescues and repairs without the use of cutting torches or welding equipment.
At on point, the ship’s Corpsman, HM1, JOHN SULLIVAN climbed down into the wreckage to locate and rescue two men pinned in the lower compartments. Although wounded himself, HM1, SULLIVAN administered medical attention to his injured shipmates and helped extract the two men. SULLIVAN would later be awarded the Silver Star for his actions and the Purple Heart for his wounds. (HM1, JOHN SULLIVAN passed away on October 2, 2006)
As damage reports made their way to the Bridge, the names of the dead and missing began to add up. 17 – ships crew dead or missing, 5 – U.S. Army personnel dead, 1 – U.S. Navy Riverine sailor killed, 2 – Vietnamese military personnel killed, 22 others wounded. The USS WESTCHESTER COUNTY had suffered a great loss, and would remain in great danger for many more hours to come. One of the two explosions had breached the tank deck bulkhead and pallets of 155 artillery shell had been broken open and strewn about the lower deck. Her 350 tons of explosive cargo was very unstable and extremely venerable.
The 25 killed that morning have come to represent the “U.S. Navy’s Greatest Loss of Life in a Single Incident as the Result of Enemy Action During the Entire Vietnam War”. . .
This is merely a thumbnail sketch of the events as they occurred that November morning. Every man that survived that day has a story to tell. Twenty two of WESCO's crew would later be awarded the Purple Heart for wounds suffered in the sapper attack. WESCO was patched up and returned to her homeport at Yokosuka, Japan. LCDR. BRANIN would receive the Bronze Star for his leadership under fire, and continued his career in the Navy. (LCDR. JOHN BRANIN passed away in April 1998).
In 1974, LST-1167 was turned over to the Turkish Navy, where she serves today as L402, SERDAR. During U.S.S. WESTCHESTER COUNTY’s 19 years of service, the ship and crew received many awards. Among her many awards, 15 Engagement/Battle Stars. Of 1200-plus LST’s commissioned into service since December 14, 1942, only three (3) have ever earned 15 Engagement Stars. The U.S.S. WESTCHESTER COUNTY served above and beyond with distinction.
Turkish Navy, L402, SERDAR - (Formerly USS WESTCHESTER COUNTY, LST1167)
Too many stories of outstanding military service during the Vietnam War have gone untold for many decades. The previous is just such a story, as it has gone untold for 41 years. It is the history of a great ship, her brave and heroic crew, and her service and sacrifice.
USS WESTCHESTER COUNTY underway
The unpopularity of the Vietnam War has created a stigma on “positive stories” about such a “negative war”. Sometimes, we as a people are guilty of spending more time trying to appoint blame for Vietnam, than we do recognizing acts of Courage and Valor, Heroism and Bravery, Above and Beyond Service rendered by our military personnel.
USS WESTCHESTER COUNTY
The personal irony to this story for me is - in 1967, when I volunteered for duty with the river patrol, some of the very same sailors that were killed on November 1st 1968 had warned me against the danger I faced with the PBRs. After all, it was considered "safe duty" aboard a ship in Vietnam and you still collected hazardous duty pay. My friends urged me to stay aboard WESCO. It would have been very easy to extend my duty aboard LST-1167, as the ship's company was very short-handed at that time. As fate would have it, every single man in my former berthing compartment (Lower Operations), that wasn't on watch, was killed in the sneak attack, and I lived... I still feel guilty about that.
SMSN, Jere Beery on the Signal Bridge of LST-1167, 1967.
In 1990, myself and a small group of former crewmembers and family founded the U.S.S. WESTCHESTER COUNTY, LST-1167 ASSOCIATION. The association’s primary objective is the historical preservation of the service and sacrifice of LST-1167. In the short time the association has been active; a very large commemorative showcase to LST-1167 was dedicated in the County Building of Westchester County, New York (LST-1167’s namesake). Another display appears at the U.S. Navy Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. Former crewmembers continue to donate unique personal items for these two projects. For more information about the USS WESTCHESTER COUNTY ASSOCIATION, visit: WWW.LST1167.COM