May 1994 Seawolf Reunion Speech
RADM Kevin Delaney (1946-2015)
The following is a transcript of a talk given by RADM Delaney, at the Seawolf reunion May 1994. Admiral Delaney was a Seawolf gunship pilot as a Lieutenant jg on Det-8 in 1970. This speech was intended for Seawolves and their families, but it is also a very good oral history of the squadron.
Thank you so much for your kind introduction. Needless to say, it’s a very great and very humbling honor to address this group of heroes,.. this group of dedicated Americans who have given so much of themselves to serve our great country and who can say very proudly I served with the SEAWOLVES of HAL-3 in Vietnam.” Most of us came into the Navy not long after President Kennedy had challenged all Americans to ask not what their country could do for them, but rather to ask what they could do for their country.
While some sought refuge in the safe haven of foreign countries, you, the SEAWOLVES of HAL-3 chose to serve your country, and you all did so honorably. Most of us have been taught from early childhood that there is no greater love than to give your life for your fellow man. All of you here have put your lives on the line for others and I know we all hold a special place in our hearts for those SEAWOLVES who have gone before us after having made the ultimate sacrifice.. so that others might live.
This weekend, more than any other, reminds all Americans of those sacrifices… sacrifices which we have all seen first hand. Our nation owes a lasting debt of gratitude to those selfless members of our armed forces who have risked their own freedom and safety to defend the lives and liberty of others. As a measure of our thanks, and as an expression of our determination to keep the faith with those who dutifully have served, or continue to serve and defend the freedom we hold dear, we take this occasion to remember our fallen comrades as well as those very special Americans for whom a final accounting has not yet been made.
In Ecclesiastes, it is written that there is a time for war, a time for peace and a time to heal. We will never forget those who have served our country so valiantly. They are patriots in the finest sense of the word; and, only after there is a final accounting of all of our comrades can there be a complete healing. May God bless our POW’s and MIA’s and provide comfort and peace for their families.
Because some who are here tonight may not be familiar with the origin of the SEAWOLVES, I thought it might be interesting to trace a bit of our history and to share a few sea stories. After the partition of Vietnam in 1954, the Mekong delta, and in particular, the U Minh forest, became a stronghold of Viet Cong insurgents. Its green fertile fields, triple canopy jungles, meandering brown waterways and countless tree lines far-too-often spelled imminent danger for our Navy men who were tasked with keeping the delta’s seemingly infinite canals, rivers and streams open while interdicting communist infiltration through this complex network of waterways. Thus, in this land of hot dusty dry spells and saturating monsoons, when it became apparent that our Navy PBR’s would require close air support, operation Game Warden was inaugurated, in December 1965.
Initially, the Army was tasked with providing helicopters for that purpose; however the Army asked the Navy to provide flight crews to fly their Hueys because our flight crews were better trained in the demanding regime of night and instrument flying, as well as over-water operations. The Army helicopters were traded to us for some P-2 Neptunes which the Army wanted. Later, as many of you may remember, in a less official way, Army jeeps were also traded to our Seawolf detachments for cases of steaks and lobster tails, which we “obtained” courtesy of SEAFLOAT, AIR COFAT and some very ‘creative” supply folks.
HC-1, Det 29 first arrived in country in July 1966 and the first of several modified LST’s arrived at Vung Tau on 2 November 1966.. we were in business. HC-l’s role grew to four Detachments that were strung out throughout the delta and it soon became apparent that the Navy needed a dedicated gunship squadron with a singular focus on the mission at hand. Officially, HAL-3 was born on 1 April 1967. HAL-3 was growing. Soon there were 9 Detachments flying 20 helos in the field. The Det at Nha Be, Det-2, soon found itself to be the home of many of our former college football players. Because this Det was shore based and could use a running start and ground effect better, most of the really big guys always seemed to find their way to Det-2. But, even though Det-2 pilots aircrew were generally the biggest guys in HAL-3, there probably isn’t a door gunner here who didn’t run along side a struggling, staggering Huey as it groaned and scraped over some PSP and struggled into the air.
Over time, HAL-3 ‘s mission grew to include convoy protection, coastal surveillance, agent and sniper insertion and seal support and, by mid 1968, the name “SEAWOLVES” was firmly embedded in the appreciative vocabulary of all our Navy ground forces and that of many members of the other services as well. While most of our pilots were being sent through Huey training at Fort Benning and Fort Rucker, there were a few of us “lucky” ones, who, for fiscal reasons, were sent directly to Vietnam where our first rockets and bullets were fired as “on the job training.” Soon many of us learned that chewing gum or grease pencil marks, placed on the cockpit windshield, made far less cumbersome and far more accurate gun and rocket sights than those provided by the “rocket scientists” and bureaucrats in Washington.
I can’t also help but remember those bar glasses that would disappear from all of the bars and clubs in Binh Thuy and Can Tho only to reappear on detachments where they were used as “time fuses” for our unauthorized grenade drops! The safety center would have had a ball with that one, wouldn’t they? We were a wild and crazy bunch of guys! But what a team! To paraphrase Winston Churchill, never, have so many, owed so much to so few. Unquestionably, we were a close group… a group that grew up quickly… one that couldn’t afford the time it took for the normal maturation process. Most of us were pretty young and inexperienced and we had to grow up very quickly.
Whatever reservations anyone had about the war, they soon dissipated as we scrambled to save and protect our buddies on the river or in the jungles. Rarely, did a cry for help come from a voice which we didn’t recognize. And it soon became a rather personal war for each of us the first time we MEDEVACED a seriously wounded friend, or carried a body bag containing the remains of a classmate, friend, or comrade. There was not time to be scared… we all had a job to do as we headed for our target and engaged the enemy. Only after we were heading home, or after we had landed, did reality set in and afford us the opportunity to think and ponder the thought of being scared. Most of us, were young in age, long on energy, high on enthusiasm and very short on experience when we checked aboard HAL-3.
An average detachment had a Lieutenant Commander and occasionally a Commander as Officer in Charge, as well as a “senior” Lieutenant, whatever that is…, And either a First Class Petty Officer or perhaps a Chief… (pause) this was the only “adult supervision” we had. The rest of our officers were young Jg’s. .. fresh out of Ellyson field, here in Pensacola, and sporting brand new shiny wings of gold. Many, if not most, of our enlisted door gunners had less than 3 years in the Navy. I remember at one time we had 128 officers in the squadron and 103 of us were JG’s. Now that’s scary!!!
Unlike our carrier counterparts, we could never get very far from the action. Living in our bunkers and hootches, it was not uncommon that on our off-nights, we would grab a few semi-rusted cans of our well preserved Past Blue Ribbon beer, a PRC radio and a rocket box. We’d sit on the rocket box, atop of a bunker or revetment and then tune in the action as we watched the sky light up with the red and green neon-like stripes of tracer fire which were punctuated with rocket fire emanating from overhead Seawolf gunships.
Rarely was there a night that the SEAWOLVES would not be engaged in multiple scrambles. Most often we’d be lying in hot, humid non-air-conditioned spaces, perhaps partially wearing flight suits and sometimes even our boots, trying to catch a few nods of sleep while waiting for the inevitable whispers of PBR sailors to begin on the radio, knowing that very soon thereafter, the call to “scramble the SEAWOLVES” would be heard over the radio and literally within seconds we would be cranking engines and spinning rotors to fly one more time into harm’s way to protect the guys on the river, SEALS in trouble… or Army advisors in outposts that were being overrun.
The mere word “scramble” released a flow of adrenaline that energized us all. Whether the call for a “scramble one,” friendlies in contact, “scramble two”. ..US. forces in contact or a “scramble three”.. .for US. forces in extremis, everyone knew that we had a job to do and, like a symphony, albeit a very fast paced symphony, we ran to man our aircraft. One gunner untied and held the blade, the other held a fire bottle. One pilot cranked the engine the other strapped in and initiated radio calls.
It was not uncommon to be airborne in one or two minutes after “scramble the SEAWOLVES” was blasted over our radio. The VC operated at night. so of course most of our scrambles were at night. The VC also knew there were advantages to attacking in bad weather, so of course our most exciting times were in bad weather and at night.
It was a dirty war in the delta. As a rule, the VC took no prisoners and they had no rules. They definitely had never heard of the Geneva Convention or the Red Cross and there was a price on the head of every Seawolf pilot and door gunner. For the Dustoff helos flown by our Army brothers, and occasionally copiloted by some of us, the red cross on the side of these aircraft served as nothing more than a large, convenient target for the VC to shoot at. They would steal our ammo and shoot it back at us in their weapons while their ammo conveniently could not fit in our weapons. There were no VC uniforms and those who professed to be innocent fishermen and farmers by day, too often turned out to be deadly adversaries in the dark of night.
It was indeed a very trying time in the United States. We were truly a nation divided against ourselves. Vietnam… the name alone raised arguments across dinner tables, and literally ripped America apart at her seams. In late 1969, when I reported to HAL-3, our troop strength was at an all time high, with more than 550,000 American servicemen and women assigned to the Vietnam theater. While 300,000 Americans marched on Washington, to protest our involvement in Vietnam.
In May 1970, the squadron was flying in Cambodia and one of the darkest hours of the Vietnam controversy occurred when four student protesters, at Kent State University were shot by Ohio National Guardsmen. While perhaps the greatest conflict was going on here in the states, I must say that some of the greatest unity and friendships were being created and cultivated among U.S. military men and women who were serving in Vietnam.
During the entire war in Vietnam, no squadron flew more at night or in the day. No squadron flew more combat missions and no squadron earned more awards or recognition. Here in this hall of honor for all who have been a part of naval aviation since its inception, let me recount a few of the amazing statistics compiled by the SEAWOLVES of HAL-3:
Over 78,000 missions
131,000 flight hours
4,000 plus confirmed kills with another 4,200 listed as “probable”
6,400 sampans confirmed destroyed and another 2,300 “probable”
Over 4,000 structures destroyed and 5,500 plus damaged
While numbers and some statistics may vary slightly, the men of HAL-3 were awarded:
5 Navy Crosses
31 Silver Star Medals
2 Legion of Merit Medals
5 Navy and Marine Corps Medals
219 Distinguished Flying Crosses
156 Purple Hearts
101 Bronze Star Medals
142 Gallantry Crosses
Over 16,000 Air Medals
439 Navy Commendation Medals
228 Navy Achievement Medals
6 Presidential Unit Citations
2 Meritorious Unit Commendations
1 Vietnam Meritorious Unit Commendation
But all of these triumphs were not without a cost as 44 of our comrades paid the ultimate price in the service of our country.
On 26 January 1972, SEAWOLVES of HAL-3 were disestablished, but not before they had earned an honored place in the annals of naval aviation history and the begrudging respect of the Viet Cong. While America may have pulled out of Vietnam without having finished the job it set out to do, it would be all too easy to dismiss our efforts as futile. For our part, the SEAWOLVES saved countless lives and ‘wrote a new, brave and heretofore unheard of chapter in Naval Aviation history.
We were indeed a dominant force in the Mekong delta and we rewrote the books with regard to employment of helicopters in riverine warfare. Simply put, the SEAWOLVES of HAL-3 have set a benchmark standard which will be hard, if not impossible to beat. The SEAWOLVES, like the Vietnam war itself.. are now indelibly inscribed in the annals of history. And, while some memories may fade away over time, no one… absolutely no one, can deny that while we fought in a very controversial and unconventional conflict.. .for our part, we prevailed! !
And, more than anything else, and clearly most importantly, many of our fellow Americans,… our shipmates, in the finest sense of the word, are alive today to tell sea stories to their children and grandchildren because we were there answering the call to support those brave Americans who chose to put their lives on the line in the rivers and in the jungles of South Vietnam, in he service of our great country.
Let me simply say what an honor it is to be called Seawolf and how much I value the friendships that began half a globe away, nearly a quarter century ago, in the Mekong delta. In closing, let me slightly modify a quotation from President John F. Kennedy and say…”any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a great deal of pride and satisfaction, I served with the United States Navy SEAWOLVES of HAL-3.”
Thank you, may God bless you and all of our comrades, both fallen and missing, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.