Interview with Jeff Bramblett, Part 1
This audio interview details Jeff Bramblett’s time with the U.S. Coast Guard during the Vietnam War. In this segment, Bramblett talks about growing up in Sulphur Springs, Texas and explains why he joined the Coast Guard.
WONGSRICHANALAI: Your name please.
BRAMBLETT: Jeff Bramblett
WONGSRICHANALAI: And when and where did you enter the armed forces?
BRAMBLETT: I went into the United States Coast Guard on May the 2,1966. Finished on Governors Island, which sits in San Francisco Harbor. It’s the sister island to Alcatraz, really luxury place to be. Went from there to a Class-A school, gunners mate. Completed that school and was stationed on the United States Coast Guard cutter, McCulloch, out of Wilmington, North Carolina. Once I’d been there 6 months I started volunteering for Vietnam. Coast Guard was in Vietnam from 1965 till 1975, when it fell. It’s rather frustrating at times because, we were so involved, and yet being the smallest service there were a lot of men and women that were there that didn’t know we were there. And I’ve run into that a whole lot. I mean you get the added … people that say, “Well, Coast Guard what did you do? And you’re a combat vet. You have a combat action ribbon. A hundred percent disabled form the war. What in the world? We’ve never heard of y’all being there.” That gets kinda frustrating at times. Anyway, go to the next question… .
WONGSRICHANALAI: Where are you original from?
BRAMBLETT: I’m from Sulphur Springs, Texas, Northeast Texas. Up close to East Texas State University, which is part of the A&M school.
WONGSRICHANALAI: Why the Coast Guard?
BRAMBLETT: [Chuckles] I went to … with a friend of mine. We didn’t ever have a recruiter in town so we both turned 18 about the same time, been friends through grade school, and his family was Marine Corps back as far as he knew and I really didn’t have a lot of family that had been in the military. My father was an engineer for southern aircraft in World War II, and so he couldn’t be drafted because of what he was doing. I had a first cousin that went to Vietnam early on. He was there in ’61, ’62, and he was an Army Airborne Ranger, also a pilot. He piloted Huey … the first Huey helicopters, but he was also a fixed wing pilot. He flew different transport type aircraft. He had said a few things about Vietnam but we were starting to hear about it on television in 1966 but first being in boot camp, and then in a class-A school, which lasted 18 weeks … Its very intense. You don’t have time to watch television, so you just hear a little bit here and there. When I went onboard the McCulloch it did what was called “ocean station duty.” We went into the North Atlantic, and there were different places set up and they are alphabetized. And they are there in case an aircraft or ship gets in distress and has to go down and we need to get there for rescue. You sit in a 64-mile square grid for 30 days and you go around and you go across but you just sit inside that 64-mile area, which sounds like a lot, but it’s really not. It gets real boring … but the North Atlantic… . I went on board the McCulloch in November of ’66 and I had never been to the ocean. When I was with this friend and we were at the recruiter’s station, I was … we were actually a line waiting to get in to see the Marine recruiters. I mean, it hadn’t … Vietnam had not become a bad thing and there was a lot of kids was volunteering. We were leaned up against the wall being 18 totally … you know, invincible I guess and this man came walking down the hall in a sailor’s uniform and I guess I had a neon light that said “stupid” on my forehead. He picked me out of maybe seven or eight guys there and he said “well, going into the Marines, well, that’s a great thing, yada yada yada,” he said “now when you go in be sure you tell them you want a delayed enlistment so you can go down to Galveston and lay on the beach, see the pretty girls in their bikinis … you know, be sure you do that.” My response was “oh, I’ve never see the ocean.” “Really? Well let me get …” and he looked at me and said, “Would one of you hold his place line? And I’m just gonna take him and show him some photographs of what the Coast Guard does.” I’m sure somewhere I’d heard about the Coast Guard but as far as I can remember, that’s the first person I’d ever heard of being in the Coast Guard. He takes me down and he shows me these pictures and they were of what you call lifeboat stations. And they’re really made for the recruiters and after he talked to me for a little bit, I went back to talk to my friend and I said “Man, have fun in the Marine Corps. I’m going in the Coast Guard” so I went in joined. May 2, 1966.
WONGSRICHANALAI: What was your friend’s name?
BRAMBLETT: David Felkner. F-E-L-K-N-E-R.
WONGSRICHANALAI: Are you still in touch?
BRAMBLETT: Yeah, on occasion. He made it through a tour in Vietnam. He did get wounded but came out of it in pretty good shape.
WONGSRICHANALAI: Fair enough. That’s a great story. Did you find any part of your service challenging? What was the most challenging part?
BRAMBLETT: The schools were hard but like my experience in education at that point had just been high school and they really hit us … It was a 12-hour day and that was … that was pretty tough. Boot camp was a lot harder than I thought. Our company commander had been in the Marine Corps for 12 years, and had changed services, came over to the Coast Guard. He had been a DI, a Drill Instructor in the Marine Corps and when he first meet us, after discussing things about each one of us, he told us “I don’t know what you came here to expect but understand this is going to the most physically challenging thing you will ever do in your life. It is second only to the Marine Corps in difficulty.” And I was glad I had run cross-country track because we started out 5 miles every morning, and that’s on an island, so we literally ran circles to get there, but we’ll get into the most difficult part, because, obviously, the most difficult part was Vietnam.
WONGSRICHANALAI: Fair enough. What conception did you have of the United States at the time of your enlistment? What did America represent?
BRAMBLETT: It represented everything that was good. I was raised very patriotically. I was named after my mother’s oldest brother. He was a Texas Ranger and had a lot of influence on my life. I grew up on a farm, on a dairy farm, and we worked. Well, I started getting up at 7 o’clock … When I was seven years old I started getting up at four o’clock in the morning, and working until I caught the bus and went to school, and then in the afternoons, caught the bus back home and would work until around 7 o’clock at night, and that was just life on the farm. I mean we had work to do and we didn’t have anyway of hiring people. We had to do it. I had a brother that was four years older than myself. Up until he went into high school he helped a lot but he was a very talented football player. He was the all-state football player form Sulphur Springs and he started on varsity as a freshman.
WONGSRICHANALAI: Did you understand why the United States was engaged in Vietnam?
BRAMBLETT: I know what I had heard. I had listened to Lyndon Johnson speak. I had listened to John F. Kennedy. His assassination had a very profound impact on us. I mean Dallas was only 60 miles away. There are actual some families from Sulphur Springs, and some of my schoolmates that were there. Two of them actual witnessed the shooting. They didn’t know what it was. People were freaking out and running and they didn’t realize that Kennedy had actually been shot until then. But America was involved and we were fighting to keep South Vietnam from falling to the communists, and we really believed that communism was the most hideous thing that could happen to a person so, I believed in it.