Interview with Jeff Bramblett, Part 3
This audio interview details Jeff Bramblett’s time with the U.S. Coast Guard during the Vietnam War. In this segment, Bramblett describes a close call with a hidden North Vietnamese soldier. He also introduces his interpreter and friend Boi Minh Houng.
WONGSRICHANALAI: Were you ever wounded?
BRAMBLETT: Only slightly. I never had to be hospitalized. I received a small piece of shrapnel over my right eye. A corpsman removed it and stitched it up … tried to put me on a helicopter to send me back. We were so shorthanded that I refused to be evacuated. I wasn’t incapacitated. I wasn’t in a lot of pain. I stepped on a punji stake and it went up my right calf and went in and out. It pierced my calf about six inches right up the side of it. Before it came out and they … it broke off. They had to pull it out. The worst part of that was they had to debride the wound every two days. That’s they take a … like a long Q-Tip about sixteen-inches long with a cotton swab on the end of it. And they literally go into the hole and clean it out to keep it from … because they would take human excrement and put it on their punji stakes to cause infection. But that was really the only two things that I … I was lucky. I don’t know. One of our main jobs was to stop and search junk boats. There aren’t any trucks or anything like that. Everything moves by boat and we would sometimes board and search fifty to sixty boats in a day. It entailed literally getting in the bottom of them. Their junk boats are usually … They’re made out of wood that they build with hand tools and it may be three-feet wide, four-feet wide, twenty feet, twenty-five feet long, and they would put boards across so that there would be a … between where they walked, and sat, and their … all of their … They literally lived onboard. It kept them from being down into what we called the bilge area and you would have to get down there and crawl that out, which meant you were crawling around in the water. The water in the Mekong Delta …We call it … what we said about it was “it was too thick to drink and too thin to plow.” But it’s very dirty. In the bottom of those boats, there would be fuel mixed with the water. There would be rats, cockroaches. I did capture a couple of NVA that were hiding underneath them. Got real lucky once. Grabbed a man’s foot and I was so shocked that I … I mean I had done this a lot and all of the sudden… I mean I had a flashlight but it was not wanting to work. It was a little military flashlight. It’s called a crooked-neck flashlight. The … The bulb sits at a ninety-degree angle to the rest of it. And it was blinking on and off and I had a forty-five pistol in my right hand and when I … I had the flashlight clipped to my web gear and I hadn’t seen him. He was laying very still. When I touched his foot, I just grabbed him. And I grabbed him right at the ankle, and I couldn’t think of what to do with him. I just jerked him and stood up. Well, I only weighed about a hundred thirty-five … forty pounds. He started literally doing a sit up almost. He had an AK-47. It’s … AK-47 is a fantastic weapon. It will shoot. You can literally open the bolt, and pour mud into it, shake it out, close the bolt on a round, and it will work. Somehow or another he had jammed it and … it … the … when he … I heard … I heard him pull the trigger. I saw the barrel come around and I hear this click and it sounded like two people slapping pans together. It was so loud sounding … and actually it’s not very loud. I turn loose of his leg and grabbed him by his shirt and was so scared I just jerked him towards me and I hit him upside the head with that pistol. There was a new guy standing on the deck of the Point Young … and he had picked up a weapon he wasn’t even qualified to use, which is an M-60 machine gun. He was very new and he had misfed the belt into it and I heard the bolt go home and I just could see the barrel. It was right at my head and he pulled the trigger and it didn’t go off because he had misfed the bolt or the … the belt. Our Chief Boatswain Mate, Chief Sykes, great man, literally leaned over him and grabbed the weapon and jerked it out of his hands and was saying all manner of things to him [chuckles] at the time. We got the guy onboard, got him handcuffed. We had an interpreter his name was Boi Minh Houng. And Hong was a very close friend of mine. He had been there from the day I got on board the Point Young. He was intelligent. He spoke five languages. He had gone to the University of … I don’t know if it was the University of France or the University of Paris. His family had relatives that lived in France. They had sent him from Vietnam to the university when he was fourteen. There’s where he learned the languages. He spoke, obviously, Vietnamese, American or English, however you want to call it, French, one dialect of Chinese, and another dialect of the Cambodian language, which is kind of like the Vietnamese language but it is totally different at the same time. We had become very close. I give him a lot of credit for me being alive.