Thursday, May 07, 2015

A Weapon of Convenience

A picture. Just a picture.

Before you jump too far down the post, I'd like you to just ponder this pic for awhile, then we'll flesh it out.

Hold your horses; go back and look at the pic some more. Zoom in if you need to.

There is a story here, one I wish we had in detail.

Sure, the obvious is there ... but let's look from the inside out. The details.

The line attached to the cleat is bunched together like one on a weekend jon boat ... but this is a PBR MK-II or III. In contrast, the man has a reasonably new uniform and inspection ready polished black boots. The flack jacket is frayed.

As for the bow, it too looks new, as the string is bright and white and the wood unmarred from regular shipboard storage. It isn't for just show, the archer has arm and finger guards, good form, and the arrow actually looks hand made.

He is aiming his arrow at the grass house just off the river. One that obviously is someone's who makes their living off the water, as you can see between him and the house where the owner parks his boat.

Why is he going to burn down the house? Why use this method? 

You can get a broader view of the mission of these men and their boats via our friends at WarBoats here.

Think about the genius of this, it makes complete sense. If you are ordered to set fire to any structure near the river that is being used by the enemy ... how do you do that? If you go ashore, you are immobile, your Sailors are in danger of being ambushed, booby-traps would be waiting for them, and in essence, you will be putting their lives in danger just to burn a thatch hut.

You probably don't have and don't want a flame thrower on board. 

How do you set fire to something from a safe distance? Simple solution has existed for thousands of years; a flaming arrow? Why not?

How did he come up with this solution? That we don't know ... but thanks to a good Navy stencil program ... we can at least ID the person.

Zoom in on the helmet. That could just be one of a few names.

Now, let's cheat. To the caption;
Lt Cmdr Donald D. Sheppard aims a flaming arrow at a bamboo hut concealing a fortified Viet Cong bunker on the banks of the Bassac River, Vietnam, on December 8, 1967.
Who was Don Sheppard? Lucky for us, we actually know that, and as a result, have an outline of a character I think we all wish we served with. Read it all, but here is a rough summary;
He had entered the Navy as a seaman in 1948 ... retired in 1978 ...  failed to graduate from High School ... he was on a search aircraft patrolling the Bikini Hydrogen tests in 1954, ... despite having not even completed High School, he was encouraged to study engineering, eventually becoming his ship's engineering officer.

... X.O. of the U.S.S. Arnold J. Isbell (DD-869), ... command of the U.S.S. Carpenter (DD-825) at Treasure Island, San Francisco.
Now, some of you may be remembering him ... yes, that Sheppard - one of the better men of of the Hairy Navy.

He also wrote a book that, if I read it, will perhaps tell more of a story behind the first pic, Riverine: Brown Water Sailor in the Delta 1967: A Brown Water Sailor in the Delta,1967.

Another character in an organization full of them. Flame on.

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