Down the muddy river: a story of the brown-water Navy

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jarad A. Denton
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
They were a part of what was called the brown-water Navy, and during the Vietnam War their mission was to stop the supply train to the enemy.

Prior to his time in the Air Force as a B-52 crew chief, retired Master Sgt. Jack Dean spent eight years in the U.S Navy, patrolling the inland waterways of Vietnam.

"It was hot and humid," he said. "When I first got over there, it was kind of impersonal - but after awhile things got real personal."

During the two tours Sergeant Dean served in Vietnam he not only worked to halt the supply chain, but actively engaged the enemy on several occasions. He remembers the day his boat capsized during a mission downriver.

"You could call it divine intervention, or a sixth sense, but 30 minutes prior to the boat exploding I informed my crew to put on their life jackets," he said. "By that action, all five of us are still alive."

To this day, Sergeant Dean said he and his crew have no idea what it was that caused their boat to explode. As he told the story, he said the water he traversed was as clear as the dark-colored carpet beneath his feet.

"We don't know if we hit a mine, or a rocket," he said. There was a lot of pressure and then the lights went out. None of us even remember hearing the explosion. It was like an IED in the water."

It took Sergeant Dean and his crew more than 90 days in the hospital to recover from the injuries they sustained. During his time both in Vietnam and in the hospital, he wasn't able to celebrate Veteran's Day - or any other holiday.

"We celebrated no holidays," he said. "Veteran's Day was just another day; and if you got a few hours off on Christmas to have dinner, that was a big joy."

He said he was able to appreciate holidays more once he returned from Vietnam, despite the treatment returning servicemembers received.

"I was kind of bitter when I came back, because of the treatment we got," Sergeant Dean said. "We swore up and down that our sons and daughters would never experience that. So far, we've lived up to our promise."

Sergeant Dean said he hoped servicemembers today would learn from the experiences his generation endured.

"Take pride in your job," he said. "When you come back - don't keep it bottled up. Talk to another veteran, talk to a chaplain, talk to a counselor. Just don't keep your emotions inside, because they will eat away at you. And don't let anybody tell you what you're doing is not worthwhile."

Editor's Note: This story is the second part of a series highlighting our Nation's veterans.