Colleton’s keel was laid on 9 June 1945. She was launched on 30 July 1945 and completed in September 1945.
The concept of riverine warfare in the Mekong Delta renewed the need for the Colleton. Having a shallow draft and flat bottom, she was well suited for the riverine environment. After extensive conversion, she was commissioned at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard on 28 January 1967 under the command of LCDR F.R. Banbury. The first order of business after the commissioning was an extensive preparation for the transit to Vietnam.
On 6 February 1967, Colleton got underway for Norfolk, VA. to complete her fitting out by taking advantage of the logistic and training of that area. On 8 March, she got underway for Vung Tau, Republic of Vietnam. The first leg of the trip from Norfolk to the Panama Canal was utilized trying to fashion her crew into a team and getting them used to working together.
Colleton arrived at the Panama Canal during the afternoon of the 15th and began a night transit of the Canal. After a brief stay of a few hours, at the Naval Station at Rodman, she got underway to continue on her journey.
The second leg of her journey – Panama Canal to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii – began by “chopping” to the U.S. Pacific Fleet and was filled with drills and training. Oahu, Hawaii, finally came into sight on the morning of 4 April and Colleton entered Pearl Harbor. She got underway 8 April for the final portion of her transit to Vung Tau. Upon arrival in Vung Tau, She was “chopped” to Commander Naval Forces Vietnam and came under the operational control of Commander Riverine Flotilla One, embarked on the USS Benewah (APB-35). The Benewah and the Askari (ARL-30) had arrived earlier forming the nucleus of the growing Mobile Riverine Force (MRF). After a complete paint job (green Army olive drab), several hundred square feet of bar-armor was fabricated to cover the bridge and operations area. This had to be constructed entirely by ships company from angle iron and ½ inch steel bars. The month of May also saw the installation of 8-50 caliber and 12 7.62mm machine guns to the armament of the ship. She also acquired three ammo pontoons to be used as a mooring place for the small boats of the River Assault Squadrons and as assembling points for troops about to be embarked in the Armored Troop Carriers (Tango’s).
On 12 May, the first Army unit was embarked. The unit was the 4th/47th (riverine infantry) of the 2nd Brigade 9th Infantry Division. Five days later, River Assault Squadron 11 was also embarked. On 1 June, Colleton transported the embarked units up the Song Tien Giang to Dong Tam (30 miles southwest of Saigon). This was Colleton’s first penetration of the Delta. Four days later, the 4th/47th and units of River Assault Squadron 11 departed Colleton for combat operations. Colleton had no difficulty keeping up with the Army’s tempo of operations when on June 12 the Mobile Riverine Force was shifted to the Vicinity of Nha Be (5 miles southeast of Saigon) on the Song Soi Rap. A week after beginning operations in this area Colleton experienced the first anguish of war, when the 4th/47th’s A-Company suffered heavy casualties. A helicopter made a total of 19 landings, each time unloading an average of 5 casualties onto the flight deck.
On 27 July, Colleton returned to Dong Tam for a week of combat operations, then departing for Vung Tau, The main purpose in returning to Vung Tau was to concentrate the efforts of the Mobile Riverine Force in the Rung Sat Special Zone. After a weeks stay she shifted to Song Soi Rap and Song Van Co. Ambushes from the heavily foliated banks were frequent and casualties to men and craft were common. Other operations took the ship deeper into the Delta, such as Sa Dec, Song Ham Long, and Song Co Chien, on 18 December all embarked units left the ship as she prepared for the transit to Subic Bay, arriving 24 December.
From February 1968 to October 1968, Colleton conducted operations in Vinh Long, Dong Tam, and all along the Mekong Delta, with another run in December, embarking Alfa and Bravo Companies of the 4th/47th Infantry. The Colleton remained in the Mekong Delta until 1969 supporting the Mobile Riverine Force TF-117 and the Riverine Infantry of the 9th Infantry Division. She returned to the states in 1969 and was decommissioned in December of 1969. From what records we can find the Colleton was only in commission once and this was for her service in Vietnam. The USS Colleton was sold to the American Ship Dismantler’s, Inc. of Portland, OR. for the sum of $172.226.62. She was a good ship and will always be remembered by all who served and lived on her in Vietnam, Navy and Army alike.
Additional Colleton History
In December of 1967 the Colleton proceeded to Subic Bay for modernization of her sick bay. The area under the flight deck was gutted and converted into a triage area for the wounded. A ramp was installed for transporting the wounded into the triage area for treatment and disposition. Another ramp was built outside the ships port side for transporting the wounded directly into the medical department. Two more operating rooms plus recovery rooms were added while in Subic Bay.
The Colleton earn the following awards for service during the Vietnam War: Combat Action Ribbon, (2) Presidential Unit Citations, (2) Navy Unit Commendations, the RVN Gallantry Cross with Palm, RVN Civil Action Medal, First Class, with Palm, RVN Campaign Medal with 60’s device and the Vietnam Service Medal with (7) Battle Stars.
Additional history courtesy of HMC Norman Chatman USN Ret…
Thanks to FTG2 Tom Scott, Plank owner, USS Colleton APB-36, 3rd Division for this 1967 Cruise Book copy. Click this link: uss_colleton_cruise_book_1967