History of The USS Whitfield County (LST-1169)

December 26, 1998


LST-1169 was laid down on 26 November 1952 at Sturgeon Bay, Wis., by the Christy Corp.; launched on 22 August 1953; sponsored by Mrs. John L. Clarkson of Lake Forest, Ill.- and commissioned on 14 September 1954, Lt. Comdr. Frank S. Handler in command.

After shakedown training in the Gulf of Mexico, the tank landing ship departed New Orleans on 13 October, bound for her home port, Little Creek. Va. Upon arrival in the Tidewater area, the tank landing ship entered the Norfolk Naval Shipyard for an availability that lasted from 25 October to 4 November. She then joined LST Division 44, Squadron 4, Flotilla 2, Amphibious Force, Atlantic Fleet. For the remainder of 1954 LST-1169 operated locally in Chesapeake Bay.

Following a short availability at Norfolk, between 5 and 22 January 1955, LST-1169 made a run to Havana, Cuba, and, upon her return, reentered the shipyard for further work. She cleared Norfolk on 11 April bound for the Caribbean, and took part in amphibious exercises at Vieques Island, Puerto Rico, with a reconnaissance team embarked. During that deployment, LST-1169 visited Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, before heading home on 29 April with units of the 3d Battalion, 10th Marines, embarked. After debarking the marines at Morehead City, N.C., LST-1169 pressed northward, reaching Norfolk on 6 May. Except for a brief cruise to Boston between 14 and 23 June, the ship remained at Little Creek well into the summer of 1955.

Named USS Whitfield County (LST-1169) on 1 July 1955, the tank landing ship remained engaged in local operations into 1956, a year in which she underwent an overhaul at Norfolk between 21 January and 23 May. She then operated in Chesapeake Bay and off the Virginia capes until 13 August, when she got underway for the west coast. After skirting a Caribbean hurricane, she transited the Panama Canal on the 20th. Shortly after leaving the naval station at Rodman, Canal Zone, Whitfield County suffered an explosion and fire. The repairs necessitated by that accident delayed the ship’s arrival at her new home port, San Diego, Calif., until 6 September.

Upon arrival, Whitfield County became flagship for LST Division 12, an assignment that soon changed when she was transferred to Division 11, and she soon commenced a regular slate of divisional and squadron exercises out of San Diego that stretched into August of 1957.

The ship departed San Diego on 13 August to begin her first deployment to the Western Pacific (WestPac). She called at Pearl Harbor between 24 August and 4 September and reached Yokosuka, Japan, on the 16th. A little over a week later, she proceeded to Camp McGill to load vehicles and embark troops for the first of several amphibious exercises. After maneuvers at Okinawa, Whitfield County then returned her passengers and cargo to Fuknoka, Japan, before she visited Sasebo en route to Yokosuka.

Three days after her arrival back at Yokosuka on 11 October, Whitfield County sailed to Iwakuni to pick up troops for additional landing exercises at Okinawa returning to Yokosuka on 31 October. She departed Japanese waters on 3 November and reached Son Gap To, South Korea, soon thereafter, beaching on 7 and 8 November to load cargo that she returned to Yokosuka on the 12th. Six days later, after again loading troops and vehicles, Whitfield County sailed for Okinawa, offloading her cargo upon arrival and taking on board units of the 12th Regiment, 3d Marine Division.

The tank landing ship arrived at Dingalan Bay, Luzon, on 30 November and served as the base for a reconnaissance team during amphibious exercises that lasted until 10 December. She then joined elements of the 7th Fleet at sea for exercises which kept her busy until she arrived at Subic Bay, Philippines, the day after Christmas.

Whitfield County remained there into 1958 before steaming to Naha, Okinawa, on 4 February, for the first of two voyages lifting marines and their vehicles. She arrived back at Dingalan Bay on 26 February for exercises in which she acted as receiving ship for simulated battle casualties. On 8 March, Whitfield County headed for the west coast and reached San Diego on the last day of March.

Between 14 April and 3 May, Whitfield County underwent an overhaul at the National Steel and Shipbuilding Corp., San Diego. She then operated off the southern California coast into the summer. Her routine was broken late in July during the crisis in Lebanon, when American armed forces went on alert for a global posture of readiness. During that time, she cruised to Pearl Harbor between 25 July and 20 August, after which time she resumed her regular routine out of San Diego.

Shifting to San Francisco, and later to Mare Island and Alameda, Whitfield County underwent an overhaul at the Todd Shipyard Corp. in preparation for the ship’s second WestPac deployment. She sailed for the Far East on 23 April 1959, called at Pearl Harbor en route, and reached Yokosuka on the 22d of May. She then visited Hong Kong between 9 and 16 June and returned to Sasebo on the 21st, via Naha, Okinawa. She then lifted LVT’s (landing vehicles, tracked), to Chinhae, Korea, between 22 and 28 June before returning to Sasebo.

Subsequently loading elements of the 3d Marine Division at Naha on 6 July, Whitfield County transported the marines to Numazu, Japan, arriving there a week later. Shifting to Yokosuka shortly thereafter, the tank landing ship remained there into August, undergoing needed upkeep and conducting local operations.

Underway for Inchon, Korea, on 5 August, Whitfield County rendezvoused with other units of Landing Ship Squadron 1 and took part in Operation “Seahorse”, a full-scale joint amphibious exercise with embarked units of the American Army’s 7th Cavalry Regiment. En route to the maneuver site, Whitfield County evaded Typhoon “Ellen.” Embarking the elements of the 7th Cavalry at Inchon soon after her arrival on 12 August, the tank landing ship sortied for Pohang Dong, on the coast of Korea, to take part in Operation “Seahorse”. Whitfield County proved to be the only LST involved, because the other units of Landing Ship Squadron 1 had been unable to reach the area due to typhoon evasion tactics.

Visiting Otaru and Hakodate at the end of August as part of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “People-to-People” program, Whitfield County was en route to Buckner Bay, Okinawa, for routine training evolutions with amphibious tractor units of the 3d Marine Division when she was diverted for contingency loading at Naha, Okinawa. She received those orders in light of the developing crisis in the land-locked kingdom of Laos.

Whitfield County remained in a high state of readiness in the Okinawa area from 7 September to 12 October. She steamed between Naha and Buckner Bay during that time and also conducted routine training evolutions, making one transit of the Taiwan Strait and evading five typhoons. During that period, the ship earned a well-done from Commander, Amphibious Squadron 1 for her contributions to relief efforts for Japanese victims of Typhoon “Vera.”

Ordered to Sasebo on 12 October, the ship underwent voyage repairs there; cleared that port on 2 November, bound for the west coast of the United States; and reached San Diego on 24 November. She then remained at her home port in leave and upkeep status for the remainder of the year.

Following local operations out of her home port into the summer of 1960-including participation in Operation “Swan Dive” held off Camp Pendleton on 8 and 9 February and Operation “Bigtop”, held between 2 and 10 May Whitfield County got underway for her third WestPac tour. After stopping briefly at Pearl Harbor between 22 and 26 June, the tank landing ship joined Landing Ship Squadron 9 in Japan on 1 July.

Homeported then at Yokosuka, Japan, Whitfield County would spend the next 13 years in the Far East, supporting American presence in the Orient. Her operating schedule reflected the growing American involvement in the affairs of Southeast Asia-particularly in Vietnam.

Whitfield County spent the better part of August 1960 conducting independent ship exercises and transporting marines between Naha and Numazu and back. She also engaged in the usual typhoon evasions common to operations in that area of the world. In September, the tank landing ship departed Yokosuka for a six-week cruise that was slated to take the ship to Okinawa, Hong Kong; and Subic Bay; but, soon after Leaving Okinawa, she received word to report to Subic Bay. There, she rendezvoused with Windham County (LST-1170) and set out for Singapore, Federated Malay States, on 26 September.

Reaching Singapore on the 30th, the two tank landing ships embarked 600 Malayan troops and their gear, part of a United Nations (UN) force assigned peacekeeping duties in the turbulent Belgian Congo. Early in July, Belgian troops had gone into action against mutinous Congolese troops, the Congo government appealing to the UN for “military assistance.” In the ensuing weeks, much bloody fighting had taken place, and the first UN troops (Tunisians) arrived in mid-July.

Departing Singapore on 3 October, Whitfield County and Windham County tarried briefly at Port Swettenham, Malayan Republic, to complete the loading and embarkation process begun at Singapore. On 4 October, the two amphibious ships departed Port Swettenham, bound for the port of Matadi, located on the Congo.

Whitfield County rounded the Cape of Good Hope on 22 October and reached the mouth of the Congo on the 31st. She and her sistership then ascended the river some 82 miles to Matadi. After disembarking the 600 troops and their equipment, the two tank landing ships departed Matadi on 2 November, bound for Yokosuka. They reached their home port five days before Christmas of 1960 and spent the remainder of the year in port.

For the next two years, Whitfield County continued her operations out of Sasebo and ranged from Okinawa to Japan, with port visits at Japanese ports and to Hong Kong. She also operated upon occasion at Subic Bay.

In mid-1964, however, the tempo of operations for the tank landing ship began to change-reflecting the increased role that the United States was playing in Vietnam.

On 22 July, Whitfield County departed Yokosuka for a routine trip to Okinawa, but was called away for duty off the coast of Vietnam. She remained at sea for 41 days with marines embarked, on station off the coast of South Vietnam and ready for any contingency. During that time, the Tonkin Gulf incident occurred early in August and further escalated tensions between the United States and communist North Vietnam.

Whitfield County, her services apparently not needed at that time, returned to Yokosuka early in October for much-needed leave and upkeep. She next conducted type training, made a troop lift from Numazu to Okinawa, and underwent more upkeep in November and December, before rounding out the year in readiness to operate in South Vietnamese waters once more if the situation demanded it.

With a logistical support load on board, Whitfield County departed Okinawa, bound for South Vietnam. She arrived at Danang on 5 January 1965 and offloaded part of the cargo before shifting to Chu Lai to discharge the remainder. She sailed for Subic Bay the following day, 6 January, as part of the Subic-RVN (Republic of Vietnam) shuttle force. Arriving at Subic Bay three days later, the tank landing ship took on a load of cargo earmarked for Vietnamese ports and sailed for Danang on the 16th with another logistical support load on board.

After unloading that cargo at Danang, Whitfield County shifted to Camranh Bay to load cargo for transport to Phan Rang and Saigon. Ultimately reaching Saigon on 28 January and unloading the remaining cargo, she took on board cargo to be lifted to Qui Nhon. Subsequently routed onward to Okinawa after loading cargo at Danang, the tank landing ship reached Okinawa on 10 February

Taking on board elements of the Army’s 4th Cavalry Regiment, Whitfield County proceeded to Saigon, reaching that port on 20 February. After returning to Okinawa, via Danang, Vietnam, and Keelung, Formosa, Whitfield County subsequently steamed back to Vietnamese waters with elements of the 1st Marine Division embarked and put the marines ashore at Chu Lai. The tank landing ship continued her busy pace of operations carrying return cargo from Danang to Okinawa (arriving at the latter place on 2 April), before she embarked marine elements for maneuvers at Numazu. Reaching her destination on 6 April, she immediately disembarked the marines and returned to Yokosuka for overhaul.

Following that yard work and the ensuing refresher training, Whitfield County remained at Yukosuka through much of the summer before sailing for Iwakuni, Japan, and arriving there on 27 August to load equipment and embark men of Marine Air Group (MAG) 13 for transfer to Vietnam. Underway on the 29th, Whitfield County reached Chu Lai on 6 September. She then returned to Japan and made a second trip from Iwakuni to Chu Lai, bringing in the second element of MAG-13.

Whitfield County proceeded thence to Danang to embark elements of Marine Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 1/9 for passage to Okinawa. The tank landing ship then proceeded to Naha, where she took on board the men and equipment of the Army’s 526th Engineering Detachment. Offloading at Qui Nhon, the ship shifted to Chu Lai and Danang, where she loaded return equipment and sailed for Okinawa. Upon delivering her equipment to Okinawa, she pushed on for Japan and reached Yokosuka on 24 October.

The ship’s upkeep period in Japan lasted into November, when she headed for Hong Kong and six days of “R and R” (rest and recreation). Departing the British Crown Colony on 23 November, Whitfield County proceeded to Kaohsiung, Taiwan, where she loaded 600 tons of cement slated for transport to South Vietnam. Reaching Phan Rang on the 30th, the tank landing ship offloaded her cargo and departed that port on 1 December, bound for Danang. The normally short trip became a four-day voyage after she ran into heavy weather soon after leaving Phan Rang, but she finally reached Danang on the 5th and took on board equipment for lift to Okinawa. After first offloading the retrograde cargo at Naha, Whitfield County reached her home port on 15 December and remained there over Christmas.

She was not to enjoy a New Year’s Day in port, though, as she sailed for Vietnamese waters on 29 December, pointing her bow toward Vung Tau and her first deployment with Riverine Forces. Slated to join River Assault Flotilla 1, Whitfield County arrived at Cape St. Jacques on 7 January 1967, embarked a river pilot and one River Assault Flotilla liaison officer and proceeded up the muddy Long Tau River to Saigon. She subsequently beached at Newport South Ramp that evening and remained there until the 10th, embarking men and equipment of River Assault Flotilla 1.

Departing Saigon on the 10th, Whitfield County arrived at Vung Tau late that same evening. The next day, the tank landing ship began providing messing berthing, and logistical support for the men of the river assault force and the 1,800 troops from the 9th Army Division who were training with the riverine forces On 26 February, Whitfield County weighed anchor and headed for Yokosuka, arriving there on 9 March. On 8 April, she got underway for Okinawa to load cargo for South Vietnam. A port visit slated for 11 April at Keelung, Taiwan, was canceled due to the urgent need for tank landing ships for the impending Operation “Oregon”. The ship sped to Chu Lai, reached that port on the 15th, and discharged her cargo upon arrival. She then took on board 92 tons of vehicles, 200 officers and men, and the cargo of a Marine Corps headquarters battalion; and proceeded to Danang where she arrived the next day.

Offloading upon her arrival, Whitfield County came under the operational control of Naval Support Activities, Danang (NavSuppAct), to support Operation “Oregon” and remained in that status until the 21st. During that time, the tank landing ship conducted two beachings at Chu Lai and transported a total of 1,300 tons of general cargo, bombs, and vehicles.

Released from “Oregon” on 23 April, Whitfield County departed Chu Lai and headed toward the Philippines for type training and a visit to Manila. En route, however, the workhorse tank landing ship was ordered to proceed at “all best speed” to Subic Bay. Upon arrival there on the 26th, she loaded cargo from Seminole (AKA-104). Then, after picking up additional ammunition, Whitfield County got underway on the 27th, bound for South Vietnam.

On the morning of the 30th, Whitfield County rendezvoused with Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) “Alfa” consisting of Okinawa (LPH-3), Bayfield (APA-3. ), and Point Defiance (LSD-31)-which was then conducting Operation “Beaver Cage.” The operation-an over-the-beach landing in quest of one battalion and three companies of local Viet Cong guerrillas and at least one North Vietnamese Army (NVA) battalion had begun on the 28th.

Assigned an operational area after transferring men and mail brought out from Subic Bay, the tank landing ship steamed in the amphibious objective area until 10 May, when she embarked 100 patients and 100 empty oxygen bottles from Sanctuary (AH-17) for transportation to Danang. Reaching her destination the following day, Whitfield County returned to ARG “Alfa” on the morning of the 13th, again landed passengers and delivered mail, refilled oxygen bottles, ice cream, and other dairy products to Sanctuary. Upon the termination of “Beaver Cage” that afternoon-the enemy having fled-the tank landing ship proceeded to a holding area at sea northeast of Danang and rendezvoused with the other ships of the ARG that evening.

Three days later, in a commanders’ conference on board Okinawa, the commander of Amphibious Squadron 9 revealed the next operation, “Beau Charger”. On the morning of 17 May, the task group rendezvoused with Regulus (AF-57) for replenishment and, during the early evening hours, began its approach to the demilitarized zone (DMZ).

The largest concentration of naval gunfire support ships since Korea softened the DMZ prior to ARG “Alfa’s” assault that was aimed at destroying enemy forces and supplies and evacuating non-combatants. At 0800, Operation “Beau Charger” commenced as destroyers quickly moved in and blasted the enemy guns Resistance at the beach was confined to sniper fire and shells from quickly silenced North Vietnamese shore batteries. Pronounced resistance came at helicopter landing zones, however, but despite that, the helo-landed marines linked up with tank units and initiated search and destroy operations that lasted through the next week.

Whitfield County operated in support of “Beau Charger” until 25 May, conducting “Boat Reps” (replenishment via landing craft and boats) of supplies needed ashore with craft from Point Defiance. Significantly, “Beau Charger” proved that naval gunfire was highly effective, but also showed that such support was needed farther inland as well. That requirement ultimately resulted in the recommissioning of New Jersey (BB-62) for gunfire support duties.

Proceeding to Danang on 25 May, Whitfield County reached her destination on the 26th and, after offloading, was detached from ARG “Alfa.” She subsequently transported a load of bombs from Danang to Chu Lai loading return vehicles there for transportation to Naha, before she returned to Danang to load equipment and embark men of Amphibious Construction Battalion 1, Detachment “B.” The tank landing ship departed Vietnamese waters on the morning of 3 June and reached Naha on the 9th. Offloading the vehicles and backloading deadlined generators, Whitfield County arrived back at Yokosuka on the 14th.

Whitfield County returned to Vietnamese waters in the summer to resume her support operations for riverine activities in the Mekong Delta region, basing again at Vung Tau. She departed Yokosuka on 28 July and reached her destination-via Hong Kong-on 17 August. Relieving Vernon County (LST-1161) of Task Force 117 support duties on the following day, Whitfield County got underway on 20 August for the confluence of the Vam Co and Soi Rap Rivers to rendezvous with the Mobile Riverine Base (MRB).

From 20 August to 5 September, Whitfield County provided “housekeeping” services and support for River Division III, “C” Company, 2d Brigade, 9th Infantry Division, and “A” Company, 9th Battalion. She supplied ammunition, water, and rations to the troops in the field; was the focal point of helicopter support operations; served as combat store warehouse; and provided mortuary services for the killed-in-action (KIA) periodically returned to the ship.

1169Toward the end of that period, on 3 September, the MRB shifted its base of operations from Soi Rap-Vam Co area back to Vung Tau to support projected riverine strikes into the Rung Sat special zone. On the 11th, the MRB proceeded to the Mekong River entrance, escorted by various units of the Riverine Division who provided minesweeping, close fire support, and reconnaissance when needed. Subsequently, while located in the Dong Tam area, Whitfield County assisted search and destroy operations in the Cam Son secret zone, Dinh Tuong province, Kien Hoa province, and in the Giong Troms district.

On 28 September, the MRB shifted again, this time to the confluence of the Cua Tien and Cua Dai Rivers, to facilitate strike operations into Kien Hoa province. Whitfield County worked in that locale until 1 October when the MRB was shifted back to Dong Tam to support projected strikes into the Western Ben Zong secret zone, Dinh Troung province, to destroy North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces in that area.

Whitfield County subsequently supported mobile riverine operations at Vung Tau and back at the junction of the Soi Rap and Vam Co Rivers into late October. While in the latter locale, elements of the riverine forces provided the necessary security during the lower house elections for the Republic of Vietnam’s parliament. Returning to Vung Tau on 24 October, Whitfield County was there relieved by Westchester County (LST-1167) and returned to Japan.

The tank landing ship then underwent a period of upkeep back at Yokosuka before she returned to Vietnamese waters at the end of November. She operated between Danang and Chu Lai through early December, transporting vehicles and other cargo, before she steamed back to Yokosuka. She arrived back at her home port three days before Christmas and remained in port until late in January 1968.

Underway on 22 January with a cargo of two pontoon causeway sections, the vehicles and men of BMW-1, and a CH-46 helicopter, with its accompanying “Sea Van”- an experimental housing seeing its first operational test and evaluation on Whitfield County,the tank landing ship headed for Vietnam. Touching at Naha en route, Whitfield County reached Danang on 31 January; transferred the “Sea Van” to Vernon County; and relieved that ship as support LST for ARG “Bravo”. With the relief and transfer of the marines and equipment completed, Whitfield County took on board the men and mail to be transported to ARG “Bravo”, and got underway on 2 February.

Over the ensuing month and one-half, Whitfield County operated with ARG “Bravo” within various operating areas off the DMZ, occasionally returning to Danang for mail, fleet freight, and passengers for delivery to the other units of the ready group. The ship also sailed to Subic Bay as part of the task force for upkeep between 21 and 28 February before she returned to Vietnamese waters. Terrell County (LST-1157) relieved Whitfield County as support LST at Danang on 14 March.

After a subsequent port call at Hong Kong and a quick run to her home port for restricted availability, Whitfield County returned to Vietnamese waters for a resumption of operations with the Mobile Riverine Force, in mid-July 1968, again relieving sister ship Vernon County, at Dong Tam. During her deployment with TF-117 in ensuing months, Whitfield County operated on a nearly non-stop, 24-hour a day basis, supporting the Army’s 4/47th Infantry Battalion, 9th Division, and three helicopters of an Army aviation detachment, as well as the boats and men of River Assault Division 92. By the time Westchester County relieved Whitfield County on 23 September, the latter had traveled over 900 miles within the Mekong Delta, processed over 25,000 hot rations, and handled roughly 4,000 tons of cargo.

Subsequently visiting Bangkok, Thailand, for “R and R,” Whitfield County then headed for Danang, where she side-loaded tow causeway sections for transportation to Okinawa. She then returned to Yokosuka for repairs before again heading for Vietnam toward the end of November. Touching at Subic Bay en route, the tank landing ship reputedly became the first ship of her type to utilize water-filled causeway sections to serve as armor along the thinly-armored sides of the ship. The causeway sections would provide a water-filled barrier against recoilless rifle projectiles and rockets.

After relieving Washtenaw County (LST-1166) at Dong Tam on the last day of November, Whitfield County spent the rest of 1968 as support LST for Mobile Riverine Group “Alfa,” TG 117.1, one of the two task groups that made up River Assault Flotilla 1. Other ships of MRG “Alfa” were the barracks ships Benewah (APB-35) and Colleton (APB-36), the landing craft repair ship Sphinx (ARL-24), and APL’s 26 and 80. Embarked in Whitfield County were elements of the Army’s 9th Infantry and a “Cyclops” aviation detachment, equipped with Hughes CH-6 Cayuse helicopters. The ship herself performed a five-fold role: (1) maintaining a round-the-clock, air- and water-mobile resupply readiness to provide field units with ammunition rations, fresh water, and fuel, (2) serving as a mobile base for helicopter operations, (3) providing harassment and call-fire when necessary; (4) supplying boat service among the ships of the MRG, and (5) providing subsistence, berthing, and services for embarked personnel.

At 2330 on 9 January 1969, the MRG base at Dong Tam came under enemy rocket and mortar attack. Whitfield County went to general quarters and participated in counter battery fire, hurling 16 rounds of 3-inch projectiles in the direction of the hostile fire. Although securing at midnight, the tank landing ship manned her guns a half-hour later, lobbing three rounds of call fire.

Whitfield County subsequently shifted from Ben Tre to the Song Ham Loung anchorage and returned to Dong Tam at 1100 on 20 January to commence turnover to Vernon County her relief with TG 117.1. That night, communist forces attacked the MRG and the base at Dong Tam with rockets and mortars Whitfield County went to general quarters at 2159 and between 2250 and 2300, expended 12 rounds against the enemy artillerymen. Between 1 and 22 January, Whitfield County’s gunners loosed a total of 78 rounds of call-fire; and the ship held flight quarters for the recovery of Cayuse and UH-1B Huey helicopters 306 times, without mishap. At 2300 on 23 January, the tank landing ship’s turnover to Vernon County was complete.

However, there was more work for Whitfield County before she could clear the muddy Vietnamese waters. At 2321, she headed for Vung Tau. There, she took over from Tom Green County (LST-1159) in supporting and resupplying TG 117.2, MRG “Bravo”. Her sister ship had recently been damaged in a Viet Cong rocket attack while beached at the Vung Tau ramps.

Late the next day-after loading a tank deck cargo of palletized ammunition and C-rations; and a main deck load of crated supplies, spare parts, stores and fresh provisions, Whitfield County got underway for the mouth of the Bassac River (Cue Tranh De). On the morning of the 26th, Whitfield County, escorted by two PBR’s, transited the Bassac River without incident and over the ensuing days resupplied and provisioned the ships of TG 117.2: Satyr (ARL-23), Mercer (APB-39), and Nueces (APB-40). The tank landing ship then returned to Vung Tau, where she was relieved as support LST for TG 117.2 by Iredell County (LST-839) on 30 January. At noon that day, Whitfield County headed for Hong Kong.

The tank landing ship spent six days at the British Crown Colony before she sailed for Okinawa to pick up cargo earmarked for shipment to her home port. After loading vehicles and nine men from Beach Jumper Unit 1, WestPac Detachment, at Red Beach 1, Chin Wan, Okinawa, Whitfield County proceeded on to Yokosuka, reaching that port on the morning of 17 February.

After upkeep at her home port in late February, Whitfield County acted as observer at the Republic of Korea (ROK) Navy amphibious exercise, Phiblex 1-69, at Chinhae, Korea, between 28 March and 2 April. During that time, she also trained ROK naval personnel. The tank landing ship subsequently returned to her home port for more upkeep before she sailed, via Subic Bay, for Vietnamese waters where she loaded side-protection causeway sections.

Arriving at Dong Tam on 8 May, she there relieved sister ship Windham County as support LST for River Assault Flotilla 1, TF 117. As before, the ship operated alternately at Dong Tam, Song Ham Loung (Ben Tre), and My Tho. At 0205 on 6 June, while the ship was at Dong Tam, four rounds of hostile fire landed between 50 and 300 yards from the ships of the MRF. Whitfield County immediately set general quarters; and, in the next 35 minutes, her guns hurled some 140 rounds of 3-inch counter battery fire at the enemy artillery. The riverine force again came under enemy fire that morning, Whitfield County again blasted the enemy positions with 170 more rounds of 3-inch projectiles.

Whitfield County subsequently shifted to Ben Tre but returned to Dong Tam by 13 June. While the ship lay anchored there, Storekeeper 3d Class L. E. Smith, assigned as roving sentry on the port side of the ship, spotted a swimmer in the water at 0100 on the 15th. Since Viet Cong sappers were known to have been active in that area, Storekeeper Smith promptly opened fire. Within a short time, the water around the ship was thoroughly grenaded. Later that morning, a Vietnamese body that had been shot was found floating nearby. For his prompt action, Storekeeper Smith received the recommendation for the Navy Commendation Medal for “effectively thwarting an attempt to mine the ship.”

Three days later, rocket fire landed within 50 yards of the ship, at 1405 on 18 June. Unable to return the fire because of the presence of “friendly” forces in the area, Whitfield County shifted her anchorage to avoid being hit. Later that afternoon the riverine force shifted its anchorage back to My Tho.

The LST was relieved by Tom Green County on Independence Day, 4 July. Between 8 May and 4 July, Whitfield County had expended some 2,982 rounds of 3-inch projectiles on call-fire and counter battery fire, conducted some 850 helicopter landings; and traveled 394 miles within the Mekong Delta. She had also witnessed the gradual turnover of all River Assault Flotilla 1 assets to the Republic of Vietnam Navy, the beginning of the redeployment of the 9th Infantry Division from the Mekong Delta; and the gradual disbanding of TF-117. When she sailed on 5 July, she left the Delta region for the last time.

Returning to Yokosuka via Keelung, Taiwan, Whitfield County soon commenced a badly needed overhaul, one that lasted into the autumn. For the remainder of the year, the tank landing ship operated locally in Japanese waters.

For the next three years, Whitfield County worked out of Yokosuka, touching occasionally at Okinawa in the course of amphibious maneuvers and exercises and at Subic Bay in the Philippines. She served three tours with ARG “Bravo” in 1970, two tours as support LST for Operation “Market Time” interdiction operations, out of Vung Tau in 1971, she served one tour of ARG “Alfa” and one with “Market Time” forces in 1972 Highlighting the ship’s activities in 1971 were her support activities for the grounded refrigerator ship Regulus (AF-57) at Hong Kong. Typhoon “Rose” slammed into the Chinese mainland on 16 August of that year forcing the auxiliary aground on rocks in the western harbor. During that period in late August 1971, Whitfield County provided berthing and messing facilities for Regulus’ crew.

Reaching Yokosuka two days before Christmas of 1972 after exercising with Marine Corps units at Okinawa, Whitfield County remained at her long-time home port into 1973. There, she was decommissioned on 15 March 1973. Whitfield County was struck from the Navy list in May 1977 and slated for subsequent sale.

Whitfield County performed services of signal importance during the Vietnam War-services that were important but, due to their nature, largely unsung in the public eye.

Awards earned during the Vietnam War: Combat Action Ribbon, Presidential Unit Citation, (4) Navy Unit Commendations, (5) Meritorious Unit Commendation, 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 (12) Battle Stars.

Click HERE to view recent photos of the former Whitfield County being Sunk.