A Vietnam War veteran’s diligent investigation of the 1968 attack on swift boat PCF-19, which concludes that the U.S. government erred in ruling the vessel and its passengers victims of friendly fire.
One can’t help but admire Steffes’s efforts to make sense of what he experienced during his first summer as a swift boat sailor along the border between North and South Vietnam. On June 15, 1968, he watched his fellow Swifties aboard PCF-19 sail up the coast toward the DMZ on a routine mission, only to discover by the early minutes of the next day that they had been attacked–four of the sailors had been killed and one was missing. A Board of Inquiry determined it was the result of friendly fire, but Steffes was not satisfied with the verdict. After a career in the Navy and more than 30 years of wanting to uncover the truth, Steffes sought to reverse what he alludes to as a politically motivated verdict. His investigation is more impressive than his delivery. The author uses the Internet, declassified Naval Archive records and interviews with eyewitnesses to, he hopes, correct history. In search of what really happened, Steffes took trips to veterans’ conventions and even returned to Vietnam with fellow sailors to try and make sense of the incident. He fully explains the role of the swift boats in missions, as well as corrects the illogical conclusion of the boat’s attack. Steffes’s is a moving story, both the experience at the scene in 1968 and his subsequent quest for the truth. But the book’s narrative is too often interrupted by reproduced documentary evidence, military terminology and errors in grammar and spelling. Swift Boat Down’s most valid contribution is its vivid description of a Swifty’s mission and Steffes’s take on the truth, which boosts his fellow sailors from hapless victims to war heroes. In order to understand the jargon and geography, however, the lay reader would need a list of military abbreviations and a Vietnam map for reference.
A tenacious personal memoir that sets a little-known record straight for the author.