People tend to think of the Vietnam War as a ground and air war—jungle skirmishes, napalm, villages aflame, rice patty strafing. But the navy’s surface fleet played a significant role in the war effort as well.
Some sailors served in the demure but omnipresent “brown water navy,” patrolling the rivers and deltas. Others crewed the giant carriers that provided air support for the ground war. Yet other, such as Chuck Froetschel (sounds like Rachel), patrolled the more open-water coastal areas.
During his enlistment (1962-66), Chuck served aboard the old WW II era USS Gurke (DD-783)—by that time a seasoned man-o-war. In addition to service in WW II, the Gurke saw extensive action in the Korean War. During the 1960s, the USS Gurke provided cover for the on-scene carriers, performed search and rescue missions, and bombed Saigon and Mekong River deltas. While in the Gulf of Tonkin, the Gurke was targeted (unsuccessfully) by three Viet Cong PT boats.
Chuck’s job aboard the Gurke was to keep the propulsion machinery going. It was a sweltering job among the boiler pipes below decks, Chuck admits.
We frequently get the opportunity to record our veterans’ interviews at the venerable Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum. Situated in the busy Oakland section of Pittsburgh, the great Hall is a central landmark that sits high above 5th Avenue, like a citadel.
Yet, despite its urban location for a hundred years, many residents still don’t know much about the museum. As if hidden in plain sight, Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum is the nation’s only military museum dedicated to honoring the men and women of all branches of service.
That mission complements our own commitment to preserve the stories of local veterans from all branches of service and eras—including the often forgotten Cold War. Of course, because time is running out we prioritize working with the WW II generation, as was the case during this recording session; seven of the eight veterans we interviewed served during WW II.
Over two days (November 21st and 22nd) we welcomed our participating veterans to the museum’s grand Gettysburg Room, where we set up our mobile recording studio. It’s a popular recording space, often seen in local documentaries; the History Channel likes to record here as well.
Again this year the recording project was joined by the 354th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, a communications unit in the Army Reserve located in Coraopolis, Pa. The mission of the 354th is to publicize the Army and its history.
“In addition to our own interviews,” said director Todd DePastino of the Veterans Breakfast Club, “each year we arrange for the 354th MPAD to interview Army veterans. It’s a wonderful experience for our WW II vets to talk with today’s uniformed soldiers, and I think the Reservists feel the same way.”
We were also joined by Nick Wells of Mt. Lebanon, an active member of our volunteer creative team. Nick was instrumental in helping us greet veterans and prepare them for their interviews.