A Tribute to My Father ~ What This Ship Means To Me

September 26th, 2013
By Joe Muharsky

Not long ago someone asked me “When were you in Vietnam?”  I replied “you mean other than last night?”

I am sure I speak for every man who ever rode a Swift boat whether it was up the Bay Hop, the Cu Lon, the Bo De, the Song Ong Dock, the Cai Nap or the Dung Keo Canal.  Time goes on but the memories do not fade away.

I remember “The Sound of Silence” when we loaded the boats up for a combat patrol.  It is a sensation that only men who are about to go in harm’s way have ever borne. Not a word was ever said.  Instead, we just looked at each other thinking the same thing.  “I love you brother, I hope you make it.” With a casualty rate of over 80% we knew that not all of us would be coming back.  It did not matter if you liked him or not, you did love him, for you knew that he would give his life to save yours and you would do the same for him.  We loved each other out of necessity and respect because we knew if we didn’t, none would survive.

There was one other thing that to a man we all knew.  Someone we all loved and loved us had our backs.  His name was Admiral Elmo Russell “Bud” Zumwalt, Jr.

I have a medal and citation to go with it, as I am sure many of the sailors of Coastal Squadron One also have.   It came with a bronze “V” and leather bound case that says, “United States Of America” on it.  It means the world to me because Admiral Zumwalt’s signature is on it, not once but twice.  The second signature is dated September 23, 1991.  I heard that he was going to be interviewed on the radio in Cleveland, Ohio, so I cancelled my work that day, drove to the radio station and waited.  I wore my Navy shirt with my Swift Boat Pin on it and waited in the lobby.  When he came in the lobby and saw me, not a word was spoken.  He walked over to me, he hugged me, we both shed a tear, and he said, “God Bless You Son”. He also signed the book, Brown Water Black Berets, “To my comrade in arms”.

I have had other people say to me “God Bless You Son”, but it never had the same meaning.   They said it because they were old enough to be my father.  Admiral Zumwalt said it because he felt like we were his sons.  In a speech he gave to the American Legion the Admiral was asked, “What was your toughest decision as a leader?” His reply was, “It was when I had to send people into battle instead of being with them. In World War II, I was with my men. In the Korean War, I was with my men. If my ship got hit, I was at risk along with them. In Vietnam, although I was in a helicopter every day visiting sites, I had to send boats and aircraft into battle. I couldn’t be with them. That’s much tougher. “

We knew that Admiral Zumwalt had a special place in his heart for Swift Boat sailors. He even had to send his own son into battle as commander of Swift Boat 35.  I remember Admiral Zumwalt once said he felt guilty when each day’s casualty reports came in and he read it from the bottom first.  No man could fault him for that. I have 3 wonderful sons of my own and I would do the same.

He fought for our freedom in WWII, He fought for us in Korea, He fought for us in Vietnam, and most important he fought for us when the battle was over and others chose to forget. He did not forget us and we will never forget him.

When the U.S.S. Zumwalt goes out to sea let every nation know that “The Torch Has Been Passed” to a new generation of sailors many born of the veterans we fought with.  This ship can come to your shores as your finest dream bearing help or it can come as your worst nightmare, but rest assured it will come.

And what better man to command it that Captain James Kirk.  This ship will not only go where no man has gone before but where no woman has gone before as women officers and crew will be carrying that torch as equals, the legacy of our Admiral’s leadership as CNO.

To the Captain and Crew of the U.S.S. Zumwalt, learn to love each other as a crew for one day it may save your life or another’s. Forty nine Swift Boat Sailors are still on patrol with their names etched in a black granite wall in Washington. They will watch your back.

I want you to commit to memory some beautiful words that I once heard that remind me of Admiral Zumwalt. They were spoken by the author Jack London, who wrote “Call Of The Wild.” I do not remember them verbatim, but they go something like this.

“I would rather to have lived my life as a flaming meteor burning but for an instant brightly across the night sky in all my magnificent glory for the entire world to see than to have lived my life as a burned out asteroid drifting aimlessly across the heavens, devoid of all meaning of life and existence.”

That is how the men who rode the Swift Boats into battle believe Admiral Zumwalt lived his life.

When you are standing watch some moonless night far from land and the sky is full of stars, gaze at the night sky. Watch for that meteor flashing across the heavens you will know that it is The Admiral and his son telling you one more time, “You can do it my sons and daughters, and I will be by your side.”

Joe Muharsky

RD2,  United States Navy Black Berets Vietnam
Forward Machine Gunner,  PCF 78, DaNang, 1968
Forward Machine Gunner,  PCF 94, An Thoi, 1969
U.S.S. Brister, Destroyer Escort #327, Vietnam, 1967
Operation Market Time, Operation Seal Lords, Operation Phoenix
Recipient:  First Admiral Zumwalt Humanitarian Award 2003
United States Coast Guard Auxiliary, 2002 – present
Recipient:  United States Coast Guard Search and Rescue Team 9 award 2004
In command of United States Coast Guard Auxiliary vessel 252012  with my wife on board as a Qualified crew member.

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