Reservist

ISS4 2018

Reservist Magazine is the award-winning official publication of the United States Coast Guard Reserve. Quarterly issues include news and feature articles about the men and women who comprise America's premier national maritime safety and security

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In early December, Point Cypress conducted daily smallboat operations and gunfire support missions, destroying three enemy bunkers and damaging three more. On Dec. 4, the cutter rendezvoused with a Royal Thai Navy gunboat to embark Cmdr. Charles Blaha, deputy commander for Coast Guard operations in Vietnam. He and the cutter's commanding officer, Lt. j.g. Jonathan Collom, planned to deploy Blaha and the smallboat the next day to determine the depth of the Rach Nang River for Navy Swift Boat operations and to see whether the Rach Tac Buo River intersected the Rach Nang somewhere upstream. Point Cypress 's executive officer, Lt. j.g. Gordon Gillies, would serve as coxswain, and Hernandez volunteered to ride point in the bow. According to reports, Hernandez embarked the smallboat with the two officers Dec. 5 at about 2:30 p.m. Eddie brought the M60, while the others brought M16s and an M79 grenade launcher with spare rounds. The smallboat proceeded first to the mouth of the Rach Nang River, then over to the mouth of the nearby Rach Tac Buo. The crew probed the shores for a connecting tributary with the Rach Nang. There was no navigable connection with the Rach Nang, so Gillies steered the boat back to the mouth of the river. The smallboat crew then radioed Point Cypress for further instructions. They received orders to proceed cautiously up the Rach Nang to find the location of "hooches" (American slang for village huts), bunkers and fortified positions for future fire support missions. In addition, the smallboat received orders to destroy the nearest hooches using the M79 grenade launcher and highly flammable night illumination rounds. The smallboat closed to within 30 yards of the structures on shore. As the crew approached the hooches, they noticed an armed Viet Cong guerilla entering a shoreside bunker. Blaha fired a volley at the fortification with his M16 and the Viet Cong returned fire. As soon as he heard the gunfire, Gillies gunned the engine and the vessel motored away from shore, but it was too late to dodge the hostile fire. With only their flak vests to protect them against the enemy rounds, each man suffered severe bullet wounds. Hernandez was hit near the chest and slumped into the bow, while the officers received gunshot wounds to the head, back, shoulders, arms and legs. Blaha radioed Point Cypress that they had been shot up and were motoring toward the mouth of the Rach Nang. As they proceeded, their vessel received more incoming fire from shore. Blaha did his best to suppress it with bursts from his M16, but the enemy fire held no tracer rounds, so he failed to pinpoint the enemy positions within the foliage on shore. As they approached the rendezvous point with Point Cypress , Blaha and Gillies grew faint from blood loss and Hernandez remained slumped in the bow, alive but groaning in pain from his wounds. On the Point Cypress , Collom sounded general quarters and sped toward the rendezvous point at the mouth of the river. Once on scene, the crew of the 82-footer embarked the smallboat and wounded men. Next, Collom radioed a request for a medevac from the Navy's floating support base on board the anchored landing ship, USS Washoe County. During the half-hour transit, Point Cypress 's crew did their best to stabilize the wounded in preparation for the helicopter medevac to a local field hospital. When Eddie was brought on board Point Cypress , he was still conscious, but the bullet that struck him passed through his upper torso causing heavy internal bleeding. His wounds proved too grave to treat with the limited medical supplies on board Point Cypress and he passed away just as the vessel approached the Washoe County to take on mooring lines. Eddie's body was flown back to Travis Air Force Base and then returned with a Coast Guard escort to his family in San Antonio. On Dec. 14, 1968, he was interred at San Fernando Cemetery with full military honors. Hernandez posthumously received the Purple Heart Medal and Bronze Star Medal with a "V" device for valor. His Bronze Star citation read, "Fireman Hernandez's professional skill, courage under enemy fire, and devotion to duty reflected great credit upon himself, and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service." In 2015, the Coast Guard named one of the new FRCs in his honor. The Coast Guard Cutter Heriberto Hernandez is homeported in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Hernandez was a member of the long blue line and the first Hispanic-American cutter namesake recognized for Coast Guard combat service. � A smallboat mission with four crew, including Hernandez in the bow. Weapons included small arms and M16s with only battle helmets and flak vests providing crew protection. Courtesy of Gordon M. Gillies Heriberto Segovia "Eddie" Hernandez in his black and white service portrait, prior to his tour in Vietnam. (Courtesy of the Hernandez family) Issue 4 • 2018 � RESERVIST 29

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