The Vietnam Run

American Merchant Mariners in the Indochina Wars, 1945–1975


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About the Book

On the same day the Japanese surrender ended World War II, Vietnamese nationalists declared independence from France. Within weeks, France sought to reestablish colonial rule. American merchant seamen arriving in French ports to ship GIs back to the U.S. were dismayed when French troops bound for Vietnam came aboard instead. Many of these seamen objected because American veterans awaited transport home and because they flew in the face of Allied war aims of national self-determination. Later, with the Vietnam War effort dependent on Merchant Marine logistical support, seamen were among the first to protest U.S. involvement. With firsthand recollections, this book tells the story, from deadly encounters with mines, rockets and gunfire to evacuations of refugees and to rescues of “boat people” in the South China Sea.

About the Author(s)

A former merchant seaman, Michael Gillen (Ph.D., public history, New York University) was later a maritime labor reporter, an historic site curator and a program director and professor of Asian history at Pace University in New York. He also directed the project that preserved the Liberty Ship John W. Brown as an operational World War II ship museum in Baltimore. He lives in Lafayette Hill, Pennsylvania.

Bibliographic Details

Michael Gillen

Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 376
Bibliographic Info: 40 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2023
pISBN: 978-1-4766-8815-2
eISBN: 978-1-4766-4636-7
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Abbreviations and Acronyms xi
Preface: Not Just “Minding Their Own Business” 1

Part One—The First Indochina (French) War 7
1. For Want of a Ship 8
2. Sailing into War (1945) 12
3. A Curious “Neutrality” (1946–1949) 20
4. “America was with the French” (1950–1953) 34
5. Passage to Freedom (1954–1955) 51

Part Two—The Second Indochina (American) War 65
6. Signing on with Diem (1956–1959) 66
7. Kennedy’s Burden (1960–1963) 80
8. “Sealift’s Future Termed Assured” (1964) 90
9. Breakout (1965) 106
10. Rung Sat: Through the Killer Jungle (1966) 123
11. Turnaround (1967) 142
12. The Fireworks of Tet (1968) 158
13. Peak (1969) 172
14. Vietnamization (1970) 189
15. Empty Ship and Last Ship Sunk (1971–1972) 200
16. The “Leopard Spot” Ceasefire (1973–1974) 211
17. Evacuation Under Fire (1975) 220
18. Captain Flink’s Story: The 16,600 238
19. Mayaguez: The Last Battle 252

Part Three—Aftermath 263
20. Boat People 264
21. When the Ships Returned (and the Search for MIAs) 278

Epilogue: Return to Tam Bao 289
Chapter Notes 305
Bibliography 351
Index 353