History: CGC Minnetonka in Vietnam

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Minnetonka anchored off the coast of Vietnam during its deployment in 1968. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Minnetonka anchored off the coast of Vietnam during its deployment in 1968. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

For this month’s history post, we bring you a personal account of a wartime deployment from the perspective of a Coast Guard deck officer.

From December 1967 to October 1968, the Coast Guard Cutter Minnetonka was deployed in support of military operations off the coast of South Vietnam. The Minnie’s primary mission was to stop the flow of enemy combatants, arms and supplies into South Vietnam. This blockade often meant boarding suspicious vessels, but sometimes meant taking and returning fire from the enemy. And, that is where Lieutenant junior grade Keith Barker and the gun crew of CGC Minnetonka enter the story.

Barker, who would retire from the Coast Guard as a full commander, was a deck watch officer aboard the Minnie but also served as the gunnery officer (or gun boss) aboard the cutter. Over the course of his deployment to Vietnam, Barker and his men would not only attack enemy vessels but also conduct gunnery support missions protecting American and allied forces and directly engage the enemy along the coastlines of South Vietnam.

In total, the Minnie would engage in 51 gunfire support missions, fire 4,684 rounds of ammunition and steam some 59,685 miles in support of combat operations.

Over the course of the 305 days Barker was deployed to Vietnam, he wrote regularly and often to his wife Kay back in the States.

LTjg Keith Barker and his wife Kay, on the pier when the Minnetonka returned to Long Beach on 17 October 1968. (Photo courtesy of Keith Barker)

LTjg Keith Barker and his wife Kay, on the pier when the Minnetonka returned to Long Beach on 17 October 1968. (Photo courtesy of Keith Barker)

Excerpts from those letters make up what Barker has collected as ‘The Barker Chronicles of the Minnetonka’s Deployment to Vietnam (17 December 1967 to 17 October 1968): Excerpts From My Letters to Kay.’

‘The Barker Chronicles’ are a rare ringside seat to the critical role the Coast Guard played in support of American military operations during the Vietnam War. The letters are at times entertaining – Barker’s first letter recounts his almost missing the deployment altogether; insightful – in one letter, Barker compares the view of combat from offshore to a Hollywood war film; gritty – this was a war after all and Barker recounts missions engaging the enemy; and endearing – it will come as no surprise to many that the Coasties from the Minnie spent downtime performing service projects. Above all of these things, the letters are a part of Coast Guard history and we are pleased to be able to share them with you on this 234th American Independence Day.

When asked why he collected the letters and chose to share them with us, CDR Barker replied, “this is a tribute to all the Coasties who served in Vietnam and all of the conflicts since the end of the Vietnam War.”

Below are selected sections from LTjg Keith Barker’s letters to Kay during CGC Minnetonka’s deployment to Vietnam …

The Barker Chronicles

of the Minnetonka’s Deployment to Vietnam

17 December 1967 to 17 December 1968

Excerpts From My Letters to Kay

Friday, January 5

Well, as you can see, I made it O.K. The old man, as well as the rest of the crew thought it was really funny. The Capt didn’t say a word to me, but I don’t think I had better be late again. I got on about a mile outside Pearl Harbor, the Minnie was moving real slow so as to give me time to catch up. …

Minnetonka vs VC: The gunnery crew keeps track of their mission success. (Photo courtesy of CDR Keith Barker)

Minnetonka vs VC: The gunnery crew keeps track of their mission success. (Photo courtesy of Keith Barker)

Saturday, February 3

… I found out that our main job here is a deterrent!! We are here to keep the VC [Viet Cong] from coming by sea … it is just our presence that keeps them away.

Friday, February 9

Well, I suppose you have heard all about this new wave of attacks the VC are making. We all have a ringside seat 15 miles from it. It is really scary seeing bomb raids and hearing the guns as well as all the flares. It is not the same as actually being in combat here, it is like watching a movie – John Wayne or Robert Mitchum type of war movie. …

Friday, May 31

… Box Score – Minnetonka vs VC as of June 1: 24 VC killed, 30 VC wounded, 12 structures destroyed, 34 structures damaged, 4 sampans destroyed, 8 sampans damaged, 1 secondary explosion, 1 fire started, 3 bunkers destroyed/damaged, and 1 rice cache destroyed.

Friday, July 12

… Two weeks ago, I spent the day in Qui Nhon doing a service project. 12 of us went to a hospital and worked all day. Some of the guys helped put barbed wire around the hospital, while the rest of us helped them move into a new pharmacy. I hefted pills around all day. It was really a lot of work. …

CGC Minnetonka's gun crew engaging the enemy during one of the 51 gunfire support missions of their Vietnam deployment. (Photo courtesy of Keith Barker)

CGC Minnetonka's gun crew engaging the enemy during one of the 51 gunfire support missions of their Vietnam deployment. (Photo courtesy of Keith Barker)

Tuesday, August 20

Today we were in a big operation. … we shot 437 rounds (of 5-in 38 rounds) over a period of about 5 hours. It was really bad staying that long at G.Q. Our results were 45 structures damaged, 7 destroyed, 19 sampans destroyed, 4 trench lines destroyed and 1 large secondary explosion. This was one of our best shoots so far. …

Thursday, October 10

My last letter!! … We are leaving today at about 1:00 and heading for home. … We will be home at 10:00 AM Thursday, the 17th.

Click here to read ‘The Barker Chronicles’ in their entirety.