Frank C. Coleman
2nd Class Engineman (E-5)
U. S. Navy
Dates of Service: 01/23/1967 - 05/28/1970
Engineman, PBR (River Boat), ATF (Fleet Tug), River Division 531

Frank was born in Kilgore, Texas to Marty and CeeCee Coleman as one of seven children. Frank's oldest brother, Clarence, was blind. "I always tell everybody that, but it's never been really-it's a handicap, but it never was a handicap to him." Clarence was educated in Austin at the state school for the blind and deaf. Clarence, Frank states, was always an inspiration to him. Clarence eventually earned adegree in psychology from Texas State University in San Marcos. Athletics came easily to Frank. He played football and ran track, and earned a scholarship. His mind, however, was "on girls and whatever". He graduated from Kilgore High School and entered Wiley College in Marshall to play football. By then he was married to his first wife, Doris, so he left school. With the draft hanging over him, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. By age 19, he was halfway around the world on a fleet tug, ATF in Hawaii, Guam, Okinawa, Singapore, and Vietnam, where he trained in PBR, or Patrol Boat, River. Such a job required survival training, including training in being tortured. Clarence was in Vietnam in 1970, stationed in the lower part of the country, the delta. His first day in action his craft was attacked by a zapper--a male and female on a motorcycle, with an explosive charge strapped to them. It exploded about a half block from where he stood. "That was my first experience of seeing body parts scattered all over." Four men manned a PBR, including a forward gunner on twin .50-caliber machine guns; an engine man; and another 50-caliber gunner in the aft. Two PBRs traveled together, with one as the "cover" craft to provide firepower in ambushes. Heavier craft, such as the LSD, were armed with B40 rockets to cover the lighter PBRs. The rivers Frank patrolled, he explains, were like single-lane highways as a main avenue of civilian boat traffic. The main job of the PBR was to watch for NVA and VC, who traveled mainly at night (by use of radar) and shut off their means of transportation. From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Frank and his PBR patrolled the waterways. Air power helped. When fire from land grew particularly heavy, Cobras and helicopters called Seawolves "bailed us out many a night," he recalls of the suppressive fire from the air. So would the aircraft called "Puff the Magic Dragon". His worst experience was a mission in which he was boat captain and his "cover" craft, behind him, was hit. He saw nothing but Styrofoam in the water. Taught never to leave men behind, he began a frantic search for survivors, while his gunners aboard fired nearly all their ammunition. "We don't leave each other. Either we both go down or no one comes out." It haunts him still that, without ammunition, he had to leave. Frank completed duty in Vietnam as an E-5. He experienced no anti-war opinions after he returned home. "I guess that I was fortunate enough to be from this part of East Texas. People were receptive of the military. " He believes nearly all young Americans should participate in the military. "It taught them the meaning of responsibility of what they had to do. It taught them to be a man. The military gives you the basic foundations as to what it took and what you were gonna have to do or what your obligations were." 2