Naval Hospital Bremerton remembers their ‘Beans and Bullets’ Patrol Boat Chief

Story by Douglas Stutz, Naval Hospital Bremerton

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He was gruff, full of vulgarities, and had a wealth of experience.

He readily shared all three.

After a career serving his nation for 21 years, followed by involvement in countless volunteer activities and sharing invaluable guidance, assistance and mentorship, retired Chief Boatswain Mate Jerry Irvine has finally slowed down.

He passed away on March 26, 2017, at age 82.

“This country lost a true American hero and patriot. Jerry Irvine passed away at home. Jerry received multiple personal awards, including the Bronze Star for his service in Vietnam. He was a master of nautical knot tying and his work can be seen in many different places from Naval Hospital Bremerton (NHB) to the USS Turner Joy museum. He loved his family, this country, the Navy and his fellow chiefs. It’s a very sad day. He was a great friend and shipmate. He will be greatly missed,” said Casey Pruett, NHB Suitability Screening and Exceptional Family Member Program coordinator.

During his three tours in Vietnam he was on nine ships, including being assigned to River Section 523 in the Mekong River Delta, and with River Section 521 near Hue City.

Irvine is mentioned prominently in numerous dispatches, such as on February 25, 1968, ‘where as a courageous chief petty officer with much combat experience, during the first attack in Tet Mau Than, he advanced under enemy fire, conducted patrol boat river (PBR) operations, directed precision fire destroying the North Vietnamese Regular Forces in the south bank of the Perfume River, raised the siege for friendly forces at Con Dau near Hue, effectively providing protection to the vital supply ships going to Hue, which contributed substantially to the reoccupation of the city. Irvine and his PBR team were also responsible for helping to ferry military and civilian casualties out of the immediate lines of fire. For this he was awarded the Gallantry Cross (Vietnam),’ read the dispatch.

Boats, as he is affectionately called by all at NHB, attests that his team was in so many fire fights that they simply became a normal part of the day. They would go back to their floating barge base for ‘beans and bullets’ and then head back out. There were times on a routine three-day patrol that they would be so fatigued that they didn’t care, they just up and did their jobs.

A few months later on May 30, 1968, a 15-man Marine Corps Combined Action Platoon (CAP) was in ambush position with popular forces around the hostile village of Thon An Duong. The CAP reported being surrounded by enemy forces and taking personnel casualties from hostile fire.

Six PBRs, led by Irvine and two other chiefs, sped to the rescue. Despite coming under enemy fire, they evacuated all of the Marines and Vietnamese troops without any further casualties. Because of his expert handling of his units, his courage under fire, and expert direction of his unit’s fire within 50 feet of friendly positions, the massacre of the entire CAP unit was prevented.

The Bronze Star, with Combat “V” for valor, was awarded to Irvine for meritorious achievement in connection with operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force while serving in the Republic of Vietnam from September 20, 1967 to September 18, 1968.

While serving as a PBR patrol officer and boat captain in the River Patrol Force, he participated in 215 combat patrols on the island waterways of the Mekong Delta and I Corps. His patrols involved the boarding and searching of indigenous craft, enforcement of the curfew, assisting Popular Force Outposts under enemy attack, aiding friendly forces in search and destroy operations and medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) of numerous wounded personnel.

His patrols also played a vital role in securing a landing zone for MEDEVAC and resupply helicopters in the besieged city of Hue during the 1968 Tet Offensive. His patrols were instrumental in maintaining the flow of supply craft to and from the city of Hue throughout the month of February and greatly enhanced the defeat of North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and Viet Cong forces in that city.

On March 27 and 28, Irvine’s patrol participated in the destruction of an entire NVA company which had moved into Toan Tuan Hoa Village on the banks of the Perfume River.

His award citation read in part, “His courage, dedication and determination were in keeping with the highest tradition of the United States Naval Service.”

Along with retired Chief Storekeeper Gene Hanson who also passed away on January 23 at age 92, Irvine was considered an unofficial ‘adopted’ staff member at NHB.

Irvine held classes on what he considered a dying art of nautical knot tying. His handiwork in the craft is on display all over the command. Irvine and Hanson would also take it upon themselves to pass out holiday greeting baskets to NHB clinics as their way of saying thank you to the young service members. They were also there for every active duty deployment wave departing and returning during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“He was always going out of his way to help. If anyone ever needed any assistance, he was there. I remember meeting him back in 2003. He’s a top notch chief and a great loss,” said NHB Command Master Chief James Reynolds.

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