Fast Response Cutter namesake Heriberto Segovia Hernandez
volunteered for duty in Vietnam in 1968. Known as “Eddie” by
his friends and shipmates, Hernandez was assigned to the
82-foot Coast Guard patrol boat Point Cypress, which served
along the Cau Mau Peninsula on the southern-most tip of
Point Cypress deployed regularly to
interdict arms smuggling, support troop movements, provide
fire support against enemy positions and gather
intelligence. To gather intelligence, Point Cypress sent its
smallboat, a 14-foot fiberglass Boston Whaler outboard
motorboat, on reconnaissance missions up Vietnam's shallow
Eddie Hernandez practice firing the M60 machine gun from a standing
position on the deck of Coast Guard patrol boat Point Cypress during
a mission on a Vietnam river in 1968. (Photo courtesy of Gordon M.
Hernandez served regularly on these hazardous missions
and, when in port, he visited other patrol boats to get
advice and discuss best practices with more experienced
smallboat patrol veterans. During smallboat operations, he
rode point in the bow of the Whaler holding the M60 machine
gun with bandoliers of extra M60 rounds draped over his
A well-worn flak vest and World War II-vintage
battle helmet provided his only protection from automatic
weapons fire or rocket propelled grenades.
On Oct. 5,
1968, Hernandez participated in a reconnaissance mission on
the Ca Mau Peninsula in which his force came under heavy
enemy fire, but Point Cypress and another patrol boat
managed to destroy enemy river barriers, fortified
structures, bunkers and armed sampans before withdrawing.
A few weeks later on Nov. 9, he deployed in the
smallboat on a gunfire damage assessment mission near Hon Da
Bac Island, on the west side of the Ca Mau Peninsula, to
assess a fire support mission just completed by a U.S.
patrol vessel. During this mission, Hernandez's smallboat
located and destroyed four enemy sampans.
Navy launched Operation SEALORDS (Southeast Asia, Ocean,
River and Delta Strategy) in late 1968, Hernandez frequently
volunteered for reconnaissance missions into rivers and
canals in enemy territory—many of them never before
penetrated by friendly forces.
These missions helped
to determine whether the waterways could be navigated by
U.S. patrol craft, such as Coast Guard patrol boats, or the
Navy's newly introduced shallow-draft swift boats and river
In the first few days of December 1968,
Point Cypress conducted daily smallboat operations and
gunfire support missions, destroying three enemy bunkers and
damaging three more.
Coast Guard patrol boat Point Cypress along the Cau Mau Peninsula on
the southern-most tip of South Vietnam showing 50-caliber machine
guns mounted on the fantail and amidships with 81mm
mortar/50-caliber combination mounted on the bow. (Photo courtesy of
Gordon M. Gillies)
On Dec. 4, the cutter rendezvoused with a Royal Thai Navy
gunboat to embark Commander Charles Blaha, deputy commander
for Coast Guard operations in Vietnam. Blaha visited the
patrol boat to familiarize himself with Division Eleven
cutter operations and evaluate the effectiveness of Salem
Ops smallboat missions. Blaha and Point Cypress Commanding
Officer Lt. j.g. Jonathan Collom planned to deploy Blaha and
the Whaler 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
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 after-action
reports, Hernandez embarked the Whaler with the two officers
the afternoon of Dec. 5, 1968. Hernandez 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 smallboat probed the shores of the
Rach Tac Buo for a connecting tributary with the Rach Nang.
The brief survey up the Rach Tac Buo indicated that
there was no navigable connection with the Rach Nang, so
Gillies steered the Whaler back to the mouth of the Rach
Nang. 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 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 proceeded with the mission and closed to within
thirty yards of the structures on shore.
smallboat approached the huts, the crew 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 Whaler 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 of the Whaler while
the officers received gunshot wounds to the head, back,
shoulders, arms and legs.
A smallboat mission with four crew, including Hernandez in the bow
during a reconnaissance mission on the Ca Mau Peninsula that came
under Vietcong fire, resulting in Eddie Hernandez's fatal wounds.
Weapons included smallarms and M16s with only battle helmets and
flak vests providing crew protection. (Photo courtesy of Gordon M.
Blaha radioed Point Cypress that they had been shot-up
and were motoring toward the mouth of the Rach Nang. As they
proceeded toward the river's mouth, the Whaler 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 in pain from his wounds.
After Point Cypress had
received the message from Blaha, Collom had sounded general
quarters and sped the patrol boat toward a rendezvous point
at the mouth of the river. Once on scene, 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 to the landing ship, Point
Cypress's crew did their best to stabilize the wounded in
preparation for the helicopter medevac from the Washoe
County to a local field hospital.
When Hernandez 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 patrol boat
approached the Washoe County to take on mooring
lines.Hernandez'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
In October 2015, the Coast Guard commissioned Fast
Response Cutter Heriberto Hernandez in his honor. He was a
member of the long blue line and the first Hispanic-American
cutter namesake recognized for Coast Guard combat service.
By William H. Thiesen, Atlantic Area Historian, USCG
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