The Transylvania Times -

Vietnam Veterans: Curtiss Poteat: Patrolling The Rivers Of South Vietnam


February 26, 2018

Courtesy photo

Curtiss Poteat with a Russian AK-47 in front of the team barracks at Cat-Lai.

Private Curtiss Poteat left the tranquility of Marion, N.C. for South Vietnam in 1969, having trained as a military policeman to work on Army patrol boats (PBRs).

"The uncle that I'm named after was on PT boats in WWII and I liked McHale's Navy," said Poteat, "so I thought that would be a cool job."

Provided River Security

Poteat was assigned to the 18th MP Brigade as a member of the 458 Sea Tigers.

"All the security in Vietnam was under the 18th MP Brigade," said Poteat. "My job as an MP was to take care of the weapons."

In Vietnam, the Sea Tigers, initially cargo handlers, evolved into warriors. With the addition of 50 caliber machine guns, M60 machine guns, automatic grenade launchers and personal weapons, these ships provided essential water-borne security for river operations.

"They sent me down to a little place called Cat-Lai," said Poteat. "We provided security for a Seal Team detachment, dropping them off somewhere on the river, ready to extract them or provide cover fire if necessary."

Security for large fuel and ammo ships also fell to Poteat's unit. Viet Cong sappers (swimmers), often invisible wearing divers' tanks and masks, would try to put limpet (magnetic) mines on the bottom of ships to blow holes in them.

"We spent all night circling the ships, dropping concussion grenades in the water and sometimes bringing up bodies," said Poteat.

Finding A Mole

"During the Tet Offensive in 1970, the Viet Cong attacked the wire around our base and set off our booby traps and flares," said Poteat.

They were repelled by Navy armed helicopters and by the security boats on the river.

"The next day we pulled bodies out of the wire," he recalled. "One of them was our camp barber."

The barber had been a Viet Cong mole, sending strategic information to the enemy.

Repelling An Ambush

Poteat and a driver from his unit were transporting two engines to their PBRs in Vung Tau in a 5-ton truck when they came upon a convoy of 25 vehicles that had been ambushed.

"The VC had blown the first and last vehicles which trapped the convoy," said Poteat. "They fired on us. We had two M-16s and an M-60 mounted on a ring on top of the truck, so I stood on the ring and opened up on the machine gun. We busted the ambush."

A captain from the convoy got their names and thanked them.

"He gave us each a bottle of Vietnamese beer, and we thought we'd come out ahead on that," said Poteat.

(Eighteen months later, back home at Fort Bragg, Poteat was awarded the Silver Star for his service on the road to Vung Tau. He takes no credit for bravery, stating that they did what had to be done to stay alive.)

No C-Rats Tonight!

Poteat and his unit were prepared for a dinner of combat rations when he received a large box from his mother, delivered with the mail by helicopter. Inside were four boxes of spaghetti noodles, jars of Chef Boyardee spaghetti sauce, cans of B&B mushrooms and two cans of parmesan cheese.

The resourceful soldiers washed their helmets in the river, using them to cook the noodles and heating the sauce in machine gun ammo cans. Poteat chuckled as he remembered.

"One of the guys said, 'You thought of everything! This even has oregano in it.' I said, 'Dumb ass, that's the paint from inside your helmet.'"

Coming Home: "Chilly" Encounters

Poteat returned home on leave in September 1971, flying into Elmendorf AFB in Alaska.

"When we left Vietnam it was 120 degrees and we were wearing jungle fatigues. We landed at Elmendorf at 2 a.m. and it was minus 10 degrees," he noted.

Courtesy photo

MPs in a military patrol security vehicle speaking to a civilian.

In May 1972, Poteat left Vietnam for good and tried attending college, but the anti-war sentiment on campus disturbed him. He re-enlisted in the Army, serving his country until his retirement as a Sergeant First Class in October 1992. Poteat and his wife, Jean, reside in Mills River.

For a remarkable study of military life during the Vietnam War, visit Brevard's WNC Military History Museum. Many of the noteworthy Vietnam artifacts were donated by Poteat, including uniforms, c-rats, a North Vietnamese flag, hammocks, radios and weapons.

(In collaboration with the WNC Military History Museum and writer Michel Robertson, The Transylvania Times will publish an article once every two weeks on a local veteran who served in Vietnam.)


Powered by ROAR Online Publication Software from Lions Light Corporation
© Copyright 2017

Rendered 03/16/2018 11:35