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The Vietnam War – Ray Pederson – A Belview sailor returns home

We’ve been learning about Cottonwood’s Ray Pederson and his Navy service to help us better understand the Vietnam War’s impact on our region.

Ray Pederson grew up in rural Belview, graduating from Belview High School in 1963. He enlisted in the Navy and reported aboard the Landing Ship Tank (LST) USS Floyd County in December 1965. She departed San Diego on February 1st 1966, heading for Vietnam.

The Floyd County off-loaded her cargo of Marines and their equipment at Chu Lai, Vietnam in March 1966. A couple weeks later she anchored off Vung Tao in the south of Vietnam. Her two-month mission was to support PBR gunboats (heavily armed speedboats) and helicopter gunships to prevent arms smuggling into the Mekong Delta.

Ray explained the Floyd County’s next mission.

“[That] was Operation Market Time. We supported PCF (Patrol Craft Fast) gunboats. They were propeller-driven and had twin .50s on top. We went up and down the coast. They (PCF’s) would come up alongside at one end. They’d come out and get their stores and ammunition and they could change crews. We had a replacement crew on board.”

The Floyd County was underway for this mission, which helped the crew by creating a breeze in tropical waters. The crew suffered from the heat, humidity, and limited fresh water.

“It wasn’t uncommon to get temperatures in excess of 100 degrees for weeks on end. There were times when we couldn’t even walk on the ship in boondockers (uniform shoes) because it was so hot on your feet. I used to sleep on a stretcher with a kapok (life vest pillow) in my boat because it was cooler up there. Down below even at night it was over 100 degrees. The evaporators on the ship didn’t work, but half the time so you were on water hours for half an hour in the morning, if you wanted to take a shower.

The tight berthing areas were particularly difficult in the heat.

“You could put fourteen to sixteen sailors in one berthing area. For two years I had a bunk assigned. It was a piece of canvas that had grommets tied around this 18 inch by six foot long frame. You had a three inch mattress that you put a sheet on and one wool blanket. There would be three of them from the overhead to the deck. With that many men in close quarters, you’ve got to keep everything clean. It gets very gamey down there because there is no ventilation. You had fans and that helped, but it wasn’t good.”

Ray recalled the lengths the crew went to keep clean.

“During monsoon season we’d chase rain showers all over the Main Deck. We’d knock off shift work and everybody goes and takes a shower. We’d use battle helmets and take what we called Navy showers; one gallon over your head and your buddy would dump the next gallon to rinse you off. “ (Ray laughed)

Ray also recalled good aspects of life aboard the Floyd County.

“The cooks were fantastic! They’d improvise when we’d catch a sand shark or salt water catfish. That was a treat. On midnight watches you’d get “mid-rats” or midnight rations. If you went hungry, it was your own fault.”

Mail from home was always important.

“We had free postage. If I wrote a letter it would take two weeks to get to my wife or parents. There’s nothing like getting mail from home. They’d get bags of mail for the Floyd County. A lot of times they had the Yeoman come around and throw the letters on your bunk.”

The Floyd County left the Vietnamese coast in October 1966. Ray described one more port call before leaving the Western Pacific.

“On the way back from Vietnam they had ship’s R&R. Hong Kong – we went there and made some good acquaintances. I befriended a Navy cook who was aboard an Australian frigate.”

The Floyd County steamed back across the Pacific. Ray took leave and flew home to his wife, Nancy. They returned to San Diego together, finding a home near the Navy base while Ray helped refit the Floyd County in dry dock.

The Navy gave Ray a two-month early out as the Floyd County was returning to Vietnam. He and Nancy returned to Southwest Minnesota where he completed college and enjoyed a career as an insurance adjuster and junior high football coach

He reflected on his Vietnam service.

“There wasn’t a whole lot of satisfaction coming home from Vietnam. Our country was divided. It’s a hard hurt to overcome because your country wasn’t really backing you. I’m glad I served, but I think every time I go by The Wall in Washington, DC how much better our country could have been with those people here.”

Years later, another troubling consequence of Vietnam service touched Ray and his shipmates

“We didn’t know about it until after we got out of the Navy – Agent Orange. [We] carried it on board and we’d supply it. I had four close buddies and I only have one left. Two died of cancer and one of ischemic heart disease. I’ve got peripheral neuropathy in both feet. That’s how it’s hurt the guys, the crew members.”

Ray also appreciates the ways his service benefited him.

“I think you come away a better man because of what the military teaches you. The Navy gives you responsibility and you mature quickly because your assignments involve your fellow sailors’ lives. It taught you about teamwork. It taught me how to help people”

Thank you for your service, Ray. Welcome home.

The Lyon County Museum is organizing an exhibit about the impact of the Vietnam War on Lyon County. If you would like to share Vietnam experiences or help with the exhibit, please contact me at prairieviewpressllc@gmail.com or call the museum at 537-6580.

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