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Vernon County

 

Counties in Missouri and Wisconsin and a parish in Louisiana.

 

(LST-1161: dp. 5,777; 1. 384'; b. 56'6"; dr. 17'; s. 14.5 k.; cpl. 600; a. 6 3"; cl. LST-1156)

 

LST-1161 was laid down on 14 April 1952 at Pascagoula, Miss., by Ingalls Shipbuilding Corp.; launched on 25 November 1952; sponsored by Mrs. Hugh White, the wife of the then-governor of Mississippi; and commissioned on 18 May 1953, Lt. Comdr. D. E. Sutherlin in command.

 

After conducting her shakedown cruise, LST-1161 operated off the eastern seaboard, out of Little Creek, Va., and Morehead City, N.C., through mid-February 1954. She subsequently deployed twice to the Caribbean operating areas during the year 1954. During an exercise at Vieques, Puerto Rico, between 11 April and 7 May 1954, the ship particinated in the filming of the movie "Away All Boats." The LST entered the naval shipyard at Philadelphia, Pa., for extensive modifications on 28 July. Once those alterations and repairs were completed, the tank landing ship headed for Little Creek, reaching the amphibious base there on 19 December. The ship received the name Vernon County on 1 July 1955.

 

Vernon County operated with the Amphibious Forces of the Atlantic Fleet, alternating between Norfolk and Little Creek as her "home ports." During her years of operations from those places, she deployed regularly to the North Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Caribbean areas. In 1958, she was transferred to the Pacific Fleet, sailing via the Panama Canal to her new assigned home port—San Diego, Calif.

 

After operating from San Diego for over a year and one-half, conducting regular periods of underway training and local operations off the southern California coast, Vernon County changed home ports for the last time. On 16 June 1960, the tank landing ship departed the west coast, bound for Yokosuka, Japan. Together with seven additional LST's, Vernon County would comprise Amphibious Squadron (PhibRon) 9. They reached Yokosuka on 6 August.

 

Vernon County subsequently formed an integral part of the amphibious forces supporting the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), participating in SEATO's Operation "Tulungan" in May 1962. In so doing, she became one of the first American amphibious vessels to transport marines to Thailand.

 

Her first years in Yokosuka saw the ship participating in many major amphibious exercises, including those named "Pony Express" and "Sharp Edge." After an upkeep period in June 1962, Vernon County transported marines from Subic Bay, Philippines, to Iwakuni, Japan; she paid a port call at Karatsu, Japan, reportedly the first American man-of-war to visit that port since the Korean War.

 

February of the following year saw Vernon County at Kobe, Japan; in March, she visited Tspying and Kaohsiung, Taiwan, and spent much of April at Subic Bay. That June, she participated in Operation "Flagpole," a joint 7th Fleet-Republic of Korea (ROK) naval exercise. Before returning to her home port, Yokosuka, the LST called at Shimonoseki, Japan; Naha, Okinawa; and Keelung, Taiwan.

 

After her return to Yokosuka and subsequent refresher training at Numazu, Japan, Vernon County took part in Operation "Litgas" in company with other SEATO naval units. Subsequently returning to Hong Kong, via Yokosuka, the tank landing ship visited Kobe in mid-July 1964.

 

For a few days, Vernon County trained in nearby Sagami Wan when an international incident occurred in the waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. With the 7th Fleet alerted during the "Tonkin Gulf" crisis that flared up immediately, Vernon County embarked marines and steamed for Vietnam. For the next 60 days, as part of the force thrown into Southeast Asian waters ready for any contingency, Vernon County veritably hugged the coast of that war-torn country.

 

Vernon County was then relieved on station and proceeded back to Yokosuka, but the respite offered was, in retrospect, only a short one. In January 1965, trouble again flared in Vietnam, and the tank landing ship again headed for Vietnamese waters to provide amphibious support. Departing her home port on 8 February, Vernon County proceeded to Iwakuni, Japan, and Naha, Okinawa, before pushing on to Danang and arriving on the 18th. Upon arrival, she disembarked Company "C," 7th Engineer Battalion, to provide construction support for the light antiaircraft ("Hawk") missile battery then being emplaced there, thus completing the "Hawk" deployment—yet another step in American commitment to aid the South Vietnamese.

 

Over the ensuing months, Vernon County conducted her operations: loading, offloading, stand-by alerts, and the landing of marines and equipment on South Vietnamese shores under conditions that varied from flower girls to light machinegun fire. In April, Vernon County landed marines at Danang, South Vietnam, and brought turn-around loads from Okinawa. Once this landing was completed, Vernon County sailed north and took part in one of the largest amphibious undertakings since Inchon (in Korea), when she participated in the landings at Chu Lai, South Vietnam. In that operation, three battalion landing teams and a Navy mobile construction battalion went ashore with a twofold mission: (1) extend American influence, and (2) initiate construction of an airfield.

 

More turn-around loads followed to insure the steady flow of supplies and equipment to support the ever-expanding beachhead and the development of a landing strip to support the operations of a Marine Air Wing. As marine reinforcements arrived in the Western Pacific (WestPac) area, Vernon County continued to load and land supplies at Chu Lai.

 

While the ship was carrying out her duties in that capacity, American intelligence picked up evidence that a Viet Cong (VC) force was massing for an attack on the recently arrived marines at Chu Lai. Accordingly, a joint Marine-ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) operation was planned and launched on 6 August 1965 to search for the VC. In that evolution, code-named "Thunderbolt," the marines and ARVN soldiers did not find the VC in strength, but only met scattered resistance. Nevertheless, the operation proved to be, in retrospect, a "Successful experiment in command and control."

 

Subsequently, however, the interrogation of a VC deserter revealed the location of the 1st VC Regiment. It was, as thought, moving toward Chu Lai. Accordingly, another operation, code-named "Starlite," was expeditiously planned.

 

Vernon County embarked elements of the 3d Battalion, 3d Marines (Battalion Landing Team) (BLT) 3, under Lieutenant Colonel Joseph E. Muir, USMC, at Chu Lai, and sailed south along the coast to An Thuong, where she put the troops ashore in one phase of "Starlite." The operation, involving amphibious, heliborne, and ground forces, started out as a search and destroy operation but soon escalated into a battalion-sized offensive against the VC. "Starlite" thwarted the incipient VC move toward Chu Lai, some nine miles to the north, the main battle taking place in the Van Truong village complex.

 

The marines discovered communication equipment, numerous documents, munitions, rice, and propaganda —all leading intelligence men to estimate that the hamlet of Van Thuong had served as a VC command post. During the operation, marines of the 3d Marine Amphibious Force (MAF) clearly bested the enemy forces, annihilating the 60th VC Battalion and severely crippling the 40th Battalion. It was the first big battle for the marines, who came away from "Starlite" confident in their ability to meet the enemy on the field of battle and defeat him.

 

Late in October, Vernon County sailed for Korean waters and, with other units of the 7th Fleet, participated in the movement of the ROK "Tiger" Division to Vietnam. Subsequently, Vernon County took part in direct lifts of equipment and troops to Vietnam before returning to Yokosuka on Christmas Day 1965.

 

After operating locally out of her home port and in Vietnamese waters, primarily at Chu Lai, Vernon County replenished and underwent a period of upkeep at Subic Bay in the Philippines. She then returned to intracoastal shipping operations off the coast of South Vietnam and even penetrated the Mekong Delta to pay a port call at Saigon. The tank landing ship returned to Yokosuka in early June.

 

Vernon County trained briefly in Japanese waters— at Numazu—before going to Okinawa, and from there to Hong Kong. Returning to Vietnamese waters upon conclusion of that liberty-port visit, the tank landing ship headed for Subic Bay, via Danang and Camranh Bay, soon thereafter, for 13 days of upkeep in the Philippine Islands. Returning to Yokosuka after conducting lifts of men and materiel to Okinawa and Sasebo, Vernon County remained in her home port until 21 September 1966.

 

Ordered back to Vietnam, Vernon County operated in support of Operation "Market Time," the coastal interdiction of communist supply traffic off the coast of South Vietnam, serving as "mother ship" for the fast patrol craft used for those evolutions. Vernon County remained on station with "Market Time" until 29 November. From there, she went on to Yokosuka, commencing a regularly scheduled yard overhaul on 8 December 1966.

 

Completing those repairs and alterations on 15 March 1967, Vernon County ran sea trials and conducted refresher training before visiting Kobe in April. Subsequently, the tank landing ship returned to Yokosuka, where she conducted more training during May.

 

Leaving Yokosuka in her wake on 6 June, Vernon County was heading for Sasebo when she received orders directing her to sail for Vietnam. Upon arrival, Vernon County became a part of the Mobile Riverine Force (MRF), a joint Navy-Army assault unit conducting search and destroy missions in the Mekong Delta region. While assigned to the MRF, Vernon County was a veritable picture of versatility: she carried ammunition for Army troops, fire support bases, and the Navy's river patrol boats; she carried boats, clothing, batteries, and "C" rations for troops in the field; purified and supplied fuel to various riverine craft; housed, fed, and entertained over 340 additional Army and Navy combat personnel; and logged over 780 helicopter landings on her "flight deck."

 

Relieved from MRF support duties on 20 August 1967, Vernon County headed for Chu Lai, and from there to Keelung, Taiwan. Reaching the latter port on 30 August, the tank landing ship spent five days there before moving on, ultimately returning to her home port, Yokosuka, on 8 September.

 

Vernon County remained in port until 5 October 1967, when she headed south for Ora Wan, Okinawa, to conduct two days of training with marine amphibious forces. Upon completion of training, the tank landing ship shifted to Subic Bay, where she loaded various items for churches, schools, and hospitals at Tacloban on the island of Leyte. She departed Subic Bay on 18 October and was to represent the United States at ceremonies commemorating General Douglas Mac-Arthur's famous "return" to the Philippines on the 20th. A typhoon brewing in the vicinity, however, forced a cancellation of the evolution. Vernon County subsequently returned to Subic Bay, whence she sortied on 23 October for Yokosuka.

 

Arriving at her destination on 1 November, Vernon County remained in port until the 20th, at which time she got underway for Naha, Okinawa, and from there for Subic Bay. Upon reaching the Philippines, the ship was assigned to Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) "Bravo."

 

Underway for Vietnam on 18 December, Vernon County arrived off the mouth of the Cua Viet river two days later. Over the days that ensued, prior to Christmas 1967, the tank landing ship took part in Operation "Fortress Ridge" in company with the other units of ARG "Bravo." In that operation, marines from the group landed, unopposed, and swept through the sandy, marshy regions north of the Cua Viet, encountering several pockets of enemy resistance. Helicopter gunships, air strikes, naval gunfire, and artillery all assisted in subduing the enemy in what proved to be the last pre-Christmas truce operation.

 

After Christmas, Vernon County took part in her second amphibious operation within a month, when she participated in Operation "Badger Tooth," between 26 December 1967 and 2 January 1968. Heliborne and landing craft-borne marines met no opposition in the initial landing, 13 miles east of Quang Tri city but, on the 27th, encountered a stubborn and well-disciplined North Vietnamese unit in the fortified town of Thon Tham Khe. Several hours of intense fighting ensued, with the enemy eventually withdrawing from the fight.

 

Vernon County operated with ARG "Bravo," Task Group (TG) 76.5, until 3 February, operating off the coast between Danang and the demilitarized zone (DMZ). After completing her part in Operations "Fortress Ridge" and "Badger Tooth," she remained offshore, devoting a good deal of her time to training because of the slow tempo of operations after those missions against the VC.

 

Vernon County, when relieved of duty with TG 76.5, headed for Japan and returned to her home port of Yokosuka for a scheduled two-month overhaul, after which time she sailed for Korean waters. She conducted joint training with ROK naval units, including a United States detachment from Amphibious Construction Battalion 1 embarked with four pontoon causeways and associated equipment. After a complete slate of exercises, the tank landing ship returned to Japan for upkeep. She then sailed for Okinawa, there loading cargo before proceeding back to Vietnam.

 

Offloading her cargo at Wunder Beach, Danang, Vernon County shifted operations to the Mekong River Delta region, where she assumed duties of support LST for mobile riverine forces. From 25 May to 21 June, Vernon County operated as support ship for Task Force (TF) 115, Mobile Riverine Force (MRF) "Alfa." During that period, the group operated at Ben Tre, Dong Tarn, Vinh Long, Sa Dec, My Tho, Can Tho; all in the Mekong, or IV Corps, area of Vietnam. In the little over three-week period, Vernon County traveled some 556.5 miles through Vietnamese rivers.

 

The MRF, a joint Army-Navy operation, relied upon the support services rendered by the duty LST. Vernon County served as a floating warehouse wherein 600 tons of ammunition, plus non-ordnance support material, could be stowed in the capacious tank deck area. From those supplies, the LST supported Navy river craft, Army operations in the field, and Army fire support bases. She, in turn, was replenished by another LST that came up river from the port of Vung Tau.

 

A good deal of activity took place during that period of both base and ship defense; 15 to 20 rounds of 3-inch gunfire were fired nightly for harassment and interdiction; all gunmounts were manned continuously throughout the nocturnal hours, to be fired while the crew was proceeding to their general quarters stations. In addition, six sentries patrolled the pontoons moored alongside, and on the main deck; boats patrolled 150 to 200 yards away, remaining alert for possible swimmers, mines, or traffic of a suspicious nature. Periodically, percussion grenades were tossed into the water as anti-swimmer measures.

 

The ship also served as a landing pad for helicopters making resupply runs both to and from the ship to units in the field; whenever the ship made a transit of the waterways of the Mekong Delta, she stood at general quarters with .50-caliber and .30-caliber machine guns mounted to provide the ship with close-range firepower when needed.

 

Upon relief by Washtenaw County (LST-1166) on 21 June at Can Tho, Vernon County proceeded down the Bassac River to the South China Sea, before she headed to Subic Bay for generator repairs. En route and three days out of Vietnamese waters, the ship's commanding officer, Lt. Comdr. L. D. Mott, was stricken with acute appendicitis, necessitating an emergency medevac (medical evacuation) by air. Subsequently, the ship reached Subic Bay on 24 June.

 

Upon arrival, however, it was found that the ship's generators could not be repaired there, so she sailed for Naha, Okinawa, with retrograde cargo on board, en route back to Japan. She offloaded her cargo at Naha and proceeded on, reaching Yokosuka on 13 July. There, the repairs were effected. While at her home port, the ship received the Navy Unit Commendation for her service with the Mobile Riverine Force.

 

Vernon County subsequently returned to Vietnamese waters, lifting cargo to Vung Tau and offloading it while at anchor on 14 August. The following day, she proceeded to Nha Be, where she relieved Windham County (LST-1170) as support LST for Mobile Riverine Assault Force "Bravo." For the next two months, Vernon County operated primarily in the Nha Be region but also at the junction of the Soirap and Vamn Co rivers. Midway through that period, the base was shifted to Dong Tarn, where the LST remained until relieved by Caroline County (LST-525) on 16 October.

 

Sailing to Kaohsiung, Taiwan, with a cargo of retrograde jeeps, and encountering typhoon "Hester" en route, Vernon County visited Hong Kong for rest and recreation before returning to her home port in late October; she remained there for the rest of the year.

 

Underway again for Vietnam on 6 January 1969, Vernon County encountered engineering difficulties en route to her initial destination, Naha. Reaching Okinawa on the 10th, she offloaded her cargo—54 tons of cargo and 303 tons of vehicles—before setting sail for Subic Bay for four days of upkeep and repair work on her engineering spaces. By 17 January, the problem was corrected, thus permitting the tank landing ship to get underway and proceed for her ultimate destination, Vietnam.

 

Lifting cargo that proved to be about the "smallest in the history of the vessel"—one man and two tons of LCPL equipment—Vernon County disembarked her passenger and unloaded the equipment upon arrival at Vung Tau. Shifting to the Mekong Delta region soon thereafter, Vernon County embarked 360 troops and support units and relieved Whit field County (LST-1169) as support ship for TF 117.

 

From 17 January to 24 March, Vernon County deployed with TF 117, a mobile riverine force. Once again, the ship served as a floating warehouse for ammunition, fuel, and other support materiel; a mooring point for river patrol craft; and a helipad for the detachment of four "choppers."

 

The most noteworthy events of the deployment occurred in the ship's direct contact with the enemy. During the post-Tet offensive period in the latter part of February and early days of March, Vernon County took two near-misses from North Vietnamese Army (NVA) mortar batteries located on the south bank of the Song My Tho river at about 0230 on 22 February. One landed approximately 25 meters off the starboard side near an ammunition pontoon; the other landed some 25 meters off the port quarter. A large rocket missed the ship, landing harmlessly 200 yards away. Vernon County manned her battle stations and returned the fire with 46 rounds of 3-inch gunfire.

 

The next day, NVA/VC automatic weapons fire came in the direction of the LST, most rounds concentrated on one of the pontoons alongside or at the bridge. On the 25th, lookouts spotted a swimmer 50 yards from the stern; grenades from M-79 launchers were soon directed at him, thoroughly saturating the area. A body was sighted soon thereafter, the grenades apparently having done their work.

 

The following day, the ship came in for further attention from VC sappers. A deck sentry sighted a dark object floating in the water near the fan tail and fired two M-16 rounds, quickly resulting in a violent thrashing about in the water below. Shortly thereafter, the target—probably a sapper—sank.

 

Closely related to the ship's activities was a recoilless rifle attack on the Philippine tug, Kangaroo, 500 yards downriver from Vernon County. The tug sustained serious damage, and fires broke out on board; the LST's rescue and assistance team boarded the crippled ship and promptly extinguished the fires, performing temporary repairs on the tug's damaged superstructure as well. The "quick and professional" action on the part of Vernon County resulted in 27 letters of commendation and a bronze star for the ship's sailors who participated in the salvage operation.

 

Relieved on station by Windham County (LST-1170) on 24 March, Vernon County sailed for Yokosuka, via Penang, Malaysia; Danang; Subic Bay; and Okinawa. She reached Yokosuka on 22 April and subsequently remained in port for slightly more than a month.

 

After conducting refresher trials in company with Tom Green County (LST-1159), Vernon County sailed to Korean waters, where she loaded a World War II-vintage PT-boat hull on 5 June for eventual transfer to a stateside museum. She began her return voyage to Yokosuka on the following day.

 

Vernon County began her next line tour on 5 July, sailing once more for Vietnamese waters, this time in company with Westchester County (LST-1167). Arriving on the 13th, Vernon County loaded "A" Company, 3d Motor Transport Battalion, 3d Marine Division— 264 marines, five naval enlisted men, 10 officers, 49 vehicles, and 44 tons of miscellaneous equipment—and de-Earted Danang on the evening of the 13th. Five days iter, Vernon County and Westchester County arrived at Kin Red, Okinawa, and discharged their cargoes and disembarked their passengers.

 

Although the ship was slated to return to Vietnamese waters, enginering casualties diverted her to Subic Bay for repairs. From Subic, she was ordered, upon completion of repairs, to join AEG "Bravo," operating off the I Corps zone in the northern part of South Vietnam.

 

Vernon County carried out training activities in the days that ensued, lifting 185 field troops from "E" Company, 2d Battalion, 26th Marines, from Chu Lai to Danang. Debarking the marines on 10 August, Vernon County loaded cargo that day for shipment to Okinawa. Although initially slated to depart on 10 August, the loss of the ship's stern anchor forced a delay of one full day. The ship ultimately accomplished the cargo lift, however, reaching White Beach, Okinawa, on 16 August. She participated in exercises over the succeeding days before proceeding to sea at 2300 on 19 August to evade typhoon "Cora." Subsequently, the ship proceeded to Taiwan for rest and recreation at the port of Keelung.

 

With the end of the Taiwan stay, however, the ship put to sea again to return to Yokosuka. En route, she rescued three Taiwanese fishermen early on the evening of 29 August, the event taking place northeast of Taiwan. The fishermen, who had been adrift for a week, were returned later that evening to a naval vessel of the Nationalist Chinese Navy.

 

Vernon County operated between Okinawa and Japan through mid-October, after which time she returned to Vietnamese waters, sailing to Danang in company with Washoe County (LST-1165), Westchester County, and Tom Green County. Reaching Danang on 4 November, Vernon County embarked 147 marines of the Headquarters and Service Company, 9th Motor Transport Battalion, 53 vehicles, and 58 tons of equipment. The lift, designated "Keystone Cardinal," was scheduled to terminate at Kin Red, Okinawa. En route, however, heavy seas held progress to a virtual standstill while three days out of Danang. Vernon County suffered storm damage—two perpendicular cracks began to develop on opposite sides of her mast, directly below the radar platform. Diverted to Subic Bay, the tank landing ship effected repairs there before proceeding on and ultimately unloading her cargo at Kin Red on 17 November.

 

Vernon County returned to Vietnam soon thereafter, initially to Vung Tau, where she took on a load of amunition to be delivered to the LST supporting TF 115's riverine operations. From Vung Tau, Vernon County proceeded to the vicinity of the Ca Mau Peninsula and there relieved Terrell County (LST-1157) on station. The operation, known as "Market Time," kept the ship on station for eight weeks. Operating slightly to the north of Square Bay and Point de Daniau, the LST remained at anchor 90 percent of the time, about 5,000 yards from shore. During that time, she acted as a floating landing pad for support helicopters; provided goods and services to small craft operating on the coastal interdiction and patrol functions of the "Market Time" operation; assumed the role of naval gunfire support ship; and established the central communications point for TG 115.7.

 

Vernon County performed all of her duties well, servicing and rearming helicopter gunships, providing supplies to her frequent customers—PCF's ("Swift boats") and PGM's (motor gunboats)—and hurling call fire ashore.

 

Relieved by Washoe County on 21 January 1970, Vernon County sailed first to Hong Kong, and from there to the Philippines, the latter in connection with the first leg of the lift known as "Keystone Bluejay." Provisioning at Subic Bay, Vernon County returned to Vietnamese waters on 19 February, embarking men and equipment of Marine Air Group (MAG) 12, Marine Air Base Support Squadron (MABS) 12, and Marine Air Tactical Control Unit (MAC TU) 62 shortly after her arrival.

 

Departing Chu Lai in company with Westchester County, the LST sailed to Iwakuni, Japan, reaching that destination ahead of schedule on 27 February. The two ships then sailed for Yokosuka, arriving soon thereafer. Vernon Couny subsequently sailed to Korean waters, participating in Operation "Golden Dragon"— a joint ROK-United States Navy operation—before returning to Japanese waters and the port of Sasebo.

 

The LST operated between Japan and Okinawa into the summer. During one of her in-port periods, the ship received a visit from Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, Jr., the Chief of Naval Operations, on 16 May.

 

Following an availability and refresher training, Vernon County departed Yokosuka in company with gunboat Crockett (PG-88). She was diverted to Subic Bay to meet an additional two gunboats to escort to Vietnamese waters. Necessary upkeep items, however, could only be completed by Vernon County and Welch (PG-93), who then proceeded to sea as scheduled to resume the transit to Camranh Bay. Once within Vietnamese waters on 29 September, Welch proceeded independently, leaving Vernon County to proceed to Vung Tau to relieve Westchester County as "Market Time" support LST.

 

Her responsibilities and activities generally similar to previous deployments on "Market Time," Vernon County remained on station supporting TF 115 until 5 November. Then, after a period of time at Hong Kong, the LST returned to Japan, reaching Yokosuka four days before Christmas of 1970.

 

She began the new year 1971 in dry dock number one at Yokosuka, Japan, at the naval ship repair facility. During the first few weeks of the year, the ship took on a decidedly different appearance, because, instead of the standard Navy "haze gray," Vernon County had been painted white overall in preparation for the ship's next—and perhaps most interesting—deployment. During the week of 7 February, the final preparations were made for Vernon County to become, by necessity, totally self-sufficient, far from the Navy's logistic, maintenance, and support areas. After taking on part of the necessary stores and equipment, she sailed for Okinawa to pick up the rest before proceeding on her way, bound for remote Diego Garcia, in the Chagos Archipelago, with an interim stop at Singapore.

 

Vernon County ultimately reached Diego Garcia shortly after 1700 on 9 March and, the next day, began underwater reconnaissance and beach surveys. On the llth, the first formal construction of a United States Navy communication station began which was to forge another link in the globe-gridling system of transmitting and receiving stations. The following day, the 12th, Vernon County became the first LST in history to beach at the largely unexplored isle, offloading much of her heavy equipment to prepare a staging site for the reception of the many tons of supplies and equipment needed to build the station.

 

As the days passed, the atoll began to change; the ship rode higher in the water as equipment was unloaded. Temperatures on deck averaged 122 degrees between 1000 and 1500 each day; "tropical" hours soon commenced: 0400 to 1400. The men of Underwater Demolition Team 12 and a platoon of seabees removed underwater obstacles, installed buoys, marked anchorages, cleared land and set up a tent city, and began laying down an airfield. By the time Monticello (LSD-35) and Charleston (LKA-113) arrived, the base camp was fully ready, as was a harbor. Later, having established a self-sustaining shore party, Vernon County made two additional voyages to and from Diego Garcia, picking up more men and supplies at Singapore, Cocos Island, and Mauritius.

 

During the last few days of her deployment to Diego Garcia, the ship was repainted back to her standard "haze gray"—a sure sign that the time had come for the ship to sail away from the isle upon which she had established a base camp and the beginnings of a communication station.

 

Vernon County returned to the Philippines via Australia and transferred military vehicles from the Sangley Point Naval Air Station (which was being turned over to the Philippine government) to Okinawa in early June. She ultimately returned to her home port, Yokosuka, on the afternoon of 19 June.

 

The tank landing ship conducted another tour of duty in Vietnamese waters that summer, again performing the duties of "Market Time" support ship, a job that entailed her staying close to shore and serving as a landing platform for helicopters, a haven for patrol boats, and a supplier of food, fuel, water, lodging, and ammunition for both helos and patrol craft. Turning over those duties to Windham County on 6 September, Vernon County remained on patrol off the coast of South Vietnam on another phase of "Market Time" support, turning over those duties to Washtenaw County on 19 October before proceeding to Bangkok, Thailand, for rest and recreation.

 

Departing that Thai city on 27 October for Hong Kong, Vernon County spotted a Thai fishing boat in distress one day out. Several of the ship's engineers boarded the small craft and diagnosed the problem as an electrical failure in the engine. After completing repairs to the fishing craft's engine, Vernon County's men received a present of four boxes of fresh crabs and squid in grateful appreciation of services rendered by the Navy men. Happy possessors of a picture of Vernon County and cigarettes given in return by the LST, the fishing craft sailed off. "We might have been forgiven for being proud of our role as Good Samaritans," the ship's cruise book recorded. "In any case, the crabs were delicious."

 

Vernon County ultimately spent the remainder of her active naval career in the Far East, returning twice more to Vietnamese waters and serving once more as "Market Time" support LST. The ship visited the familiar ports of Subic Bay, Hong Kong, Vung Tau, Kuching, Malaysia, and Singapore, among others. She also served another tour with the Amphibious Ready Force in the Gulf of Tonkin in early October 1972.

 

Decommissioned on 14 June 1973 at Yokosuka, Japan, Vernon County was transferred to the Venezuelan Navy on 29 June 1973 on loan. Assigned the name Amazonas (T-21), the tank landing ship was permanently transferred, via cash sale, in December, 1977. She was simultaneously struck from the Navy list.

 

Vernon County earned a Presidential Unit Citation (28 February to 25 March 1969), three Meritorious Unit Commendations, three Navy Unit Commendations, and 13 battle stars for her Vietnam War service.