Perhaps the most interesting background of any who served on board the CGC Jarvis would belong to Ross Bell during the Vietnam War. Over 8000 Coast Guardsmen would serve in Vietnam from 1965 to 1975, serving in a variety of maritime roles, but most notably in patrolling the dangerous waters and rivers.3 During the Vietnam conflict, then-Lieutenant junior grade Bell served onboard the CGC Point Welcome, a ship that was patrolling near the 17th Parallel, the top of the patrol boundary, when she came under attack by U.S. forces. Author Paul Scotti in his book “Coast Guard Action in Vietnam” vividly describes the scene as the cutter is strafed and bombed with 20-mm projectiles by a U.S. Air Force B-57 airplane who had mistakenly taken it for a North Vietnamese trawler. On the watch in the mid-morning hour was the Executive Officer, Lieutenant Bell, accompanied by Gunner’s Mate Third Class Mark McKenney. Bell himself is struck, but not before he sounds “General Quarters.” As Scotti writes of Bell: “Lying on the deck, his vision beginning to cloud over, he saw that some of his toes were gone, but felt no pain. A chunk of flesh was missing from his broken right arm, and he bled in numerous places where metal fragments had raked him.”
The ship is hit three times with strafing of bullets and bombs. Two Coastguardsmen are killed, including the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant (jg) David Brostrom, while numerous others suffer severe injuries. “Blood was everywhere. It pulsed from wounds. It was underfoot, causing the men to slip as they worked. It slickened the handrails and steps of the steel ladder entryway. McKenney slumped at the bottom of the ladder, where, refusing to let his wounds keep him from lending a hand, he had aided in getting Phillips into the mess deck. Seeing the engineman’s dreadful condition in the light, the young gunner’s mate became engulfed in despair. The cries of pain, the helplessness of not being able to strike back and the mental anguish of being shot by your own side gripped him all at once. Reaching out for the source of life, he folded his hands and prayed, “Dear God, help us,” author Scotti would write.
The attack would continue for an hour before the Air Force received word that the ship was friendly. The crew, unsure if more attacks were soon to arrive, took to abandoning the vessel and find safety on shore, only to wade ashore and be greeted by gunfire, determined later to be by unfriendly forces. Retreating to the Point Welcome, the men found the Coast Guard Cutter Point Caution had arrived to provide protection and relief. Gunners Mate Mark McKenney would receive the Purple Heart for his actions.
The Board of Investigation later would determine that the attack on the Point Welcome was a series of mistakes, including communication capabilities between the different services. As Scotti writes, “Put another way, one hand did not know what the other hand was doing.” Lieutenant (jg) Brostrom, the son of a Navy Commander, became the first Coast Guardsman to perish in the Vietnam War. Because of this incident, concrete steps were made to improve the policies and communication between the various services.