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S.D. Sailor Airs Tonkin Detials

3 PT Boats Sunk by U.S., Seaman Says
Letter to Family Tells of Clash, Leads to Report

An Iowa sailor's letter home and a newspaper reporter's diligence prompted the Defense Department today to identify the two U.S. destroyers involved in last month's Gulf of Tonkin shooting incident.

The Pentagon in Washington identified them as the San Diego - based Edwards and the Morton. This confirmed information in a letter written by James J. Kress, a fireman aboard the Edwards, to his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Kress of Dubuque.

Call Spurs Action

Neil Shively, reporter for the Dubuque Telegraph - Herald, had called the letter to the Defense Department's attention and asked for confirmation.

Up to now, the department had refused to identify the two destroyers, which it said fired on four unidentified vessels that menaced them 42 miles off Communist North Viet Nam Sept.18.

In his letter Kress wrote: "We picked up about seven contacts on the radar screen. The Edwards blew two of them out of the water for certain and shot up another one. I don't know if the Morton destroyed any or not."

Action Time Reported

The engagement occurred between 8 p.m. Sept. 18 and 1 a.m. the next day, Kress said. He said two men aboard the Edwards signed statements saying they saw PT boats, although "I guess the Communists said they weren't PT boats."
He added that there was "a fairly big investigation over it all."

Two days after the incident the Communists said three ships were sunk.

Vessel On Alert

Kress said that the Edwards was on "general quarters" (battle stations) for the five - hour period.

Kress has been in the Navy three years and is scheduled to be discharged Jan. 10. He served all his duty at San Diego until Aug. 5 when the Edwards was sent to Viet Nam and the Gulf of Tonkin.

Kress' letter:

"In case you haven't heard the names of those destroyers that were attacked in Tonkin Gulf last Friday night, they were the R. S. Edwards and the Morton. Yep, we were there all right….

'Not Much More'

"There really isn't too much more I can tell you about. I know you must have read about it in the paper....
"The paper also said that there were only four PT boats, and that is wrong. We picked up about seven contacts on the radar screen….

"One of those boats like to got us. It was trying to sneak up on our rear-end and almost succeeded. It came to within 2,000 yards before we blew it up....

Morale Goes Up

"That little battle we had sure did build up the morale on here for awhile. I think that it was so high that if they would have told us that liberty was canceled for two months, the morale of the crew wouldn't have dropped too far.

"We are back in Subic Bay (Philippines) now. We arrived Monday evening about 8. When we get under way again we don't really know. Right now we are on 24-hour standing. Where we are going I don't really know but I heard we are going back to Tonkin Gulf."
San Diego, CA Evening Tribune 1 October 1964

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This page updated on:   Sunday, March 12, 2000