Operation Black Sheep – Restoring A Rare Vietnam War-Era Patrol Boat, And Coming To Terms With History

Patrol Boat River used in the Vietnam War
Patrol Boat River used in the Vietnam War

Former Sergeant Robert Bowyer has always felt uneasy with the warm homecoming he received in 2005 after returning from his first of two tours in Afghanistan. His unease stemmed from the treatment he received compared to the poor welcome for veterans returning from Vietnam.

“They’ve never been properly honored,” said Bowyer of soldiers who served in Vietnam.

To make amends, he heads Operation Black Sheep, a non-profit association restoring a Vietnam-era Patrol Boat River (PBR) within a building at the Mart Dock Property in Muskegon, MI.  The Dock is already the home of USS LST 393, a WWII Landing Ship. When operational, the PBR, a scarce piece of American military history, will be one of only 33 existing in the US.

The role of Operation Black Sheep is to provide an awareness of the Vietnam period, including the military, cultural, social, historical, and political aspects of the Vietnam conflict, he explained.

The purpose for veterans is to give them a boat ride with other former servicemen who they can share their military experience with.  For those who have post-traumatic stress disorder, it’s an opportunity to find comfort and peace while aboard the PBR.

For the public at large, the aim is to give anyone firsthand experience of riding in a functioning PBR and acquire background knowledge of PBR in addition to learning the vessel’s history, and learn about those who operated them.

Time and money have been donated by individuals and businesses to help in the restoration, and it has become a community effort. The majority of the work is cosmetic.  Some work on the engine remains to be completed.

The unfinished PBR was displayed at the Veterans Day ceremony at Muskegon Causeway Veterans Memorial Park, MLive.com reported. It is hoped that tours in the boat will be available from May next year.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE