Q&A With Raul Herrera
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Q&A With Raul Herrera
My next guest whom this Q&A is about is a very special one. Raul Herrera is the author of Capturing Skunk Alpha: A Barrio Sailor’s Journey In Vietnam and served our country in the Navy during Vietnam. Raul has also written articles published in Vietnam Magazine, Sea Classics Magazine & The New York Times.
Q: Raul would you like to tell the readers who haven’t read your book a little bit about it?
A: Skunk Alpha was the code name assigned to a North Vietnamese resupply trawler spotted off the Quang Ngai Province coast on July 11, 1967. Swift Boats were Operation Market Time’s (Task Force 115) last line of defense all along the 1200-mile coast of the Republic of Vietnam. On July 15, 1967, at a quarter past midnight, we engaged this enemy vessel as it attempted to reach the mouth of the Sa Ky River at the tip of the Batangan Peninsula. In a ship-to-ship battle, not seen since the PT Boat battles during World War II in the Pacific, we forced the vessel aground, keeping more than 90 tons of weapons, ammunition, rockets and explosives away from Viet Cong hands.
As a memoir, I enter twine my early years in one of the many San Antonio barrios, keeping the author’s point of view, that of a young Mexican American. The Swift Boat history is also addressed along the way as I share my one-year tour of duty aboard Swift Boat PCF-79.
Q: Raul, what made you want to write your account in Vietnam? Were you scared to release it?
A: While in Vietnam, I had no aspirations to write about my time in Vietnam. I returned home thanking God I had survived a year in combat without getting wounded in action. Little did I know that although I had no outward physical scars, battle-born demons invaded my psyche and slowly began festering.
Over time, I began experiencing spiritual hauntings. The sailor, Boatswain’s Mate First Class Bobby Don Carver, responsible for forcing the enemy ship aground by firing an 81mm mortar round into the trawler’s pilot house, was killed during a psychological warfare mission along the My Lai shoreline on December 6, 1967, less than three miles from where we captured the enemy vessel.
His spirit is what haunted me. The book goes into detail about this part of my life. It wasn’t until I sat on a beach in the Greek island of Lemnos that I had an epiphany. Carver was reaching out to me from the beyond. I believed he wanted me to tell his story, our story, the Swift Boat story. Once I began writing the story, the haunting episodes ended.
Q: While writing Capturing Skunk Alpha: A Barrio Sailor’s Journey In Vietnam, what were the most difficult parts to revisit?
A: Reliving the events of December 6, 1967 – the day Carver was killed – was the most difficult. Yet, writing other incidents of my tour on Swift Boats was also uncomfortable to write about. All in all however, it has been a much needed catharsis.
Q: What lessons do you hope readers learn after reading Capturing Skunk Alpha: A Barrio Sailor’s Journey In Vietnam?
A: In addition to writing about my personal recollections of my time aboard PCF-79, I want the reader to become aware that the Navy’s involvement and in particular the Swift Boat story has been left out of most historical accounts of the Vietnam War. It’s often been said that the United States lost the war in Vietnam, but the Navy won its share of noteworthy battles. The capture of Skunk Alpha is one such incident. So much so that Premier Nguyen Cao Ky and Chief of State Nguyen Van Thieu personally congratulated and decorated our crew for our accomplishment.
Q: What was it like having articles you’ve written published in Vietnam Magazine, Sea Classics Magazine & The New York Times? Do you still write for them?
A: My goal has always been to bring the Swift Boat story before the general public. Having articles I’ve written about the Skunk Alpha incident has helped bring well deserved recognition to the more than three thousand Naval officers and enlisted men who served on these tiny men-o-war. Capturing Skunk Alpha is a salute to the memory of the fifty brave sailors who gave their all while assigned to Swift Boats.
Q: Would you ever write a sequel to Capturing Skunk Alpha: A Barrio Sailor’s Journey In Vietnam, only this time going in depth about your life after coming home from Vietnam?
A: Capturing Skunk Alpha was a four-decade journey. Aside from public appearances, book signings, interviews and speaking engagements, I am ready to focus on my remaining years where travel is at the top of the list. It’s been a rewarding experience…promise made, promise kept. Bobby Don Carver – WE REMEMBER.