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Echoes Of Tonkin

November 2023
1min read

Your Tonkin Gulf article brought back many memories of the Cold War and of cruises in the early sixties aboard the USS Coral Sea , as a member of VA-155.

As soon as I finished the article, I was drawn to my library to find a copy of Adm. James Stockdale and Sybil Stockdale’s book In Love and War (Harper & Row, 1984). In the first chapter, “Three Days in August,” Admiral Stockdale tells his own story of the Tonkin Gulf incident, describing his part as a carrier pilot in the air action over the Maddox and the Turner Joy in very exciting detail. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the escalation of the Vietnam War.

As for the debate over the “first battle” of America’s longest war, Admiral Stockdale says that after the attack by three North Vietnamese torpedo boats on August 2 he was able to radio the Maddox : “All [3] boats hit, two still under way toward the coast, one dead in the water and burning.” As for the action on August 4, Stockdale is very exact as he answers the question “Did you see any boats?”: “Not a one. No boats, no wakes, no ricochets off boats, no boat gunfire, no torpedo wakes—nothing but black sea and American firepower—.” Here Stockdale is in agreement with Commodore John Herrick, commander of Task Group 72.1, who late in the night of the battle began to doubt his own earlier messages.

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