Imagine having to search boats off the coast of Vietnam without knowing if the people on them want to shoot you. Larry Cline doesn’t have to imagine.
“We patrolled off the coast off of Vietnam — about 1,000 feet off the coast,” Cline said. “Our job was to inspect and board every little fishing boat — everything that was on the water. We made sure they were not the enemy.”
Cline said it was intense on his ship. The crew was on patrol all day and night. He and his fellows in the U.S. Navy had to board boats whenever they came across an unfamiliar vessel.
“We did that 24 hours a day,” Cline said. “We would board these boats at 3 o’clock in the morning and make sure what they were doing. Most were your basic ‘mom and pop’ fishing boats, but you never know.”
One day the crew came across a ship that wasn’t so benign.
“We did run across one Chinese trawler,” Cline said. “It was running guns and ammunition down from the Vietcong. We fired on them — ran them into the ground. Hopefully saved some lives.”
Cline said the trawler, a small cargo ship, had 1,200 tons of guns, ammunition and armaments on-board.
Cline became an engineman for the Navy after joining the military in June of 1963. He was discharged in July 1966. He served on the USS Haverfield, named after an Ohio State alumnus who died during the Pearl Harbor attacks. The ship usually had about 150 enlistees and officers on board, depending on the assignment.
Cline was a diesel mechanic on the ship. His job involved working shifts in more than 100-degree temperatures, sometimes at 4 a.m.
“We were responsible for all the propulsion engines, generators,” Cline said. “These things had to be monitored 24 hours a day.”
Cline compared the engines to locomotive engines and said each of the four engines on the ship was almost two stories high.
Cline, who received a degree in agriculture from OSU in 1970, is a trustee emeritus on the Board of Trustees at OSU Marion. On Tuesday, he was a speaker at the Politics, Society and Law Scholars’ weekly meeting at OSU. Kevin Freeman, program manager for the scholars group, organized the meeting and knows Cline personally.
“I have a great deal of respect for Larry, for both serving this country and for taking an interest in wanting to educate Ohio State’s students,” Freeman said. “I was very pleased with how students responded. History can be dry sometimes, but students always seem to respond well when we bring in Larry.”
Cline was born in 1945 in Waldo, Ohio, about an hour north of Columbus, and joined the military when he was 17. He joined to travel the world and meet people but also felt a strong sense of patriotism.
“It’s just something we did — it’s something we wanted to do,” Cline said. “I just feel good knowing that I gave a part of myself for America.”
Even though Cline’s ship patrolled off the coast of Vietnam, he never made it to the mainland.
“I was one of the lucky ones who never set foot on Vietnamese soil,” he said.
But he still had to live with public disrespect when he returned to the United States.
“It was a tough time. I got a lot of one-finger salutes,” Cline said. “But I was never embarrassed by the fact that I was in the Navy. I was proud. We had people spit at us. We were not the most popular people in the world.”
Cline sees a significant change in the attitude toward soldiers now compared to when he returned from the waters outside Vietnam.
“There’s a greater sense of patriotism right now,” Cline said. “I think there’s a much better appreciation of the men and women who are serving, even with those who disagree with the war. That is so critically important today that we support our men and women in uniform.”