Vietnam-Era River Patrol Boat Roars Back to Life on Lake Michigan
By Wes O’Donnell
U.S. Army & U.S. Air Force Veteran. Managing Editor, In Military and InCyberDefense. Speaker, filmmaker and veteran advocate.
Last year, I reported on an Afghanistan veteran in Michigan named Robert Bowyer. He was restoring a Vietnam-era PBR (Patrol Boat, River) through his nonprofit Operation Black Sheep: The John McClurg Foundation for Vietnam Veterans.
The PBR is the U.S. Navy designation for a small, rigid-hulled patrol boat that was used in the Vietnam War from March 1966 until the end of 1971. The boats were deployed in a force that grew to a peak of 250 vessels.
Today, only 36 PBRs exist in the United States. About six of them are seaworthy.
For Bowyer, Getting the Boat Seaworthy Has Been a Long Journey
When Sgt. Bowyer started this journey almost three years ago, the PBR he acquired was a far cry from seeing water.
When he first towed PBR 7331 into town, about a dozen Vietnam-era veterans expressed their concern that he wouldn’t restore and maintain the boat correctly. Those fears quickly evaporated when they witnessed the dedication and the sheer amount of work that Bowyer put into the restoration.
From securing crucial funds and other material resources to applying elbow grease and dedicating most of his free time to the restoration, Sgt. Bowyer successfully completed the restoration. However, he didn’t do it alone. Numerous volunteers contributed their time and expertise to the cause.
On Friday, September 7, Sgt. Bowyer held a private rededication ceremony. He invited Vietnam veterans from all over the country to celebrate seeing the boat back in the water.
Several veterans in attendance grew visibly emotional when the engines roared to life, no doubt evoking the nostalgia of their service in decades past.
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I was present at the ceremony. The sight of PBR 7331 cruising off into the sunset at Lake Michigan, full of Vietnam veterans, is an image I will never forget.
Now that the PBR is on the water and operational, the boat will provide tours to the general public for a fee, so that the nonprofit can fulfill its mission of recognizing the sacrifices, courage and valor of all veterans. Sgt. Bowyer says all veterans will ride for free.
You can get more information on Operation Blacksheep: The John McClurg Foundation for Vietnam Veterans on their website.