USN Advisors to the River Assault Groups (RAG) of the Navy of the Republic of Vietnam in the spring of 1965 often found themselves in the thick of the fighting, in situations that required them to “depart from the quiet counsel of the Vietnamese commanders to an actual co-leadership status.” Being a RAG advisor carried with it “the real responsibility of command, while demanding the utmost in diplomacy, tact, leadership, and dedication.”
The personable 27-year old Lt. William M. Barschow had researched the people, the history, and the religions of Vietnam. He had established an excellent rapport with his opposite numbers, and, indeed, all Vietnamese with whom he came in contact. Constantly urging more operations, he had often accompanied his counterpart on visits to the district chief’s headquarters to familiarize them with the capabilities of the RAGs and to encourage their use.
During his tour that had begun in May 1964, Barschow had lived almost constantly in the field, with RAG-25 and RAG-26 until October 1964, when he was relieved as advisor to the latter unit. In March 1965, upon the death of the senior advisor with RAG-26, he resumed duty advising that unit, in addition to RAG-25. On 5 April 1965, Barschow, a veteran of 52 combat operations, embarked on board Commandament 1005. He provided advice to Lt. Comdr. Nam, the RAG-26’s commander, as elements of Nam’s command proceeded along the Cai Tau along with eight Civil Guard LCVPs, transporting the 31st Regiment (Army of the Republic of Vietnam, or ARVN) and escorting a dozen civilian junks laden with building materials, ammunition, and gasoline from Vi Thanh to Kien Long, in Chuong Thien province.
Desultory small arms fire enlivened their passage until 1615, when a VC 75-millimeter recoilless rifle opened fire as the lead element rounded a bend in the river, holing the lead LCVP as it swept ahead for mines. As the craft began to sink, its engine room open to the river, the RAG 26 commandament sped up to close and provide fire support. At that instant, the Viet Cong stepped up their fire from both banks; returned with all available weapons by all of the naval craft.
Barschow, Lt. Comdr. Nam, and CEM George E. Dunning took up positions at the starboard center window of the commandament’s bridge as it approached the ambush area and came under increasingly heavy fire from automatic weapons that felled many crewmen and temporarily silenced guns. Armor-piercing rounds penetrated the plating, scythed through the windows, and peppered the bulkheads. Capt. Clyde E. Meyer, USA, senior advisor with Advisory Team 58, on board the commandament working with his ARVN counterpart, “could hear rounds hitting the outside of the steel bulkhead and coming through the windows to the inside of the control room.” Barschow remained alongside Nam, offering “advice to improve the tactical situation.”
While Nam stepped over to the radio to direct the movements of the boats of his RAG, Barschow picked up his carbine and began firing at a VC machine gun position on the right bank of the Cai Tau that was raking the commandament. Chief Dunning expended his ammunition and then dropped down to replenish. At that instant, Barschow turned toward Capt. Meyer, and the latter could see that he had suffered a head wound. Dunning then looked around and saw the lieutenant lying on the deck, mortally wounded; Barschow, hit in the head by a VC bullet, died shortly thereafter.
Barschow’s courage, however, inspired the Vietnamese when the situation called for “immediate, accurate, and intense counterfire.” His bravery contributed to RAG-26’s breaking through the ambush; a post-battle estimate tallied 250 Viet Cong killed. For his heroism, Barschow was awarded a posthumous Silver Star. “We have gained and lost not only a friend,” Capt. William H. Hardcastle, Jr., Chief of the Naval Advisory Group, wrote to Barschow’s grieving parents in Bay Village, Ohio, “but an outstanding officer.” Gen. William C. Westmoreland, USA, commander of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, stood among those who attended the “impressive and dignified joint memorial service” at the Tan Son Nhut chapel on the morning of 7 April. Lt. Clyde A. Smith, the intelligence advisor in the Fourth Naval Zone, who had worked with Barschow on numerous occasions, considered him to be “simply stated, the most outstanding junior officer” he had ever met.