Chief Storekeeper

May 5, 1933 - August 15, 1968

Da Nang - My Khe 1963


This website is dedicated to Bob Wagner, a plank-owner of SEAL Team 1.  The Wagner family would like to thank the following individuals for providing valuable insights on Bob during his deployments to Viet Nam : Franklin Anderson, Guy Stone, Ted Kassa, Bob Kelley, Carl Swepston, and Maynard Weyers.

Bob was extremely dedicated to SEAL Team 1 and was a loving husband and father. He is truly missed by his family and others that knew him.

To view the original pictures from the following thumbnails, double-click on the picture. A description of the picture can be viewed if the mouse is positioned over the thumbnail of the picture.


Bob Wagner was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan on May 5, 1933. He was the only child of Eugene and Patricia Wagner and attended the Gibault School for Boys in Terre Haute, Indiana. He was actively involved in sports which included boxing.

1949 - Gibault School for Boys (Indiana)

Bob, second from left


Bob enlisted in the Navy on June 12, 1950 in Fort Wayne, Indiana as a Boatswain's Mate. After attending boot camp in Great Lakes, Ill., he was sent to the USS Monterey (CVL-26) homeported in Norfolk, VA. The ship subsequently moved to Pensacola, Florida. It was in Pensacola where Bob met his future wife, Helen, who was from nearby Bay Minette, Alabama. They married on Jan. 3, 1952 in Pensacola, Florida. During his time in Pensacola he was transferred on temporary duty to the Navy boxing team. A big individual (6'3'' and 220 pounds), Bob was the Alabama State Golden Gloves heavyweight boxing champion in 1951 and participated in Southeastern United States Golden Gloves boxing championship.

1951 - Alabama heavweight Golden Gloves Champion

1951 - Alabama heavyweight Golden Gloves Champion


On Feb. 26, 1954 Bob was honorably discharged from the Navy and ultimately moved to Barstow, California where he worked at the Marine Corp Supply Depot in Barstow. On January 21, 1959 he re-enlisted in the Navy as a Storekeeper and was sent to Okinawa for 18 months.

Upon his return, he volunteered for Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) training at the Naval Amphibious Base in Coronado, California. He graduated with UDT Class 28, on June 27, 1962. The class started with 113 trainees and ended with 45 graduates. During the time that Class 28 was training, SEAL Team 1 was being formed. Bob went straight to SEAL Team 1 from training. As far as anybody can remember, he was the only one to go straight from UDT training to SEAL Team during the initial years of SEAL Team 1.



West Coast Class 28 Graduates

Class 28 Training

Class 28 Training

Bob, top row, third from right

July 1962

Class 28 Training

Bob on right

1963 - right to left, Oscar Hunsaker, Bob, Charlie Niergarten, unknown, unknown


Bob on right. (Picture dated May 23, 1963 )

Oscar Hunsaker, Wagner, and Charlie Niergarten (r to l)


Bob 1963

Bob 1963


Bob 1963

Bob 1963



After joining SEAL TEAM 1 Bob attended many training schools, some of which are the following:



Survival Training School


Warner Springs, Ca.

08/20 - 09/06, 1962

Jungle Warfare School (Honor Man)

Republic of Panama

01/12 - 02/02, 1963


Army Airborne School


Ft. Benning, Ga.


03/20 - 04/12, 1963

Army Ranger School

Ft. Benning, Ga.

05/20 - 07/16, 1964


The first three schools were before he was first deployed to Viet Nam. According to Bob's military records he deployed to Viet Nam six times. The following are the dates and locations that are listed in his military records:

  • August 31, 1963 - February 27, 1964 - Naval Advisory Detachment (NAD) Da Nang
  • September 14, 1964 - February 25, 1965 - NAD, Da Nang
  • June 12, 1965 - November 27, 1965 - Detachment Golf (Nha Be)
  • March 12, 1966 - September 7, 1966 - Detachment Delta (Nha Be)
  • October 20, 1966 - June 15, 1967 - Vung Tau (Provincial Reconnaissance Unit Training Facility)
  • June 30 1968 - August 15, 1968 - Advisory Team 57 (Tra Vinh, Vinh Binh Province)

"Freddie" on back - Delmar Fredrickson?

Delmar Fredrickson?


The following information on his involvement with the development of the Provincial Reconnaissance Unit (PRU) program is based on a tape recording Bob made June 20, 1967 after his fifth deployment to Viet Nam. The recording was given to Lt. Commander Franklin Anderson who was the Commanding Officer of SEAL Team One during this time period. Anderson gave a copy of the recording to Bob's son, Mike, in 2001. The following is the complete transcript of the recording:

Da Nang (My Khe?) 1963 or 1964

Da Nang Time Frame?


"June 20, 1967

On July 16, 1966, Boatswain's Mate First Class (BM1) Kassa, Ted A. and myself were sent to Vung Tau by Lt. M. R. Weyers to explore the possibilities of setting up a training course as desired by the United States Embassy (CIA).  This was in regard to a request given verbally to Mr. Weyers by Mr. Bill Evans, who at the time would be head of the Counterterrorism (CT) program of Vietnam.  We arrived in Vung Tau on the morning of July 16 and were briefed by the then senior advisor to the National Training Center, Mr. Joe Murphy. Mr. Murphy explained to us at the time that it was their desire to revise or overhaul the Counterterrorism program.  They felt, this is the Embassy, that the Counterterrorism program was not getting the desired results.  Their primary reason for feeling that the desired results were not forthcoming was due to the fact that they were without sufficient care and teaching at the national training center due to the lack of American advisors, and also into the provinces the same thing was true.

Training Center - Vung Tau


After going over several files and so forth of the Counterterrorism program, we began talking to Mr. Murphy, and we came up with a suggestion that we’d be allowed to implement a pilot program based on training a small unit of Vietnamese personnel with the aim of implementing a new type program.  This is the first criteria that we came up with at this time.  It was going to be called the Delta Reconnaissance Unit Training Program.  This was based on the pilot province coming from Vinh Binh, which is a delta province.   

It is proposed that the Vinh Binh Province, the capital which is Tra Vinh, that twenty-one trainees selected and screened by SEAL personnel be utilized in the initial training class.  The training would be extremely hard and physically demanding; however, this training would be slanted toward the personal side so that each selected trainee would be pointed toward successful completion of the program.  It is not to be misconstrued against anyone, no matter what his attitude or ability, may complete this course.  Proper motivation and instruction will be in our responsibility as the instructor staff.  Long periods of time will be spent in the field with the aim of developing confidence and the ability to subsist off the land with minimum support and yet effectively and efficiently carry out the assigned missions.

Vung Tau - Bob inspecting PRU trainees

Inspection - Vung Tau


It was recognized the delta region has its own peculiar problem areas.  The main transportation arteries are a river, canal and stream; the main mode transport is the junk and sampan. It is heavily farmed and cultivated for rice.  It has level terrain crisscrossed by rivers, streams and canals, therefore predominately a maritime environment.  The primary mean will be to work in strictly VC controlled areas within the home province.  This unit will be highly mobile and able to use various means of transportation in the objective - land, air or water.

1.     Once in the objective area, the purpose would be to gather intelligence as to the critical and economic infrastructure of the VC controlled area.

2.     To gain intelligence as to tactical strengths, deployments and movements.

3.     Distributing leaflets and other propaganda material in areas where it would be realized that it could only be hand carried in.

4.     Collecting intelligence as to living conditions, crop conditions and the effectiveness of bombing, shelling, etc. 

5.     Be efficient in abduction, ambushes, patrolling, harassing and any other task that may be properly assigned within the scope of the training. 

By being mobile and not tied down to one base, plus the ability to remain in field for long periods of time, the U.S. can create great havoc with the VC supply lines and his own sense of personal security.  Utilizing SEAL experience and instructing Vietnamese in these fields and by further having SEALs return to the province with the unit, great success can be had. 

Training:  The course will be approximately eight weeks duration.  Field training will be in small arms scouting and patrolling, map and compass work, intelligence gathering, agent handling, demolitions, ambush, road and river watching, camera and scaling, abduction, harassment, coordinating targets for terrain and air strikes, and distribution of propaganda.  It is felt that by utilizing prior experience in each field and instructing the Vietnamese, an eight-week course would be sufficient to turn out a capable and efficient trainee.  These personnel would be capable of working along in conjunction with other units highly satisfactorily.

The Service Available.  A camp has already been constructed and is now in operable condition.  Supplies and materials required for such a course as this has been gathered and are available.  It is estimated that the first class can commence within one week, and this one week was the date of this report and the following classes could commence at two or four week intervals as desired.   



The Instructor/Staffing.  For each class of twenty-one students, three SEAL personnel would be required.  The Vietnamese staff has been selected and is available.  An expansion to the segment would depend upon the requirement of the company or unit to the province. 

Now at this time, we had all this on Mr. Murphy’s direction and went ahead and designed and supervised the construction of the camp.  This camp is according to the one that is now in existence and being utilized.  This paper that I just read to you was sent to Saigon and evidently, as it turns out, got as far as Bill Evans. Bill Evans, in theory, approved this, and we proceeded on.  We went down to Vinh Binh, selected twenty-one students from approximately sixty or seventy.  Ted Kassa did the selecting and when he returned, we notified Mr. Wyers again, and then he wrote a letter back to the Strand, addressed to you. 

Vinh Binh PRUs

Vinh Binh PRUs



The reply came back, and as you well know, directed us to return to the States as soon as possible, and if the company or the Embassy wanted people, they should come in the front door and not the back.  We informed Mr. Murphy of this fact, and Mr. Murphy contacted Saigon, and of course, he had to go through his own chain of command—the next chain of command in this instance was Bill Evans.  Evans’ next chain of command was a man by the name of Ace Ellis.  He was, at the time, the Chief of Cadre Operations Department in Vietnam.  Mr. Ellis was, of course, in favor of this.  When we were approached or the fact was laid down that we must have orders to stay here, he balked.  He wanted this to be handled as low key as possible because it was a pilot program.  It went on in this manner, so Kassa and I returned to the States.  Before going to the States, we made one last attempt to have the Embassy contact ComNavForV.  Mr. Murphy’s plan of attack at this time was to have Mr. John L. Hart, who is the Chief of Station for Vietnam, go directly to ComNavForV or have ComNavForV contact you and possibly get this ironed out. 

We had to write up a new concept paper based on the fact that Mr. Hart was not in favor of using the word ‘maritime’ because of his experiences with the Cuba deal, so we wrote up another one, and this is what it said:

 Subject:  Armed Reconnaissance Training Program

Information Concerning: 

1.   BACKGROUND.  It is proposed to select a province from the delta regions for the initial training class.  From a group of fifty to one hundred men, twenty-one will be selected after personal interviews are conducted by SEAL and Vietnamese instructors.  The selected personnel will be brought to Vung Tau for eight weeks of hard and physically demanding training. However this training will be slanted towards the personal side.  The new trainee would be pointed towards successful completion of the course.  This aim will be realized partly due to the personal selection method indicated above.  It is not to be construed against anyone, no matter what his attitude or ability may be pending he can successfully complete this course.  Proper motivation and instruction are the responsibility of the instructor staff.  Long periods of time will be spent in the field with the aim of developing confidence and the ability to subsist off the land with a minimum of support, but yet effectively and efficiently carry out their assigned missions. 

2.   OBJECTIVE.  After the course is completed, it is proposed that the unit return to its province with two SEAL advisors.  Their mission will be to work in strictly VC controlled areas within their home province.  The unit will be highly mobile and use various means of transportation in the objective area—land, air or water.  Their purpose, once in the objective area, will be  

(1) To harass and disrupt the political and economic structure in the VC controlled area. 

(2) Be especially efficient at abduction, ambushes and intelligence gathering concerning VC strengths and locations, their ability to maintain internal control of the people within the area.  Further information of the crops and living conditions, the effectiveness of bombs and shelling, etc. could also be supplied. 

(3) Distributing leaflets and other propaganda material in areas where it would be known that they could only be hand carried.

(4) Any other tasks that could fall under the scope of this training.   

It is respectfully noted that one of the greatest advantages that the VC have is that they, in most cases, are not tied down to static defenses whereas the government of Vietnam troops and the Americans, for the great majority, are.  In these areas of the delta, the VC have had unrestricted control for a period of four to five years, and they, themselves, therefore are committed to static defenses of some kind.  By being mobile and not being tied down to one home base, plus the ability to remain in the field for long periods of time, it is felt that we can out guerilla the guerilla and create great havoc with his supply lines and his own sense of personal security.

This concept paper was given to John Hart around the 29th or 30th of August, 1966.  He took it to Saigon. He, in theory, approved it here in Vung Tau, but he wanted to take it to Saigon for more detailed exploratory by his staff and so forth.  The next thing I heard was that he would not approach ComNavForV due to the fact that ComNavForV at the time did not know of our presence, Kassa and myself, in Vung Tau.  The reason ComNavForV did not know of our presence in Vung Tau was because Captain Whitham, who at the time was CTF-116, did not want any SEALs to be in Vung Tau under any circumstances.  It was at this time we returned to the States.

When we returned to the States, I talked to you and discussed this project, and you agreed that it was very worthwhile and worth developing if possible.  As I was due to return back to Vietnam within thirty days with “D” component, you told me to go back and see, while I was there with the component, if this thing could not be developed and handled in a correct manner as far as assignment of personnel.  Upon arriving back at Nha Be, Mr. Wyers sent me down to Vung Tau to try to get Joe Murphy to meet with Commander Weber.  The purpose of this meeting was to iron out the details as to the guide of assigning SEAL personnel and also the correct way of going about it.   

I went down to Vung Tau, and the first thing I found out was that the Australians had been moved into our camp.  The reason they moved into our camp was that they had intended on taking over the program.  We had to wait four or five days until Joe Murphy got back from wherever he was at the time (we couldn’t contact him).  We sat down for two or three days of talk; it was continually up and down, up and down.  At this time, we were just trying to get the camp back.  We felt that if we had the camp back, then we could continue on and push it in the right direction as far as legality went.   

After a considerable discussion, Commander Weber came down, and he talked to Joe Murphy.  They had a meeting of the minds.  Again, a lot of it hinged on the fact that the Australians were in there, and Murphy did not know how he was going to get rid of them.  He indicated that he would try to get rid of them, that he wanted to get rid of them and have us back, but he had been committed to the Australians.  He’d have to work this out in such a way as to not antagonize the Australians and yet, get us back in there.  

Finally a concept paper came down from Saigon for the new Provincial Reconnaissance Unit Program.  This was to replace the CT program.  The concept paper was almost identical to the first paper that I read to you, except it expanded more on the VC political infrastructure, which was the primary target, both to eliminate the infrastructure whenever possible by abduction or other means, or by harassment or intelligence gathering data.  

Around the end of October, Joe Murphy wrote a letter to Saigon, and here’s what he said: 

In July 1966, we recommended overhauling what was then known as the Counter Terror Program.  Bill Smith (who was the head civilian for the Counter Terror Program in Vung Tau at the time of the training concept) with two U.S. Navy SEALs came up with several suggestions for changes.  Briefly, the recommendations included increasing the intelligence collections capabilities of the teams, tailoring the training to the various terrains of the operating areas, retraining old CT students and decreasing the number of students in each class.  For lack of a better name, we are arbitrarily and temporarily christened the revised program as Armed Reconnaissance Teams (ART).  Vince Kresler of Vinh Binh province was contacted and agreed to provide fifty CT men for screening.  A team from Vung Tau visited the province in August, screened the CT men and selected twenty-one for retraining in Vung Tau the new ART concepts.  The program was submitted to Saigon for approval.  Nothing was decided.  The SEALs were recalled to the United States, and the proposed training schedule was shelved.  

In September 1966, we were told that the CT program was cancelled effective at the end of the current class, 10 November, and a new program, Provincial Reconnaissance Unit, would be substituted for CT.  A copy of the PRU project outline was given to us to be used as a guide in writing a new training program.  Preliminary work has now been completed on new schedules and a draft was forwarded to Chief Cod on 28, October.  We intend to draw on several different sources of information before submitting the final draft of the proposed training schedule. 



In October, Captain I. M. Wells and Warrant Officer Terry Hill, both Australian Army, were assigned by Chief Cod to assist Bill Smith in the new PRU program.  Both men had been working hard to get the camp in shape for the new class.  In late October the US Navy SEALs, who had been involved in the preliminary work of making up the new schedule, reappeared at Vung Tau.  The situation now is as follows: Bill Smith is responsible for the overall PRU program.  The Australians who were assigned here without any prior knowledge of anyone on the staff would like to bring, in on an ad hoc basis, several other Australians who have demonstrated their technical proficiency in operations against Viet Cong (SAS and Aussie Commando).  They would prefer to make it an Aussie program with a minimum amount of outside U.S. influence.  On the other hand, the U.S. Navy would like to give specialized training for PRU teams that would be selected from the delta provinces.  I have informally discussed the Navy’s ideas with Commander Webber from Saigon

Bill Smith has decided that the Navy has more to offer than the Aussies.  I don’t think it would be advisable to mix Smith, Navy and Aussie. 

If we could come to a mutual understanding with the Navy, I recommend that the Navy SEALs under Bill Smith’s direction be responsible for training those PRU elements from the delta provinces and that the PRU training schedule be modified merely to the extent that a limited amount of maritime training be included.  Bill Smith would continue to run all PRU training, which would include two sections.  For example, with maritime training and without, according to whatever schedule is approved by Chief Cod. 

If the foregoing recommendations are acceptable, we could begin delta province training as soon as the training schedules are approved by Saigon.  The non-maritime PRU training could begin about one month after.  We have already selected students from Vinh Binh province for the PRU maritime training. 


Joseph Murphy 


1967 - Bob and PRU trainees

Swedish "K" Machine Gun


It came back from Saigon a few days later and was approved.  The Australians were moved out of the camp that we had built, and we moved back in.  Again, we were on a limbo status.  We had no legality, no orders, no nothing.  We proceeded, at this time, with the hope that all the formalities detailing SEALs and the value of the program be realized so that both sides would more or less come together and help each other.  We really launched a good training course.  The initial course was scheduled for ten weeks.  The trainees that we got were 90% Chieu Hoi, 18 out of 21.  There was quite a little bit to do about this, in as much as Chieu Hois are an unknown quantity, but as it turned out, they’re probably one of the sources for a program such as this that should be tapped more frequently.  I wrote you a letter on 8, February concerning this class—I won’t go into that anymore.  

At the end of November or first part of December, you came down to Vung Tau, and as you well know the status of our legality here was still the same, zero.  They hadn’t done a thing.  They were still, to put it bluntly, mealy-mouthing around.  You talked to Ace Ellis, which by this time had replaced Joe Murphy at Vung Tau.  You told him that he had a certain X amount of days to either give us orders or you were going to have to withdraw us.  Mr. Ellis went to Saigon to ComNavForV and talked to Captain Gray.  Captain Gray, at the time, was Assistant Chief of Staff of Operations.  Captain Gray told him or agreed with Mr. Ellis, however it went, that there’d be no need to go any further than ComNavForV.  The ComNavForV could supply the assets, SEAL personnel, to support this program from within the country.  This, at the time, I don’t believe was explained by Mr. Ellis to Captain Gray, the fact that to make this program work, that at least one SEAL and as recommended, two SEALs’s accompany each team to the province to live with them, operate them, and to plan, brief and debrief all their operations.  Captain Gray, I believe, was under the conception that there would only be three SEALs required for the entire program period.   

Bob and Vung Tau training

Vinh Binh PRU trainees



Anyways ComNavForV, as you all know sent a message directing that three SEALs be allocated to Vung Tau on a not to interfere basis.  That comprised myself, Chief Basset and Bowman, Gunner’s Mate First Class.  We went ahead and continued to run this class through; all the time, our objective was to get SEALs into a program of this type.  It was really down our alley. 

James Bowman and Vung Tau training

James Bowman


At the end of training, I accompanied this team back to Vinh Binh to spend a four-week period with them to get them off the ground.  There were several operations down there, thirteen in fact, twelve of the thirteen were successes in as much as the objective of the operation was gained 100%.  Whether or not the other operation was aborted due to the two agents that were sent in were compromised and they withdrew. 

Now the concept of this program as it stands right now is that the objective of each team is to work in the VC controlled areas and to a lesser extent, in the contested areas.  Under no circumstances were they to work in the government controlled areas.  This is due to the fact that of course you have police and other elements working in government controlled areas, and an operation would just be incompatible. 

Bob and PRU trainees (can't miss him due to his size)

Bob - the "tall one" - left column


During the four weeks I spent down in Vinh Binh, I sold a province officer by the name of John A. Colgi, on the fact that he needed a United States SEAL, hoping that maybe he could go through his chain of command even though he was within the same company, maybe he could exert some influence and get this thing off the ground.  At this time, even, there had been no formal correspondence between the Embassy and the Navy; this was in February.  About this time, Garret relieved Bowman.  I came back up from Vinh Binh and took Garret back down to Vinh Binh with me for a week.  This I did on my own.  I had no authority for doing it, and if there are any repercussions, I am willing to assume because I feel it was my responsibility.  I felt that Vinh Binh was our foot in the door.  If we could produce with this team, if we could show these people that the SEALS not only can train people, and train them well—better than anybody else, but yet they can also effectively operate these teams, work with them and guide their operations, that we could create a demand so to speak for our services in this field.  

The week that Garrett was down there, we launched a very successful operation, which entirely obliterated a VC combat village.  I won’t go into the details of the operation, only so far as we obtained our objective of capturing three high ranking VC political types by the use of air and artillery strikes and our own special harassment techniques that we developed in training.  We completely wiped out a strong VC village, a heavily controlled VC area, which the government hadn’t been in for four to five years.  What was left of the village, all the people “Chieu Hoi” to the government side.

At this time they had another upheaval within civilian ranks.  Bill Smith left, and a gentleman by the name of Frank Friala took over the training program.  Bill Evans had been long gone from Saigon and a man named Redel replaced him.  Redel is an ex-Marine.  He was very, very strong for this type program, and he had his ideas of course, like anybody else, and his intention to expand and continue on.  He came up with the idea or he bought the idea of having military advisors with each team or province.  It was again mentioned to him about the fact that we were down there, not only in an ad hoc basis, but also in a limbo basis because we had no authority for being there, especially if somebody got hurt.  He assured me, time after time after time that the letter was being prepared or was on its way or something to this affect.  We continued on with the idea of, well, we’re in…the paperwork takes a little time, a couple of weeks or so, you know, but let’s just push on.   

We received another class; it came from My Tho.  At this time we had to modify the training to six weeks because Redel wanted to train as many teams as possible to get a team to each province.  That was the new concept.  We trained one team from My Tho while the camp was being expanded.  The camp was now expanded to handle five teams at a time, and after figuring this out, we felt that a six weeks course could be done.  These people had been through CT training before, had been experienced in the field, were all operational; therefore, it would just be a matter of reorienting them towards their objective. 

Bob and PRU trainees going through village

Going through village





William Redel of “The Embassy” with (l-to-r)  Ted Kassa, Carl Swepston, and Ted Mathison all ST-1



My Tho was the first class; My Tho was a fine group; they really were outstanding, good moral and maybe better than even the Vinh Binh group.  After My Tho completed training, Goodman (who in the meantime had replaced Bassett) went down to My Tho with them, and he’s down there now.  Right at the present time, we have Goodman in My Tho and Garrett in Vinh Binh.  

I requested two more men from Nha Be for the training.  They sent down first Swepston and then Mathison.  I requested both of these people by name because I knew them and felt that they’d be a great value down there, both their experience and their adaptability in this line of work.  So finally, I got them, getting to the matter of SEALs working with themselves and taking care of each other.  I was very, very happy when they showed up.   

We continued on and got ready for the first increment of the new training, which was an expanded group of four teams.  We had a team from each Corps: I Corps, II Corps, III Corps and IV Corps, or a province from within each Corps rather.  The I Corps was from Hué.  The II Corps team was from the Nha Trang.  The III Corps team was from Xia Binh. The IV Corps team was from Kien Giang, or the province capital is actually Rach Gia; actually Kien Giang borders on the Cambodian border on the sea on the other side. 

At this time, a Special Forces (Green Beret) Master Sergeant (E-8) showed up.  The primary purpose of this gentleman coming to the training, as I understood it, was because he was an S-2 Sergeant.  This means, as you know, he was supposed to be working in intelligence.  Well this guy was an E-8.  This guy wasn’t in camp more than two hours, and he had me in a corner telling me or asking me what I thought of Special Forces taking over this program, entirely, planning it, supporting it, funding it.  He said there’d be room enough for SEALs, but he thought the Special Forces could handle it better than the civilians. Right there he and I had a little understanding about who was there first, who had set this program up, and we certainly didn’t need the Special Forces for anything.   


Bob providing PRU trainee some motivation




We continued to go along with the course.  The Special Forces guy was more and more writing up reports, taking pictures of the camp, obtaining background data and forwarding these reports onto his Commanding Officer, which I guess is normal.  He was a… he sure did a thorough job.  Redel came down from Saigon , and I told him I didn’t think the Special Forces guy was going to work out, that he was spending more time worrying about who was running the program than actually… 

As I told Redel I didn’t think the Special Forces guy was going to work out, he told me that we had to make up a leadership course.  This leadership course was for leaders of existing PRU teams in all provinces to be sent to Vung Tau for a four-week orientation course on the concept and problems concerning leadership: planning, briefing, execution, debriefing, report writing of team operations.  Redel suggested to me that I let the Special Forces Sergeant write this leadership schedule, give him the criteria for it, the objectives, so forth, which I did.  In all fairness, I have to say that I told this Sergeant that I wanted the schedule and nothing else.  After the schedule was made up and approved by Saigon, then we could find out, after it was ok’d, what type of lesson plans we’d have to write up, whether or not there’d be any of the ones we had already made up for the course that we were going through now could be utilized or expanded or what.  I also gave the Sergeant the additional responsibility of being advisor to one of the teams that were going through training.  Each American was assigned a team; this was nothing unusual and so forth.  

About this time, I received word that I must return to the States on or about the 15th of May.  My thirty-day extension was up.  Believe me when I say this, there was nobody happier in this world to see me go than ‘old sarge’.  He’d been there longer both than Mathison and Swepston.  He was senior both to Mathison and Swepston, and there was nothing to stand in his way.  He really started working on Friala.   

Let me explain right now a little bit about the political side of things with the civilians down there.  First of all, I worked around them off and on for quite a bit of time, and this was my first time that I’d ever run into the problem where they’re worrying about their jobs. It’s a make or break thing with some of these people, this PRU function; at least, it appears this way to me.  Frank was a little bit upset because they were taking me out in the middle of a course, even though he knew Kassa was coming back.  He knew Kassa; he liked Kassa, but he felt there would be a week or two weeks that there’d be nobody there to guide the course, and anytime Nha Be felt like it, they could pull out Swepston and Mathison, and he’d be left high and dry.  He immediately turned to the Sergeant.  He and the Sergeant got together.  The Sergeant told him and assured him in fact that Special Forces wanted this program, that they could support it with personnel, and they would support it if they’d just give them the word.  He had ten people in the Nha Trang right now that he could bring down here.

At this time, I went to Nha Be and talked to the officer in charge, Lt. Salisbury, and I requested that an extension be granted until Kassa arrived here.  I felt that it was very, very important in as much that we put so much work into this program, so much time, so forth, and we were coming close to our objective of getting control of it, that I just be allowed to stay here until Kassa arrives.  Mr. Salisbury sent that back down to the States.  In the meantime I had to report to Redel in Saigon that I was going to be sent back to the States unless the extension was approved.  He got a hold of Commander Fielding in J2 and MACV.  The reason he got a hold of Commander Fielding was that the military cover for the program at this time was being worked through MACV, and he’d been using Commander Fielding as kind of a go-between until he got his feet on the ground with MACV to establish liaison.  Commander Fielding, Mr. Redel and myself went over to ComNavForV and requested that ComNavForV arrange the request for extension until Kassa got over here.  This was approved by you, and I remained here until Kassa got here.   

When I got back into Vung Tau, this took me three or four days to wait in Saigon because I didn’t know whether I was going to leave or come back, and I had to wait until the final word.  By the time I got back down here, the Special Forces Sergeant and Mr. Friala had come to quite an understanding as to how the camp was going to be run, and in fact, they’d even made a few changes more in the Special Forces way of doing things.  It kind of upset them when I showed back up down here with the extension.  When this happened, when I came back and saw this, then I felt that now was the time that either the Embassy is going to do what they say they’re going to do and get that letter in, or we should get out.  I went back up, and I talked to Lt. Salisbury.  He had in the meantime, in fact, been contacted by 116 by a message directing that all but three SEALs be withdrawn from the Vung Tau program because there was no authority.  This is 116 in Can Tho, and evidently Can Tho had not talked to ComNavForV before they sent this out, or something.  Captain Burgess had sent it, and ComNavForV had no knowledge of this Captain Burgess. 

Then I saw Redel, and I told him that unless he could produce a letter within three days, we were withdrawing from the program.  We had no alternative.  He had Special Forces down there; I wanted the Special Forces guy out if we stayed.  If we didn’t stay, he should have Special Forces bring their own people in.  He assured me that he did not want us to leave, that he was in the midst of negotiating with MACV, that he had went with a letter to ComNavForV requesting an allocation of 13 SEALs be provided.  ComNavForV told him first they must have a direct or an allocation or something from General Westmoreland or MACV authorizing them to request 13 additional SEALs.  The 13 additional SEALs that he wanted were one officer and twelve enlisted.  The officer would be used in the IV Corps regional headquarters with one Petty Officer.  They’d be responsible for coordinating all PRU operations within IV Corps.  Three of the remaining eleven would be utilized in Vung Tau in the training.  The other eight would be in the Provinces, so therefore we’d figure on at this stage, eight Provinces, three for training and of course, the two men in the regional headquarters.  I said that sounded fine.  We’ve been horsing around this for almost a year now, and I said, “Where is the paper?”  He said, “I’ll have the paper written up and in to COMUSMACV.”  He’d already talked and briefed General Westmoreland on it, and General Westmoreland told him that he was in favor of submitting the paper requesting everybody—Marines, Army, Navy—how many he wanted at one time, not piecemeal.  I told Redel, “We have no alternative.  We’ve been hearing this story for a long time.  There’s no disrespect meant, but the SEALs have provided the backbone of this program up until now in the status that it’s been, and we should have the first crack at it; therefore, we should have the first legal operandus.” 




More training Vun Tau 


I went back down to Vung Tau.  In the meantime before this had happened, I had relieved the Special Forces Sergeant of work at the camp because of a few things that had happened.  He spent five days without coming to the camp on his own; he felt he couldn’t work out at the camp on this leadership schedule, so he went and arbitrarily detached himself from the camp.  He went into town, stayed there to work on his leadership schedule, which he never got done.  I made up one in a little less than eight hours and sent it up to Saigon and got it approved.  Using this as a justifiable reason, I told him that he was relieved and unless I got direct orders from Redel, he was finished.  After talking to Redel, I got back down and he was back out to the camp.  Friala had brought him out there.  I told Mr. Friala that if he wanted Special Forces, then he should tell Redel this, and we’d get out, no hard feelings.  It’s going to be one way or the other at this stage.  We could not work together; there were too many conflicts in ways of doing things, and maybe the Army wants to do the high jumper, and we want to do the jumping jack.  It’s all exercises, and there’s no sense spending hours arguing and debating about which one is right.  If they had any dissatisfaction with the way we had done things down there to date, then they should get rid of us.  If they were satisfied with us then they had no reason for moving anybody else in.  

The next day, Redel called down on the radio and told Mr. Friala he wanted to see himself, Kassa and me in Saigon the next day to iron this thing out.  We went to Saigon the next day.  Mr. Redel told Mr. Friala that there would be three SEALs in that camp and nobody else, and went along with just about everything that I’d requested the previous three nights before.  Here’s how it stands right now:  I am returning to the States on my own volition.  I feel that under the circumstances, there is no need for me to stay around any longer.  Kassa is here, Swepston, Mathison.  They are three fine Petty Officers doing outstanding jobs.  They are well oriented to the program and the objectives.  The letter was written to MACV. I’ve seen it.  [It’s] addressed to Westmoreland and requesting an effective date of 1, July.  Whether or not we can meet this effective date, I don’t know.  However, we do have a total of five people in the program now, counting Goodman and Garret.  Also there’s a sixth SEAL which is assigned to Ba Xuyen Province, a Chief by the name of Lenny Waugh, that the East coast has placed down there arbitrarily and on their own with a deal through the regional headquarters.  Therefore SEAL, or the Navy, overall has six people committed to the program or in the program right now.

The positive side of all this is I would like to say that we’ve gained a lot of experience.  I know I have, and I know everybody else that came in contact with this program has.  Captain Kaine has been here.  He’s seen the camp. Lt. Commander Olsen and many other Navy people has been here.  Everybody who has seen it, been briefed on it, is 100% for it.  The big hitching point was the inability or lack of initiative on the Embassy to establish our legality here.  After working with these people for eight months straight, I was very, very disappointed.  I feel personally, that there’s a lot of hot air coming out of them, but when it comes right down to brass tacks, it’s pretty hard for them to produce.  I do feel this program is worth it.  I feel the experiences that we have gained here on how to construct camps such as this—this program right now can be used in any country, and we made this program…  

…We set up the topic breakdowns, wrote the lesson plans, the… 


…The Vietnamese that have turned out from this training is far superior to any other training that I’ve seen here, including Da Nang by a long shot.  Going back over everything, there were a lot of things that possibly I made mistakes on, but you can’t cry over spilled milk.  I should have pressed maybe a little bit harder at the beginning for this letter, but I really believed them when they told me so many times before that they’d written it or it was in the mill.  I have no doubt about the SEALs’ capability or our capability of handling a program such as this.  It’s a matter of getting oriented towards it.  I feel that we’re more flexible, more adaptable than the Special Forces or Marine Recon, and I think that we’ve proved it in this program.  I think the other people when they return, Mathison, Swepston, Kassa, Garret and Goodman, will tell you the same thing, how much they’ve learned.  It isn’t a matter of not being able to do it; it’s a matter of having the opportunity to do it.  Special Forces realized the value of this program.  Their CIDG (Civilian Irregular Defense Group) program and a couple of other project areas aren’t really working out so good; in fact, they’re hurting.  This would be one way for them to maybe justify their existence in Vietnam.   

Right now, we have the following courses that can be taught at Vung Tau.  First of all, there’s a six-week basic refresher course.  This is the course we’re going right through now.  Then we have a four-week leadership course.  We have a two-week jump training, a two-week diving training (and this is open-circuit), and a two-week special operations/jungle warfare type training.  We also have a special eleven-week course set up PRU sea, air, land operations training.  This includes five weeks of the basic refresher course with more emphasis on intelligence gathering, agent handling and so forth, two weeks of jumping, two weeks of diving and two weeks of jungle warfare training.  The people who come through this eleven-week training would be mostly reaction teams throughout the country, special mobile teams—a team that could move into for a specific job in any province, do the job and get right back out.  They wouldn’t be compromised as far as being located within a province for any specific time such as these other teams in the province have a tendency to be done if they hang around a province capital for too long. 

By the time you hear this, I’ve already given you the course breakdown.  Some of these titles of subjects that are used are civilian titles, and I had to use these because of the civilian authority and approval.  

·         The general courses we teach are motivation of personnel, leadership with management areas, physical training, hand-to-hand combat, first aide and seminars on operational techniques in different provinces.  

·         In operations areas, we teach map and compass work, communications, planning of operations, briefing (this includes the use of the sand table which we emphasize very, very heavily), debriefing (oral and written), execution of operations, operational reporting and small unit operations techniques (small unit tactics) and field training.  

·         Under field training, we teach ambush and counter ambush, raid, road/river/stream surveillance, ground search and tracking, operational movement, camouflage concealment, unit movement with sound discipline, hand signals and formations, and water transport.  All teams are taught water transport because there’s no place in Vietnam with a lack of water.   

·         Intelligence courses we teach are sources of information, VC infrastructure (the complete infrastructure starting with the Russian revolution on down into its effect in the hamlet level today in Vietnam), intelligence recognition, security, compartmentation, surveillance, sketching, elicitation, evaluation of intelligence, clandestine communication, recruiting of agents and recruiting of sympathizers within VC controlled areas, interrogation, photography.  

·         Under special operations, we teach abduction and capture, rescue, escape and evasion, survival, penetration/infiltration/exfiltration techniques, disguises, deception, artillery and air target spotting and other means of elimination.   

·         In weapons we teach the BAR, the Bren, the M-60, the carbine, the grease gun, the Swedish K, the caliber .45 pistol, the M-1 sniper rifle with the sniper scope and the M-79 grenade launcher.  We do not teach any Mortar we give them a familiarization, but that’s all.   

·         In Demolitions, we teach anti-personnel demolitions, claymore mines, booby trapping.  Because we use the claymore mine, we also teach them priming, capping, non-electric and electric firing, delays and so forth.  

Every academic lecture, otherwise every hour spend in the classroom, every segment spent in the classroom, we give them a ten question examination similar to what is given in UDT training.  We further give them a weekly test covering all activities done in a week.  We give them a midcourse examination of fifty questions and a final course examination of seventy-five questions.  All of these are multiple choice.  For field training exercises, they have night problems every night.  When I say night problems there’s night training that could be done in the camp somewhat such as sand table building and so forth, but when they go out on actual night problem which is three to four times a week, they plan it, brief, execute, debrief and report on it with an American advisor as an observer and the Vietnamese instructors observing and critiquing.  It’s just worked out really well.  It’s very similar on some of the concepts of the Ranger training except we’ve modified it towards the use of the Vietnamese or indigenous personnel. 


In closing, I would like to say that this program has been quite an experience…starting from scratch, the building of the camp, the outfitting, the payment of indigenous personnel, everything that’s connected with a program such as this.  I’ve really been amazed.  I feel that if we can impart this knowledge and disseminate it, it would be a real value to the Navy, and we could set up programs basically the same as this anywhere, anywhere in the world in any country with no problem.  There was no problem getting indigenous personnel to work on something like this.  It’s just a matter of making contact and getting them the necessary financial support from somewhere.  I think we’re, in all truthfulness, more capable than any other specialized unit.  We’re more adaptable, more flexible than anyone else. 

Thank you very much. "



After completing this report for Lt. Commander Anderson, Bob was given the assignment to develop a PRU special operations training course for potential PRU advisors.
He was also tasked with locating a site for implementation of this course. Working with others, Bob obtained 25 acres near Lake Cuyamaca which is about six miles from the town of Julian, Ca. This land was donated by the Ed Fletcher Co. (El Cajon, Ca.). On April 10, 1968 the training center was opened. The training center was named Camp Machen after Billy Machen, the first SEAL to die in combat in Viet Nam.

Cyanaca PRU training (left to right) B. Davis, C. Swepston, G. Gallagher, Blair



On June 28, 1968 Bob deployed to Viet Nam and reported to Tra Vinh in Vinh Binh Province where he operated with his PRU team. According to his last letter he sent home (August 13, 1968) his PRU team was really hurting the VC (".... the bastards are hanging on by their teeth in this province"). Helen received this letter after being notified about her husband's death.

Late in the evening on August 15, 1968 Bob and his PRU team were moving toward a Viet Cong held village in the Cang Long district of Vinh Binh Province. According to letters (from LTC. Ralph W. Girdner and Lt. Thomas Nelson) sent to Bob's wife, approximately 200 meters from the hamlet two Viet Cong (VC) spotted the team's movement and ran toward the village. Bob's interpreter tried to run down the VC, however he tripped a booby trap and the subsequent explosion killed the interpreter and Bob instantly. Two SEALs, George Davis and John Lynch, carried Bob out of the area to a helicopter which took Bob to the 3rd Surgical Field Hospital in Dong Tam. Nothing could be done for him due to shrapnel wounds to the head and chest.

Last known picture of Bob, May 1968 Last known picture of Bob, back row right, son, Mike back row middle. Picture taken June 1968


Chief Guy E. Stone, escorted Bob's body back to San Diego, California. On August 23, 1968 , a memorial service was held at the Amphibious Base in Coronado and he was buried at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in Point Loma, California

In addition to other medals, Bob was posthumously awarded the Legion of Merit with the Combat "V", a medal normally given to staff or Flag ranking officers. Click on the link to view the complete description. He was also awarded the Bronze Star (with combat "V") and posthumously promoted to Chief Petty Officer.

This site is not only dedicated to Bob but also to his wife, Helen. During his time in Viet Nam and afterwards, she raised three teenage boys (Mike, Mark, Jim), a young girl (Karen) and Bob Jr. (who was born 2 months before his last deployment).

Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery

Fort Rosecrans - Pt. Loma, California


Carl Swepston with SQT class at Bob Wagner’s grave

SQT class K-Bar knife


Bob's family. From left: Karen, Jim, Mike, Bob Jr., and Bob's wife, Helen.  Bob's second son,  Mark, died January 14, 1976

If there are any comments about the information on this website please send an  e-mail message to Mike Wagner:

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