For example, the quintessential Blue Water Navy ship is the aircraft carrier, which can easily sail across an ocean but is less able to enter coastal waters (only in large deep-water ports) or to travel on inland waters. The Blue Water Navy is often juxtaposed with the Brown Water Navy, which comprises vessels that are best suited for operations very close to shore or on inland waters, such as rivers and bays, and are often not seaworthy for extended trips or for rough weather. In Vietnam, the quintessential Brown Water Navy vessels were the river patrol boat and the fast patrol boat (also known as the swift boat).

Another definition of the Blue Water Navy has developed with regard to the Vietnam War for legal purposes in determining eligibility for a presumptive service connection of diseases associated with exposure to tactical herbicides. In the present report, blue water refers to the more narrow legal definition of persons who served in the Navy during the Vietnam War and were stationed on ships that spent time in the waters offshore of Vietnam but never entered inland waters or set foot on land in Vietnam.

The Seventh Fleet, which is the section of the US Navy Pacific Fleet permanently stationed in the Western Pacific, had a presence in Vietnam and Vietnamese waters dating to 1950 as part of MAAG-Indochina. Navy personnel in Saigon supervised the transfer of naval supplies, including several aircraft carriers and over 400 other ships, first to the French and later to the South Vietnamese government. The Navy also provided training and advice to the nascent South Vietnamese Navy and executed shows of force of US ships in the waters surrounding North Vietnam and South Vietnam in support of the South Vietnamese government. In the early 1960s, the fleet increased; by 1965, Navy ships were involved in a wide array of blue-water and brown-water operations in and around Vietnam. At the peak of American involvement in the Vietnam War, in 1968, there were 38,000 Navy personnel in NAVFORV (Naval Forces Vietnam); this decreased to about 17,000 by the end of 1970 (Marolda, 1994).

By the end of the War, the Navy played a minimal role in near-shore and in-country activities. The Treaty of Paris limited the number of American military personnel who could be involved in any military assistance to the Republic of Vietnam, and the Navy’s main contribution was to assist in the evacuation of Americans (military and civilian) and Vietnamese refugees from South Vietnam. The Navy was also involved in the evacuation of Cambodia.

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