Vietnam-era boat to greet veterans in Burlington, Keokuk, Fort Madison – Burlington Hawk Eye

This fall, Burlington, Fort Madison and Keokuk will be among 11 cities in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri to get a visit from a refurbished Vietnam War-era combat boat. 
Retired U.S. Navy Capt. John McClurg, a member of the Combatant Craft Crewman Association, which provides support to veterans and families in times of need, and his team will pilot a fully refurbished 1968 Patrol Boat, Riverine (PBR) 300 miles down the Mississippi River in September, departing from Bettendorf’s Isle of Capri and ending in St. Charles, Missouri.
It is expected to stop in Burlington on Sept. 25 and Fort Madison on Sept. 26, though those dates could change, said Paul “Doc” Niehaus, a retired special boat operator chief with the Special Warfare Combatant Craft Crewman/Fleet Marine Forces, who is helping to organize the Rolling Down the River event.
The PBR, and potentially four more modern Navy combat boats, will dock just north of the Port of Burlington at about 10 a.m., with a meet-and-greet to begin at about noon. The events also will include demonstrations, a presentation of the boat’s history and boat rides. 
Veterans organizations are invited and encouraged to set up tables there, as well. 
“A lot of people like (PBRs), and it’s a good way to open up conversations and talk about veterans — all veterans, not just Vietnam veterans — and also to acknowledge all the veteran support groups that help out,” Niehaus said.
This PBR boat team also will be of service to the local recruiters and their applicants and/or future sailors at each stop. 
Those wanting additional information may contact Niehaus by calling (501) 658-9318 or emailing
To make a donation, visit or email Mike Sigsworth at 
A tip jar asking for donations for fuel will be at the event.
More:Despite health setbacks, Vietnam Navy veteran carefully restores historic West Point home
Up until the Vietnam War, the U.S. Navy had largely focused on building up its fleet of aircraft carriers and submarines. But those were of little use when it came to fighting along the Southeast Asia country’s inland waterways, where the Viet Cong used flat-bottomed boats called sampans to ferry supplies to troops. 
“(The PBR) was an iconic vehicle in Vietnam and basically allowed us to go places where our soldiers couldn’t get to,” said Niehaus, who retired from a 32-year Navy career in 2005. 
The 32-foot-long, 11-foot-wide fiberglass boat was designed specifically for Vietnam. It’s twin jacuzzi jets allow it to operate in shallow, weed-choked rivers at speeds of up to 40 mph.
“It just uses water to power itself down the river. It’s quite quick and quite maneuverable,” Niehaus said.
More:U.S.’s highest military award for valor has ties to Burlington from its creation to recipients
Toward the end of the Vietnam War, the majority of the PBRs were transferred to Army ports in south Vietnam. 
“After the war, most of the PBRs were destroyed and some were sent back to the U.S. and used by Special Boat Units,” Niehaus said. “There’s not many of them left here in the United States, so (McClurg) started rebuilding them.”
Niehaus said the refurbished PBRs make for a great way to start up conversations and reach out to veterans, as well as offer them a chance to experience what it was like riding on them in Vietnam. 
Niehaus said McClurg spent about $160,000 refurbishing the boat that will be stopping in southeast Iowa. Some of that money has come from donations, but McClurg has covered a significant amount of that cost himself. 
The boat now is nearing completion and will do sea trials in the Great Lakes. 
“We’re keeping our fingers crossed that everything works out great,” Niehaus said.
Each stop will consist of a three- to four-hour meet-and-greet.
More:‘A role model to those around him’: Boots vs. Badges to benefit Burlington firefighter diagnosed with cancer
Michaele Niehaus covers business, development, environment and agriculture for The Hawk Eye. She can be reached at


Leave a Comment