PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — When someone is described as a “Swiftie,” your immediate thought may be that they’re a fan of Taylor Swift.
But the term was actually coined nearly six decades ago, long before the singer was even born.
The original Swifties were U.S. Navy sailors in the Vietnam War. Those sailors were volunteers who patrolled the shallow and dangerous waters of South Vietnam’s coastline on so-called Swift Boats.
Swifties had an important, yet challenging, assignment which required round-the-clock manning of the 50-foot, heavily-armed, shallow-draft vessels.
That’s why retired U.S. Navy Captain Dave Brown is determined to make sure the veterans he served with receive the recognition they deserve.
The Middletown resident was in charge of 19 Swift Boats during his year-long assignment in Vietnam. He said the Swift Boats were were tasked with searching hundreds of boats in an attempt to stop the flow of arms and supplies to enemy forces.
“Every time you approached one, you ran the risk of encountering a hostile force,” he explained. “That occasionally happened … most of the time it was a boring job, but the fact that we did it kept the Viet Cong from using the coast.”
Upon returning stateside, Brown submitted award recommendations for more than 70 junior officers and sailors who served alongside him on the Swift Boats.
But that paperwork never made it to its destination. Decades later, Brown learned those awards were never sent out.
“I thought, ‘Oh my God, I mailed it in and kind of just assumed it was getting there to the right people in the chain of command,’ and it obviously hadn’t,” he said. “This was something that needed to be made right.”
In response, Brown embarked on a years-long mission to correct the mistake. He eventually uncovered the original rough drafts and documentation that had been the basis for the lost-in-transit recommendations.
Brown recreated all 73 of those recommendations with the help of a U.S. Navy yeoman at the Naval War College in Newport. He then turned to Sen. Jack Reed, who not only helped him navigate the administrative and approval processes, but also find as many of the award recipients as possible.
“While this recognition of their service is long overdue, it is never too late to do the right thing,” Reed said. “For their selfless, dedicated and distinguished service, these combat veterans deserve to be honored for their meritorious actions in Vietnam. Each of them went above and beyond the call of duty.”
“These medals are a symbol of honor and a small but meaningful token of our profound thanks to these veterans and their families,” he continued. “It’s not uncommon for military paperwork to go missing in a war or for veterans to not talk about their service when they come home. What is uncommon here is Mr. Brown’s tireless efforts over the years to ensure his fellow sailors were appropriately recognized.”
To date, Reed said 58 of the original 73 award recommendations have been approved, and nearly 30 medals have already been presented to veterans or their next-of-kin.
“Our contribution to the overall effort was significant,” Brown said. “Going back home was not as warm of a welcome as our troops get today … these awards help compensate for that a little bit.”
Reed said at least two Rhode Island Swifties were among those to receive awards for their service.