The Union Democrat
Eugene ‘Gino’ Mangaoang among many Native Americans in Tuolumne County who served
Eugene “Gino” Mangaoang, 71, of the Tuolumne Band of Me-wuk Indians, served on a U.S. Navy destroyer escort armed with anti-submarine missiles during the Vietnam War from late 1969 to early 1972.
Mangaoang emphasized he is just one of many Native American U.S. military veterans in Tuolumne County.
He was born in September 1950 at San Joaquin General Hospital in Stockton. His father, Paulino Mangaoang, was Filipino from the island of Luzon, and his mother, Thelma Bailey Mangaoang, was born and raised on the Tuolumne Band of Me-wuk Indians reservation in and near the township of Tuolumne.
He grew up with the nickname Gino since he was a young boy, and he and his family lived in the town of Holt outside Stockton. He graduated from Edison High School in Stockton in June 1968 at age 17. His parents told him he should make sure to go to college, because the U.S. government at the time was drafting hundreds of thousands of young men each year into the military, to go fight in the U.s.-led Vietnam War.
Some historians call the American war in Vietnam the first televised war. Many viewers in the U.S. were repulsed by what they saw on the nightly news from Vietnam.
The American war effort in Vietnam was peaking in 1968, at the same time American public support for the war was decreasing, due in part to the North Vietnamese Tet Offensive, and the increasing numbers of Americans killed and wounded in combat in Vietnam. The deadliest year for American military personnel in Vietnam was 1968. Early the following year is when Mangaoang got his draft papers.
“I started at San Joaquin Delta College, and took up welding for one semester,” Mangaoang said in a recent interview in downtown Sonora. “Then I was late signing up for the second semester. And then my draft papers showed up.”
The U.S. Army wanted Mangaoang and told him to show up at an old post office in Stockton, where the military branches had small offices to recruit and sign people up.
“I was drafted into the Army according to my papers,” Mangaoang said. “I went to the old post office and walked in and the first door was Navy and Marines. The rest were Army and Air Force, all that. I went in the first door because I was afraid to go into the Army. Everybody was getting killed in Vietnam. It was really booming in Nam. A lot of our people were dying.”
Mangaoang said he showed his draft papers to the Navy and told them he preferred the Navy. The Navy accepted Mangaoang, and a week or two later he was on a bus to Camp Pendleton in San Diego County for eight weeks of Navy boot camp.
Soon after completing basic training, he got orders to fly to Pearl Harbor for his first warship assignment to the destroyer escort USS Finch. Mangaoang was trained as a plumber, welder, and machinist, and his job title was shipfitter.
The Finch was an older ship from World War II, and the Navy wanted the ship mothballed. The Navy ordered Mangaoang and his shipmates to motor the USS Finch to Seattle, and soon had them fly back to Pearl Harbor for assignment to a newer warship, the USS Davidson, a destroyer escort armed with anti-submarine missiles.
The Davidson had two 5-inch 50 guns, Mangaoang said. Naval historians say 5-inch 50-caliber guns — essentially turret-mounted cannons — were the U.S. Navy's first long barrel 5-inch guns, capable of firing 50-pound and 60-pound armor-piercing shells from 20-foot-long barrels at a rate of six to eight rounds per minute, with a maximum range of 19,000 yards or 10.7 miles.
“We took it from Pearl Harbor to Nam in 1969-70, and 1971-72,” Mangaoang said. “We were off the coast of Vietnam, up and down the coast, firing those guns onshore to support the Army and Marines. We did a lot of bombing, 24-7. Shooting bombs from the ship.”
In a 24-hour period, Mangaoang's ship would launch hundreds of shells into Vietnam. He and his shipmates would be called on deck for resupplying ammunition at sea, on various rendezvous with aircraft carriers and supply ships.
“We handled those shells like babies when we loaded them,” Mangaoang said. “Each one was 5 inches diameter and probably three-and-half feet long. We'd cradle them in our arms and pass them man-to-man down the line.”
During especially hectic moments at sea, Mangaoang and his shipmates were ordered to general quarters positions, and Mangaoang's assignment was hoseman behind a firewall where anti-submarine missiles were stored.
Mangaoang had to hose down unfired missiles to cool them off once in training — never during live-fire combat exercises. Sometimes he was assigned to work in the ship's boiler room, where temperatures reached up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
“I had cousins who were in the Army in Vietnam,” Mangaoang said. “We shared our stories.”
Asked what it was like to be off the coast of South Vietnam and North Vietnam in 1969 and the early 1970s, Mangaoang said, “I was scared s---less. You never knew if you were going to be blown up the next day.”
His ship was targeted by enemy fire one time while he was below decks. Some of his buddies told him they could see the enemy shells hitting the water close
to their ship. Mangaoang said everyone got ordered to general quarters, sirens went off, and “we got the hell out of there.”
Mangaoang remembers as a U.S. Navy sailor, he and his shipmates were very concerned about what could happen if they had to go into the water for any reason.
“Off the coast of Vietnam there's sea snakes everywhere in the water,” Mangaoang said. “All of them poisonous. You don't even want to be in that water.”
Mangaoang got out of the Navy in February 1972. He got a construction job and worked for 33 years as a union carpenter in the Central Valley and the Bay Area. He moved to the Tuolumne Band of Me-wuk Indians reservation in 2005.
Asked about how he feels being Native American and fighting for the U.S. military during the Vietnam War, Mangaoang said, “I was drafted. I didn't really want to go but I was at the right age
and I was single. I got drafted, and I know I had to serve my country. That's what I believe in.”
Mangaoang said he wants people to know he is among many military veterans from the Tuolumne Band of Me-wuk Indians, and he wants some of their names listed with his in this story for The Union Democrat's Veterans Day 2021 section.
U.S. military veterans from the Tuolumne Band of Me-wuk Indians include Rodney Lingo, Ray Bernido, Delmar Geisdorff, Dennis Hendrix, and Johnny Dick, who all served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War; Raymond Fuller, U.S. Navy, Vietnam; Dave Lingo, U.S. Navy, 1976-1980; and Stanley Robert Cox, U.S. Marine Corps, Korean War.