“I think I was just young and stupid; I thought, ‘Well, I’m not going to end up in a combat situation,” Egan, a 40-year Napa resident, recalled during an interview Wednesday. “The problem was, I got there a month before ’68, the Tet Offensive. So not everything works out as you planned.”
Egan became part of a team whose work was vital but largely unseen, carried out away from dry land.
After receiving dive training at a Navy-run school in the Philippines, he joined a four-man scuba team tasked with protecting bridges on the 1st Marine Division’s supply routes. A 1968 story in the Sea Tiger, a weekly newspaper published by the Marines in South Vietnam, recounted the crew, in three months, making 280 underwater checks of bridges for enemy-placed explosives and mines – or damage such as cracked pilings – that could suddenly cut off a crucial road.
“The Recon Leathernecks travel throughout the Division area with air tanks, wet suits, flippers, masks and other tools of their trade stopping just long enough at each bridge to don their diving gear and search out the murky waters,” the Sea Tiger reported of Egan and his fellow divers.
Along with such relatively “routine” bridge inspections was more perilous work – joining infantry on clandestine patrols behind enemy lines, searching for caches of weapons and underwater cave entrances. In two months, their efforts turned up an enemy rocket, two tons of ordnance and three bodies, according to the newspaper.