It was now 16 March 1965, and the Vietnam War (at least the American part) was very young. Meyerkord and Barney were embarked in the RAG's Commandement , a converted landing craft that served as the flotilla's flagship. When the radio guarding the tactical frequency crackled with the news that two Vietnamese Ranger companies were in contact with a large Viet Cong unit, the flotilla turned into a nearby canal and headed for the fight.
As they made their way up the narrowing waterway, Barney recalled a time when they had been in the middle of a heavy firefight and Meyerkord had grinned at Barney and asked, "What do you think, Chief? Is this worth $65?" He was referring to the monthly sum the Americans received as hostile fire pay. It was typical Dale Meyerkord.
After the embarked troops were deposited ashore, the boats of the flotilla remained in the area for several hours to provide fire support. Eventually, enemy contact dwindled, and with the Commandement in the lead, the RAG boats made their way farther up the narrow canal in search of a place to turn around.
As they rounded a tight bend, a hail of fire exploded from the heavy vegetation on both banks. Shards of wood and metal flew about as hundreds of rounds chewed furiously into the Commandement . Meyerkord returned fire to port from his perch atop the raised deckhouse while Barney fired into the jungle on the starboard side with a 12-gauge shotgun.
Just a minute or so into the melee, Meyerkord called out, "I'm hit," and Barney could see a dark stain spreading across the lieutenant's midsection even as he continued to fire. In a move that would earn him the Bronze Star, Gene Barney went to Meyerkord's aid, ignoring the point-blank fire spewing from the foliage as he tried desperately to pull the lieutenant to safety. With bullets crackling around them, Barney stood up, trying to lift his boss by the armpits and pull him down into the less exposed midships section. But a round caught the young lieutenant under the chin and another tore into Barney's back, exiting through his left arm, and both men went down.
Gene Barney survived, but unlike Forester's hero who retired as an admiral, this American Hornblower's fate was to be the first American naval officer killed in Vietnam.