The remote Predator strikes from high above the ground are images of 21st-century military drones.
But 50 years ago boats were the drones of the Vietnam War.
As a 20-year-old electronic technician Michael Yablonski helped to develop the Navy’s mine sweeping division known as Mine Division 113. It was a brown water navy of man-less controlled boats that swept rivers and canals for underwater remote-controlled mines.
“Dragged anchor chains with prongs welded to it. Concept being we would catch those wires and break them,” he described.
The now Lower Macungie Township combat vet says the goal was to clear waterways for patrol boats to then set up ambush sites. It worked, as no boats were destroyed in the areas he was protecting during his 15 months of duty.
“South Vietnamese villagers called them ghost boats or spirit boats. They would have lights, a horn and they’d be amazed at coming out and seeing it go by without an operator,” he said.
Being one of those operators Yablonski, or ski, as he was known, was often a target himself, even though his boats were hundreds of feet away.
“Here I am in the middle of the river on top of the canopy and there were snipers now and then,” he said.
For as proud as he is of the drone program, a letter sent by one of his boat brothers 36 years later is his most enduring war legacy.
“One thing I remember in Nam is you always kept your head about you and yes always had a positive attitude and kept going. I believe that rubbed off on me and it’s what got me out of that hell hole, Thanks,” he read.
A band of brothers then and now.