by Mimi Teller/American Red Cross
On Veterans Day, November 11, 2023, the American Red Cross Los Angeles Region will pause to honor and gives thanks to all who have served in the U.S. military, acknowledging the commitment veterans and their families made to serve this country.
There are many ways to show veterans our gratitude, among them, is to ask a veteran about their service and if they care to share their story. To honor Norwalk resident Steven Cdebaca and his remarkable time in the Navy, we asked him to share accounts from his military service which included three, six-month tours in Vietnam between 1970 and 1973.
Following his high school graduation in 1969, Cdebaca enlisted in the U.S. Navy, where he trained as a diver and learned survival and capture avoidance skills. Soon after, he was deployed to Vietnam to serve in the Brown Water Navy, attached to a unit that named themselves the “River Rats.”
During his tours, he patrolled the rivers and narrow tributaries along the Mekong River delta aboard both River Patrol Boats known as “RPB’s,” and modified RPB dive boats. The “River Rats” mission was to keep the waterways free of obstructions and if a PBR sank, they would find the submerged boat, retrieve any bodies, and remove armaments from the vessel. They would then plant explosives and destroy the craft to keep the waterways clear.
Most tributaries were no more than 40 yards wide and thickly lined with dense vegetation. Cdebaca remembers an incident during his first tour when his unit’s boat rounded a bend and was suddenly met with enemy gunfire from both sides of the river. The pilot punched the vessel into high speed while three of Cdebaca’s crewmates fired machine guns in defense. At the time, Cdebaca did not expect he would survive the attack. By some miracle, he made it out alive.
On his second tour in Nam, Cdebaca was injured when an explosive device he placed on a sunken PBR discharged before he could exit the water. As a result, he suffered a damaged eardrum and damage to both eyes' optic nerves.
Upon completion of this third tour, Cdebaca left Vietnam for the last time in May 1973.
After his discharge from the Navy, Cdebaca went to work for Raytheon as a materials program manager, working on fighter jet radar systems. In 2013, after a 40-year career, Steven retired from Raytheon, but his legacy carries on: Each of his three children all have careers at Raytheon as well.
Each year, the Red Cross assists more than 240,000 military and veteran families by leveraging a network of volunteers across the country and around the world. Through the Hero Care Network, the Red Cross connects service members, veterans and their families to free and confidential assistance any day, anytime, including includes emergency communication messages, financial assistance, critical community services and more. To learn more about how you can give back to your community this Veterans Day, visit redcross.org/HeroCareVolunteer