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They Remember: 50 Years Later

Scripts from Vietnam

Jack Kassinger

Brighton Publishing LLC

435 N. Harris Drive

Mesa, AZ 85203

www.BrightonPublishing.com

ISBN13: 978-1-62183-531-8

Copyright © 2019

eBook

SMASHWORDS EDITION

Cover Design: Tom Rodriguez

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher or copyright owner.

Prologue

They grew up in different parts of the country, places like Miami, Florida; Glendale, California; Brandywine, Maryland; Portland, Oregon; Cuero, Texas; El Centro, California; and Longview, Washington. Most of them had yet to reach the age of twenty by the time they arrived in South Vietnam to support an unpopular war being waged by the United States against the communist government of North Vietnam. This is their story, albeit just a brief remembrance of the days spent in-country as “Rough Riders,” and of the times, both good and bad, they experienced there and upon returning home. Sports, politics and the war were events that grabbed most of the headlines during 1967, the year this story begins.

In the early months of 1967, two North Vietnamese divisions, operating out of the demilitarized zone that separated North and South Vietnam, began launching heavy bombardments on American bases south of the DMZ—mainly Khe Sanh, the Rockpile, Cam Lo, Dong Ha, Con Thien and Gio Linh. Meanwhile, Ronald Reagan became the governor of California, The Doors released a self-titled debut album that included their feature breakthrough single Light My Fire, and the Green Bay Packers won Super Bowl 1 beating the Kansas City Chiefs 35 to 10.

The twenty-fifth amendment to the constitution was ratified in February to clarify succession to the presidency and established procedures for filling a vacancy in the office of the vice president. The UCLA Bruins beat the Dayton Flyers in the NCAA “Final Four” basketball tournament in March and in April, Gary Brewer Jr. won the 31st Masters Golf Tournament. A short time later, in Houston, Texas, Muhammad Ali refused three times to step forward at the call of his name when appearing for his scheduled induction into the US Armed Forces. He, with many others, took drastic action to avoid serving in the military and being sent off to fight in a war that they so drastically opposed. The war was becoming an ugly issue for many. It would soon become a national issue that would tear the country apart.

***

Operation Junction City, a joint military operation conducted by the United States and the Republic of Vietnam, was reported as being the largest US airborne operation since WWII’s Operation Varsity in March 1945. As the operation was winding down, the nation watched or read of the victory the Toronto Maple Leafs had over the Montreal Canadiens to win the Stanley Cup. An eerie incident was reported later that became known as the Falcon Lake Encounter. Stephen Michalak of Winnipeg was prospecting near Falcon Lake, Manitoba, when he saw two UFOs land nearby. After having approached one of the craft to look inside, a blast of hot gas shot out hitting him in the chest setting his clothing on fire—it was so reported. Later in the year, news of another war was being reported, the Six-Day War that pitted the Israeli army against the armies of neighboring states Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. That same month, President Lyndon Johnson appointed Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American, to the United States Supreme Court, and the CIA initiated its controversial Phoenix Program in South Vietnam. If things weren’t bad enough for the country, the civil disturbance that began early Sunday morning July 23, 1967, in Detroit, when police raided an unlicensed, after-hours bar, eventually evolved into one of the deadliest and most destructive race riots in American history.

During September, Operation Swift, a search and destroy mission, was conducted in the Que Son Valley, carried out by elements of the 1st Marine Division. Operation Medina followed in October when elements of the 1st and 2nd Marines swept through the Hai Lang Forest Reserve south of Quang Tri city. Casualties increased, American lives were being lost on a daily basis. Support waned, regardless of the number of enemy being killed. At the same time in Washington, D.C., chants of “no more war, no more war,” and “get the hell out of Vietnam” could be heard as nearly 100,000 people gathered to protest against it. That sentiment would continue until President Nixon pulled the last of America’s combat troops out of Vietnam in March 1973.

The year ended with increasing anti-war rhetoric and media coverage which was often laced with criticism and doubting commentary regarding the administration’s continued support of government officials in South Vietnam. It got worse when President Johnson went on national television and attempted to convince the American people of the need to send more troops to Vietnam. Applications to American colleges and universities reached an all-time high as young men enrolled in order to avoid the draft. For the troops that were fortunate to be rotating back home, many were disheartened by the lack of public support and the treatment they received. There was no parade for them or for those who followed when the last troops were pulled out six years later.

III Marine Amphibious Forces Vietnam

The following paragraphs covering 11th Motors convoy activity during 1967 set the stage in defining what was in store for newly arriving 11th Motor Marines in South Vietnam. Although the Marines of this story were not infantry Marines per se, upon arriving in Vietnam, they would face the same dangers of war as the grunts who were out in the bush fighting the insurgency forces from North Vietnam.

[Two US Army Field Forces under MACV, the Military Assistance Command Vietnam, were responsible for the American ground war in South Vietnam except for I Corps, which encompassed five coastal provinces that stretched from the southern coastal city of Sa Huynh to the DMZ. I Corps was often referred to as “Marine land.” The Third Marine Amphibious Forces, III MAF, commander had authority over all US ground tactical units operating in I Corps. III MAF consisted primarily of two Americal Army Divisions, the 1st Marine Division (1stMarDiv), the 3rd Marine Division (3rdMarDiv), a Marine Aircraft Wing, and supporting forces. The number of military personnel in I Corps numbered well over 100,000 troops at the beginning of 1967.]i

There were six USMC motor transportation battalions that supported III MAF operations in I Corps: the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th and 11th. The command relied heavily on trucks to move cargo and personnel despite the ever-increasing use of helicopters. Of the six transportation battalions, the 7th, 9th, and 11th had primary mission responsibilities to support and reinforce the 1st and 3rd Marine Divisions. Major combat bases and logistical support units received most of their supplies from “Road Runner” and “Rough Rider” truck convoys. Later, two new vehicles were introduced into III MAF's motor transport inventory, the M-116A1 marginal terrain vehicle, a small amphibious vehicle known as a Husky, and its armored counterpart, the M733. The Husky, as used in Vietnam, was a one-and-half ton capacity, cargo and personnel carrier capable of operating over all kinds of terrain. The Husky, sometimes spelled Huskie, was fully amphibious without preparation for a fording kit. The Husky was developed to replace a vintage field support vehicle, the M76 Otter. The Husky was placed into service by the 11th Motor Transport Battalion to support the 1stMarDiv in the low and often inundated areas south of Da Nang.ii

Services and logistical support for III MAF elements was the responsibility of Force Logistics Command (FLC) garrisoned at Camp Brooks which was part of the expansive Red Beach support complex in Da Nang. The command provided supplies, ammunition, fuel, equipment, military police and communications support, as well as mortuary and graves registration for combat forces operating in I Corps. Additionally, the command was responsible for managing the transient facility that processed all incoming and outgoing military personnel, and the “Stack Arms” R&R Center. Its Supply Battalion received, stored, distributed, and accounted for all III MAF supplies and operated ammunition supply points (ASPS). The Maintenance Battalion repaired all types of Marine field equipment. FSLG-Alpha, a subcomponent of FLC, maintained logistic support units (LSUs) at Hill 55, An Hoa, and Phu Bai, which served the 1st, 5th, and 7th Marine Regiments. Each LSU drew rations, fuel, and ammunition from FLC at Red Beach for issue to its supported regiment, repaired equipment and operated a laundry.iii

***

The 11th Motor Transportation Battalion is the unit in which the men of this story served.iv The Battalion arrived in the coastal city of Da Nang in late December 1966 and consisted of four companies: Headquarters and Support (H&S) Company, Alpha Company, Bravo Company, Charlie Company, and Transport Company, a heavy truck company. The Battalion complement consisted of 22 officers and 357 enlisted personnel. The Battalion immediately moved inland and began erecting camp facilities and a defensive perimeter at AT948762 (map grid coordinates denoted by alphanumeric numbers)—adjacent to the 3rd Engineer Battalion and Bravo Company, 1st Tank Battalion. The compound was situated west of the city near the base of Hill 364, a short distance from three local villages, Thon Canh Son, Bong Mui, and Hoa Khanh. The disparate Battalion companies were assigned specific sectors of the compound perimeter to man and defend against potential enemy attacks. Probing of the perimeter commenced almost immediately, but did not result in any significant combat action. By the middle of January 1967, the Battalion was fully equipped and ready to commence transportation operations with primary responsibility to support 1stMarDiv.

Figure 1 - Bravo Co. Formation Area

(Author Photo Collection)

As January rolled into February, enemy contact on the Battalion perimeter increased with occasional probing. Attacks on convoys that had commenced in earnest intensified. Twice on convoy movements to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment (2/5) cantonment area near An Hoa, 11th Motor convoys were ambushed by the Viet Cong (VC) with small arms and sniper fire. The drivers and accompanying security personnel countered the ambushes without casualties or serious damage to their vehicles. On another convoy operation to 2/5, a 5-ton cargo truck detonated a large mine resulting in extensive damage to the vehicle, but the driver wasn’t seriously injured.

As the month rolled on, 11th Motors was rapidly becoming the supply lifeline for dispersed Marine infantry units and some Army units operating in 1stMarDiv’s tactical area of operation (TAOR). The VC and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) took notice of the increased convoy activity and began concerted efforts to counter convoy support activity by mining roads and attacking convoys with claymore mines and mortar fire. On February 26, a convoy took approximately 25 mortar rounds while parked overnight at 2/5’s compound. Some of the drivers were slightly injured; there was only minor damage to their vehicles.

The following month, March 1967, the Battalion operated solely in support of 2/5 conducting in excess of thirty different convoy movements to their area of operation. On three of those trips, the convoys were attacked by the enemy, but each time suppressive counter fire by drivers and serials, accompanying security personnel, effectively thwarted the attack. On another occasion, a 5-ton truck towing an M-l07 hit a mine of undetermined size. There was minor damage to the truck, but the howitzer was a total loss. A Marine sustained serious injury when he was thrown from the lead pace truck after the vehicle hit a mine on the way to 2/5’s cantonment area. The truck caught fire, burned and was totally destroyed. Two Marines from Transport Company were recommended for a Bronze star for their heroic action in thwarting the attack and saving the Marine. On another occasion, a 5-ton truck hit a mine of undetermined size while en route to Phu Bai. At the time the convoy was under heavy automatic weapons fire. Battalion drivers and assistant drivers, along with a squad of Marines from 2/5, laid down a heavy volume of fire. An AO, (aerial observer aircraft) was called in and marked the enemy attack location so mortars could be called in on their position.

After only months of being in-country, Marines from 11th Motors began to experience the full effect of being in a war zone. While enemy contact on their security perimeter abated somewhat, Road Runner convoys, convoys of trucks solely from 11th Motors, were ambushed more frequently; trucks were being lost or severely damaged, and Battalion causalities were increasing. More and more, 1stMarDiv transportation command began relying on 11th Motors to resupply infantry units or to assist in relocating units involved in “search and destroy,” and “search and clear” operations.

The need to move tons of cargo and equipment throughout I Corps was likely the impetus prompting III MAF to initiate Rough Rider convoys—convoys consisting of many multi-service vehicles from different branches of the US Armed Forces. It was April 1967 when these long-haul convoys first started making trips to the northern sector of I Corps—namely, Phu Bai, Hue, Quang Tri, the Big Horn Plateau and Dong Ha—all under the tactical control of 11th Motor convoy commanders.

One of the first Rough Rider convoys consisted of more than 150 vehicles as it left the staging area at Red Beach. The convoy was strung out for miles while crossing over Hai Van Pass, the mountainous National Route 1 that separated Da Nang in Quang Nam province from Thua Thien–Hue Province, and on down across the “Bowling Alley” leading north to Phu Bai.

The Bowling Alley, also dubbed “Ambush Alley,” was a seven-mile straight stretch of open road that began about five miles north of the small hamlet of Lang Co. An abandoned railcar about halfway across the Bowling Alley was used as a checkpoint to let division convoy control (DCC) know the Rough Rider’s exact location at a given point in time.

Soon after the first of these convoys started making trips up north, the need for enhanced security became increasingly necessary due to more frequent attacks by enemy forces. Squads or platoons of infantry Marines, serials, were brought in from their cantonment areas to provide the requisite security. It was a welcomed relief for some of the grunts; many preferred providing convoy security riding in a truck rather than being on a sweep operation out in the bush.

The commencement of Rough Rider convoys did not result in a decrease of 11th Motor Road Runner convoys. In fact, Road Runner convoy activity increased, mostly due to increased enemy engagements and offensive operations launched by III MAF to sweep and clear certain sectors of southwest I Corps. Drivers and vehicles were taking a beating, but the “Rolling 11th” kept rolling day after day, and Battalion drivers soon began to feel the heavy hand of the enemy.

Managing Rough Rider convoys, especially ones heading north, became a nightmare for 11th Motor convoy commanders due to the length of convoys and increased enemy attacks. Division Convoy Control at 1stMarDiv headquarters had operational control over convoys operating in the division’s tactical area of operation and was responsible for organizing security and air support for convoy movements. As convoy activity increased, so did attacks by the enemy. An ever-increasing number of Marines were being wounded, frequently requiring medevacs by helicopter back to Da Nang for treatment.

During the month of May, Rough Rider convoys continued apace to Phu Bai, Hue and as far north as Dong Ha, while Road Runner convoys continued to make trips to An Hoa in support of 2/5, to Hill 55 in support of the 9th Marines, and to Hoi An. The VC continued to probe the Battalion’s defenses and the command countered by sending out occasional night ambush patrols on the mountainous trails of Hill 364.

Logistical support of 2/5 continued during June as well as did support for 3/7 at Hill 65, their cantonment area near Liberty Bridge. The majority of convoys delivered ammunition and fuel, but there were also tactical convoy movements of 2/7 troops in their area of operation, as well as movements of troops located at Hill 10, Hill 41, and Hill 190 in support of their combat activity. Enemy contact and attacks on convoys picked up resulting in two Battalion drivers receiving minor wounds. Mining incidents on Liberty Road to An Hoa increased with greater frequency causing three men to be wounded and medevac’d, and the combat loss of two 5-ton trucks.

Figure 1 - Unknown Marine view from compound perimeter linev

The enemy increased its attacks on Battalion convoys in July resulting in more causalities and losses of vehicles. Several tactical convoys moved troops to disparate combat locations in the southern sector of I Corps. Logistical support of 2/5 continued at an intensive pace moving ammunition and fuel. Also, support was begun for 2/5’s new Logistical Support Area (LSA) located at Hill 63 entailing six Rough Rider convoys hauling supplies for 3/5, 1/5 and Regimental Headquarters. One Rough Rider convoy was conducted to Phu Bai moving 77 tons of general cargo and 135 Marines from 3rdMarDiv. Monthly convoy activity resulted in four 5-ton trucks, one tractor truck and one An/MRC-109 radio jeep being destroyed from hitting road mines. The mining incidents resulted in three Marines being killed and two others being wounded.

During August, the logistical support of 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines continued with 11th Motors being the primary means of delivering ammunition and fuel. The Battalion continued convoy operations in support of the LSA at Hill 63 and provided vehicle support to the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines (1/7) for the movement of the command from Hill 55 to Hill 10. Five Rough Rider convoys were conducted in support of the 1stMarDiv operations. Enemy road contact near 2/7’s cantonment area resulted in a vehicle being ambushed and destroyed and a Marine from 11th Motors being wounded. Another vehicle hit an anti-personnel mine with no damage to the vehicle or personnel, and a tractor trailer hit a mine that resulted in two Marines being wounded. Activity surrounding the Battalion's perimeter defense continued sporadically with occasions of sniper fire being received in the northwestern sector.

A monsoon hit in mid-September causing an interruption of logistical support to 2/5. The road conditions to An Hoa became almost impassable as the rain continued to fall and trucks were becoming mired in the mud. Support continued for the LSA at Hill 63, but at a reduced pace because the bridge at Check Point 122, a bridge spanning the Song Loh Bien River, had been blown. Two Rough Rider convoys were conducted to Phu Loc, and two Rough Rider convoys were conducted to Phu Bai. Enemy contact for the period remained at about the same level as in previous months, and the Battalion continued to experience attacks on its convoys. There were three mine incidents involving two trucks from the Battalion and another involving a truck that was part of a Rough River convoy en route to Phu Loc.

Figure 2 - Liberty Road during Monsoons

(Author Photo Collection)

Logistical support to 2/5 was sharply reduced in October because of road, bridge and ferry conditions. In the latter half of the month, the road south of Check Point 6 improved and became passable once again, but the bridge spanning the Song Thu Bon River was still not passable. The ferry at Check Point 6 was frequently out of commission. When operating, the ferry was very slow only averaged two vehicles per hour. The main Battalion efforts were directed at moving 1/5 and 3/5 Marines to disparate camp sites. Rough Rider convoys were also in support of 7th Marines moving them to disparate areas within their area of operation.

***

The month of November was not quite as eventful as the preceding months. The Battalion continued its support of Marines at Hill 65. Four Rough River convoys were conducted, three to Phu Bai and one to Quang Tri. There were no instances of enemy contact on the perimeter during the month, but trucks out on the roads were still being mined. One 5-ton truck was ambushed in Hai Van pass at AT924926 resulting in one Marine from 11th Motors being wounded and eight wounded from other military units. On another occasion, a 5-ton truck struck a mine which resulted in another Marine from the Battalion being wounded and six Marines from the 7th Marines being wounded.

During December 1967, the Battalion moved 1/5 Marines to their new combat base. In addition, the Battalion conducted several convoys in support of the 11th Marines at Hill 65 and in support of the 7th Marine Regiment. There were no instances of enemy contact on the perimeter. However, on December 5, at AT943674, a 5-ton truck detonated a mine resulting in one Marine form 11th Motors being wounded. On December 9, at AT917509, an M76 Amphibious Cargo Carrier detonated a mine resulting in another Marine from the Battalion being wounded. On December 18, at BT037106 a convoy of 5-ton trucks received approximately 25 rounds of small arms fire. The convoy returned fire with negative results and there were no casualties. Only one convoy was run on Christmas day and concluded without incident. On December 29, at ZD167010, a 5-ton truck was struck by a B-40 rocket. There were no casualties. Also on December 29, at AT968593, a 5-ton truck was ambushed by approximately 30 VC. Three Marines were wounded, none of which were from 11th Motors.

The following stories are from a few brave men who were assigned to the 11th Motor Transportation Battalion. They faced many of the dangers described on the previous pages. Some would say that they were just boys who had been sent off to fight the war and most were. But they survived and came home, hardened from the experience, and wondering what the hell had happened to their country.

Carl Thomas Minton

“Tom”

Tom was born in Logan, West Virginia, on October 20, 1948, the son of Edward and Anna Minton. I knew some of his story, but got the rest from emails he sent to me. He served almost two years in Vietnam from September 1967 until July 1969, with two 30-day home leave breaks during that timeframe. This is his story.

***

My father was a coal miner who married a woman with Native American heritage. I have four brothers and three sisters. The oldest of the seven children, Charles, died shortly after birth. I am the sixth-born child of the seven. We were raised in a coal mining camp in Logan. The place was called a camp because all of the houses were owned by the coal company and everyone that lived in one of those houses worked for the coal company. At one time or another, residents must have had the option to buy the house they lived in because when we left Logan for Miami, Florida, in 1959, dad sold the house and all of our furnishings for a whopping $4,500.

While living in the camp, I remember going to the store with mom where she bought pinto beans and potatoes on credit. When dad got paid by the coal company, they would take the house rent and payment for the food that mom had bought out of his check. Hence the phrase: I owe my soul to the company store. I attended school in a two-room building that was situated back in a holler next to an old graveyard. Teachers taught grades one through six and there were only two teachers. I remember some of those days very well and others not so well. I’m not sure how far it was from our house to the school, but it was a hike, especially in the winter. To get to the school, I walked through the camp that we lived in, across a highway, across on an old swinging bridge (a bridge made of cables and wooden slats) that spanned about a hundred feet over a flowing creek. After crossing the bridge, I passed through another camp where my grandparents on my father’s side lived, along with some of my dad’s brothers and sisters. I walked on past the J.T. Fish junk yard to get to a dirt road that led to the holler where the school was located. I attended school there all the way up through the fifth grade until we moved to Florida.

I am told that my dad was involved in two mining accidents (cave ins) that resulted in many of the miners being hurt. I remember the last one because dad was laid up flat on his back in some sort of a cast for several months. He never went back to the mines and started looking for another line of work, something that paid better and was much safer. My uncle Henry on my mom’s side, had moved his family to Florida for a better way of life. He later contacted dad to tell him that jobs were plentiful there. So dad sold our house lock, stock and barrel. Mom and dad, and we kids were off to Florida in a ‘56 Chevrolet station wagon. I swear we must have looked like the Beverly Hillbillies. The trip from Logan to Miami took most of a good week, at least it seemed that long to me. Back then there were no interstate highways; it was all country roads and small towns. Us kids stayed hungry all the time and mom couldn’t pack enough bologna sandwiches to keep us satisfied. Dad would say: “Alright the next restaurant you see holler at me and I’ll stop.” But he never heard us say, “There’s one.” He just kept on driving knowing it would cost lots of money to feed us all if he stopped. So we settled for lunch meat sandwiches, the staple of choice around the Minton house in those early days of my childhood.

My mom worked for many years as a cook in the Logan general hospital before we moved to Florida. We had a housekeeper, a meaner woman you’ll find nowhere else. She kept a clean house and her cooking wasn’t bad, but she would whip your ass in a moment’s notice with a hickory switch that she kept on top of the refrigerator. When that happened for whatever reason, she would tell dad after he came home from work that she had to whoop one of us. Dad would line all of us up in front of the bathroom door to be punished. He whipped us all. He would say the rest of you are getting punished so you won’t make the same mistake.

We were a proud family and us kids didn’t know how hard mom and dad had to work just to make ends meet. I was fortunate to get my brother Herman’s bicycle handed down to me, the same bike that was handed down from my brother Howard to Herman. It’s amazing what a new set of tires and a fresh coat of paint can do to an old bicycle.

My oldest brother Howard stayed in Logan and got married right about the time the draft board was about to call his name. At that time, being married would exempt one from the draft, and he was never called up. He and his wife Carole came to Miami sometime later, after dad had moved us there, but Carole was never really happy in Florida. They eventually moved to Ashland, Kentucky, where her family lived. After struggling with cancer, Howard passed away on August 20, 2016. He was a gentle giant and one never heard a foul word come out of his mouth. He loved coaching for the local Boyd County Lions baseball team. Howard was seventy-three when he died.

My other brother Herman is now seventy-three years old. He stayed in trouble a good bit while growing up. He was always at the head of the line when it came to ass-whipping time and his mischief was often the cause for the rest of us getting our fannies tanned. I remember once when Herman decided to run away. It was shortly after we had made the transition to Florida. He hitchhiked back to Logan. He was fourteen or fifteen years old and dad had to go to Logan to bring him back home. Although I don’t remember having to stand in that dreaded line waiting to get an ass-whipping when they got back home. Herman married his high school sweetheart, Diane. They have four kids, two boys and two girls. Herman served in the Army National Guard for many years and never had to go to Vietnam.

Reba, my oldest sister is seventy-seven years old. She got married and moved off to California, but eventually came back to Florida with her three girls and one boy. My middle sister, Janet, is seventy-one. She and her husband, Baxter, were living in Tallahassee, as I was, when you came to visit me, Jack, after I got out of the service. I remember Bax and I taking you to a little bar on Lake Jackson; we were pretty messed up by the time we got back to my place. Bax and Janet now live in Titusville, Florida. My other sister, Sandy, is sixty-seven. She lives in Lumberton, North Carolina. I’m sixty-nine. My siblings and I are two years apart. It must have taken some strategic planning on my parents’ part to make that happen.

***

All through middle and high school I worked at different jobs. I remember working for D.F. Grubb Company, putting scaffolding up around a new building under construction. It was a backbreaking job for a kid who didn’t even have his driver’s license. Carrying those 2x12x12 beams for the scaffolding and flooring that consisted of different cuts of 3/4 inch plywood, was hard work. After the concrete was poured and cured, we had to take the scaffolding down, clean it, and load it back on a truck. Old D.F. always had multiple jobs going at the same time, so I never had a lot of time to loaf around, but I soon tired of that type of work and started looking around for some other form of work.

As a teenager, my true love was cars and working on them. When I was sixteen I landed a job at Patrick’s Atlantic Service Station. Come to find out the whole Patrick family was from West Virginia. We hit it off from the start and they nicknamed me Loganberry. I eventually saved up enough money to buy my first car. It was a light green 1949 Chevrolet. Man, was I proud of that car. Everyone made fun of it because it had primer paint sprayed over a good bit of the body to cover pitted rust spots. Old man Patrick took a spray can and sprayed LOGANBERRY SPECIAL down both sides of the car in black paint. I really didn’t give a hoot. It had an engine and four wheels, and I was driving a car, that’s what mattered to me at the time.

The Patricks were very good people and I have a lot of fond memories of them. The impact they had on my life, and the trust they placed in me started me down the right path in life in terms of my development as a responsible citizen. I used to open and close the station. It was a lot of responsibility for a teenage boy back in those days. I had to read and record the totalizers on each pump at opening and again at closing time; then generally get the place ready for business by six the next morning. I can recall turning on all the lights, setting out the displays, putting paper towels and windshield washer out on all fueling islands, and doing it all in reverse at the end of the day.

I went to middle and high school at Carole City High although I quit in my senior year along with a handful of guys that I hung out with. It just seemed that the school couldn’t offer us anything we couldn’t get for ourselves, so we decided to join the Marine Corps. Looking back at it, I realize it wasn’t a smart move on my part, and later took some night courses to get my GED. When my friends and I decided to sign up for the “Buddy System,” we were made a lot of promises by the recruiter that turned out to be a bunch of crap. My brother in-law, Baxter, was one of the buddies I joined with and we were supposedly going to be assigned to the same recruit platoon, Platoon 186 at MCRD Parris Island (P.I.), South Carolina. After getting there and going through all the preliminary stuff you go through, haircuts, medical exams, vaccinations, etc., I never saw him again. Come to find out he was discharged for medical reasons. I was pissed when I found that out because he was the one who talked me into joining. Bax and I, as teenagers, used to follow the Rodeo circuit in Florida riding bulls. He was thrown from one once and broke his arm. It had to be pinned back in place to heal. When going through the medical examination process at P.I., the green machine doctors discovered he had a pin in his arm and considered him a liability to the Marine Corps. I went on to my recruit platoon not knowing he had been sent home.

When I later learned Bax had been medically discharged, I didn’t want to be a Marine boot any longer. I came up with a plan and started complaining about my jaw hurting. I was once in a fight while attending high school and the guy landed a right hook to my face which broke my jaw. That was my medical excuse to get out. I complained to my senior drill instructor about the pain. He took me to sick bay for an examination. I couldn’t remember which side hurt. After being examined and having picked the wrong side, I was sent back to my platoon and a note placed in my file that read full duty no restrictions.

I can honestly say as much as I hated boot camp while going through the training, when it came time to graduate and move on, I hated to leave, but I did and with the utmost respect for the drill instructors I once despised. One didn’t get to be called a Marine until having graduated from boot camp. I thought the teaching tactics they used on us were a bunch of crap, but I learned the harsh language they used and the physical punishment they put us through was the method the Marine Corps employed to transform an eighteen-year-old, smart aleck teenager, like me, into a man. It was hard training, at a relentless pace, and was designed to make one want to quit. The process taught us self-discipline and a desire to persevere; a desire to graduate to be called a United States Marine. A life-long comradery exists amongst us Marines and the slogan “The Few, The Proud, The Marines,” can only be fully appreciated by those who endured Marine Corps boot training.

After graduating I was assigned to Camp Geiger, a training base and an extension of Camp Lejeune for Advanced Infantry Training (AIT). While there, I was taught how to use different weapons and the fighting techniques employed by the Marine Corps. It was the first time I realized my ass would soon be on the way to Vietnam. It was also a time when people were jumping ship and hauling ass to Canada or getting married so they wouldn’t get drafted. “You had better pay attention and absorb this information,” we were told repeatedly, “your life is going to depend on it.” It seemed like the instructors would say that every few minutes not even knowing one’s MOS (military occupational specialty). It was if they knew where we were headed before we received our orders. I had been given an MOS of 3531, motor transportation driver. After AIT, I was sent to Motor Transportation School which was also conducted at Camp Geiger. The school lasted about four weeks. We were taught how to drive 2.5 and 5-ton trucks. We went through a lot of classes to be taught “this is the horn, this is the gear shift, this is the gas pedal, and this is the brake pedal.” When we actually started training and driving trucks, we learned how to double clutch and split shift gears to gain torque and speed. The most interesting part about training was night driving—lights out, pitch dark, following another vehicle in front of you and watching a little red light in the shape of a “T” on the back of the truck. We had a lot of rear-end collisions going through training, but it made for a good time. Thank goodness, I don’t remember ever having to use my night driving skills in Vietnam.

I have never really sat down and talked to anyone much about my Marine Corps experience. A lot of years have passed and my memory has faded. One would think a Marine veteran who spent four years in the Corps and two years of it in Vietnam would have tons of stories to tell, but it’s been difficult dredging up some of those old memories. After Motor Transportation School, I got thirty days leave and went home. My next assignment orders were mailed to me Special Delivery. My whole family was sitting around the kitchen table when I read my orders to them. You could have heard a pin drop. I was to report to a Staging Battalion at Camp Pendleton for onward movement to Vietnam. While going through training I never really thought I would be assigned to Vietnam, but instead to some logistics command stateside. When I saw it in writing, reality set in and I was a bit apprehensive about having to leave home, but I did and eventually left to make my way to Vietnam.

Figure 3 – C.T. Minton after Boot Graduationvi

I can’t remember where I was when I got my orders for assignment to the 11th Motor Transportation Battalion, at Staging Battalion or at El Toro, but I was glad to be in a motor transportation outfit. I’m having a difficult time remembering dates, times, and places, with not much reference to go on. I lost most of my service memorabilia when my house flooded some years after I got married. I joined the Marine Corps in June 1967. After a week or two in Staging Battalion, as a solo Marine, meaning I was not assigned to a company of Marines being deployed, I was sent to MCAS, El Toro, California. If I remember correctly we left the States on a TWA DC-8 with three hundred or so Marines on board. We briefly touched down in Okinawa before flying on to Da Nang. I believe I saw the sun come up and go down twice on that flight and I remember thinking, are we ever going to get there.

As we were about to land at the airport in Da Nang, the pilot announced the airport had taken mortar rounds and we should disembark as quickly as possible. It was almost dark when we landed; the pilot never shut down the engines. There was a ground crew offloading the plane while we disembarked and some of us who were not coming in as a unit, were herded off to various bunkers. I was scared shitless. I do remember sleeping that night in a bunker next to the “In-Country Processing Center.” The next morning I was reunited with my seabag, processed in, loaded into a truck with other Marines. We were transported to the 11th Motors compound; it was a good distance away from the airport. I reported in, was assigned to Bravo Company and given my hooch (living quarters) assignment. That’s where I first met most of the fellow Marines I served with hauling shit all over I Corps going to places I had never heard of before landing in Vietnam.

I remember some of the morning formations when our company gunny, Gunny Elders, or our platoon commander would tell us about the previous day’s convoy activity or action out on the perimeter line. I had been there for several months and 1967 had turned into 1968. It seemed like shit was happening to us every day, and it was; trucks were hitting mines, convoys were being ambushed and the VC kept taking potshots at guards out on the perimeter. Time rolled on as we did, delivering the goods and equipment that made life somewhat easier for the grunts out in the bush.

[During the month of January 1968, 11th Motors was busy supporting Task Force X-ray and conducting several convoys in support of the 11th Marines at Hill 65. There were two instances of enemy contact on their perimeter and nine instances where Battalion convoys were attacked by the enemy. The attacks, along with five road-mining incidents, resulted in seventeen Marines being wounded. In February, no Rough Rider convoys were sent to northern I Corps due to the impassability of certain sections of National Route 1, but Road Runner convoys continued apace to other sectors of I Corps. One Marine would be killed and eight others wounded as the result of enemy attacks; four road-mining instances, two mortar attacks and two instances of heavy small arms fire. With a change of weather and improved road conditions, the Battalion continued convoy activity to northern I Corps, controlling sixteen separate roundtrip Rough Rider convoys between Da Nang and Phu Bal, and between Da Nang and Ca Lu.]vii

After a thirteen-month tour with a little R&R to Bangkok, somewhere in the mix, I went home for thirty days of leave. I had extended my tour in Vietnam for six months and knew where I would be assigned when I returned and what to expect. I can’t give anyone a good explanation for why I extended. Both mom and dad were working when I got home, so my dog Sock and I got reacquainted for a while. Finally, I called a cab and went to a local Rexall drug store where my mom was a short order cook. I sat on a stool at the counter watching her take orders and knocking them out. She was something else. She hardly ever looked up, but she finally did and our eyes locked. I thought we were going to have to call for medics. It was a beautiful reunion, a day in my life I will never forget. Good Lord willing, I will get to see her again. She passed away in the eighties due to complications from a kidney disease. I didn’t tell my parents I had extended and would be going back to Vietnam until the night before I had to leave. Needless to say Ma Minton was not a happy camper.

I didn`t have a real girlfriend until after I left Vietnam on my last tour. I was close friends with the girl who lived next door. Her name was Kathy; we wrote to each other, but when I came home after my first tour, her father wouldn’t even let her speak to me. It was during the period of time when military personnel were being labeled as baby killers. Her dad was dead set against the Vietnam War and anybody who fought in it. It bothered me a bit, but there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. Screw him, I thought, I still had Sock my faithful little dog to play with.

After the first six-month extension, I came home for another thirty days. I got the leave because I had signed up for another six-month extension. This time I out and out lied to mom as to where my next duty station was going to be. I told her El Toro, California, and she was OK with that as long as it wasn’t you know where. She didn’t hear from me for several weeks and couldn’t figure out why until she got my letter explaining why I had gone back to Vietnam. My brother’s National Guard unit was activated and on standby for deployment to Vietnam. At the time, it was my understanding if you had a brother already in Vietnam, then a brother would be exempt from going. Now I don’t know if that’s what kept my brother from having to go or not, but it was the reason I gave my mom. It made no never mind to that Black Foot Indian mother of mine. According to my sister, she tried desperately to find a way to contact my superiors. She wanted me out of Vietnam and tried her best to make it happen. My sister said she would try calling Vietnam, but it was a useless exercise with no number or name of anyone to contact.

***

In Vietnam, I can remember a time we were staging for a convoy, I was manning a .50 caliber ring-mounted machine gun on the pace truck—the lead convoy vehicle. Blake Dunn, one of the Marines who was part of our tight little group was the driver. Some of us alternated frequently either driving a truck or manning the machine gun, but Blake liked to be the pace driver. I sat up on top of his truck many a time while he led the convoy to wherever the hell it was we happened to be going. It was probably another long-haul Rough Rider convoy going to Phu Bai as that was where we went lots of times. On this particular run, the convoy was made up of vehicles from different branches of the military. I think we were at Red Beach waiting for the other service trucks to arrive and get staged. I remember opening my breakfast in a can, spaghetti and meat balls. Blake had parked the truck facing the road. I noticed several South Vietnamese soldiers hanging out across the road talking, having coffee, and laughing it up. Suddenly, here comes a Marine driving a 5-ton pulling a dolly-converter and a 48-foot trailer loaded down with 105 ammo. He turned left from the main road in front of me to make his way to the staging area. At that time one of the Republic of Vietnam (RVN) soldiers, who was sitting on a motor scooter, decided to pull out onto the road without watching for traffic. Yup, you guessed it. All ten of the tires on the right side of that rig ran over the poor bastard. It was a sickening sight and I didn’t have the stomach to finish my spaghetti and meatball breakfast, which wasn’t very good anyway. Later two medics showed up with a body bag. They shoveled him up and dumped his remains, what were left of them, into the body bag. I nearly puked at the sight.

Figure 4 – Tom getting ready to rollviii

Our compound was located on the outskirts of Da Nang near a small hamlet. The compound perimeter had to be manned all the time. Guarding sectors of the perimeter was split up between the various Battalion companies; oftentimes we had to patrol a nearby hamlet and unoccupied areas surrounding our compound. We also manned an OP, observation post, on the top of Hill 364 and, in the day time, we had a good view of Happy Valley. I didn’t mind the guard duty. It was usually a week assignment which meant my name was taken off the roster as an available driver for convoy duty. On one occasion I was outside my hooch getting ready for night guard duty when suddenly I heard this voice yelling: “Hey cuz, hey cuz.” I couldn’t believe my eyes when I looked up. It was Baxter’s cousin from back home, Michael. He had enlisted with us. He was constantly in trouble with the law and only seventeen, which meant his parents had to sign a waiver so he could enlist. Mike didn’t end up with a motor outfit. He was a grunt (0311), I believe. I don’t know how he managed to find me, but he did. We made plans to get together later on. We coordinated times and I asked old Gunny Elders for some time off. He was a light-complexioned Hawaiian and we got along well. Anyway, I asked, and he gave me three days off. I thanked him profusely. I met Mike at Red Beach and we stayed drunk the whole time. Da Nang wasn’t the same after we got done with it. It was great seeing somebody from home.

Once on a convoy run to An Hoa while sitting on a ring mount and manning the .50 cal, we got to a river we had to cross on a pontoon ferry boat. We had to drive our trucks onto the ferry and the operator would move two trucks at a time across the river to the other side. The interesting thing about this trip was when I discovered the operator was one of the original gang that joined the Corps when I did. He was another home boy, and state champion wrestler for Carol City High School. Pretty crazy, huh?

I spent months at An Hoa combat base TAD (temporary assigned duty) with 2/5. I remember my hooch had this huge parachute attached to the ceiling. Guys would hang their state flag from the ceiling marking their territory. We had electricity and a couple of us had small refrigerators. The hooch was sort of sectioned off so we each had our own private little space. The lady who ran the laundry would clean our hooch and tailor our clothes. All we had to do was bring her Kool Aid from the mess hall and buy her American cigarettes.

[An Hoa was a Marine combat base located approximately 20 miles from the city of Hoi An. The base was first used by the Marines in January 1966 during Operation Mallard and became a permanent combat base for the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment in April 1966. In August 1966, Marine engineers completed the construction of "Liberty Road" between Da Nang and An Hoa.]ix

Figure 5 - An Hoa Combat Base

(Author Photo Collection)

At some point, I transitioned from driving trucks to driving a Husky, a track vehicle that kind of looked like a pickup truck. It was powered by a 283 cubic inch Chevrolet engine and a hydromantic transition. It was a lightweight amphibious track vehicle that could fly like a bat out of hell over rice paddy dikes. We used it to support the grunts in the field on different types of ops carrying ammo and other supplies.

While out on those assignments, I was as much a grunt Marine as those I was out there supporting. “You are a sitting duck for the VC driving that vehicle out here,” many would tell me; they’d stay away from my Husky while we were on the move. But, luck was on my side. I drove it on many operations without ever being hit. It was my job and I did it very well. I remember once coming back to the compound to get my Husky in for maintenance and learned that Private Martin, a good old boy from Georgia, while out with a Husky supporting the grunts, had taken an RPG round, a rocket propelled grenade. His death was a real shocker.

I also remember going to China Beach hospital and visiting you, Jack, after you got wounded. Me and one of the other company Marines who went with me managed to slip in a few beers; we three drank them there at your bedside. And, there was the time when I came in from the bush and had one too many at the club. I remember four or five of us staggering back to the hooch. You may have been one of the guys. Anyway there was this “Boot Lieutenant” walking towards us. I saluted him with my cover turned around backwards and my hand parallel to my nose and forehead. He stopped us and said, “turn your cover around the right way, Marine, and give me fifty salutes.” While I was saluting him, this Master Gunnery Sergeant, I think it was Serpa, was standing nearby watching. He walked up and said, “Lieutenant don’t you think you need to be returning that Marine’s salutes?”

Another time I was TAD out in the bush, I forget with what unit, but we were told a helicopter was in-bound bringing us supplies and a hot meal—something we hadn’t had for quite some time. We had no idea what the meal was going to be, but we were all waiting anxiously to find out. We heard the chopper before seeing it. As the pilot approached our position we could see a net dangling down from the belly of his CH-46 helicopter. All of a sudden, we started hearing small arms fire and saw our supplies falling to the ground. There goes our hot meal, I thought. The pilot circled around and we heard the door gunner returning fire. I remember the company commander (CO) saying: “If you want a hot meal tonight you may have to fight for it.” That didn’t turn out to be the case. With cover being provided from the chopper and a platoon of grunts, we retrieved the goods without ever popping a cap. I actually got to use my Husky because some of the supplies were floating in a nearby river. That was one time when the grunts were glad to ride with me.

Our dinner that night consisted of pea soup; it came in these huge stainless steel containers. This stuff had the consistency of pudding. We had to turn the containers upside down to get it out, and the soup came out in one piece—I kid you not, Jack. Have you ever had a slice of pea soup? Let me tell you, it was delicious and it was still hot. I didn’t hear a complaint from anybody that night until it got dark. That’s when all hell broke loose.

I was lying under my poncho liner with a full belly. My Husky was sitting on a slight raised area in the cantonment area. The CO thought we could get better radio reception with it sitting on a hill. Anyway the enemy attacked our position with small arms fire and we gave it right back. I was scared shitless, you couldn’t hear yourself think. Hand grenades were constantly being thrown from our perimeter to hold Charlie at bay. M60 machine guns and M16 rifles were cranking out rounds continuously. I remember seeing popup flares being used to illuminate the area outside our perimeter. The attack went on for hours and I was praying for daylight. When morning finally came we surveyed the damage. Charlie had suffered many casualties; some had managed to infiltrate our perimeter, but they paid the price for it.

It’s interesting some of the things I can now remember after sitting down to put words to paper. I remember when I would get on the short list, either preparing to go stateside for leave or to go on R&R, Gunny Elders would send me on trips to Red Beach or China Beach to provide transportation for the grunt companies who were coming in from the bush for a little rest at the “Stack Arms” in-country R&R center. It was great duty. I had served with some of those grunts and in my eyes those Marines were the heroes of the war. Most had spent months on end out in the bush; by looking at them, one wouldn’t know they were Marines. Their uniforms were often torn and tattered, and the heels of their boots nearly worn off. Some had full beards and long hair. It made me stop and think how lucky I was to be in Motor T. As a Rough Rider, I never had to endure the kind of shit they had to on a regular basis, at least not until I transitioned to become a Husky driver. I had much respect for them boys. Semper Fi.

I went to Bangkok, Thailand, and Sydney, Australia, for R&R. In Bangkok, I remember going to one of those USDA Grade-A houses of ill repute and got me a young lady to spend my money on. I also remember going to a live stage show and dinner. I didn’t understand a damn word of the show and had to trade in my chop sticks for a fork. I can’t tell you anything of significance about my R&R to Sydney, but I know I went there.

Although the Vietnam War had been going on since the mid-fifties, by the time I got there in late 1967, shit was happening here at home as well in Vietnam. College kids were rioting on campuses protesting against the war and many other young men of draft age, those not attending college di’ di’ mau’ed, hauled ass, up north to Canada to avoid being drafted. Racial tensions were high and got worse when Dr. Martin Luther King was shot and killed. All that tension eventually made its way to Vietnam. I didn’t see much of that while we were out in the bush, but back in the rear areas the tension between blacks and whites was extremely high. If you were going to go out of your hooch at night, you never went alone.


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