NO ONE KNOWS MY BIRTHDAY, SO HAD TO LET YA ALL KNOW, I AM REALLY OVER THE HILL NOW, AS LONG AS I AIN’T UNDER IT IS ALL THAT COUNTS, HAVE A GREAT ONE EVERYONE, LATER BRUCE
I had forgotten the Bravery Of Sp4 Mullins that engagement. I believe the article I named in the subject line is reporting on the ambush that Bounty Hunter got nailed in on 22 Feb 69. You guys remember the laborious climb up An Khe pass How the loaded semi’s would creep along in 2nd gear, doing 10 mph! Once they hit the top of the climb… look out baby those gears and under/over trans case were jamming each in the next highest sot and as fast as humanly possible! Then the trucks would accordion down that road for a few miles before regaining the semblance of a convoy. Well, charlie had set up and dug in aways down from the peak. I guess he figured to get the trucks when the drivers were somewhat relieved from chugging up that pass or they knew the bounty hunter would be solo for that stretch.
You see, the quad 50’s had a serious flaw in the design. The turret and 50 cal barrels were not able to angle down close enough to protect the area closest to road. I forget the distance. but whatever it was, made them vulnerable alone. We were assigned backup that day. We had a Deuce and a half with 2 M60’s. Myself and Teddy Adamopolous (from Chicago) Rick Dietz (IOWA) was the driver. We also had a sp5 lifer nco in charge (I guess). I still smile when I think of him although for the life of me I do not remember his name. He was from the south, black guy. All he talked about was getting out and enjoying that check every month … it was quite entertaining actually… the little time he had left in …so he could retire. He did not like the turn of events that were about to befall us at all!!
We were about 3/4 of the way up the pass (we didn’t stay right behind the BH but not too far behind) when the Convoy LT in his Jeep , with a gunner in the back (M60), rolled up next to us and was on the radio at the same time I believe. The convoy was hit and the Bounty hunter was stuck in the kill Zone. Well Rick did some magic with those gear boxes and as the engine gained rpms and the truck picked up speed, he passed whatever trucks were ahead as they were being told by the LT to stop, our adrenalin was spiking and we were getting guns, ammo and balls prepared for action. I remember coming around that turn and seeing a wall of gunsmoke and I believe there was a truck on fire in front of the BH. Those 50’s were singing like an opera star and a sound to fill the spirit The Driver had been wounded, I believe there were 3 men in that crew beside the driver. Those 50s used a lot of ammo and the ammo boxes were outside the turret next to the guns. So while one person manned the guns inside the turret the other 2 kept them loaded. I’m not 100 percent sure but I think one of those guys bought the farm at the first onslaught. I know the driver was badly wounded. I also know that the other ammo loader was behind the armor plating froze, not loading the guns. Mullins was firing those 50’s climbimg out, just as we arrived, thank god, to reload and climb back in. I don’t know what would have happened if we hadn’t arrived then. Not that ANYTHING was stopping Mullins! I’m sure he was wanting some payback in a big way. We pulled up as close as we could get and just rained down the rounds fast and furious as possible. I saw the heads disappearing fast. Then the LT and his gunner rolled right in there as well and I take my hat off to those guys. That LT did not have to go in there! He was shot in the neck for doing so. He was awarded the Silver Star for that act of bravery. I know that I was so pumped up, and wanting to make sure no one else was gonna catch hell from those sob’s, that I was firing the M650 almost non-stop… certainly not in bursts of 4-5 rounds of THAT I AM SURE!! IT WAS NOT LONG BEFORE THOSE TRACERS WERE COMING OUT LIKE A BARREL FULL OF ROCKETS ON THE 4TH of JULY, GOING IN EVERY DIRECTION EXCEPT REVERSE THANK GOD!! I also want to thank God for being on a truck with plenty of extra barrels. When I pulled the first barrel off the front sight was so hot that it bent like licorice when I grabbed it with the asbestos glove. I mean it bent right down to the barrel almost. The cylinder inside was welded to the shaft once I allowed it to stop as well lol.
Well, I think Mullins felt he got the payback or perhaps the fact that he was now HIT HIMSELF WITH 2 ROUNDS, because he finally hopped out of the turret and scooted the driver over so he could get them. and us. the hell out of there. Because we were not moving while they were still stuck there, no matter what the SP5 was shouting.. no no Rick was not having any of THAT!! Although I didn’t believe there could have been a roach crawling around those fields and still be breathing. There are a few “scenes” stuck in my mind forever. When we first rolled around that bend and I thought oh shit are we going IN to that… Mullins climbing out of that turret. (and the loss of my favorite Opera singer). although I could not look for long because I had to keep those bastards pinned down or dead. I remember looking over at our SP5, he was lying down with the grenade launcher… loading one rpg after the other`.. just lobing them in the direction of the enemy and I’m sure the noise helped our shock and awe factor! lollol Ted, Rick and myself laughed over that scene for the remainder of our tours lol I still do. Everyone received medals and I know Mullins deserved all they have to give. And the LT showed was a leader is suppose to be. He was brand new also I remember.
I think we did just what all you guys did whenever it was necessary. We did get a new truck out of the deal and I traded in the M60 for that beautiful 50 c al. Rick named it The Boot. Another unsung hero. It takes balls to be the one driving into the melee. and he got that m16 working almost as fast as he shifted gears. Rick Dietz… Salt of the Earth!
Another thing I would like to say. Those drivers that sat behind the wheel of those trucks, 12-1`4 sometimes 16 hrs and I’m talking 7 days a week 52 weeks They had to keep driving those rigs and needed both hands and all their stamina to just get through each day. When the convoy was hit they felt like the ducks gliding by in the shooting gallery at the fair. They could not even defend themselves because they had to drive!! Those my friends were the real heros of Ambush Alley in my opinion. I would have chosen the gun truck and being able to fight back every time.
Guntrucks of Ambush Alley . The publication is on here I’ll try and get link and post it as well .. here it is.
Original Article Page 31
I added the images of the commendation today. I struggled with the do it or not do it for awhile. I recent;y heard they were using Guntrucks again in some of the conflicts they face today. I also think it won’t be long before we are all just this… memories, stories and the past. Who will see this then? Maybe another kid in the same spot we were in and it might give them something that helps. Can’t hurt. Hope I don’t sound like braggard. They are also the only images that survived my life, if you know what I mean lol – John
For reunion info contact John Cardwell 615-207-7107 or email@example.com
I expect lots of Vietnam songs came in 1966. I had forgot that Sam Kinson and Jim Bakers Jessica Hahn also did Wildthing. The Troggs nailed it.
Last Bombing run over Japan, Military training film.
Getting these on for Guntrucker James Lyles. I think you can click the pic and next page click again to get the largest.
Hi John i took this photo at Campeagle i remember it had more then one 50 on the back not sure who the truck belong too i know there was more then one bounty hunter. We the 666th were just up the hill from this photo. Maybe someone remembers this guntruck.
Hello everyone…deb (KeepingTheAceMemory) here
Just thought I’d add some pics to this post — ones marked possibly from Capt V.
Hope these help.
Quad 50 turret alone. Notice motor painted on left side. Joe knocked motor attack out with 500 rounds on way to Pleiku.
Took one wink, just for the heck of it!
On way to Pleiku after ambush.
Lam Son 719
Gathered intelligence indicated that the North Vietnamese Army was building up their logistic bases across the Laotian border in preparation for an offensive. General Creighton Abrams, Commander of MACV, anticipated that the NVA were planning a large offensive to coincide with the US national elections scheduled in 1972. To do so the enemy had to build up its supply bases early in 1971 before the rainy season slowed down traffic down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Abrams wanted to strike first and disrupt the buildup. Since US Congress had passed a law after the US Cambodian incursion that prevented US ground troops from crossing the border again, the Army of the Republic of Vietnamese (ARVN) would have to conduct the cross-border operations. Three ARVN divisions would attack into Laos just south of the DMZ to sever the enemy supply line south. The 101st Airborne Division would reopen Route 9 to the border called Operation Dewey Canyon II. On 3 January 1971, the paratroopers reoccupied Khe Sanh. On 8 February the ARVN troops crossed the Laotian border and began Operation Lam Son 719/Dewey Canyon II. US helicopters and artillery from the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) would support the operation. The artillery set up their fire base at the abandoned Marine camp, Khe Sanh (Forward Support Area 2). The 39th Transportation Battalion
had the responsibility to supply the forward deployed troops. The east-west, QL or Route 9 was the supply route and the battalion posted two 5-ton cargo truck companies at Camp Vandergrift (Forward Support Activity 1). The operation would begin on 30 January 1971.
The 515th moved to Vandergrift on 31 January. The 515th would pick up the cargo from Camp Eagle and deliver it to Vandergrift. Because it had only one gun truck, the company was loaned one M113. CPT Lavin liked to drive it to Khe Sanh. On 1 February, the battalion began line haul operations between Quang Tri Combat Support Base (CSB) and FSA 1 at CSB Vandergrift. On the next day, the battalion extended the line haul mission to FSA 2 at Khe Sanh and the 506th Transportation Detachment established a Trailer Transfer Point at Vandergrift.
For this operation the 39th Transportation Battalion was attached to the 8th Transportation Group which moved its headquarters from Qui Nhon to Quang Tri. The 585th Medium Truck Company moved to Tan My Ramp and the battalion headquarters moved to Vandergrift on 16 February. The 585th Medium Truck Company would pick up cargo at Tan My Ramp and deliver it to Camp Eagle near Quang Tri.
The road to Vandergrift was a two-lane paved road through a valley of tall elephant grass. From there, a narrow, single lane, unimproved dirt road snaked along the ridge with a river 50 to 100 feet below. Because the road past Vandergrift could only support 2 ½ and 5-ton cargo trucks, the 39th Battalion would need another light truck company to operate out of Vandergrift.
Single lane road with elephant grass on either side, capable of concealing anything and anybody
In January 1971, CPT Donald Voightritter‟s 523rd Light Truck Company received orders to move from its home in Cha Rang Valley north to Camp Vandergrift along the coastal Highway (QL) 1 in the I Corps Tactical Zone in preparation for Operation Lam Son 719.
By 1971, the gun truck design and doctrine had reached fruition. Experimentation had ended. The 515th had Baby Sitters, the 585th had Hardcore and the 805th had Lil‟ Sure Shot. The 523rd Transportation Company (Medium Truck), which had run line haul up the most ambushed road in Vietnam, Route 19 in the Central Highlands, brought six gun trucks; Satan‟s Lil‟ Angel, Ace of Spades, Black Widow, Uncle Meat, King Kong and Eve of Destruction. Each of the three platoons had two gun trucks. By then, new crew members were volunteers selected by consensus of the other crew members. The gun truck crews felt elite but the 523rd believed that by assigning two gun trucks to each platoon, rather than to their own platoon, they felt more like members of the company. They lived with the drivers who they had to protect. Since they were the best, much was expected of them and if they failed to defend the trucks then they would have to face their brothers when they returned to the barracks at night.
Gun Trucks of the 523rd
Gun Truck “Ace of Spades” (DESTROYED) 2-16-71
Gun Truck “Black Widow”
Gun Truck “Satans LiL Angel” (DESTROYED) 2-20-71 ////used to build Proud Amercian
Gun Truck “Proud Amercian” (DESTROYED) 3-12-71 ////used to rebuild Ace of Spades
Gun Truck “Uncle Meat”
Gun Truck “King Kong”
Gun Truck “Eve of Destruction”
“Eve of Destruction” being shipped to Ft Eustis from Viet Nam – probably the only
Viet Nam Gun Truck to come back to CONUS
This late in the war, there was a shortage of Transportation Corps officers. Second lieutenants made first lieutenant in one year then captain in the next. The rapid promotion and other duties caused a shortage of lieutenants in the truck companies. The burden of leading convoys fell heavily on the NCOs. However, during 1970, the Army assigned three infantry officers to the 523rd. 1LT Ralph Fuller, an airborne Ranger qualified infantry officer, had recently served in the 25th Infantry Division but when it was inactivated, he still had part of his one-year tour to complete, so he, like many of its officers who had not completed their one-year tours, was assigned to the 523rd. Fuller also had 15 years prior service as an enlisted man. 2LTs Jim Baird and Tom Callahan had both graduated from OCS 2-70 and were assigned directly to the 523rd. The only logical reason they could conclude why the Army assigned infantry officers to truck companies were the gun trucks. This hinted that the Army felt that gun trucks were a combat arms mission. For whatever reason they were assigned there, the officers identified with the gun trucks and loved the men who crewed them. As combat arms officers they felt their place was on the road. Many preferred to ride in the gun trucks, endearing them with the crews.
CPT Donald Voightritter commanded the company. He was a fair and respected officer. His brother Ronald, another TC officer, had already earned the Silver Star Medal for valor. The personality of commanders defines the character of their commands. Voightritter created an atmosphere of mutual respect and camaraderie. This was the strongest asset of the company. The officers would discuss informally with the gun truck crews what they had done during ambushes. No two ambushes were the same and the gun truck crews reacted differently to each one. These discussions inspired confidence with the lieutenants in their crews.
While CPT Voightritter closed down the company at Qui Nhon, he sent the trucks north under the responsibility of LT Fuller. When he received instructions to lead the convoy north, he had no idea what was going on. He confessed that to his men and asked them what he had to do. They liked him even more after that and would not let him fail.
The convoy consisted of over a hundred trucks and all six gun trucks in the company. The convoy spent the night at Da Nang. Fuller told everyone to write home. The next day they convoyed to Quang Tri. Once at Quang Tri, the company became attached to LTC Alvin Ellis‟ 39th Battalion. The battalion became known as “Big Al and his Money Makers.”
There CPT Voightritter joined up with his 523rd. They received instructions to paint over the yellow noses on their trucks. At about 10:00 in the morning, the convoy left for Camp Vandergrift.
The convoy turned left at Dong Ha and paralleled the DMZ along Route 9. They arrived at Vandergrift about one week after the 515th. Vandergrift was located in a valley surrounded on three sides by higher ground. They spent the night at Vandergrift. Meanwhile the engineers had reopened the road between Vandergrift and Khe Sanh. Khe Sanh had not been occupied since the Marines evacuated it in 1968. The road to Khe Sanh was a winding road with hairpin turns.
The demand for supplies required the two light truck companies to deliver cargo around the clock, day and night. To prevent driving off the road at night, the trucks rolled with their lights on giving the enemy ample warning of their arrival. The steep slopes with thick jungle vegetation growing right up to the road made this ideal ambush terrain. During Lam Son, the guerrillas stepped up the frequency and ferocity of their attacks ambushes hoping to starve off the American support.
The advance party of the 572nd Medium Truck left Newport by LST in December 1970. It had belonged to the 6th Battalion at Long Binh. The rest of the company arrived a few weeks later and set up operations at Quang Tri. It was attached to the 39th Battalion from 29 January to 15 February. It acquired the name “Gypsy Bandits” because the company was relocated all over Vietnam. After 15 February, it was then attached to the 57th Battalion. From Quang Tri the 572nd delivered cargo to FSA I and FSA II. Although not a part of the battalion, the 528th Quartermaster Petroleum Supply Company delivered fuel to the forward base camps under the escort of 39th Battalion gun trucks.
From 16 February, the 39th Battalion had control of the following companies:
C/23rd S&T Company (5-ton cargo)
57th Transportation Company (Medium Truck)
515th Transportation Company (Medium Truck) at Vandergrift
523rd Transportation Company (Light Truck) at Vandergrift
666th Transportation Company (Light Truck) at Gia Le
XXIV Corps Company (Provisional)
FLC LT Truck (USMC)
506th Transportation Detachment (Terminal Transfer Point)
On 16 February, the 57th Transportation Battalion assumed the line haul mission to Vandergrift as well as other missions of the 39th Battalion. The 666th Light Truck, however, continued its direct and general support mission to the 101st Airborne Division. The 57th Medium Truck Company had three gun trucks: The Justifier, The Assassins, and The Protector.
The 523rd Light Truck convoyed to Khe Sanh. It was an eerie place. There were no remnants of any structures left as the engineers had bulldozed the entire camp down when the marines evacuated. Only tall grass and thick dust covered the area. The drivers did see lots of little parachutes for flares hanging in trees without foliage. The trucks off loaded their cargo on the PSP. C-130 aircraft began to land on the once again operational air strip. Khe Sanh became the forward logistic base for operations. From there, the convoys delivered fuel and ammunition.
The living conditions were very austere at the camps. At Khe Sanh, the men simply dug holes and lived like moles when they remained over night. At Vandergrift, they could at least erect tents and sleep above ground. The 515th Company set up GP Large for its headquarters and most of the men slept in the Bedrock Hotel, a bunker with a solid aircraft landing sheet as a deck and protected vents to see the outside. Other than that, there were few amenities that they had become accustomed to at their original base camps.
Route 9 was the life line for the ARVN offensive and American support. As soon as line haul operations began, the NVA made a concerted effort to shut down the supply line with ambushes. The thick jungle that grew right up to the road made it ideal for ambushes and the fact that convoys had to run both day and night made ambushes easier. The 1st Brigade, 5th Mechanized Infantry Division had responsibility for the security of that section of the road.
During the big push, the 523rd received a priority call for a night convoy to the border. An artillery unit was nearly out of ammunition. If they did not reach the artillery fire base by 6:00 in the morning then the unit would be out of ammunition. Fuller briefed his drivers. It was a critical convoy and they only had to take two right turns. They had to be real quiet.
The Eve of Destruction and Uncle Meat were in Fuller‟s platoon. Fuller was especially fond of the gun truck crews. He liked to ride with them instead of in his 3/4-ton gun jeep, Daughter of Darkness. He felt better when he could stand up and look out. At night he would string his hammock between the two gun trucks to sleep.
The convoy started out at around 10:00 that night with nearly a hundred vehicles. Fuller rode in the Eve in the back of the convoy. After a couple of hours on the road, they reached the intersection where they were supposed to turn right and cross the bridge. The trucks behind the Eve took the wrong turn in the dark. Fuller called ahead to the convoy commander, “Six, be advise that the cargo truck behind me took a left.” The Eve raced back down the road and caught up with the lead truck. Fuller told them to turn around. The trucks turned around and Fuller called ahead to Uncle Meat to be watching for them. They reached the fire base just before first light. Sure enough the artillery unit had exhausted all its ammunition. The convoy had their replacement ammunition.
The Eve led out on the return trip. Uncle Meat closed up the rear of the convoy. Fuller heard an explosion. Uncle Meat had run over a mine and blew out its left rear duals and air tank. David Rose, the driver, climbed out of the cab to assess the damage. David was a draftee from California. No one was seriously injured but the axle was resting on the ground. They could not drive with it in that condition. The Eve came back. Fuller got out and checked the area. He saw the sandal tracks of a lone VC who had planted the mine. He did not expect more but knew they could not stay in the area long. He told the crew of Uncle Meat to blow up the truck so they enemy could not use it and abandon it. The crew felt too loyal to their gun truck to abandon it to the enemy. David Rose told his lieutenant, “Give us a minute, sir.” He had an idea. He had seen an old Western where a wheel on a wagon had broken and the axle was also resting on the ground. They used ropes and tied up the axle so it would not drag. They tried the same with Uncle Meat. They chained up the axle to the frame and hooked up the gun truck to a tow truck. They towed Uncle Meat all the way back to Vendergrift after the convoy stopped at Khe Sanh. The crew disconnected the gun box and placed it on the frame of a new truck. Uncle Meat was operational again.
Around 19 February, 2LT Baird had been sent back to Phu Bai to pick up 17 brand new 5-ton trucks. They returned after dark. The convoy doctrine at the time was to limit convoys to no more than 30 trucks with a gun truck ratio of 1:10. Uncle Meat led the convoy with King Kong in the middle and Satan‟s Lil‟ Angel in the rear. All gun trucks had three M2 .50 caliber machineguns. The M2 .50 was the most successful design in American weapons and had seen very little change in its design since its original issue in 1919. This time Baird rode close to the rear in a ¾-ton gun beep with twin M60 machineguns. He noticed that some Transportation Corps officers preferred to ride up front. He knew that if there was trouble it would invariably occur in the rear and that is where the key decisions would be made. If an ambush split the convoy, by doctrine the trucks out of the kill zone would continue to role of to the next security check point or camp. If the convoy commander was in the lead then the commander in would be unable to make the key decisions for the rest of the convoy either trapped in the kill zone or behind. 1LT David R. Wilson was killed trying to reenter the kill zone in an unprotected jeep.
It was dark on 20 February as the convoy neared Camp Vandergrift. The mountain ridge to the south came within yards of Highway 9 and a valley of tall elephant grass covered the valley to the ridge line to the north. Around midnight a mile and a half from their destination, Baird heard an explosion followed by an intense volume of small arms fire from the jungle on the ridge to his left. An RPG had struck Satan‟s Lil‟ Angel‟s gun box from the north side of the road, killing right rear gunner, SP4 Richard B. Frazier, and wounded left gunner and NCOIC, SGT Chester Israel. Small arms fire shot out the tires of the gun truck. The NVA had learned to take out the gun trucks first before they went after the rest of the trucks. Without a crew to fire back, the driver of Satan‟s Lil‟ Angel drove his truck on rims out of the kill zone.
Baird raced ahead and passed a disabled 5-ton cargo truck in the ditch. He ordered his driver to stop so they could check on the driver. They came to a halt a hundred feet ahead of the truck. He did not want to leave the disabled truck until he was sure that its driver was safe. To do so required him to wait in the middle of the kill zone. As soon as his gunner tried to return fire, both M60s failed to fire. Evidently, he had put the gas plugs in backwards when he reassembled them. The three men only had one M79 grenade launcher and their M16s to defend against an NVA company. Baird immediately radioed the two lead gun trucks and told them to come back. The one thing that Baird could depend on was the loyalty of his gun truck to rescue him or any other truck in trouble.
Neither the crew of Uncle Meat nor King Kong had heard the gun fire behind them. The majority of the convoy had continued to Vandergrift as nothing had happened. Uncle Meat had already entered the compound and King Kong had just made the right hand turn into Vandergrift when they heard Baird‟s call for help. Immediately backed up, turned around and raced as fast as their trucks would let them back to the kill zone.
Baird knew his gun truck crews and had confidence in their judgment. He also knew that too much jabber on the radio would cause confusion and tie up the radio net. He quickly and precisely informed the gun trucks of the situation. Satan‟s Lil‟ Angel had been hit, his gun jeep and one 5-ton were still in the kill zone. The crews asked which side of the road the enemy was on and Baird informed them that he was taking small arms fire from the ridge to his south and the field of elephant grass to his north. The enemy was close enough to throw hand grenades at his vehicle. He then quit talking. He would count on their judgment as what to do.
Ten minutes of steady small arms fire had elapsed since the beginning of the ambush. By then Baird was taking fire from both sides of the road. Enemy was closing in from the elephant grass while others fired down on them from the ridge to the south. His gunner, Downer, tapped him on the shoulder and said, “I see one. What do I do?” Baird turned, looked back down the road and saw an enemy soldier about 15 meters away on a berm alongside the road loading an RPG. He told his gunner to shoot him. The gunner fired his M79 grenade launcher at him. The enemy soldier was too close for the 40mm grenade to arm in flight. It struck him with enough velocity to either kill or incapacitate him, because he did not fire his rocket.
Around ten minutes after the initiation of the ambush, King Kong raced up to their convoy commander‟s ¾-ton, parking right in front of it at an angle facing to the north. Uncle Meat similarly parked near Satan‟s Lil‟ Angel. Baird was never as glad as when he saw the tracers of those .50s. There was a reassurance that everything would turn out alright. He knew his gun truck crews knew what to do. Baird called on the radio, “They‟re in the ditches. They‟re in the ditches.” The gunners on the Kong swung their .50s around and sprayed the ditches.
The success of an ambush depended upon surprise and extreme violence. The gun truck crews had learned to turn the fight back on the enemy as fast as they could with even more violence. This would take the psychological advantage away from the enemy forcing them to break contact. The .50s blazed away in four to six round bursts at the muzzle flashes to their left and right. The gunners poured 30-weight oil from plastic canteens to help cool the barrels and ensure the smooth function of their breaches after firing off about three to four boxes of ammunition.
An RPG hit the rear duals right and exploded in all the colors of the rainbow under left rear gunner, James Cochran, knocking him backwards on Larson who manned the right .50. Cochran then jumped back up, grabbed his .50 and went back to work. King Kong was an APC gun truck. Large chunks of hot shrapnel had come up through the aluminum floor of the hull and lodged in the top of the box right under his machinegun. One piece of shrapnel had burned a hole in the charging handle and others had left five or six holes in the barrel, but it still fired.
The one advantage to fighting at night, the gunners fired in the direction of the enemy muzzle flashes, which betrayed their positions. There was no concealment in the dark once one fired his weapon.
The tactic worked. After about ten minutes of firing, Uncle Meat and King Kong had turned the fight back on the enemy and they broke contact. During the fight, the driver of the disabled 5-ton had run to his convoy commander‟s vehicle. That close to Vandergrift, Uncle Meat loaded the wounded from Satan‟s Lil‟ Angel into their gun truck then drove off the road and backed up to Baird‟s vehicle. The drive shaft had broken and the vehicle could not drive. The crew of Uncle Meat hooked up the ¾-ton to Uncle Meat, which towed it into Vandergrift. The two gun trucks that came to the rescue also received damage but could roll under their own power. After the initial volley of fire, no other casualties were taken. King Kong limped back to Vandergrift on its rims.
The sweep of the area the next day discovered four enemy dead and one wounded NVA soldier 25 meters from the road. The enemy usually made great effort to recover their dead and conceal their losses, so no one could accurately determine the total enemy losses. These were the only confirmed enemy kills by the 39th Transportation Battalion Soldiers during Lam Son 719.
On 12 March, Lieutenant Baird led a convoy from Vandergrift to Khe Sanh. Just in case the enemy tried to ambush a convoy, the detail left behind kept a reaction force. Fuller had all the gun trucks lined up ready to go.
A B-40 rocket hit the gun truck, Proud America, between the cab and the gun box on the driver‟s side mortally wounding the driver, SP4 Robert W. Thorne. Thorne steered the truck into the hillside instead of down the steep cliff into the creek. This saved the rest of the crew. Unfortunately, LT Baird had been kneeling by the radio mounted in the left front corner of the box when the rocket hit. He received multiple fragmentary wounds and lost his left arm.
Fuller heard the call, “contact, contact, contact,” on the radio and led his convoy of gun trucks. He rode in the Daughter of Darkness. An engineer stopped him saying that there was an ambush up the road. They drove past. Lieutenant Callahan laid Baird on a stretcher and drove him to a better location near the bridge for the medevac helicopter to land. The helicopter arrived but was afraid to land, instead, the men lifted the stretcher up to the bird. Fuller told the medevac crew, “Take care of him. He was a good one.” They placed Thorne‟s body in the Black Widow and took it back to Vandergrift.
Route 9 followed a stream with a steep back. A few weeks after Thorne was killed, the ground along the side of the road gave way enroute to Khe Sanh and the Ace of Spade went over the side and rolled to the bottom. The driver was killed. Others recovered the weapons but abandoned the truck and gun box.
An average of 80 sorties ran from Vandergrift to Khe Sanh a day and some days the number reached as high as 265. The gun trucks made the daily runs several times. The 5th Mech had a difficult time keeping the enemy away from the convoys. The convoys of the 39th Battalion were ambushed 23 times along Route 9. On one occasion the battalion commander of the security force personally assured Ellis that the road between Quang Tri and Vandergrift was so secure that one could walk along it with his wife. Two hours later the enemy ambushed a convoy two kilometers east of Vandergirft. The gun trucks ensured the convoys got through. The 39th Battalion had also received four M113 armored personnel carriers (APC) for escort. The 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) assumed responsibility for the security of Route 9 on 28 March. The division provided constant aerial support to locate the enemy and strategically located armored vehicles to provide instant reaction. This minimized the attacks on convoys.
Lam Son 719 ended on 4 April 1971 as a failure. The ARVN attacks became bogged down claiming the lack of American helicopter support as the reason. CPT Lavin drove his APC to Khe Sanh to monitor vehicle spacing as they abandoned the camp. The Americans abandoned everything and 600 trucks left with empty loads. Lavin‟s M113 was the last vehicle to leave Khe Sanh. The 515th remained at Vandergrift for three to five days waiting for clearance to leave. Lavin was instructed to clean out he CONEX bunker, burn the latrine and get rid of any 155m projectiles. He rolled the projectiles in puddles, made a deal with a local Vietnamese to trade the metal in the bunker for soda then set the latrine on fire.
Although the ARVN offensive failed to disrupt the NVA buildup, the 39th Battalion over came tremendous odds to deliver the cargo to the forward camps. The drivers lived in austere conditions, drove around the clock and encountered 23 ambushes. As a testament to their heroism, the battalion awarded 4 Silver Star Medals, 20 Bronze Star Medals with V, 37 Bronze Star Medals, 10 ARCOMs with V, 108 ARCOMs and 36 Purple Heart Medals during this two and a half month operation. The gun trucks took a beating. King King was damaged by an RPG. The Protector was destroyed early in the operation and Satan‟s Lil‟ Angel and the Ace of Spades were destroyed several times. Hardcore took an RPG in the driver‟s compartment. It and the Ace were rebuilt.
Upon return, the men found time to relax and celebrate. The 523rd returned to the engineer compound at Phu Bai. There the soldiers took delight simple things like hearing a toilet flush. They had stage shows with Korean dancers. CPT Lavin had created a company slush fund selling beer and sodas. With the $1,000 profit, the 515th hired a band with women, bought a pig to roast, had the engineers build picnic tables and had a big party. CPT Lavin‟s tour was due to end on 20 April 1971. He turned the company over to 1LT Maloney and returned home.
The battalion moved its headquarters back to Phu Bai by the end of May. It was left with the following units:
515th Transportation Company (Light/Medium Cargo) at Phu Bai
523rd Transportation Company (Light Truck) at Phu Bai
585th Transportation Company (Medium Cargo) at Phu Bai
666th Transportation Company (Light Cargo) at Camp Eagle and one platoon at Camp Evans
805th Transportation Company (Light Truck) at Phu Bai
The officers and enlisted men of the 523rd thought highly of CPT Voightritter. It was so hot in the cab of the truck that David Rose did not wear a shirt. With the canvas hood on, it was often twenty degrees hotter inside the cab. He just wore the flak vest. A general officer opened Rose‟s truck one day and saw that the driver was out of uniform. Voightritter defended Rose by asking the general to get up in the truck and ride with him. Rose considered his company commander was “rock solid.” They developed a similar respect for their courageous infantry platoon leaders. These officers never avoided convoys and always placed themselves where they could best respond to danger. These officers and men developed a bond that lasted a life time.
CPT Voightritter knew the end of an era was had come. He had the forethought to put in the appropriate paperwork to send one gun truck back to the Transportation Center at Fort Eustis. He chose the Eve of Destruction because he felt that it represented the best proven design of a gun truck. It had the double steel walls with air gap, four .50 caliber machineguns and steel windshield with bullet proof glass. He wanted future generations to have an example of a Vietnam gun truck. The Eve was loaded up in June 1971 and arrived at Fort Eustis in July.
At the close of the operation, the battalion began an extensive trailer repair program. They maintenance personnel had to repair 200 trailers at Phu Bai. The maintenance crews worked 24-hour operation with completion by 1 June.
Fuller claimed that the 523rd also had the highest operational readiness rate in Vietnam. He placed a lot of emphasis on maintenance. His maintenance warrant officer ran superb maintenance out of the “523rd Speed Shop.” He had as many as 14 soldiers to keep up with changing tires. Voightritter also had another trick. The operational readiness rate was based upon how many tucks staged every morning. It did not matter if they broke down afterwards. So Voightritter had his warrant officer line all the vehicles up at night. After Fuller inspected the vehicles with the MPs, the warrant officer towed the broken vehicles back to the motor pool.
That year the gun trucks, Ace of Spades and Uncle Meat, and a V-100, Catch 22, provided security for the 1971 Bob Hope Christmas Show.
The Tet Offensive of 1968 although a military victory, had soured the American public support for the war in Vietnam. President Richard M. Nixon was elected in the election that year to get Americans out of the war. Troop withdrawals began in 1969, however a peace agreement would be signed until 1972. As combat units began to draw down and leave Vietnam, so did the need for support troops. The 39th Battalion was pulled out of Vietnam and inactivated at Fort Lewis, Washington, on 10 March 1972. The 515th Truck Company was inactivated on 20 March. That month the NVA invaded I Corps Tactical Zone as planned and reached Quang Tri by March.
1965: President Johnson Authorizes the use of Napalm.
1966: Anti war protest in New York, Washington, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, and San Francisco.
1968: During TET NVA and Viet cong troops storm the lightly defended city of Hue, then begin systematic executions of over 3,000 “enemies of the people”.
President Johnson decides not to seek re-election.
1971: Opinion Polls indicate President Nixon’s by Americans dropped to 50 percent, while approval of his Vietnam strategy has slipped to just 34 percent.
1972: The U.S. stages a boycott of the Paris Peace Talks as Nixon accuses the N Vietnamese of refusing to negotiate seriously.
1973: March 29th – The last remaining American Troops withdraw from South Vietnam as President Nixon declares “the day we have all worked and prayed for has finally come to an end”.