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Nothing concentrates the military mind so much as the discovery that you have walked into an ambush.

-- Thomas Packenham

Vietnam I was drafted 3 weeks after graduating from high school and went in the Army in September of 1966. After basic training at Fort Campbell and AIT at Fort Polk, I was sent to Vietnam in March of 1967 with an 11B10 light weapons infantry MOS. My first three weeks in-country were spent in a security platoon on the Bien Hoa air base perimeter.

When the 173rd Airborne moved to Bien Hoa, the security platoon, part of the 537th Pers Svc Co. was disbanded and I was re-assigned to the 1st Log Command, HHC USASUPCOM - SGN, and began an 11 month assignment as a member of Army Air Cargo.

Our working days were spent at the Tan Son Nhut air base. Our billets were located a few miles north of Saigon in Gia Dinh province, in a compound known as Camp Red Ball. Army Air Cargo joined with the Red Ball express on and off for the 11 month period that I was a member. We were never an "official" detachment to a company, but were a sub-group of the US Army Support Command - Saigon Support Command, and later under the 4th Transportation Command, 71st Transportation Battalion, 300th and 368th Transportation Companies (I only knew about being in the 368th Transportation Company because it was listed on my going home orders. I must have been transferred the last couple of weeks in-country).

None of us met our First Sergeant or Company Commander that I know of. We all lived as a happy family at Camp Red Ball with other transportation units, mostly truck transportation units, post office, and the mortuary personnel. I was at Long Binh when I was processed into the unit, to get promoted to Sergeant, for a one-day "r&r" after the Tet offensive, and to process out of the country at the end of the year as the last stop before the 90th Replacement Battalion.

We worked two shifts, day and night, 6 to 6 each day with a day off every month or so. Our job duties included getting the Army cargo from the Air Force, sorting and loading it on trucks, both military and civilian, for distribution around the country. We handled most everything except food (we did handle a pallet of pizza sauce for the officer's club and a load of rotten pineapples once. The sergeant had the pineapples shipped anyways. He said that we needed the tonnage numbers) or ammunition. Normal cargo included hospital supplies, coffins, engines, swamp boats, artillery gun barrels up to 175mm size, clothes, fork lifts, and just about everything else.

I learned words like PSP, TCMD, Stevedore, conex, ETS, nomenclatures, 54-Hotel, short-timer and others that I still remember to this day. I still know how to say the alphabet from Alfa to Zulu, use terms like 1ea to describe 1 item and can count from 1 to 100 in Vietnamese (Mot Hi Ba Bone Nam Sow Bi Tom Chin Mui, etc).

I was fortunate to have worked in an auto repair shop after school before entering the Army. I knew how to fix tires, change oil, and to figure out how the unit's fork lifts and light trucks could be maintained and fixed. After showing the sergeants that I could set points, clean battery posts, clean air filters, tell the difference between a dead battery and a bad starter, break down truck tires with only a crow bar and hammer, etc., I was relieved of the duties of writing TCMD's and driving forklifts. I was made the unit's mechanic and in the January, 1968, I was made the unit's Motor Sergeant E-5, with a 63C40 MOS (even though I couldn't recite any of my "General Orders" that I was supposed to know at the promotion ceremony).

We had a very poor or usually non-existent phone system between our unit and our home unit, the 300th Transportation Company at Long Binh. I was told in unofficial terms to fend for ourselves when in came to obtaining automotive parts for our fleet of forklifts and light trucks. I got most of the parts from trading with the Air Force. They always seemed to have plenty, and as the year went by, I got pretty good in the art of bartering.

Since I was a one-man motor pool for 4 or 5 months, I owe a lot of gratitude to the Air Force and the civilian mechanics that worked for Pacific Architects and Engineers, on information on vehicle repairing. One of the civilian mechanics told me to sign up for PA&E after my tour of duty and I could earn up to $18,000 a year working as a civilian mechanic in Vietnam. I never did take him up on the offer. After the first 4 or 5 months, another mechanic joined me and things got better. I was on the job about 6 or 8 months when I learned that I was supposed to keep log books on all vehicles and perform ESC's. The Lieutenant and I then went to what I think was the 4th Command Headquarters at the Le Lai Hotel, for a crash course in log books. I then spent a few days in writing log books back to the beginning of time.

The fleet consisted of civilian type forklifts made by Hyster, Clark, Baker, and Towmotor. We had a dock mule made by Chrysler, a military jeep for our commanding officer, 1st Lt Maurer, an Econoline van for the messengers, Schu and Clamp (nobody knew anyone by their first names), and a flat bed Ford F-500 truck that transported us back and forth between Tan Son Nuht and Camp Red Ball.

I don't remember too many names, since about 35 years have gone by, but do remember Lt Maurer, Sam The names; Burrows, Lt Zumwalt, Sergeant Mathes, Gerald F. Gunyetty, Dave Distahoerst, Dave Belwaneamy, Kivel, Jesse Canals, Gerald Williams, Jim Herrel, Charles Long, and Sp4 Price and many more. If I think hard, a few more names might come to me in the next few days. Sp4 Price was the only member of Army Air Cargo/Red Ball Express that was KIA in the Tet Offensive at Camp Red Ball. I had only known him for a short time. I was assigned to crate up his personal belongings to ship to his family. We heard that others from other units at Camp Redball were also killed but not for a fact. He and an old sergeant were behind a wood pile that was blown up by an artillery round. The South Vietnamese had an artillery battery up the road in Gia Dinh. Their compound was over-run by the VC and the VC then trained the 105's on us. Many were injured and some had to be hauled out by medic helicopter. I was hit in the shoulder by shrapnel but wasn't put out of service. When going to Long Binh for a one day r&r, I was cleaned up and sent back to work the next day. Later, when I got back to the US, I received a Purple Heart.

Note: by Andrew R. Ansenberger, 368th Transportation Company


Display Order
Re: Tet 68 at Camp Red Ball
by Anonymous
on Jul 27, 2004

I was stationed with a MACV Unit the night Tet broke out, I was an 11B primary MOS and had not seen any action. In the early morning hours while I was up in a tower doing tower guard, I hears a swoosh go over my head, then I heard a loud explosion. Our mess hall went up in smoke and flames. I was stunned, and didn't know what happened, then I heard thump, thump, thump, and there was 3 explosions on our compound, I got on the old crank phone, and called the SGT of the guard, and told him what I saw and heard. Our Platoon Sergeant was Korean War veterean, he was running like mad toward the TOC, he was saying loudly, incoming, incoming, I finally realized what was happening we being mortared, and rocketed, I heard three more thumps, three more explosions. Then the fear of God struck me, I saw approx 10 men in black PJ's running toward our compound and firing, their AK-47's. We were not armed with M-16's, we armed with M-14's I stared to pull the trigger on my weapon and nothing happned, I performed immediate action and ejected what I thought was a bad round, this happened three times, before I realized I had the safety on. This was definetly showing that I was a true FNG. The VC attack strength, and we thought we would be over run, but help came in the form of the Big Red One, a platoon of infantry from the Big Red One landed on our compound, with their help, and leadership, we were able to hold off the attack. By some miracle no one on our compound was killed, but there were 6 guys wounded, 1 from the Big Red One Platoon, and 5 guys from my platoon. I will never forget TET 1968, the war was brought to me, and although I only saw one more attack which was in May 1968, the incident did change me. I found out what fear was, and learned that I could do my job with the fear.

Re: Tet 68 at Camp Red Ball
by Anonymous
on Oct 12, 2006
I was assigned to the 537th Personnel Service Company (and the 520th). I had just arrived at Ben Hoa a day or two prior to Tet'68. I had extended my tour in Vietnam figuring I'd find an assignment in Saigon. I had been with the 25th Inf Div at Cu Chi and already knew the less friendly things about Vietnam. It turns out my new unit was actually at Bien Hoa.

Then came Tet'68. Charlie came through the small village of Bien Hoa, killing the women and children they found hiding there. I understand they used bayonets and machetes to kill them.

When they came out on the other side of Bien Hoa, they found themselves in a small valley (of sorts) between Bien Hoa and Long Binh. They also found themselves surrounded by the 3d Sqdn, 11th ACR. The 11th ACR poured it on them. Charlie frantically fought to find some way out of that valley. I know of two places they managed to break through. One at the SouthWest corner of Long Binh and the other at our gate into Bien Hoa.

The 101st Airborne was guarding our perimeter. They were new and green. USARV had broken the division up to situate each brigade with veteran forces. One brigade, I believe the 3rd Brigade, was placed at Bien Hoa. Their defensive perimeter was overrun by Charlie that day.

There were only MPs and the members of the 537th Personnel Service Company left to stop them. After a period of time Charlie was cornered in the Bien Hoa Jungle Training Site.

As I recall, the MPs lost three or four men and the 537th lost 1 soldier - Specialist Steffes. We had been standing near our headquarters when he was hit mid section. I understand it was a large calibeer round - a 50 caliber round.

Things began to finally settle down only to flare back up again, when Charlie returned in May 1968. We were beginning to wonder if this offensive would ever end.

As luck would have it, it was lucky that I had got to Bien Hoa and not to Siagon. The hotel I would have stayed at was overrun by Charlie. The soldiers there had no weapons and were guarded by one or two armed guards. Some one was watching over me after all.

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