The El Cid Incident
William H. Edwards
[Re-written August 8, 2009 based on primary source information received August 3, 2009 from SP/5 Robert Bogison, PBR Platoon, B Company (Bushwhackers), 720th Military Police Battalion]
Article written for the Army Transportation Association Vietnam ATAV
I had been assigned to the 5th Transportation Company (Heavy Boat) in September 1969, when the company was operating out of Vung Tau. While my MOS was 61C20 (Marine Engineer), I was assigned various company jobs by Captain Jerry Murphy (later replaced by James Krobert), Lieutenant Paul Zeller and 1SGT William V. Rucker.
SP/5 William H. Edwards
I was a fresh-out-of-school SP/5 raring to do what I could to help out the organization. Subsequently, I became a jack-of-all-trades for the company – night CQ for a while, going on occasional airplane hops or “shotgun runs” by Jeep to conduct company business, assisting with administrative and operational reports for Top and the CO.
Being in a U.S. Army heavy boat company meant most of our vessels were LCUs
(Landing Craft Utility). LCUs were 115 feet long, 34 feet wide, had large bow ramps,
Bill Sager, Mamasan, Bill Edwards, 50 caliber machine gun
On an LCU in the Long Tau channel, Rung Sat Special Zone, Feb 1970 (Edwards)
and were armed with two 50 caliber machine guns, one on either side of the wheelhouse. The LCUs were used to “long haul” resources to the troops in the field, using the intricate water system known as the Mekong Delta. Ports-of-call included Vinh Long, Long Xuyen, Can Tho, My Tho, Vung Tau, and Dong Tam.
There were a number of other vessels assigned to the unit, however, two of them being Army tug boats. One of those tugs was the ST 2122, nicknamed the El Cid.
The El Cid the day after the ambush (Edwards)
On February 16, 1970 the entire company was moved from Vung
Tau up to Cat Lai, southeast of Saigon on the
Ocean freighter off-loading ammo onto barges in mid-channel.
Vietnamese LCVP patrol boat coming in from a run (middle of picture).
Military Police PBRs used for interdiction and river escorts (foreground).
On the morning May 18, 1970 Captain Jim Krobert and Lieutenant Paul Zeller, who happened to be in the 159th Transportation Battalion communication room in Cat Lai at the time, overheard a frantic radio call indicating the El Cid had just been hit by RPGs on a run from Cat Lai to Cogido. They could barely understand the request for help that was coming in from Chief Warrant Officer Bob Smith, the skipper on the boat. Word of the situation spread quickly through the company area, but all we could do was hope for the best for the crew and wait for those not wounded in the incident to bring the boat back home.
The Viet Cong had fired two bazooka-like rounds from the east side of the river into the starboard side of the Cid’s wheelhouse. It was a direct hit. Lt. Zeller would later find a piece of one of the rockets lying on the wheelhouse floor. The nomenclature indicated it was an American-made 2.5 inch rocket. Lord knows how Charlie had gotten hold of them!
The impact of the rockets blew all but three of the wheelhouse windows out and sprayed shrapnel into the crew. The skipper, CW2 Bob Smith, had been sitting on the step to the wheelhouse on the starboard side when a large piece of shrapnel hit him squarely in the chest. He was saved by an aviator-type flack vest he was wearing. The front plate of the vest was left with a large dent in it. He was also peppered with glass shards.
Starboard side damage to the El Cid’s wheelhouse, ST 2122, May 19, 1970 (Edwards)
A Vietnamese who was piloting the tug was killed instantly (this was during Vietnamization, when we were gradually turning our boats over to the South Vietnamese). CW2 Cheshire and Staff Sergeant Jerry Folse were seriously wounded. Folse had received a serious jaw injury caused by the rocket shrapnel.
Mr. Cheshire (Warrant Officers were referred to as “Mr.”), the Chief Engineer, had been manning a gun on the starboard side when the rounds hit and was sprayed with shrapnel down the entire front of his body. His helmet was later found on deck with three holes in it made by shrapnel or bullets. He was hit at least once in the side by a bullet in addition to being sprayed with glass. The bullet hit just where the pieces of the flack jacket lace together, the most vulnerable spot. He took a towel he had around his neck and stuffed it inside the jacket to help stop the bleeding and continued to fire on the enemy.
When Captain Krobert and Lt. Zeller finally got to the boat up in Cogido, there was blood all over the deck and inside the wheelhouse. They said it looked like brown Jello. They learned that two or three of the crew who were not seriously wounded were able to return fire and call for helicopter gunship and medivac support. River patrol escort PBR’s provided immediate fire support and security while the most seriously injured crew members were removed from the tug, placed on PBR’s, and moved to the river bank where a medivac “dust-off” was hovering.
The Captain and Lieutenant took some of the less injured crew members to a hospital in Long Binh to have glass picked out of them and returned to the boat just before dark. Krobert had to get back to Cat Lai and left Zeller with the boat. That night’s supper, which had been started before the attack, was served that evening by the Vietnamese cook. It was barbecued ribs – probably not the most appetizing of fare to be served on a blood-covered boat, but they were so hungry they ate it anyway.
Port side damage to wheelhouse door, March 19, 1970
About halfway through the meal a small tug came alongside and a crewman yelled over that the El Cid’s wheelhouse was on fire. Since Zeller was the only one onboard at the time who wasn’t wounded – other than the cook – he ran topside. He found a smoldering plastic-covered mattress from a bunk on top of the radio cabinet. When the tug had been hit someone had apparently been sitting on the mattress and had dropped a cigarette on it. Paul picked up the mattress and threw it over the side. In the process of opening the fold in the mattress, however, blood, hair, teeth, and flesh came running out all over him. The plastic had apparently kept the blood from congealing.
A few days after the incident, I volunteered to ride shotgun
on a Jeep run to take mail to Mr. Cheshire at the 24th
When I returned from
William H. Edwards
5th Transportation Company (Heavy Boat)
159th Transportation Battalion
4th Transportation Command, 1st logistical Command
Vung Tau and Cat Lai, RVN
September ’69 – September ‘70
The Unexpected Email
On August 3, 2009 I was absolutely floored by an email I
received from a
I am Robert Bogison,
formerly SP5, and on May 18, 1970 I was the NCOIC (Non-commissioned Officer
In Charge) of three PBRs (Patrol
Boat, River) assigned to the PBR Platoon,
of B Company, 720th Military Police Battalion patrolling the Song
Dong Nai River several miles south of Cogido near the Song Boung River. At approximately 1100 hours, we heard several
explosions and intense 50 caliber fire less than a mile away. As we responded with two PBRs, we observed
several river convoy escort PBRs raking 50 caliber machine gun fire into the
east bank of the
I directed my boat to provide security for the dust-off. Myself along with others moved four badly wounded men onto the medivac chopper. For the past 39 years I have believed that all four men were killed. I cannot identify the PBR units assigned to escort your tug convoy.
I have mistakenly
believed that this was a
Several years ago, I tried to find out some kind of documentation on this incident, but to no avail. It was only when one of my guys emailed a picture of the hit on your tug boat, which revealed the number ST 2122, that I was able to stumble on your detailed description of the incident that we responded to on May 18, 1970. I must tell you that I am elated that three of the four survived the ordeal.
Attached are several photos taken within minutes of the ambush. Hopefully you will be able to open them up.
Our Battalion has been assembling an operational time line of our mission from 1966 through 1971. This was a major incident and all we have had are recollections and a few photographs. Accuracy is important and your article fills in a lot of blanks. I am respectfully requesting your permission to submit your article to the 720th Military Police Battalion Association, website 720mpreunion.org. Naturally, if you should want to contact me, feel free to call me at my residence or email me.
Thanks for clearing up a lot of mystery. I don’t think a day went by when I didn’t wonder about those guys.
Class of July 69 – September 70
~ SEE BOB BOGISON’S PICTURES BELOW ~
~~~ 720th MP Battalion Reunion
Photo G015: B Company, 720th MP
Battalion, & 458th US Army Transportation
Company PBR provided assistance and security to a Navy Tug that was ambushed
The 720th MP historians have corrected their
39-year-old misunderstanding and now have correctly identified the tug as the
blown up by both Bob Bogison and myself and we have identified features that positively identify the tug as the El Cid.
In recent conversations with Bob, he told me these photographs were taken minutes after the El Cid was ambushed at 1100 hours, May 18, 1970.
~~~ 720th MP Battalion Reunion Association ~
Photo G0156-G0157: B Company, 720th MP Battalion, &
458th US Army Transportation Company PBR crewmen provided assistance loading
casualties into a Dust Off helicopter. The casualties were crew from a Navy
Tug that was ambushed on the
Bob Bogison and the PBR crews assist in getting one of the 5th Heavy Boat wounded on the Medivac “dust-off” helicopter. Bob is the one with the MP armband, lower right in both pictures.
My heart-felt thanks and gratitude to Bob Bogison and the 720th B Company “Bushwhackers” for providing critical help that day to my fellow 5th Heavy Boat soldier-sailors.