TRUCKING IN VIETNAM, Part 3
|from Fred Probst
Fred Probst Website
566th Transportation Company
Yesterday's activities just flat wore me out, and going to sleep was a piece of cake. I laid down, and drifted into a deep sleep. But now my sleep was being interrupted. The lights were on, it was dark outside and people were getting out of bed. What's going on now I thought. Then it dawned on me, it was time to get back up for another convoy. God, Didn't we just go to bed? This cycle of getting up, driving and going to bed was going to become an almost daily routine. Luckily it wasn't too long before my system adapted to the cycle, and the climate.
In an archive somewhere there is an official multi-page Mission Statement, which states the purpose of the 566th Transportation Company. But to put it in a nutshell, we hauled supplies from Cam Ranh Bay to any military site within a 2 day drive. The supplies consisted of just about anything needed in Nam. Our loads included; lumber, clothing, ammunition, bombs, concertina wire, beer, soda, c-rations, gun powder for large artillery rounds, and a numerous other items.
Along with the usual long line of tractor trailers, our convoys also included a Hard Truck, a couple of jeeps, a water trailer, a couple bob tail tractors, and at the end of the convoy, a wrecker. There was also a support aircraft which flew overhead. The hard truck was a deuce and a half that carried a half dozen soldiers that were heavily armed and were used in the event of an attack while on the road. The jeeps each had a M-60 machine gun mounted on a swivel in the middle of the jeep, which was hopefully higher that the driver's head. The operator of the M-60 sat on the jeep's spare tire, which had no air in it. The air was kept out of the tire to give the fella sitting on it a smoother ride, and help prevent him from being bounced out of the jeep. If the spare was needed it was aired up by one of the trucks.
Some of the routine trips we made were to Tuy Hoa, Phan Rang, Da Lat, Ban Me Thout, Phan Thiet, and Nha Trang, with Tuy Hoa and Nha Trang receiving most of our business. We also hauled supplies to other sites, but these were the most frequent.
Tuy Hoa was a one day drive to the north. We would leave Cam Ranh Bay in the morning and reach Tuy Hoa in time to get unloaded before dark. Along the way we would stop for our lunch break at the base of a mountain, where a large area had been constructed for convoys to get off of the road. Just above us on the mountain side was an engineer outfit that provided some protection from any VC that may be in the area. Although I made numerous stops here, I can't recall the area or name of the engineer unit. If someone can, please let me know so I can enter it here.
While at this break area, there would be approximately 20 Vietnamese children that would show up in hopes of receiving some C-rations, candy, etc. They would also scope out what was loaded on our trailers, and if you didn't watch them, your load would be lighter when you left the area. I'm not sure where these kids came from, as there were no villages in the area, but they seamed to know when and where we would be.
This break area was also a good place to make sure your load was still secured, brakes were OK, and steering wheel still worked. After leaving here we would proceed over Tuy Hoa Mountain. I'm not sure that Tuy Hoa is the actual name of the mountain, but that's what we called it. As far as mountains go, it was not incredible steep, nor did it reach a nose bleeding altitude. But it was a narrow, twisting road that was full of potholes, was one lane most of the way, and as you climbed the mountain, you had a drop off on you right which gave you a spectacular view of the South China Sea.
Due to the frequency of flat tires we would get, we never used the spare tire carriers that were on our trucks. Once our trailers were loaded, the spares were placed in with the load. One afternoon, after reaching Tuy Hoa, a driver that was behind me in the convoy asked if I knew where my spare was. He then told me that when I hit a pothole coming off the mountain, that my spare bounced out of the trailer and took off down the of the mountain side. I often wondered just how much equipment ended up bouncing off those trailers.
Once we were unloaded, we headed for a designated holding area, and were usually given a quick briefing which included our departure time in the morning, and the status of any VC movements. After that we were turned loose, that is after any flats were changed. Normally at this time we would head to the local watering hole and spend the rest of the night telling stories and having a good time.
One minor problem we had when we were released from the holding area for the evening, was securing our gear. Normal gear like your steel pot, flak jacket and web gear was easy to secure, you just left it laying on your floorboard. Thieves in the Army were dealt with differently back in the 60's, and that's probably why there were not as many thieves back then. If someone was caught stealing, he was given a good beating and left to lick his wounds. Don't even get me started on this new "Kinder and Gentler Army" we have now. I'll save that for a novel.
Aside from securing your regular gear, there was your M-16 to tend with. This was normally secured by dismantling it into two pieces, so it would fit inside the tool box mounted on your truck, where you could lock it up. Your other option was to carry it with you. But if the went into a club, you had to turn your M-16 over to the bartender, and then worry about remembering to retrieve it when you left.
When we spent the night away from our home base, we had to fend for ourselves when it came time to sleep. Usually you ended up sleeping in the cab of your truck, or under the trailer, depending upon the weather, ground surface or snakes. One of three things, if not all at once, worked against you when you tried to sleep. Heat, monsoon rains and mosquitoes. Very seldom was there a breeze at night. You slept with both cab doors standing open hoping to catch any breeze that may come by. Of course this gave the mosquitoes an open invitation to come on in. During the monsoon season you tried to keep everything open in the cab that you could without getting drenched. This usually meant that you were scrunched up in one corner of the cab or the other, trying to stay dry while you slept.
On the plus side of spending the night in Tuy Hoa, you were able to sleep until daylight. We were already with our vehicles, which didn't have to be dispatched, and for breakfast we just opened a can of C's. Plus, the road leading from the compound was dirt and gravel, so everyone had to wait for the mine sweepers to go out in the morning and clear the road before we could leave.
Speaking of mines, roadways were not the only place where the VC used mines. The picture below is the result of a railroad track that had been mined.
Da Lat, the only place in Nam that I can recall going where the air was cool, is located in the Central Highlands. What really makes it stand out is the fact that it had paved roads, street lights, and wood framed houses. The military compound was just outside the city limits. Although convoys weren't suppose to run at night, it was dark by the time we reached Da Lat on my first trip there. When we entered the compound we had to turn our lights off, and we were taken to a staging area using what is referred to as Blackout Drive lights, which is one step up from using a match to drive with. After parking our trucks and checking tires, a deuce and a half was used to haul us to the local watering hole. We stayed until closing time and then were trucked back to the staging area, where we sat around talking for awhile. One by one we found a convenient spot to lay down and went to sleep.
I was awakened from my sleep by someone shouting,"In Coming!" At first I had no idea of what was going on, but people were running and shouting, which if you recall, is not as good as scratching and yawning. Explosions started erupting around us and the ground started shaking. We were under a mortar attack, and it was my first. I started running for a ditch I had seen earlier, but no matter how fast I ran, it was like I was stuck in slow motion and I didn't think I was ever going to reach it. I finally made it to the ditch where several other guys were already hunkered down.
Parachute flares started to pop up all over the place and we could start to see a little better. We were told to set up a perimeter so we ran to where our trucks were lined up, and crawled between the tires, hoping they would give us some cover. Not knowing whose truck I was under, I started wondering what type of cargo he had, since it could be anything from C-rations to 750 pound bombs. I made a little mental note to myself to look before I crawled under anymore trucks for protection.
Staring out into the night when you are being bombarded by mortars, causes you to see things, and it wasn't long before someone opened fire, which in turn caused the whole line to open up, sending a hail of bullets down range. I don't recall his name, but I know that he was an Indian from Oklahoma, and everybody called him Chief. Well ole Chief had seen one too many John Wayne movies, and before you knew it, Chief was on a dead run, headed towards the enemy. And although this was a heroic attempt on his part to stop the war in Vietnam, he neglected to tell anyone of his plan. Except for the two of us that happened to be on either side of Chief when he took off into the night, everyone else saw his silhouette as a target, and you could see the tracers that had been going straight out into the night start to converge on him forming a large V of florescent light.
Now, we were instructed back in the states, when ever you see an unsafe act on the range, to holler, "Cease Fire!", and everybody will stop shooting. Well, between the sound of the mortars going off, the 50 Cals, the M-60's, and M-16's, and everybody going after Chief like a pack of dogs after a scrape of meat, the Cease Fire command didn't work. We had to pass the word from one to another to get the word out. Eventually everyone ceased firing.
Now I'm thinking ole Chief was already on his way to the Happy Hunting Ground, but started yelling for him anyway. The next thing you know, you can hear him crawling back towards us between the noise of the mortars. Then again, was it him or VC? This put us in a dilemma. If it's Chief, we don't want to shoot him, but then again it could be the VC crawling our way.
"Is that you Chief?", I yelled. "Yea.", he replied. Now what kind of answer is that? In the movies they always ask a sports question that only the good guys should know, like who won the 67 World Series. However, I'm not a sports fanatic, so that was out. Then I remembered where he was from. "Where you from Chief?" No answer, but the crawling is getting closer. "Hey Chief, where you from?", as everyone is starting to take aim at a figure crawling through the darkness. "Oklahoma." he finally replied.
I don't know why Chief wasn't hit as he was running through a hail of bullets that night. And on his return trip, he was close to being shot at again, but he wasn't. Somebody was looking over him that night.
The incoming mortars stopped shortly after Chief returned, and as we lay there we could see a barrage of tracer rounds streaming from a helicopter that was up along the mountain side. It was a strange effect. Although you could see this helicopter lighting up the mountain side, you couldn't hear it. Evidently they had located where the mortars were coming from because it was quite the rest of the night, although there wasn't much sleeping done.
When the sun came up in the morning, we saw why we were such a tempting target. When we were parked in the dark the night prior, we had been parked right along side of an airstrip, giving the VC both a line of loaded trucks and an airstrip to aim for.
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