The End of U.S. Army Cargo Operations at Da Nang Port

from Rich Shaffer

[When I was in Da Nang just before Rich Shaffer arrived I took the pictures which are on the 5TC Page.The huge Delong Pier was the most prominent feature. It was located in the area of the Harbor where the map is marked "piers". There was also a large metal pier shed which was mostly destroyed by a typhoon--Ralph Grambo]

The Delong pier was no longer located at Deep Water Pier in Danang upon my arrival in country and assignment to the 5th Transportation Command. I was told it was moved, but for the life of me I do not remember to where. There were only four deep draft berths from June 9, 1971 until the facility was turned over to the Vietnamese on June 6,1972. We did have two shallow draft facilities, one in town that I can not remember the name of and Tien Sha Ramp, which was very close to the deep draft facilities.

This is actually the first time I have discussed this information since returning home. I actually thought it had all been forgotten. I returned to Ft. Eustis a couple of years ago and visited the Transportation Museum, but was disappointed not to find any information, except on the landing craft JUD Page, which came to Danang periodically. I got to know one of the skippers CW4 Ryle who became our Harbormaster. I was listed as the Cargo Operations Officer, actually I was the night Operations Officer and worked from 1900hrs. to 0800hrs each evening and morning.

An incident I remember was that the 5th Transportation Command took over the operations of running the port of Chu Lai late in 1971. I was supposed to fly down there to become the operations officer, but at the last minute, actually while I was waiting with all my baggage at the helipad Col. Merbott's driver came and picked me up and said that he had changed his mind. I was to stay and run Deep Water Pier. A few days later a typhoon hit Vietnam and I learned the captain who had replaced me was killed while lying in his bed when the main support beam to his hootch fell on him, crushing him.

The warehouse building damaged by the typhoon was still utilized as the port operations office. I believe I remember a picture that hung in the old office on the second floor which showed the Delong Pier located directly in front of the large warehouse building.

We only had four deep draft berths with which to work and it caused many problems for us during the stand down of units outlined by President Nixon in 1972. In addition a new offensive was initiated and all ships had to night steam following a sapper charge sinking an ammunition ship being off loaded while at anchor. He placed the charge on a rib of the ship and when it blew, instead of blowing up everyone within two miles according to the Coast Guard investigator, it simply ripped a large whole along the seam an sunk it. The ammo ship had been carrying 500 pound bombs. They refloated the ship after pumping and welding underwater. I was on duty the night of the attack.

In addition, a Navy destroyer was severely damaged up north and was listing terribly to one side during this same offensive. It was permitted, after I received a call from the Navy Pacific Command, to enter our harbor at daybreak prior to the mine sweeper making a pass thru the channel in order to off load casualties and take on emergency repairs.

The movement of retrograde equipment and unit stand down equipment was a very difficult task with only four berths. The thing which really made it all the more interesting was that there were only ARVN units providing our protection. All U.S. personnel began carrying weapons, especially at night. In fact I was required to draw up an escape plan in case the port came under attack.

I remained incountry through another typhoon, which let many ammo barges high and dry as much a one mile inland. I departed Danang immediately following the official turn over to the Vietnamese in June 1972. During the take over of the country later, I caught just a few quick camera pictures of the harbor at Danang, but it didn't look the same.

One afternoon, while I was working from 0700hrs to 1900hrs shift an F4 airforce fighter and an unidentified ARVN helicopter collided in a gigantic fireball almost directly over the port. It seems the helicopter flew right into the path of the F4 which was attempting to land at the airfield located across the bay from Deep Water Pier. Following the confusion of the explosion, while we were in the process of berthing a Sealand vessel, the harbormaster called me on the radio to inform me that an LST which had been at anchor, was attempting to come into the berth where the Sealand vessel was being piloted to. I got onto the radio to talk to the LST Captain, who was Korean, but he was talking only in Korean, I kept saying to him to speak English, and that we were in the process of berthing another ship, but he would not listen. I even told him that I was going to assign a tug boat to pull him off of the berth. He still would not talk English. Just then a Navy Lt. from Naval Sealift Command came running into my office and asked me to please let the LST have the berth. Well as you may already be aware, Sealand vessels had top priority for berth space, so I was in for a lot of questions if I decided to stop the Sealand ship, which I did. The Navy Lt. and I both went out to the LST, which was now tying up. As soon as the gang plank came down the entire crew came charging off the ship with all of their belongings. The Captain was last off and he told the NSC officer that he and the crew quit and wanted to go home. If we wanted to know why, we were to go into the Captains room and look, which we did. What we saw was a White Phosphorus missile, fortunately unarmed, which had fallen of the wing of the F4 and had come through the roof of the Captains cabin and embedded itself into his small chest drawer. The crew viewed it as a bad omen and wanted nothing more to do with the LST.

Another incident I remember was a morning that I also was again working the daylight shift and arrived at the port to find a newly assigned cargo operations officer running around with a flashlight and mumbling to himself I can't believe it happened. He didn't want to tell me what had just happened. Finally he reluctantly told me that the Korean stevedores were in a hurry to remove six (either M48 or M60) tanks during their shift (Korean stevedores were paid by the ton off loaded) but they had loaded the on the barge beside the BD Crane side ways instead of lengthwise. When the tug boat came in to tie off the barge, the waves of the tug boat caused the barge to rock and one tanks block broke loose and as it tipped the barge while falling into the water, the remaining five tanks also fell in. Underwater divers were brought in the next day to begin hooking up the tanks to the BD Crane and get them out of the salt water. All six were removed and fresh water tank trucks came to the port every two hours to wash down the tanks and a ship was brought in especially to take them back to the Philippines to salvage what they could. This process only took a very few days, but I remember That as we loaded the tanks they were already turning orange.

Colonel Merbott was the Commander of the 5th Transportation Command during my first 6 months in country and a LTC Hickey took over Command until we officially turned over the port in June 1972. Colonel Merbott became received his first star after leaving RVN and was assigned to Germany. He wrote me and asked if I would consider becoming his aide, but I had to decline because my father had developed a serious heart condition, so I was assigned to Fort George G. Meade in Maryland to enable me to be close to home.

I decided to resign my Commission in November 1975 and have been teaching elementary school in Saltsburg, Pennsylvania since 1978.

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