HIT THE BEACH
159TH TRANSPORTATION BATTALION
from Bruce Heidt
|HISTORY OF l59TH
TRANSPORTATION BATTALION (TERMINAL)
On 1 September 1953, the 159th Transportation Battalion (Boat), was activated and given the mission of furnishing and operating landing craft for logistical and combat support of Army forces in joint amphibious operations as well as providing tactical mobility, combat and logistical support in ship to shore missions.
During World War II four engineer Special Brigades were tasked with a similar mission. From these deactivated units the 159th inherited the tradition of wearing "red patches". The patches were originally authorized as a means of identifying boat personnel who were given general freedom of hostile beaches to continue their assigned missions.
In 1954, green combat leader's identification tabs were authorized, designating the 159th Transportation Battalion (Boat) as a combat battalion: the only unit so designated in the Transportation Corps. "Hit the Beach" became the unit's official motto. From the date of its inception until the spring of 1965, the battalion was stationed at Fort Eustis, Virginia, where it provided support for the training missions of the U.S. Transportation School.
On 4 May 1965, it was deployed to the Dominican Republic as part of Power Pak III. Supervising the off-loading of cargo ships and LSTs at Puerto De Andres and Puerto De Hainia became the battalion's mission for the next three-and-a-half months.
When it returned to Fort Eustis on 17 August 1965, the l59th assumed responsibility for operation of 3rd Port Complex and on 21 December was redesignated as a terminal battalion. The following spring the 159th Transportation Battalion (Terminall) was alerted for deployment to the Republic of Vietnam.
The main body of the unit arrived in Qui Nhon on 10 August 1966. Ten of the units assigned to the 394th Transportation Battalion were attached to the 159th as the newly arrived unit assumed the mission of operating the LST beach and outer harbor discharge at Qui Nhon.
In February 1968 these units were returned to the 394th and the 159th was sent north to be assigned to the Da Nang Support Command (Provisional). Its new mission was to operate a LOTS (Logistical over-The-Shore) opereration on a strip of beach fifteen miles south of the DMZ. It came to be known as "Wunder Beach." After seven months the battalion was forced to leave "Wunder Beach" because of the impending monsoon season.
Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment was deployed south to Vung Tau, a peninsula thirty miles south-east of Saigon. Since 1 September 1968 it has operated U.S. Army Terminal, Vung Tau. The battalion is assigned three boat companies, 5th Trans Co (Hcavy Boat, 1099th Trans Co (Medium Boat) and 124th Trans Co (Terminal Service). Under the control of the battalion's boat operations center these units haul military supplies throughout the waterways of the Delta.
| A Personal History of the 159th
Trans Bn Origin by Bruce Heidt
I was drafted into the United States Army on 18 June 1953 during the Korean War and sent to Fort Eustis, Virginia for basic training. We were in the last basic training class at Eustis, probably because the war was winding down and a negotiated cease fire was in the works. Indeed the war did end during the month of August while we were in the last two weeks of the cycle. We all had orders cut to go to Korea, but with the cessation of the Police Action, all who were not entering special advanced training schools were sent to fill out a new unit that was being formed, the 159th Transportation Battalion. Initially I was assigned to Company B. The 159th was not an impressive outfit at the time. We had zero boats, zero armament, next to zero personnel in the Table of Operations and Equipment. I thought our basic training outfit was better armed and equipped than the 159th was at that time. We were somewhat dismayed to find out that the 159th was the only combat outfit in the Transportation Corps. The early days of the battalion were spent cleaning up Fort Eustis. If a soldier wasn't on detail somewhere on the post he was cleaning up the company area. To insure that we didn't run out of work we were moved to new areas, lock stock and barrel, about once a month. We raked leaves, painted buildings and rocks and GI'd many of the structures around the post. I was reassigned to Company A which was beginning to grow mysteriously large with personnel.
Our Company Commander, Captain Gibbs had a unique style of profanity that exceeded anything I had ever heard before.
Formations were called often. Names were read off and men were sent away to Greenland. Our enormous company was shrinking considerably. Literally hundreds of men were disbursed to form a TDY organization that would unload freight ships to support Thule Air Force Base in Greenland. Special LCMs were to be equipped with heated cabs to provided comfort in the icy climate where the life expectancy of one falling overboard in Baffin Bay was less that two minutes. Greenland was the first deployment of men from the 159th who were specifically trained to operate their LCMs on the job. Names continued to be called out until a rag tag group of eight men were left standing in rank. I was one of them! Eventually we became the core for the new 159th Battalion. Wonder of wonders! We got Boats! World War II surplus LCMs (the kind with the horns on the ramp).
We began our training with about eight or ten boats. Unfortunately there were few instructors to go along with the craft. Much of our education consisted of the use of the chipping hammer, rowing life boats in the harbor and classes on dead reckoning. Occasionally we trained with the Navy or went to Fire Fighters School in Newport News. Captain Gibbs could turn the air blue around himself, he was hard on anyone with rank who reported to him although he was pleasant to the ordinary soldier. He made life miserable for the Supply Sergeant and the Mess Sergeant. He declared that everyone was entitled to a morning coffee break at midmorning. A hundred or more soldiers would tramp into the mess hall with muddy or sandy boots dirty a hundred or more coffee cups, spoons and munch what ever cakes or doughnuts the cooks could provide. The mess personnel who had just cleaned up from breakfast had to rush about to clean up before the noon mess. When Gibbs found greasy pots during his inspections, he pulled all the pots down from their hooks and threw them on the floor. I worked as deck hand on an M-boat, the A-21.
The 159th was not a dull outfit. It abounded with characters and personalities who were veterans of the Navy and the 2nd Engineers Brigade from World War II. As the unit replenished it's ranks, these new personalities came aboard. Gibbs was transferred to another company and later relieved of his command. The battalion moved from the old World War II temporary barracks to the newly built permanent three story buildings. Lieutenant Wenkle was in command of company A. I was promoted to PFC and later given the rank of Acting Corporal made a coxswain and signed out with an LCM. (you had to be a non-com to sign for a boat). I was coxswain on the A 24. Battalion commander Lt. Col. Michael D. Isrin loved sports cars and had his military driver chauffeur him around in his Jaguar to observe training operations. He was no less colorful than the some of the men who served in the 159th. He was responsible for securing the authorization to blouse our boots, wear the red patch high water mark on our fatigues and he obtained permission to use the green combat leaders epaulet and developed the badge with the rampant dragon and the motto, "Hit the Beach". I was called on to conduct training classes on CBR since I had a civilian background in chemistry, and I also conducted classes in Psychological Warfare and Troop Information and Education. I later took a position as clerk in the Operations and Training Office under Sgt. McCammon. Later McCammon transferred to the Transportation School and I became the Operations and Training NCO by default.
Lt. Wenkle had been promoted and was long gone. He was replaced by Captain Lawrence M. Oxx who led the unit for over a year and gained a great deal of respect for Company A and its capabilities. The 159th was pitifully low on equipment and personnel. Every month I would report in my Training Status Report the lack of 40 LCMs, a couple of hundred 50 caliber machine guns, personnel etc, etc.. The report read the same month after month. We engaged in training cycles that lasted 8 weeks and 16 weeks as directed by the Department of Defense. Some of our men were sent TDY to France. We tested new military uniforms (which were not adopted at that time, but were later utilized in Desert Storm). We were given the new M 14 rifle to try although it was not standard issue. We were given the brand new LCM 8 to use and integrate into our mission.. Eventually we got a trickle then rush of new boats and other equipment that we were short. The unit participated in operations and training at Little Creek and LOTS Operations off the coast at Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. The unit was learning the techniques to off load men and equipment from Liberty ships too establish beachheads and logistical operations. One operation was performed during hurricane conditions and we had to withdraw to Little Creek for refuge. The 159th had grown from nothing to a finely integrated operational unit and I feel I had a small part of it with the operations and training programs I conducted. I feel proud of the 159th and the unique role it played in my life.
Shortly before my hitch was up, the Greenland group came back. Most of us were draftees or National Guardsmen who also were ready for discharge. It was a great reunion to see all the old familiar faces. Captain Oxx had been promoted to Major. The possibility that I would ever be promoted beyond Corporal was remote in the Regular Army atmosphere that had taken over the psyche of the unit, so when my time was up I departed from the Army and went home, like a good draftee should.