120th TC in Vietnam

Start of Camp Red Ball

Larry Lathem
LTC, USA (Ret)



The 120th Transportation Company (LtTrk) departed Ft. Meade, MD, on 23
June, 1965, and arrived in Vietnam approximately 15 July, 1965, We moved
into Tent City B near Tan Son Nhut airport, Saigon. Our vehicles had
just arrived and we set up a temporary motor pool just off the main Tan
Son Nhut runway and began port clearance operations.  At first, we got
our operational commitments from the OIC of the MACV motor pool but the
1st Logistical Command headquarters arrived and we started working for
the 1st Log Comd G-4.  A few weeks later, the 11th Transportation
Battalion (TermSvc) arrived and we were attached to them.  The commander
of the 11th was LTC Tillman C. Oliver and the XO was Maj. Curtis
Johnson.  The 11th Trans Bn HQ was in downtown Saigon.

The MACV facilities coordinator arranged for us to use some property 
north of Tan Son Nhut near the village of Hoc Mon and adjacent to the
ARVN Ordnance depot compound.  It had been a textile factory and had two
fairly large permanent buildings.  The Engineers poured concrete slabs
for large GP tents and we erected our maintenance tents on the east side
of the property.  The 62nd Transportation Company (MedTrk) arrived
shortly after we did and we  both moved into the new facility which we
named Camp Red Ball. I was a 1st Lt but was senior to the commander of
the 62nd so I was designated as camp commander.

The USAF had a building materials storage yard about 200 yards farther
west; we helped them with maintenance on their forklifts and vehicles
and  their personnel often ate in our mess hall.  We were fortunate that
they occasionally had leftover materials that we could use and, over the
next several weeks, we built 27 buildings on the GP tent slabs.  Col
Budway, the commander at Tan Son Nhut, happened to notice our efforts
one day and, while he was appreciative of our self-help projects, he
suggested that we begin to route requisitions for building materials
through Army channels.  Pacific Architects and Engineers, contracting to
the Army, drilled us a well, built a shower facility and latrine, 
erected a security fence and installed a large diesel generator.

The 120th and 62nd were both assigned additional drivers and task
vehicles - our combined personnel strength was over 400.  The 120th was
given 20 commercial flatbed Ford trucks leased from Philco-Ford and we
operated these vehicles for the duration of my tour. Both truck
companies were normally committed to port clearance operations but the
120th often transported units arriving in Vietnam such as the 1st
Infantry Division and the 25th Infantry Division who staged through Bien
Hoa Airbase and were moved to Di An and Cu Chi, respectively.  During
Operation Birmingham, we moved supplies and equipment to Tay Ninh; those
convoys were overnight operations.

In the spring of 1966, the 3rd Platoon, 120th Trans Co. was moved to
Vung Tau to support barge offloading operations there.  In June, 1966,
the 120th and the 62nd moved to TC Hill, Long Binh, where we moved into
GP tents with wooden pallets as floors and started all over again.

The 120th had deployed to Vietnam with gas-fueled Reo M-35   2 1/2 ton
trucks that were of 1953 vintage and were all assigned a readiness
classification of Amber.  To the credit of our maintenance officer, CWO
Iwaniki and his maintenance platoon, we maintained a vehicle
availability rate well over 90 percent.  I suspect that the old M-35s
were consigned to the salvage yard after my departure; they were
obsolete and the bed configuration without hinged sides limited their
ability to handle palletized cargo.

There was a Catholic orphanage near Camp Red Ball and we invited the
children to a Christmas party on December 25, 1965.  We fed them lunch,
gave each of them a small present and the NCOIC of our maintenance
platoon was able to obtain a Santa Claus suit.  The Army band assigned
to the Saigon area (266th Field Army Band?) played for the occasion. The
kids really enjoyed it and we maintained a close relationship with the
orphanage until we moved.

Although we experienced some minor VC attacks with homemade claymores,
grenades and an occasional sniper shot from "One Shot Charlie" on the
highway to Long Binh, we did not lose anyone to hostile fire.  We were
also fortunate not to have suffered any major personnel injuries or
illnesses.  I returned to Long Binh in 1968 and was assigned to HQ, Long
Binh Post.  The 48th Transportation Group and TC Hill had grown but I
was told that the 120th Trans Co. had been moved up-country - I never
learned where.

troop billets nearing completion (compare this photo with the
one on Andrew Ansenberger's website at

View of Camp Red Ball from northwest guard tower, shower
building on left

 Rear of motor pool area with lube rack

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