Traffic Management Offices at Da Nang and Hue
|From Joel Packman||
507 th Transportation Group
I was assigned to Headquarters, First Traffic Region of the 507th Transportation Group, Traffic Management Agency, MACV located in Da Nang, Vietnam in August 1966 as a PFC Transportation Movement Specialist (71N20). The organization was tri-service in makeup and when I arrived the CO was a Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel (Parris), an Army Major as XO, and a Navy Chief Petty Officer as NCOIC. The majority of the enlisted men were Army with a couple of Air Force. All other officers were Army.
The organization was broken down into three sections: air (both cargo and personnel), sea, and land. The air contingent worked out of the Da Nang air base, the sea and land contingent worked out of the HQ building which was a one story building located in the center of Da Nang. The enlisted men and NCOs were billeted three houses down in an apartment type dwelling three stories high, about twenty apartments with two men to a room, bathroom and shower facilities. Officers were billeted in other quarters in another part of town. There were no kitchen facilities but there was a little yard where a BBQ grill and picnic tables were set up.
Duty in Da Nang was excellent especially considering it was a war zone and we were drawing hazardous duty pay. It was considered to be a safe city and was rumored to be a R&R center for the VC. In fact, you were not allowed to carry any firearms when you were within the city limits and no personnel firearms were allowed. All firearms were under the control of the supply sergeant and kept under lock and key. We had a Vietnamese soldier standing (sitting mostly) guard outside of the front gate but he was either sleeping or smoking something of questionable origin most of the time.
Since we did not have official mess facilities and were billeted in non-government housing we were also paid extra money (COLA) to buy food and pay for other services that we needed such as house cleaning and laundry that was done by local Vietnamese women for the equivalent of $10 U.S. per month. The official mess facility was located about three city blocks away in a hotel that also housed the enlisted men's club. Meals at the mess facility were served buffet style for breakfast and lunch and restaurant style for dinner. You paid for the meals and left tips for the Vietnamese locals that served as wait staff and busboys.
For the most part those of us like myself that worked in HQ breakfast meant buying fresh hot French-style bread from the Vietnamese vendors that came by in the morning. You just had to pick out the little black bugs that were encrusted in the loaves. We had a small kitchen in the back of the HQ building equipped with a refrigerator and electric hot plate for cooking. We also paid a Vietnamese woman and her son to take care of the HQ building for us. Besides keeping the HQ clean she also made sure there was always a hot pot of coffee available, which she watered down considerably. Lunch was either something at the hotel, club, or some noodle soup from a Vietnamese street merchant (which we were advised not to eat). While we did not drink water that was not treated no one ever got ill from the local cuisine. Dinner meant changing into civilian clothes and going to the club where you could get a burger, hot dog, French fries, other sandwiches, and a cold beer or soda. Besides food and beverage the club had slot machines and entertainment, normally bands from the Philippines, on the weekends.
Those of us that worked at HQ normally worked a six day week from 7:30am until 6:00pm. Since the airbase ran 7, 24 there was a full crew during the day and a skeleton crew during the night. If you went anyplace in-country by air (normally by C-130 or C-123) that was non-tactical in nature the personnel that checked your orders and assigned you to a flight were from TMA, MACV. The cargo section coordinated the movement of supplies with Air Force and Marine personnel to air bases within I Corps and the shipment of personal effects of rotating personnel to their next duty station.
I worked both land and sea movement. When I did my training at Fort Eustis, VA we were instructed in one basic World War II theater of operations mode of transportation: the convoy. In I Corps there weren't any, at least not for the transporting of cargo . The roads were hazardous from a standpoint of VC attack, mines, and were generally in very bad shape. The only shipping we did overland was food supplies for the Radio Research Units (RRU) which was the code name for the U.S. Army Security Agency Group, Vietnam that conducted highly classified missions during the war. For these shipments we used private civilian truck contractors. There were two of them that were used and both happened to be owned by Vietnamese born Chinese. I would alternate shipments between them and take over the paper work to whichever contractor was going to be used. On a personal note, one of them gave me a marble engraved desk plaque which I still have to this day. Sometimes the trucks were not able to make the delivery because of road conditions or hostile activity in the area. From what I remember there were some trucks destroyed but no Vietnamese drivers killed or wounded. On one occasion when a truck was unable to make a delivery its contents of eggs, ham, and cheese were unloaded at our HQ since we has a large refrigerator. For over a month our Vietnamese "mama san" made all of the HQ personnel ham and cheese omelets. We were not concerned about cholesterol back then.
We also were friendly with the RRU personnel since they were Army like the majority of us whereas the majority of troops in Da Nang were Marine, Navy, and Air Force. They would bring me a case of steaks once a month with the proviso that we would invite them to the BBQ which we always did. The only thing we had to buy in the local economy was charcoal and bread. We always made a point of also inviting the CWO that was responsible for all of the beer, soda, and hard liquor in Da Nang to these parties and whenever he came he always came across with the liquid refreshment. As I have said previously: The duty was good in Da Nang, for us at least.
There were basically three types of vessels used for sea transportation: LST and LCU for coastal shipments and deep draft for shipments out of Vietnam. The Navy assigned which category of vessel and which vessel would be used for any shipment. We acted as the liaison between the shipper and the Navy. Someone would come to us to ship something and I would prepare the necessary paper work (TCMD) and bring it over to Navy HQ in Da Nang. From that point on the Navy took over arranging for the time and place that the shipment was to be taken to the Da Nang port facility and the actual transportation. Until we opened up operations in Hue and Dong Ha transportation by sea was mostly coastal southward to Chu Lai, Nha Trang, Qui Nhon, and Saigon.
Toward the middle of January 1967 it was decided to open up operations north of Da Nang first in Hue and then in Dong Ha. I was promoted to E-4 and myself and a PFC by the name of Jim Halpern were assigned to establish the Hue DTO. Each of us was issued a M-14 rifle, with a selector switch installed to allow for full automatic fire, flack jacket, a steel helmet, and 100 rounds of ammunition. Obviously, Hue was not as secure as Da Nang. I asked the supply sergeant what we were supposed to do when the 100th round was fired and was answered with a shrug. We also were assigned a jeep out of the Phu Bai FTO when we flew into Phu Bai. My replacement, I believe his first name was Frank, came up in May 1967 ( Jim, me, Frank).
Hue, the ancient capital of Vietnam, was about 11 miles north east of Phu Bai on Highway 1. The 1st Lieutenant that was in command of the Phu Bai FTO was technically also our commanding officer but in reality the only time we saw him was when he escorted visiting VIPs and I would give them a tour of the area. We were billeted in the compound with MACV's Team 3. Accommodations were of the hooch variety with eight men to the hooch. Not as private as Da Nang but still better than being in the field. Except for Jim, later on Frank, and myself the other personnel in the hooch were Army enlisted men assigned to Team 3 generally in support positions. We still had Vietnamese women doing our laundry and had to pay to eat in the mess hall. When we arrived it was still monsoon season raining almost 24 hours a day.
|The Hue DTO was an intracoastal shallow port operation of approximately five acres situated on the Perfume River a few hundred yards from the bridge on Highway 1 that went into the oldest part of the city.|
|At the rear of the port was Hue University . This was a modern facility attended by middle and upper class Vietnamese students.|
|As a shallow port operation the vessels that serviced it were Naval LSTs and LCUs as well as oceangoing tugs from the Alaskan Barge and Transport Company . As in Da Nang, the handling of the cargo was under the control of Navy personnel whose CO was Lt. JG. Fink. Other Navy personnel included a Chief Boatswain's Mate as NCOIC, forklift operators , a mechanic, a communications specialist, and a Marine for security purposes.|
|It turned out the communication specialist, the Marine, and myself were all from the Bronx so we became pretty friendly. The Naval personnel were billeted in Phu Bai and came in by truck in the morning and went back before it got dark.|
|As in Da Nang TMA, MACV was to effect liaison. When a vessel came into the port one of us went aboard to collect the paper work. The consignee would then be contacted to pick up the shipment. The majority of incoming cargo was building supplies for the Seabees, ammunition for the 3rd Special Forces Group and Marine forces, cement, rice , and coffins for the ARVN. Also coming in were general supplies such as non-perishable food items and uniforms. Sometimes we would also get heavy equipment, and roll on/roll off vehicles with drivers, and armor with personnel for the 3rd Marine Division|
|AOutgoing cargo normally consisted of vehicles needing repair going to first to Da Nang but also included armor going back to Da Nang .|
How the incoming cargo was handled depended on how it was loaded on the vessel and who the consignee was. Most of the cargo for U.S. consignees was palletized so the Navy forklift drivers would unload the shipment and put it an area of the port that would make it easily accessible to be loaded on the consignees' trucks when they came to pick up the cargo. Obviously from a security standpoint ammo was to be picked up ASAP. Building material such as lumber and the fiberglass matting used for building helicopter pads also had to be moved off the port ASAP since the Vietnamese were always looking to scrounge it. The port was fenced in on three sides with a locked gate but the river front was open to anyone with a boat. Since the port was unmanned at night the Vietnamese would use canoes and come ashore to take scraps of lumber and pallets that were left lying around.
The ARVN shipments were normally handled manually. Bags of rice for example were not palletized so an ARVN truck had to be backed up the vessel's ramp and then offloaded by Vietnamese laborers while ARVN soldiers supervised . I became friendly with a couple of the ARVN lieutenants that we interacted with and was invited to eat in their homes on several occasions.
Cement came in palletized but after being unloaded the Vietnamese would cut the bands and load the cement bags onto trucks one at a time .
Vessels with incoming cargo would leave Da Nang about 10:00pm, head north up the South China Sea and anchor far enough off the mouth of the Perfume River so that they would not come under attack. Around 6:00am they would head up the Perfume River under arms and arrive at our facility by 7:30am by which time both the Naval personnel and us would be onsite. Since I never have liked to fly whenever I had to go to Da Nang I would fly down out of Phu Bai but came back by LST.
The trip upriver early in the morning was very scenic . They would not stay anchored in Hue over night. If they were not completely unloaded during daylight hours they would go back to the mouth of the river overnight and come back the next morning.
If there was to be anything shipped back to Da Nang the consignor would contact us and we would have them bring it down to the port. The paper work would be completed by one of us and we would assign a vessel to load it on. The same vessels normally made the run between Da Nang and Hue so I got to know the Navy Chiefs that commanded them pretty well. Sometimes they would not want to stay in port waiting for outgoing cargo after they were unloaded. Since we normally did not ship out anything strategic in nature I would normally assign it to a different vessel.
From a work standpoint the job we did was pretty routine. When we first arrived in Hue Jim and I each worked a six day week with me taking off on Saturday and Jim on Sunday. When Frank came into the unit we sometimes switched to a five day work week. There wasn't as much doing in Hue as there was in Da Nang especially during the day. The evenings also were pretty dull (for awhile at least). There was no enlisted men's club and you did not go outside the compound at night so it was basically having dinner, taking a shower, listening to music (almost everyone had a reel-to-reel tape recorder) in the hooch, writing letters home, read, or watching a movie at the makeshift theater.
Sometimes during the day when things were slow we would go sightseeing in the old part of the city , take a jeep ride to Phu Bai, or ride down to the JP4 fuel farm at the mouth of the river. Highway 1 to Phu Bai was secure during the day so I normally just carried a French 9mm semi-auto pistol that I had gotten a hold of if I drove or my M-14 if I rode shotgun. The road to the JP4 fuel farm was less secure. You could see the Vietnamese Air Force doing strafing runs in the area and three Naval personnel were ambushed and killed during my time in Hue when they traveled down the road unarmed late one afternoon. For these trips we all wore a flack jacket with grenades attached, steel pot, and carried extra ammo magazines. To supplement our supply of ammo I made friends with the Special Forces liaison. He supplied us with 10,000 rounds of M-14 (7.62x39) ammo, fragmentation grenades, smoke grenades, belts of 30 caliber machine gun ammo since there was one in our hooch, and .9MM ammo for my pistol. When the supply sergeant in Da Nang called me up one day for an ammo inventory he said that we had more for the three of us then the whole Da Nang contingent had and asked me to send him some. I said we needed it more than they did in Da Nang which proved to be a prophetic statement.
Although the area around Hue was not considered to be secure at night we were pretty blasé about the security within the compound itself since up to this time there had never been any hostile action against it. There were bunkers around the compound's perimeter but no one stood guard duty. We were advised (not ordered), and given sandbags. sand, and fifty gallon oil drums to build additional bunkers between the hooches that could withstand mortar and small rocket attacks but most in the compound did not consider the threat of attack to be serious enough to warrant the physical activity. One evening during the second week of May this changed when were awakened by the sound of VC mortar shells being fired at the compound. I jumped from my top bunk, hit the floor and covered myself with my flack jacket as best I could. The attack only lasted about 15 minutes no rounds hit the compound but needless to say the attitude in the compound changed dramatically. Jim, for example would not take off his boots when he slept for the rest on the time I was in Hue and I always slept with my 9MM pistol under my pillow, a round in the chamber, and the safety off..
The next morning the bunker building began in earnest as the men in each hooch took time off from their work to fortify the area. We needed additional material to support the sandbags so scrounging became a top priority. I called the Seabee CPO in Phu Bai to tell him a shipment had come in that morning and asked if he wanted any of the lumber or fiberglass matting that had come loose if the bands on the pallets broke during offloading. He knew what I had in mind and said he did not want it but at the same time told me not to get too greedy. The Navy forklift driver gave me a quizzical look when I told him to position the forks at an angle that would break the metal bands holding the lumber and matting on a couple of pallets but he did it. One of the men in our hooch that was assigned to Team 3 brought a truck over to the port and we loaded it up with what we needed. During the day a number of personnel that were stationed in the compound came to the port and asked if they could have any material. I let them take anything loose that was around but not any palletized building materials, nor did I have the forklift driver repeat what he had done for me. We had the strongest constructed bunker in the compound and we would need it in a couple of weeks.
Guard duty was now mandatory on the perimeter at night. The perimeter bunkers were able to accommodate four to six men inside and one on top. Rosters were drawn up for each hooch regardless of actual unit assignment and at least two men from each hooch had to take a turn standing guard duty for a couple of hours. On the night of May 25th we were awakened by mortar fire and went to the bunker we had built. We could hear the incoming rounds and all of a sudden the bunker shook hard as there was an explosion right next to us. Our hooch had taken a direct hit. There were 65 rounds of 82mm mortar shells that hit the compound that night and the Thua Thien provincial headquarters next door before counter mortar fire stopped the attack. Besides damage to the compound there were military and civilian casualties as well. Killed were one Vietnamese soldier and two Vietnamese civilians that were living near the compound. Wounded were three American soldiers in the compound and four Vietnamese civilians living near the compound. A report of the attack made the U.S. newspapers and my parents read it. My mother later told me that she had taken a physical that day and her blood pressure, always high, was even higher.
Jim was really shook up so I sent him down to Da Nang for a week to calm down. The hooch was repaired and life went on with heightened security especially during the time of Ho Chi Minh's birthday. We were not attacked again during the rest of my time in Hue. During the Tet Offensive of January 1968 the compound, as well as the city of Hue was attacked by both VC and North Vietnamese regulars . The battle for Hue has been well documented and a personal account of what happened on the compound can be found at The History Net . I was in a hotel room in Kansas City, MO watching the news when the story broke. Jim was scheduled to leave Vietnam in December. I never met anyone during the rest of my time in service or after that was in Hue or TMA, MACV during Tet so I do not know what happened to Frank.
Since I had not taken any R&R during my tour in Vietnam I flew down to Da Nang about ten days before my scheduled rotation of August 18th. The flight on a C-123 was somewhat eventful as I noticed the Air Force crew chief looking none to happy. When the plane landed we found out that there had been some problem with the hydraulic system. A few months later that same flight crashed into Monkey Mountain making the approach into Da Nang killing everyone on board. In Da Nang I was informed that there had been a promotion board for E-5 held in TMA, MACV HQ in Saigon a couple of weeks before and I should have been there. The Army being the Army does what it wants and promoted me without the board. I also received a very nice letter of commendation from Lt. Colonel Johnston who had replaced Lt. Colonel Parris. Most of the men I had previously hung out with had already rotated back to the States so I just relaxed and read most of the time during the day and went to the club at night.
About four days before my scheduled rotation I flew down to Saigon on a C-130 where I stayed for one night of partying at a hotel set up for those of us that were rotating. The next morning myself and the other rotating men were taken to the compound at Long Binh where we were checked out for VD, given final travel documents, and just hung loose. On August 18th I boarded a TWA 707 for the flight home. We made a one hour stop over for refueling in Honolulu and then went on to Oakland, CA. We were fed a steak dinner, issued new Class A uniforms and dress shoes, and a bunk to sleep. The next morning after an early breakfast we were driven to San Francisco Airport where I hopped a United Airlines flight to J.F.K. Airport in New York and home for 30 days leave before reporting to the 23rd FASCOM in Fort Riley Kansas for the duration of my military service..