Sept 6, 1965

Franco Sketch

Plumbing Rare War Zone Item




(EDITOR'S NOTE: Charles Black, military writer for The Enquirer, is in Viet Nam to cover activities of the 1st Cavalry Division. The bulk of the division is still en route from Fort Benning to the war zone. Following is one of a series of articles by Black describing the type of operations the cavalrymen face:)
 
By CHARLES BLACK
Enquirer Military Writer

 BAN ME THUOT – A couple of months ago a crowd of American soldiers climbed from helicopters at a little landing strip near here and looked gloomily at the jungle and elephant grass which was to be their new home.
The crowd included a helicopter company (Company A of the First Battalion), a group of specialists, engineers, etc., and 10 medics from the area formed into the Eighth Medical Detachment.
The group of medics, all air-evacuation veterans, was commanded by Capt. Leon E. Curry, a self-possessed young doctor. SFC Donald B. Humphries, a veteran of long service at Fort Benning before coming to Viet Nam, was the top NCO.
The Americans began hacking out a camp for what was to become the first all-American detachment in this area.


Handle Own Security

Today, there are no Vietnamese soldiers. The men in the camp handle their own security chores and have a scout dog platoon to help guard the area. They live in sandbagged tents and work in temporary-style stucco and sheet-metal hootches of the kind seen all over Viet Nam.

The camp’s proudest possession is a single chain-pull flush commode.

The crown jewel of the plumbing art is located in the dispensary. Somehow, it was acquired and installed by the medics. They take a key from its hiding place in SFC Humphries’ desk, carefully unlock the strong door leading to its room of honor and show it off to visitors with a proud flourish. They demonstrate the chain pull and remark on the gleam of its polished porcelain, then lock it away again to keep the mechanics, chopper pilots, gunners and all of that kind of riff-raff from looking at it too jealously.

Sp4 Harold E. Meyers, who came to Viet Nam from the 11th Air Assault Division seven months ago, was my escort for the special viewing of the proudest development project here.


Supervised Recovery

Sp4 Meyers had supervised my recovery from a case of heat exhaustion and Vietnamese field rations; and when Capt. Curry said I could wobble around the area, he took me in tow. He also introduced me to Poncho and Pancho’s two small pups who reside in the medics’ tent, and the rest of the detachment.

These men included Sp4 John Williamson, Sp4 James Franks, PFC James Brabandt, Pvt. Raymond G. Andra, PFC Robert Rose and Sp5 Warren Bassuck.
Myers holds the Vietnamese Cross of Valor for the first job the detachment did here.

“We just got here when we got a med evac call about 9 p.m.,” Myers said. “The Vietnamese battalion which was out trying to clear Route 14, where you guys were, had hit an ambush and the colonel was hurt badly.

“Col. Yen, the present commander of the task force here, was up around Pleiku then," he continued. “I went out on the mission and the government decorated all of us for getting him out.  The VC were really throwing the mortars into that place, and I didn't think we’d make it.


Fiercest Test

The medics got their fiercest test at the battle of Cheo Reo in June. They “fell into” that job, Myers said.
Sgt. Stewart and Capt. Curry had gone out in a chopper to answer a call from the Special Forces at Cheo Reo. An L19 spotter plane had been shot down and burned with an Air Force major and captain aboard.

“We saw the plane,” Sgt. Stewart said. “I was looking at the side of the hill as we banked to circle and come down, and it just seemed to blow up into flame and smoke. The VC had opened up with more mortars than I thought they had in Viet Nam.”

“I could see that this was going to be bad,” Capt. Curry said, taking up the story. “We were there, so I knew we would be needed and we went in to the strip. It took three days and we evacuated three plane loads of casualties.”

“There were four Americans killed in the fight,” Capt. Curry said. “I don't expect to see anything like that again in my medical career.”


Brings Up Supplies

Myers was the next man to got there. He brought up supplies after he heard of the attack via radio.

“When I heard that Capt. Curry and Sgt. Stewart had gone in,” Myers told me, “I knew it was bad, so I got together everything I could think of for a big job.

“The chopper guys put me in,” he continued. “It took three tries to do it. The Air Force bombed the area twice and the gun-ships worked it over, and we still had fire.”

The helicopter crew which had pulled me off Route 14 earlier in the day (I was a very sick reporter after three days and two nights in the jungle with Vietnamese marines) came by the dispensary to see me, bringing more stories about Cheo Reo.


Door Gunner

S-Sgt. Joseph D. Quick of Panama City, Fla., was a door gunner from Hawaii’s 25th Infantry Division, which was close to finishing a 120-day tour. Sp4 Harold G. Munger of Aline, Okla., was the crew chief of the chopper from A Company. They were aboard a ship called in to evacuate casualties who had been treated by the medical detachment.

“We set down on a road,” Sgt. Quick said. “Capt. Curry and Moore and Stewart were working, and the Vietnamese kept bringing more casualties out of the village on stretchers. We brought in another medical team from Pleiku, and there was a Vietnamese doctor and some medics who got in by chopper, too.

“Just as we set down, I got out of the chopper and -- wham! They started dropping mortar rounds on the LZ. I heard fragments hit our ship. We loaded and got out of there, but the ship had 84 holes in it.”

Munger, who had been at Fort Benning in the 11th Air Assault Division before coming to Viet Nam, said the ship looked like somebody had used an axe on it.
“Those 84 holes were from little size to big size,” he elaborated. The test pilot who checked it over back at Ban Me Thuot said it couldn’t have flown like that, but it did and we got four casualties out.”


Early Trip

I got up early the next morning and went with Capt. Curry to the strip. We got on a helicopter to go to Nha Trang, the quickest way to get on up to Qui Nhon, according to the pilots here.

You travel by a complex set of rules. There are certain points where traffic from other points centers. It is easy to get from Ban Me Thuot to Pleiku, but not so easy to get from Pleiku to Qui Nhon.

It is harder to get from here to Nha Trang by hitching a ride, but Nha Trang is a sure place to catch a plane going to Qui Nhon. I was lucky in falling into Capt. Curry’s path when he had to go to Nha Trang hospital.

“I’ll bring all my business to you. You are the kind of family doctor a man needs in this country,” I told him when the helicopter had cleared the mountains and neared the coastal town of Nha Trang.

“I can do without the business, thanks,” Capt. Curry answered. “If you want to help, enjoin a little peace and quiet around here.”

It was a good day for hitching rides. I caught one in a jeep from the chopper pad to the Caribou parking lot, looking for friends, and saw Maj. Lowell L. Ballard grinning at me from under a Caribou wing. Ballard runs the 92nd Aviation Company, the outfit I saw this country with last fall. He is ramrod of the finest Caribou airline in history, by actual, statistical records.

If you are ever hunting a ride to Qui Nhon, you couldn’t find a better man to get there with.

© Columbus Ledger-Enquirer
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