Sept 6, 1965
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
ME THUOT – A couple of months ago a crowd of American soldiers
from helicopters at a little landing strip near here and looked
gloomily at the jungle and elephant grass which was to be their new
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.
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.
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
These men included Sp4 John Williamson, Sp4 James Franks, PFC James
Brabandt, Pvt. Raymond G. Andra, PFC Robert Rose and Sp5 Warren
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.
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
“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
“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.
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
“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.”
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
“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.