Sept 7, 1965

Franco Sketch

1st Cavalry Unit Near Qui Nhon

BLACK IN QUI NHON -- Charles Black, military writer for The Enquirer, is now in Qui Nhon (arrow) South Viet Nam.

Enquirer Military Writer

QUI NHON – This place looked different after flying over the familiar ring of hills and the picturesque sampan fleet at the entrance to the bay in a Caribou piloted from Nha Trang by Maj. Lowell J. Ballard, commander of the 92nd Aviation Company.

There are tents lining the beaches, cargo ships anchored in the bay and landing barges busily ferrying men and equipment ashore. The men are part of engineer, maintenance and support detachments – a whole collection of the specialists who build up a logistical base for major operational support

Headed by Brig. Gen. Richard T. Knowles, assistant division commander, the advance party of the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) is located in force at Ankhe between here and Pleiku. Many of its pilots are “farmed out” to helicopter units all over the central highlands, learning the area and familiarizing themselves with tactics.

There are various groups which hurry in and out of Qui Nhon by helicopter, getting things ready for the division which is due to land here soon and move up into the highlands to go to work.

The job facing this division is going to be very similar to the one I saw being done on Route 14 by the Vietnamese marines – with one major exception: There are more Viet Cong here; they are “hard core” units with discipline and equipment -- and the stakes are higher.

Opening Route 19 to Pleiku and routing the 325th Divison and whatever separate VC battalions are occupying the countryside would open the way to an ever greater strategic thrust. The division could slash a clear area all the way to the Laotian border on the same axis of attack and do the same thing the VC has been trying to do to us here -- cut the forces in two and separate them.

I had  orders from Dr. (Capt.) Leon Curry of Ban Me Thuot to take it easy for a couple of days after having had some sun trouble; and there were many people I wished to see at Qui Nhon.

Qui Nhon is about the only way to get to Ankhe, either by air or (if all goes well) in a truck convoy. The convoy would be the more interesting way to go; and at this writing I was trying to make a deal to catch one at 4:30 a.m. Monday.

There have been a lot of miles under the wings of the 92nd’s Caribous since the day last October I landed here with them in a howling monsoon; but the men don’t show too much wear from the past 11 months. If they are wise old pilots now, they are still as cocky and proud of their unit as ever.

Met at Plane

SFC Sam Cook, the platoon sergeant and my next-door neighbor back home, met me on the runway when I got off the plane. With him was Sp4 Bill Garton of Monks, N. C., crew chief of the Caribou in which I had flown 12,000 or so miles during my first assignment to Viet Nam.

SFC Cook told me that he and 1st Sgt. Don Fare had been getting ready for my arrival.

“'You come to supper at our hootch tonight,” he said. “We’re going to cook pork chops, pinto beans and boiled cabbage, and Fare is going to make some corn bread.”

SFC Cook showed me a clipping his wife had sent him, saying I was on the way, then looked critically at my muddy, sweaty, stained jungle uniform. It hadn’t been improved by my three days with the Vietnamese marines, and I hadn’t had a chance to unpack anything from my rucksack.

“You look like a Viet Cong deserter,” he decided.

Promotion Witnessed

I arrived at Maj. Ballard’s office just in time to see a very fine event. Fred Ritterspa, a first lieutenant whose wife and six children are waiting for him back in Columbus, had his captain's bars pinned on him and I was able to greet him and extend congratulations at the same time. Capt. Bobby Wagg, an individual I admire because he is such a “solid citizen” of a soldier and a man, almost knocked me down hitting my back in greeting.

I had met Capt. Dale Michelson down at Tan Son Nhut as I was leaving for Ban Me Thuot. Capt. Michelson is built like an especially powerful fullback and when he backs up, he has authority. Capt. Wagg had completed the set of bruises by evening them up with a handprint on my back.

Showing up to greet the new arrival, either singly or in pairs, were Capts. Cecil Ramsey, Emmett Hollowell, Larry O’Nellion, Don Holloway and Dave Hume (who recently sent back a running account of the 92nd’s exploits) and CWO Hugh Wellman.

I got a room for the night with Maj. Dennis Harron, the 92nd’s executive officer, whose wife is a native of Colombus.

It felt good to be home.

Set Records

The pilots told me they:

- Had set a record in Viet Nam “which is going to stand for a long time.”

- Had “showed the Air Force that C-123s can haul more load and fly faster, but they can’t do it in Viet Nam. They can’t land where we land, and they can’t make cargo extractions because they have to fly at 120 knots and it upsets.”

- Are “getting very short and home is just around the corner.”

Top NCO’s have mysterious means of obtaining such creature comforts as refrigerators, cook stoves, air conditioners and the like; and so the evening at the rather luxurious hootch of 1st Sgt. Don Fare and SFC Sam Cook was a real joy. It was a special event -- a real celebration.

The folks on Selective Service Board 14 of Lenoir, N. C. were probably just doing a job, but they made our evening a complete success. It needed a light touch. They supplied it.

 They sent SFC Don Fare a questionnaire and informed him that he should prepare himself for the draft. With 20 years of service, he is now preparing himself in Viet Nam.

Salty Beans

It was exactly what was needed to make up for Sam Cook’s putting too much salt in the pinto beans.

The rain started as the darkness came. Majs. Harron and Ballard arrived with a jeep to take me over to the villa the pilots have rented.

The villa sits near the runway and is guarded by mercenaries hired from the famous Nungh tribe, a Chinese clan which has traditionally lived by fighting for pay. They are among the most reliable sentries in the world and they look very reassuring in the bunkers and at the gate to the quarters. The men who live by the strip now have a security platoon; scout dogs are due; and a battalion of U S. Marines prowls the hills around the city.

As we drove around the runway and down through the town to the villa, there was a grim reminder of the necessity for these added security measures: A rubble-filled vacant lot is all that remains of the concrete hotel in which 27 Americans lost their lives in a terrorist bombing last February.

The atmosphere around Qui Nhon is still quite tense, and there is a bit of the Wild West in the rooms where the men sleep. Weapons are quite plentiful.

I had started writing this series of stories when Maj. Ballard came back with a tall leathery man dressed in civilian clothing.

Engineer Adviser

The man was CWO Mike Lowe who probably knows more about Highway 19 than any man in Viet Nam. He is the engineer adviser to the Vietnamese engineer battallion charged with keeping it repaired.

"I've studied the road thoroughly," Mr. Lowe told me. “You have a real good chance to do it here. The VC dug it up so much, you get  real well acquainted with it, right down to the foundations. They blow the bridges and you get real well acquainted with that, too.

“We’re going to take two jeeps and make a reconnaissance up to Ankhe – or as far as we can get – tomorrow. It’s livelier and faster than a convoy. If you want to come, we can use all the help we can get.”

It sounded like the fanciest offer I’d heard yet to get to Ankhe without the trip becoming dull, so I’m taking him up on it.


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