Sept 11, 1965

‘Operation Golf Course’ Clearing Heliport

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Enquirer Military writer Charles Black is in Ankhe, the Viet Nam encampment area for the 1st Cavalry Division now en route to the overseas assignment. His series of articles on the Fort Benning unit will continue as he moves with the division to give first hand account of its activities.)


By CHARLES BLACK

Enquirer Military Writer

ANKHE -- Sp6 Roy Hernandez, whose wife and three children are waiting for his return to Columbus, is Maj. Gen. Harry W. 0. Kinnard’s secretary and all-around soldier.

I got out of the jeep I had ridden over the pass from the camp of Task Force Panther in the Valley below and transferred my stuff to Hernandez’ vehicle. He had come over to the headquarters camp of the 101st Airborne Division’s brigade on business and was heading back to the 1st Air Cavalry Division camp across the runway.

“We’ve been out there cutting brush for four days now. Gen. Wright (Brig. Gen. John M. Wright, assistant division commander) got us together and made a speech. He said that we would build the world’s largest heliport here, bigger than Kelly Hill back at Fort Benning, and that we would do it without tearing up the sod because that sod was as good as having the thing paved,” Sgt. Hernandez said.

He told me about the background for this unique project. “During World War II, Gen. Wright was a prisoner of the Japanese for 3½ years.

One day the Japanese in the Philippines marched them out That, in fact, is the name the soldiers have given the project: “Operation Golf Course.”

The project-boss job is handed around from day to day as top staff officers meet themselves coming around corners trying to get the mass of work done to prepare for the arrival of some 14,000 more men.

The radio call sign of the one in charge is “Greenkeeper Six.”to a patch of jungle like this and told them to build a fighter strip,” Hernandez said.

The heliport, sufficient to handle the division’s 434 ships, would be formed by simply cutting every vine and bush and bamboo sprout level with the ground, pulling out the weeds, and leaving the grass.

There aren’t enough bulldozers to spare because roads and runway fills have to be built.

There aren’t enough trucks because Route 19 has to be repaired and access roads built and material hauled. There are 1,000 1st Air Cavalry men here, however, and 500 of them each day have been going out and turning a jungle into a golf course.

On the second day of the project, a skillful bit of psychological warfare tactics was worked out which furthered the land clearing project, 

Sp6 Hernandez told me. “Capt. Ron Summers, the division civil affairs officer, is the greatest thing going around here right now.

You never realize what that job is back at Fort Benning, but when you get in Viet Nam you understand it real quickly.

He got down in Ankhe and talked to some people and the next day we had 576 Montagnard refugees out helping us.

We are paying them 100 piastres for foremen, one from each of the villages around here, 70 piastres for each man and 50 piastres for each woman worker.

They walk from town, or they mostly ride bicycles, bring their lunches, bring their own brush hooks, and they really get down and trim that bamboo for eight hours,” Hernandez said.


Part Dust, Part Mud

We drove across the runway and up a road which was part dust and part mud.

Bunkers were behind a broad lane of concertina wire showing the perimeter line of the inner defense of the camp. 

A row of flood lights was being installed.

A stucco Catholic chapel, with a red tile roof, showed red and white, over a grove of banana trees.

 A native drove a car drawn by two water buffalo along a path and a Lambretti three-wheel scooter with a panel body carried an impossible load of bags and boxes along the same trail, edging around the buffalo.

I was lucky. Hernandez had a tent set up and a cot available for a couple of nights before Gen. Kinnard, division commander, was due.

I didn’t mind a bit borrowing the commanding general’s cot for a couple of nights when I saw where my next home would probably be -- an old French gunpit, logs and mud packed into four walls with firing slits.

It was the only place where a jungle hammock could be slung.

All available poles had been cut down for the existing shelters and there wasn’t a single tree standing in the camp area along the runway.


Grim Reminder

The old bunker is a grim reminder of what happened between Ankhe and Pleiku ten years ago.

The French had the 11th Group Mobile holding Ankhe and the Viet Minh systematically hacked at it until it was demoralized and the famous -- and ill-fated -- Mobile Group 100 headed out on Highway 19 to relieve it and ran into a series of five ambushes.

The 5,000-man force, with tanks and aircraft support, was destroyed as a fighting unit.

It is different around Ankhe now, however, and the strength of the American build-up here is awe-inspiring.

Helicopter companies in the area have moved in, their ships bristling with guns and rockets.

Fighter-bombers are quickly available from Qui Nhon, Pleiku, or other fields.

A brigade of the 101st Airborne is in the hills looking for a fight and the VC have fired only one shot at the 1st Air Cavalry Division; in its first week at Ankhe, a single round fired by an ambitious sniper into a general area. It hit nothing.


Sniper Escaped

The sniper got away, but he hasn’t been back.

He was described as wearing khaki pants, sandals, green shirt and a coolie hat and as “having just disappeared after he shot once.”

The biggest single item of conversation around the camp was Operation Golf Course.

Other topics were treating blistered hands, the amazing way in which staff officer muscles become sore from swinging a brush hook all day, and the major United States strategic plan outlined to the advance party members by Gen. Wright in the same speech to them which set them out cutting bamboo thickets with such vim and vigor.

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