Movement of Equipment Provides Big Problem
By CHARLES BLACK
Enquirer Military Writer
He was slumped at a table in the MACV dining room, working his way through supper. I’d left the 92nd Aviation Company’s headquarters with Capt. Dave Hume, Capt. Barney Baxter, Capt. Mills O’Nellion and Capt. Cecil Ramsey because they had promised (A) to teach me the words to a song about Saigon which is classically unprintable and (B) to produce a jeep which would get us there.
I sat down and Hurst gave me a weary handshake, then perked up as he told me why he looked so war-torn.
“I’m the movement control officer,” he said. “So far the thing which is moving the fastest is time! We’re going to do something here that has not been done before, and I seriously doubt if anyone would have thought it possible. It keeps you hopping trying to solve problems.”
Goes For Ride
I had learned the words to the song and I found out that Hurst had a jeep, so when we finished chow I told the Caribou pilots I’d meet them later and we went for a ride on the beach.
At night, Qui Nhon is a beautiful place along the seashore. The beach is a strip of white sand, palms are outlined against the sky and hills come down to the sea on the north and south, describing a huge semi-circle around the town. The road along the beach had never looked as it did now, however.
The usual stream of bicycles, scooters, women with shoulder poles and crowds of children shouting “OK” was mixed with a conglomeration of military traffic. We met 10 LARCS, big boats which, loaded at shipside, swim to the beach, run up on tires and continue along the streets, their hulls still glistening with sea water.
Trucks, jeeps, trailers, bulldozers, road scrapers – every possible variety of GI vehicle --churned along the road. An engineer battalion had widened it and had covered it with laterite, a crushed-rock-and-dirt mixture, and Qui Nhon was being turned into a permanent dust storm.
Points to Monster
Maj. Hurst pointed to a true monster idly chugging at anchor near the beach.
“That is a BARC. It makes a LARC look like a skiff,” he said. “It hauls 60 tons and comes up on the beach on 10-foot-tall wheels. When you meet one of those seagoing barges traveling down the street it really shakes you up the first time. There are four of them here.”
I would have liked to have been there the first time the Vietnamese traffic encountered that one coming down the street. It is a matter of pride with a bicycle rickshaw driver (called “Cyclos” locally) to contend the right of way with any five-ton truck bearing down on him. The passengers sit up front on the pedaled rickshaws and probably represent the most frightened group in Viet Nam. I would like to have seen the Cyclos when they were confronted with a BARC for the first time.
“They get right in there and argue with them, now. At first they just got off the street and parked,” Maj. Hurst told me.
The airstrip at Qui Nhon extends almost to the beach and the road here makes a bend to clear the end of it. We had driven along an area covered with tents and stacks of Conex boxes, the big metal shipping crates which had started their journey at Fort Benning and had been arriving aboard ships since.
There is an area about 80 feet long covered with pierced metal strips between the bend in the road and the beach. It is famous now to thousands of men of the division as the place where they first stepped onto Vietnamese soil.
“We will bring the LSUs (landing ship utility) onto that beach,” Hurst said. “We can move about 300 men over it to trucks and trailers parked along the roadside here. As the trucks load they will take off for the loading area on the strip.
“The first afternoon we will use Caribous from the 92nd Aviation Company,” he continued. “As the Chinook helicopters fly in from the carriers, they will take over the hauling. The men will walk about 50 feet here and 50 feet at the runway and be in An Khe ready to set up camp in about 45 minutes from the time they step off the boat.”
Qui Nhon has a shallow harbor so that the 14 vessels outlined by lights in their rigging were two to three miles out. There were 12 transports and cargo ships, the big carrier Boxer and a smaller escort carrier strung along the night horizon.
“We're moving a lot of cargo, a lot of trucks, a lot of men,” Hurst said. “This beach is jammed 10 deep with men and equipment, tents and cargo.
“We have to move things so more things can come in, and everything comes two or three miles by six-mile-per-hour barge,” he said. “We are going to load trailers on the barges with ramps and just hook onto them and pull them off with the trucks to speed it up.”
Maj. Lowell L. Ballard, the 92nd’s commander, told me earlier that his marvelous birds were going to take a day off from their critical mission of supporting Special Forces camps far out in Viet Cong territory and help move the division until the Chinooks took over. He said the Caribous (and the Chinooks, which fly about as fast) could load, take off, unload and head back again in about 15 minutes.
“We figure less than 45 minutes for the entire cycle,” Ballard said. “We’ll put 12 Caribous on the lift and haul about 25 men and their gear each trip.
“Those crew chiefs of ours are used to hustling, and our pilots have been flying seven days a week from sunup to sundown so long that it’s natural with them. Those men won’t wait when they step off the boat,” he said.
Hurst drove on down to a swirl of activity, even though it was about 9 p.m., and pointed to beach which was covered with tents, cargo, trucks and men to the point where the sand wasn't visible.
“There are three terminal transport companies working in there moving cargo,” he said. “That area is smaller than the one usually used by a single company. We are using less real estate to move more men and equipment than on any landing in history – I’ll bet on it.
Big Depot Field
“They load that stuff out and it goes up to a big depot field where the convoys are formed up and head up Highway 19 to An Khe,” he said. “We haul cargo in trucks and men in aircraft, and we haul a lot of both!”
I commented that I could see why keeping up with the system for moving a division in over two bottlenecks of such small dimensions would make a man weary.
Hurst looked at his watch, headed the jeeps for the 92nd Aviation Company’s quarters where I was going to stay and looked worried.
“I have to get back over to my operations tent on the runway for a meeting in 15 minutes. If we run across each other tomorrow and you can catch me, jump in the jeep and I’ll show you how you can stay tired in this country,” he said.
The guard on the gate at the 92nd’s “villa” was one of the famous Nuong tribesmen, a Chinese tribe which provides mercenary soldiers used as body guards, sentries and security forces and for special scouting units in Viet Nam. They are the world’s best guards simply because they aren’t amenable to any argument. They are tough, big and have spent their lives in a tribal military formation hired out by contractors. They are the highest paid non-American troops in Viet Nam.
The 92nd first hired seven of them out of their own pockets once, but since an entire platoon under a scarred “corporal” (he ran the platoon because he could whip anybody in it, I was told) has been sent up from Nha Trang where the Nuongs were hired by U. S. and Vietnamese officials for such duties. The platoon was paid for out of special funds and they had made it possible for men to feel easier at night while sleeping in the town where a hotel had been bombed once.
This particular Nuong smiled gently at Maj. Hurst, pointed to the number on the jeep bumper, pointed to a list of those numbers authorized to enter the 92nd’s area, shook his head and fingered his carbine. The last gesture made the others seem perfectly clear. We weren’t going in with an unauthorized jeep without an argument backed up by the Nuong’s carbine. I got out and walked, watching Maj. Hurst drive toward the runway and his meeting.
I could hear the 92nd pilots singing the song I had just learned and it seemed like a good time to go join the glee club.
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