Lam Son 719--Living & Transporting

Steel Soldiers is supported by:

Driver523

New member
528
-1
0
Here's a little more info on the reason we didn't enter Laos, Washington was scared that if and when things went bad they would have to carry the blame, which South VietNam laid on us anyway--it was said that we didn't support them enough by helicopter which is just not true, but then again when your beatin into the ground and your leaders show no backbone you have to blame someone, in the end it was a route for the ARVINs but more on that later----
It was the Cooper Church Amendment that barred US ground forces from entering Laos or Cambodia, but it did provide for Helicopter gunships and also cargo, and troop lifts.
We formally began our operations (for all those in Washington) at 0001 January 30th 1971---our troops manuvered to secure Quang Tri Province and by February 3rd the airstrip at Khe Sanh was operational--that--along with route 9 being repaired and cleared to the Laotian border by Febuary 5th made for clear sailing---its probably a real good thing people like Rich Killblane get history from those that were there and not from formal records from those that are paid to keep them, I'm also pretty sure that any of our boys would have traded places with those brain trusts that had so much confidence in the South, as you'll read Quang Tri Province was far from secure and Route 9 was still a terrible place to be------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Driver
 

Driver523

New member
528
-1
0
Imagine if you will to climb in your truck everyday or night and having your load being 5000 gals. of anything that will burn or explode or a 6x6 or flat bed trailer full of 8 inch projectiles or powder charges---these drivers faced this everyday and in an area full of NVA trained soldiers that knew what they were doing, just the idea of knowing what could happen with a well placed round or RPG, knowing that on each truck there was enough projectiles or charges to lay waste to a fare size town, and then running 30, 40, or 50 truck convoys, The whole area up there was full of fire bases--now they hauled everything the troops would need but it seems they used more bullets then beans----these drivers where amazing and true heroes each one, take a look and see what you think--------------------Driver
 

Attachments

Driver523

New member
528
-1
0
The roadsides were littered with the rubble of our transporters, some from action and some from just the nature of the beast--the roads and territories were just what these vehicles were built to take--more of a test track way of life, here are some photos from the area, the tanker I believe is one of the tankers the 57th lost in the convoy to see if they could manuver the roadways, the building was the only thing standing in Khe Sanh, the tree still holds a roiting parachute from the 68 tet offensive and siege at Khe Sanh----an erie--dangerous place even during the day let alone running this area at night-----enjoy----------------------------------------------------------------------Driver
 

Attachments

Driver523

New member
528
-1
0
Lt. Baird had been sent to pick up 17 new 5 tons from Phu Bai and was returning to Vandergrift when at Dong Ha he radioed Chester on Satans Lil Angel and ask if they would go with their convoy, Everyone had noticed movement in the area and Lt. Baird wanted to take no chances---Angel had been on the road over 30 hours escorting ARVIN troops into Laos, Chester Israel NCOIC, Driver Robert Thorne, gunners Calvin Bennett and Richard Frazier all said they would make the run, They knew there was movement--just a little before they had seen a couple Russian tanks around the border (I say around the border because we all know we NEVER went into Laos) Uncle Meat was out front, King Kong in the middle Angel at the rear with Lt. Bairds 3/4 ton gun truck behind, as far too often it was dark and just before midnight all hell broke loose, an RPG had impacted Angel right under the front right 50--Fraziers position, the blast knocked Chester down, he got up and checked Frazier--there was no helping him--he died instantly, Calvin was laying down a steady stream of fire from the rear 50--Fraziers 50 was too shot up to even get a round off so Chester went back to his own 50, he didn't even know right off that the RPG had blown a hole in his calf and left shrapnel up and down his back, about that time another RPG hit the right front wheel, this time the shrapnel went through the frame and into the engine which went up in steam and smoke, Chester looked back and seen no fire coming from Lt. Bairds 3/4, the M-60s were down on that truck and they were down to looking for their M-16 clips and a M 79 grenade launcher, Richard Downard had just put down an NVA soldier with the M 79, in fact the NVA soldier was so close the grenade didn't even have time to arm but the 40 MM grenade did it job, Contact had been called---King Kong and Uncle Meat had been too far forward to know what was happening but when the call went out they were on their way back, about this time Thorne was coming up outta the cab to help when he seen Chester, he said Chester you ok? Chester told him he was fine but to get us outta here, Thorne cranked Angel and she fired, another RPG had hit the rear duels but she lurched and shook about 25 yards and that was just enough----End Part 1 more in a min.---------Driver
 

Driver523

New member
528
-1
0
Uncle Meat and King Kong made it back, Kong flew past Angel to get to Baird, they parked right in front and went to work, Meat right behind coming up and covering Angel in the same manner, now I'll tell you all something, to see these trucks work out is something you'll never forget--but at night its another thing, they were lighting up the whole area, The NVA were so close they began throwing grenades, Kong took an RPG in the rear duals with shrapnel coming through the floor of the APC shell (Kong was a APC truck) it even burnt holes in Danny Cochrans 50, Mike Emery, and Larson burning as much ammo as they could, Baird was yelling on the radio that they're in the ditches and so the ditches were worked over--worked over real good, as with everyone else Meat was doing the same, like I said David Rose the driver had put Meat just right, Danny Jones and his gunners Mike Cameric and Logan Werth knew just what to do and were doing it just right---This ambush lasted longer then most but then again they were up against trained troops not just some VC, but with the gun trucks overwhelming fire power and veracity the enemy left the area, A chopper came in and dropped a litter, Calvin and Thorne struggled to get Frazier on the litter and to the medivac, Chester didn't want to go, and after all the shrapnel wounds and shot twice it was the morphine the medic hit him with that put him down, Meat took what was left of Angels crew on into Vandergrift with Bairds 3/4 in tow, Kong limped in on flat tires, Angel came in later behind the hook----I gotta add here that there is no way I can do these guys justice in writing, I'm not a writer first off and what these crews showed in courage is unreal, they weren't the first or the last but they stood their ground in a hail of gun fire and RPGs,----RIP Richard Frazier--He was 27 years old and married----KIA Feb. 21 1971-------------------------------------------------------------------------------Driver
 

Driver523

New member
528
-1
0
Chester and Frazier rear-----Calvin and Thorne----Last is a memorial with Chester and Calvin at the Gathering
 

Attachments

Driver523

New member
528
-1
0
After this Captain Voightritter took Frazier's bloody flak jacket and helmet to battalion and told them "Night convoys have got to stop" you see LTC Alvin C "Big Al" Ellis commander of the 39th Transportation Battalion cared for nothing more then tons and miles, he would risk his soldiers lives for even half loads, most his troops and some of his officers didn't like him much, but in his defense his commanders did follow his orders, weather they thought it best for their career, or were just good soldiers I don't know but things continued on, I'm no expert but from what I have read and heard he just took too many chances and I for one am glad that I did not serve under him, and as you'll read not much changed--------Driver
 

Driver523

New member
528
-1
0
Chester was in the hospital in Japan and with Frazier KIA Capt. V told Robert Thorne and Calvin Bennett that with the severity of the ambush and loss of their crew he would understand if they didn't go back on a gun truck, but if they wanted to they could rebuild a truck, Thorne and Bennett talked it over and decided to rebuild their truck, even though they knew the danger they may again face that was their choice--they then began to salvage parts and pieces off Angel.
The 363rd hauled the fuel, till now anyway--The ARVINS were getting mauled in Laos, the losses were huge, the 363rd would now be tasked to back haul the dead, they hauled refrigeration vans with the AVIN dead on pallets and put them on LCUs and returned to Khe Sanh with more vans for more of the same--this went on for two or three days, things were just looking bad all around------------Driver
 

Driver523

New member
528
-1
0
Calvin Bennett and Robert Thorne began rebuilding their truck, the Angels gun box was put on another truck and the work began, with the help of the 523rd welder the were a few slight changes, with those complete they began gathering the ammo and weapons that they would need, Thorne would remain the driver as Calvin would remain the rear gunner, two more crew were needed and McDonald was chosen as right front gunner along with Nelson Allen as NCOIC, with everthing in place they again began convoy security operations--only this time the truck would no longer be known as Satan's Lil Angel, It would now be known as Proud American, A great truck--A great name--And a great battle tested crew--Here's a couple photos of Proud, this is the truck that our own Steel Soldiers member papabear has built a replica of, and again its a great looking truck---Thank you Larry for helping keep our history known to all that see your truck------Driver
 

Attachments

papabear

GA Mafia Imperial 1SG
13,157
-966
36
Thank you Larry for providing this valuable history. This is much of what I need to complete the Proud's story.
I HOPE you have all this written on paper so I can beg, borrow, buy or steal a copy when you are done.
Larry

Waiting...out
 

Driver523

New member
528
-1
0
On the 12th of March a convoy from Khe Sanh returned to Vandergrift, the convoy commander (a Lt.) reported to LTC Ellis (Mr. tons and miles) that they had received fire and in his opinion it would not be safe to run another convoy in that area, ignoring this report--"warning"--Big Al ran the convoy, the convoy commander was again Lt. Baird and the gun truck he was on was Proud American, And again as everyone expected shortly after leaving Vandergrift the call went out "contact"--"contact"--"contact" this day besides the crew and Baird the truck also carried the 523rd commander Capt. V, the officers and men of the 523rd were as one, there didn't seem to be the separation between the groups as there was in other units, anyway--back at Vandy Lt. Fuller (our Ugly Ranger) was left to monitor the radios as the gun trucks stood at the ready, when the call was received there was no holding any of them back even though an engineer tried to stop them they were off to the ambush, As Fuller and 5 gun trucks raced to the scene one truck the Black Widow was deadlined for having no brakes, Leon Vance the NCOIC was still monitoring the radio and told his driver Mike Eischens < lets go them boys are getting hit > Mike reminded him that they had no brakes to which Leon said < we only have to stop once > a Lt. tried to stop them but was removed from the running board by Leon--there was no way anyone was going to stop them from going to help, they bounced off everything between Vandy and the ambush but make it they did, shortly after the now 6 gun trucks rolled in and began lighting up the area the enemy broke contact, then before everyone was the devastation--Proud-- only 22 days after Angel had been destroyed, Calvin, Baird, and Thorne are again in a major ambush, at first contact an RPG hit the truck in the cab on the drivers side--Thorne does not survive, Baird was at the radio behind his driver and sustained major wounds to his left arm, McDonald had a wound to his face and Calvin had a wound to his wrist that he never reported, Lt. Callahan got Baird on a stretcher and Fuller called in Medivac, the chopper couldn't land and they had to lift Baird up to it, Fuller was heard to tell the Medivac crew to < take care of him he's a good one >, Chester, when he picked his crew for Angel had picked Thorne for his driver because he had mechanics skills but on this day--the last day of his life it was far more then those skills that he showed--it was his skill and awareness as a driver that he showed, In the last breath he took in this world, and a bank on one side of the road and a deep ravine on the other it was the embankment that he put his truck into and saved the lives of everyone on that truck, they removed Robert Thorne from his truck and took him back to Vandergrift on the Black Widow----RIP Robert Thorne he was 20 years old-----------------------------------------------------------------------------Driver
 

Attachments

Driver523

New member
528
-1
0
Like I said in the above post the men and Officers of the 523rd got along good, the officers were a huge benefit especially under these conditions, The day after Prouds ambush Lt. Fuller left for R&R, He went home to Denver Colorado to see his wife, Denver happened to be where Robert Thorne was also from, After Ralph met his wife at the airport he told her he had something to do, he went to Thornes parents home and while his wife waited in the car he explained to them what had happened to their son and how he saved the lives of the rest of his crew, Thornes parents were extremely thankful that Lt. Fuller had taken the time to come see them.
Calvin Bennett?--well after all he had been through and after so many members of his crew and himself had been wounded or killed he began filling in on the gun truck Black Widow, I ask him one time why he just kept getting on these trucks, he told me he just never felt it was his time, he's been reading this as has Chester, and Ugly Ranger (Lt. Fuller) absolutely great guys and personal friends-----------------Driver
 

Driver523

New member
528
-1
0
The 523rd wasn't alone in getting hit hard, its only my shortcomings that keeps the ambush stories centered toward the 523rd and as I can get ahold of some other friends I will include their stories here, but the 57th Trans is another unit that was hit hard--after loosing the Protector and rebuilding it as The Executioner they were on the road continuously like everyone else, gun truckers with names like Lt. Sam, Cherry Boy, Robbie, Big Red, Hillbilly, and Boy went through things similar to what you have read above, things as far as getting hit were up all over in the north, even convoys along the coast running between Da Nang and Chu Li to the 25th Americal were getting shot at more and more, Then you still have LTC Ellis ( Big Al ) and his tons and miles------There is still no sleep, the dust and dirt, narrow roads, and them damn night convoys, so please when reading a particular story keep in mind others were in these same positions, when they made that right turn at Dong Ha it would not become any easyer, or running through the Sherwood Forest at night with enemy all around and the shadows from the headlights leaving all sorts of things to the imagination, Lam Son 719 was one operation you didn't want to be in--------------Driver
 

196thprober

New member
399
-5
0
The memory banks are flooding. Footprints left west of Chu Lai, Tam Ky, Da Nang 1971
Sergeant, US Army, Combat Engineer, 196th Inf Brigade, 23rd Inf Division
 

timntrucks

New member
3,998
-25
0
glad that its remembered by many . lets never forget those great guys . thanks for the pictures . i have some really nice 35mm pics from last years gun truck rally if anyone wanted me to scan and email them some TIm
 

Driver523

New member
528
-1
0
In order to give some of the Transportation units a little more protection they were given APCs, like Capt. Lavin and the Cracker Box the 523rd and the 57th also recieved these APCs, I'm not sure just what the 523rd did with the few they got and I don't have any information on them using them, but the 57th did, and it was in one of these tracks that the 57th lost one of their own, on March 19th 1971 Gene R Kennedy was KIA when the APC he was driving went over the side, SP 4 Kennedy was from Missouri and only 19 years old RIP Gene----------Even though this didn't happen per-sey during Dewey Canyon his service and his APC Thunder Track played a big part during this operation and the 57th-------here's a couple photos, one is our ole friend Mr. Tons and Miles---Ugly cleaned this photo up, it comes from Capt. Lavins album, Big Al is atop the Cracker Box, most these APCs I have seen the trans units use were named and lettered like the gun trucks---The photo of the APC is Thunder Track-----------------Driver
 

Attachments

Top