Vietnam Personal Accounts


(A Special Tribute to Vietnam Marine Platoon Tank Mechanics)

By Bob Skeels

At the outset, I would like to say that I kept a Vietnam Tanker’s daily diary during my tour with 1st platoon, Bravo Company, 3rd Tank Battalion, 3rd Marine Division during 1969 and given its ample content, I should have been able to extract a tanker story that I thought might be of interest to the vast 600 membership of the USMCVTA.

I have identified four incidents or situations (plus the above title) that involved my tank platoon during 1969. Hopefully those recollections will in turn help you recall some events or short stories. The founders have put together such a great organization for us and also for future generations to enjoy. It is incumbent upon us to share at least one story.

It could be your worst moment, a humorous incident, to honor a fellow Marine or even you favorite R&R bath-house. I think that most of the us reads the Sponsor Box from cover to cover. I recently mailed all my Vietnam photos to Bob Peavey to share with the Marine Corps Vietnam Tankers Historical Foundation. The photos include pics of places such as; the Marketplace, Con Thien, the Outpost of Gio Linh, “B” company’s HQ in Cam Lo, Oceanview outpost and the Seabee’s hill near Bravo’s company’s HQ at Vinh Da. Others include my first platoon on a sweep NW of Con Thien, two PT46 NVA tanks with burnt out hulls on the DMZ, etc. I am sure you have some great photos of your Vietnam tour that you could tie a to story for the MCVTHF web site. I believe this is pretty good therapy, as we all have periodic flashbacks. More importantly, it’s a way of honoring and keeping alive the memory of those brother Marines that didn’t make it home.

I am starting to do more work at the local VFW Post 3272 in Avon, Connecticut that I joined two years ago. I’m invariably asked by post members “When were you in Vietnam?” I always say, “Last night.” Vietnam never seems to completely disappear from out thoughts.

I am in total awe of those marine armor units that served before I did in Vietnam. I have read both Jim Coan’s book Con Thien, Bob Peavey’s book, Praying for Slack and a few others that relate to the big battles during Hue City, Con Thien, Cam Lo and those near Da Nang and Chu Lai.

I transitioned to my 1802 MOS and to the 1st platoon , Bravo Company, 3rd Tanks on January 3rd of 1969 with a bad case of “ jungle rot“ and a non-functioning, worn out, stiff sphincter muscle from serving my three months with the Marine infantry leading a top notch rifle platoon. No amount of stateside Marine training could prepare you for jungle warfare in Vietnam that is for leeches on your private parts, tigers harassing your LP’s at night, big hungry night-active rats that were after the left-over c-rat food on your teeth as you slept, huge black and white bamboo spiders, getting your jungle rot lanced nightly by the corpsman to keep infection at bay and 10 inch poisonous red centipedes. In short, I had just finished three months of temporary active duty in the jungle just South of the DMZ setting up some of those mountain top fire support bases namely, FSB Alpine, FSB Argonne and FSB Russell (Go to this great website,, if you want to read about of my old unit getting overrun by sappers on the night of Feb 25, 1969 on FSB Russell. I was honored to have served with the grunt Marines of Third platoon, Echo Company, 2nd Bn, Fourth Marines just prior to reporting to tanks. Amazingly, due to the power of the internet, I have been able to reconnect with many members of my infantry platoon and company in the last eight years.

Bob Peavey, USMCVTA Director, gave a high tribute to the Marine infantry and the situation the grunts endured in the jungle environment in Vietnam in his respectful review in this last issue of the Sponsor Box of 2010, reviewing the best selling fictional novel Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes Marlantes was a highly decorated Marine infantry platoon commander during his tour in 1969 and served in our area of operation in Northern I Corps. If you look at the map in his book, the fictitious name Matterhorn was the right location, but was in reality, FSB Argonne, four miles east of Laos near the DMZ. I agree with Peavey, it was really hard to put the book down once you started and in my opinion it was all non-fiction material except for the racial conflict for which I saw none in my platoon. Thanks for this review of the book and the high tribute to the Marine infantry in Vietnam. It should be said, Marine infantry was totally in awe of and held the great respect for their brothers in Vietnam Marine Armor in Vietnam.

When the B Company’s skipper (Bravo 6), Captain Miller, brought me over to 1st Platoon and I first saw those Marines, I had a grin from ear to ear due to the experience and confidence they exuded. That’s when I knew we would all make it back to the “world.” You might be familiar with some of the names of members of my platoon as some are fellow USMCVTA members; Al Soto, Wayne “the hulk” Smull , Dale Sandifier , Dick Myrick, Larry “tiger doctor#1” Parshall (mechanic/driver), Mike “Boris” Bolenbaugh (radio man/gunner), Gilbert “Dudley” Ramirez, Gunny Hall, Tommy Lewis and Sgt Reichert. Last year, I sent a photo of my five tank commanders to Bob Peavey I’m hoping he’ll post it in an upcoming issue.

We always operated with only three-man crews (no gunner.) Obviously, were not up to Marine table of organization in manpower. That was always a problem for us plus a perennial lack of tank parts.

My diary tells me that in late March 1969, they decided to close down Charlie Company just to get tank parts for the other two companies – that meant just Alpha and Bravo were the only companies that were operational North of Dong Ha. It seemed that half of my tanks were always dead-lined due to mine hits.

Basically, my entire tank platoon was full of heroes. They were all fearless, confident and outstanding at their jobs. I was proud and honored to have served alongside all of them. This story is about one tanker who was a specialist. Due to all the mine hits that we had. 12 in total, I relied on this tankers fearlessness, sense of urgency, extra brass-balls and training to get us out of many dangerous situations and permit us to carry on with our missions. This Marine’s name is Larry Parshall or Tiger Doctor #1. He was both my most-capable driver and the platoon tank mechanic. He always got us a “satisfactory” at the “Q” and CG inspections. Parshall could easily fix a tank’s broken oil cooler or starter blindfolded. I should have written him up for a decoration but, if you knew his character, a nod of respect was all that he required as he would casually dismount from the tank to inspect a blown track. He would carefully stepped around an area plastic AP mines and then went on assessing the damage, and complete the process of re-tracking the tank so that we could continue with our mission

I was easily inspired to write this story after I watched the Oscar winning, blockbuster motion picture of 2010 called “Hurt Locker”. The movie is all about Army EOD specialists operating in Afghanistan who had the ultra dangerous job of first safely clearing the immediate area and then walking straight up to site where the bomb was buried and diffuse it. I immediately had a flashback about hitting all those mines and that someone initially had to step out into that potential minefield and get the tank back up so we could continue on with our mission.

We were always afraid that the NVA would cluster them on us. Everyone in the platoon was aware that the road-sweep teams couldn’t pick up the plastic anti-tank and plastic AP mines that the NVA were using on Routes 1 and 9 and to the West and East of Con Thien and Gio Linh. Radar technology could pick up the incoming 140/107/122mm rockets and give us 10 seconds to hide. Typsy could help us with enemy infiltration and movement that might be coming down on us, but obviously, neither could pick up the land mines. This made the aftermath of a tank hitting a mine even more dangerous as someone had to jump off the tank as soon as the thick black plume disappeared and “not diffuse a bomb” but, to hurriedly assess the damage and then assemble the crew to get it re-tracked so we could get on with the mission.

In my mind, this job was so very similar to the danger EOD’s faced in the movie. Parshall’s job was the EOD equivalent of a Marine who had to tip-toe around a potential mine field while trying to get a tank back up and moving.

My diary states that most of the time that we hit mines we acted as a hastily put together “reaction force” for some unit that had been ambushed. For example, S/Sgt Harold Riensche on 3/24/69 or Lt McCarty’s ambush on 3/13/69 at the Oceanview posts which was just 1,000 meters East of Gio Linh or another tank that hit a mine and needed security or that a Marine or Arvn squad or LP outside the gate was in trouble. It seemed that it was always close to dusk that we would get radio “comm.” about going on a reaction force to a troubled location. Blowing out the gate at C2, Con Thien, Bravo CP or Gio Linh with only what we had, which was sometimes only two tanks, two APC’s and usually a squad of those ineffective Arvn’s ( PF’s).

The rest of our rapid response team, obviously, had to be prepared for the follow-up ambush potential. As a side note, just in case a VC tried the old spider hole routine, I kept an virtual weapon arsenal near the 50 cal and TC turret area on my tank; a 12 gauge sawed-off shotgun given to me by Gunny Burr when he rotated, Thompson sub machine gun, M3 carbine, M79 20mm Blooper, grease gun down below and usually six to 10 of M-30 baseball grenades.

As I stated before, Parshall had this most dangerous that was similar/equivalent job to Army EOD personnel, disembarking the tank and then begin to assess the damage with the decision to call the Ox Retriever either to haul it all the way back to Dong Ha maintenance (48 Forward) or make the decision that he could re-buttoning the tank back up himself. Early on when we were hitting mines, I used to say “ Parshall Up”, but for all the remaining mine hits and since he was my driver, I would just give him a respectful “nod” watching every step he took once off the tank – and the “notorious“ sphincter moments from my Infantry experience would be back with a vengeance ! It was clear that Parshall had a little more of “ooh-rah” stuff going on compared to me and for that matter, I guess, the rest of my platoon.

So Larry, welcome home, Brother Marine! As I said, all the Marines in the platoon were exceptional, but he just had “extra set” then the rest of them.

Here are some of the assignments we would get as a tank platoon during my tour :
 Scouting & Recon patrols/sweep patrols from all bases
 Recon and Prep fire for big operations
 Convoy escort ,med evacuations, perimeter watch
 Blocking force during cordon ops
 Reaction Force from any outpost to anyone in trouble
 Security for the bases, other tanks that hit mines, sweep teams and for the army bulldozers involved in the land clearing op’s for the SID devices used to pick up infiltration across the DMZ
 Support for bigger operations with the Marines (2/9,2/3and 3/3 bn’s) and the Army

Before I sign off, I wanted to comment as a side note about the ineffectiveness of the ARVN’s (PF’s) which all of you were aware:
 They wouldn’t operate in the rain
 They fired at anything they suspected
 They stole us blind at the outposts, for example, tank equipment ,radio’s, c-rations (We had do our own 360 degree perimeter inside the outposts)
 They had mandatory “leech checks” on patrol sweeps….all clothes off!
 They were composed of 20% sympathizers and 10%VC

In summary, I’d like to again say how proud and honored I was to have served with those Marines in the first platoon, Bravo Company, Third Tank Battalion. I plan to tie a story to virtually each page of my diary and most of the pages relate to these men and others in Bravo Company during 1969. There’s a humorous story about working with the ARVN’s on sweep patrols and their need to do periodic “ leech checks” that involved totally stripping down to the underwear in the bush which included checking each other’s privates- they also insisted that we tow their live chickens behind the tanks !

Then there was General Davis’ plan in February 1969, when he got the ARVN brass to agree to change the existing eligible rules about going into the DMZ. We were getting incoming almost daily from the DMZ while on patrol sweeps. We couldn’t fire back at them (Paris Peace talks were in effective).

Lt. Ritch or I would go into the “Z” with a limited decoy force of two tanks and two APC’s with a total of 14 men, then with a known regiment of NVA near the Ben Hai River, we would have to get hit, but our surprise response would be a huge force to extract us. This was called “Destructive Extraction.” The Army would sit on the ridge as a back-up force. The large NVA regiment known to be there would then be decimated.

Another story to write up would be First Platoon’s operation with the Marines 2/3 Bn. which was towards Khe Sahn on Route 9. We couldn’t cross the bridge so we set up for the night. I left tanks by the bridge and took two tanks up on the hill near the Duc Truong River. We received 82mm mortar incoming and the infantry came running up and told me to start firing. We finally caught the outgoing flash and Mike Bolenbaugh, the capable gunner on B-12 tank got credit for the hit. The infantry had searched and gave him four confirms.

Don’t forget : send in some tanker stories !

Semper Fidelis,

God Bless the Marine Corps
God bless Marine armor
God Bless America and all those in the military service

Bob Skeels,
Bravo One, Bravo Company, First platoon, Third Tank Bn. Third Marine Division