Vietnam Personal Accounts


Tracks Memoirs of a Vietnam Veteran

By Clyde Hoch © 2011

When growing up in a small town my only goal was to go into the Army. My brother was in the Army and as kids we played Army all the time. There was no other choice in my mind until one of the neighborhood gang joined the Marines. This was the first time I heard of them. I started to read books on the Marines.

Three days after graduating high school I was on my way to Parris Island, South Carolina. I remember thinking to myself; this is the hottest time of the year, what a genius. After graduating boot camp I was sent as all Marines to infantry training. Here I learned to shoot all kinds of hand held weapons.

When I enlisted I had three choices of what I wanted to be. My first choice was a grunt, my second was motor transport, and I forgot my third. To my surprise when they called out our orders they said Second Tank Battalion after my name. Now the big question, what exactly is a tank crewman? Do I clean tracks after the tankers come in from an operation? I reported to the First Sergeant after I was yelled at by him for calling him sir, I was sent home on leave.

When I returned I was sent to the tank park with three others who were also just starting out in tanks. It was good to have someone on the same level as me. We all hung out together, we all got in trouble together. We asked about formal training and were told “we will train you; it will be on the job training.” We were told “you guys are very lucky; you are going on a Med Cruise.” I remember saying “what the hell is a Med Cruise?” “The US has a battalion of Marines on the Mediterranean at all time in case American civilians or embassy people had to be evacuated” was the answer. My next question, “how do you get a tank on a ship?” They said “you will see.” I assumed they didn’t know either.

I was made driver right away for some reason and drove the tank to a loading dock. Which was a very sharp angle, concrete ramp? I knew the tracks of the tank were wider than the railroad cars. As I started up the ramp I could see nothing but sky. I was nervous as hell. What if I came off at an angle and missed part of the Flat bed rail road car? I kept inching forward until the tank camp crashing down on the flat bed car. That was my scariest experience up to this point of my military carrier, except when the bus stopped at Parris Island.

After unloading the tanks on the beach we waited for the fleet to arrive, and waited and waited. Finally we could see ships on the horizon. They stopped and dropped anchor way out there. Soon small boats came from the ships and drove right up on the beach and dropped a ramp on the front of the boat. There were two (mike Boats) or landing craft mechanized and one (U) boats or landing craft utility. The U boat was large enough for the first three tanks. The two mike boats each held one tank. We backed the tanks on to the boats and they backed off the beach and we headed for our new home.

The ship was a LSD or landing ship dock. It had a large tail gate in the back and was flooded with water. The boats drove into the back of the ship. The tail gate was raised and the water pumped out. We chained the tanks to the boats and the boats were chained to the ship. Away we went for the Med.

One of the guys with us had a great knack for getting us into trouble. He did it in a way that was funny so he got us out of trouble just as quickly. This was probably the best time of my life. Eighteen years old, all the alcohol and women you could pay for.

After the Med Cruise we returned to Camp Lejeune for about six months. We were all still together. One of the group and I were told we were going on another Med Cruise. One went to the Nam; I don’t know what happened to the other. For us it was party time. We knew what to expect and knew the ropes and yes it was party time. Needless to say I and the trouble maker had some great times.

When we returned to Camp Lejeune I was a Corporal and settled in to a good life. One day I was called in to the CO’s office. I thought what did I do, why does this always happen to me. I was told I was going to 8th and I to try out for the drill team. I thought to myself what the hell is a tanker going to do at 8th and I?

When I arrived I had some drill, than sent to do several interviews. I talked to some of the guys; I asked “how long does it take you to get ready for the ceremony?’ He said “about three hours.” I thought this isn’t for me. I watched the ceremony and was very impressed with these guys. It was fantastic, but not for me.

I told one of the guys “this isn’t for me.” He said tell the next interviewer you joined to go to the Nam, which was true. I felt it was my duty to fight for my country. I told the next interviewer who was a Captain and he said OK go back to your unit. I was relieved all that rehearsal and spit and polish. On the other hand it would have been very cool to be part of the USMC Silent Drill Team.

Upon returning to Second Tanks I again settled in. Happy and relaxed. It wasn’t too long after I was called into the CO’s office again. Here we go again, what the hell did I do this time. He said I was going TAD to the brig. What the hell does that mean? I pack up my belongings and headed for the MP and Guard barracks. When I got there I reported to the CO. I was made a brig chaser. When prisoners had to go to dental or sick bay I had to go with them to make sure they returned. I always wondered what the penalty was if one got away. I did not want to find out. After a couple of weeks of chasing I was sent inside the Brig. I did all kinds of guard duty inside to eventually guarding a wing.

I was called into the CO’s office again. What now, why don’t they leave me alone, what did I do this time?’ The CO told me to report to my CO back in tanks. I reported to my tank CO. He said “we have been having some complaints about you, so do you know what we are going to do?” I said No Sir.” He said “we are going to promote you to Sergeant.” I thought do these people know what the hell they were doing; I had a hard time filling a Corporals shoes. They can’t be serious.

Back at the brig we had these crazy hours where we had to be there in case of an emergency but we didn’t have to do anything, just sit around the barracks. Once while sitting around the barracks being bored to death one of the guys said “I’m going home, I go close to where you live, do you want to go with?’ I said “we are on duty we can’t go.” He said “who’s going to know?”

When I got back one of the guys said “you are in big trouble, after you left we had a surprise inspection and you guys weren’t here.” I thought son of a bitch am I in trouble, what am I do? Good by Sergeant. I may be in with the prisoners I was guarding.

I went back to my tank CO. I requested to see him. I said “Sir I have been TAD for some time now, can I come back immediately?” He said OK! I ran back to the brig barracks grabbed my stuff and headed back to tanks as fast as I could. I settled in to the Sergeant’s quarters and waited for the inevitable for charges of AWOL. Time went by and nothing, could I be that lucky?

I am now thinking I only have a year and a half to go, maybe I won’t go to the Nam, even though that is why I enlisted. Well sure enough I got orders for Nam. I remember thinking on the way over, what do I do? Will I be thrown a rife as I get off the plane? I remember our drill instructor saying “you are not Marines; all you are good for is cannon fodder.” I know someone was shot getting off the plane a week before.

We are herded into a large barracks, the largest I have ever seen. Here we spend the night. The next day I was told to wait for a jeep to pick me up. I waited for hours. Finally someone pulled up and said First Tanks. I jumped in. When I got to battalion headquarters I was told to pick out a rack as I would be spending the night.

As I was picking out a rack a Staff Sergeant who flew over with me stopped in. As we were talking a Warrant Officer walked in and said “I need two volunteers to man a tank.” I said nothing. The Staff Sergeant said “I will volunteer and so will he,” pointing in my direction.

We met up with the rest of the tank crew and headed to the south west side of Da Nang to a tower on top of a hill. This was the only time I was sent out with one tank. There were twelve grunts manning the tower in shifts.

They yelled down and told the Staff Sergeant to come up. They spotted a North Vietnamese soldier watching something in the jungle. They asked Da Nang for permission for us to fire on him with the tank. It was denied as there was a patrol near him and that was probably what he was watching. As darkness neared the tower again called the Staff Sergeant. When he came back down he said “there is a battalion of North Vietnamese soldiers coming our way with civilians in front.” I thought 12 grunts four tankers and a tank. How long would it take a battalion to wipe us out? We would last seconds. I said “will we get help?” The Staff Sergeant said “probably not.” He said don’t worry about it I will take the first watch, get some sleep.”

Soon Artillery started firing over us, with huge barrages. Sometime later I heard a plane and saw a line of red tracers coming from it. The line looked like one long glowing rope. It was Puff, luckily on our side. I was surprised that I actually fell asleep under the situation. I was woken for my watch. I sat there thinking in a matter of hours I will be dead and there is nothing that will prevent that from happening. It was so dark, how would I possible see them coming? I hope to God they don’t come on my watch. After my watch I went back to sleep and woke up the next morning. The sun was shining and all was quiet. I asked what happened and no one knew.

That day I was sent to my company headquarters. It was late in the evening when I got there and I decided to hit the rack early, who knows what tomorrow will bring. The next day I was given a tank and crew and sent with another tank to guard a small friendly village. It was a totally new experience being in a Vietnamese village. One of the guys took me to hooch where he had a girl friend, where she and her family lived. I wasn’t too happy with the situation and excused myself as soon as possible and went back to my tank. Here is where I got used to the kids hanging around and it took a while, but I soon accepted it. One young guy followed me everywhere I went.

After a few attacks and some mine incidents, luckily not my tank, I was getting familiar with the life as a tanker in Vietnam. I was told I was going TAD to leadership school. Here we go again. They are always sending me somewhere. I protested but was sent any way. It turned out to be a great school. It had some long hours and it was grueling but the best leadership school I ever went to.

Now I was told I was going to the Mud Flats. A Staff Sergeant whom I became friends with from Am Tracks said “you are going to the Mud Flats, that’s a bad area; you will never live through it.” “You are a dead man.””They call that place little Ka Son.”

We met up with Korean Marines. The Mud Flats was a Korean Marine area and they didn’t have their own tanks in Vietnam so we were attached to them. As we rolled out I kept looking for highway four. I knew our new base camp was right on that road. I saw no signs of a highway except a blown up bridge once in a while. I soon realized highway four was not even a foot path.

We came to a small stream. The engineer was called out to sweep for mines as this would be a good spot for one. As he was sweeping I broke out a cold C rat. Two Korean Marines were standing on either side of the engineer when he stepped on a large land mine. I remember seeing the two Koreans do cart wheels in opposite directions, like it was choreographed that way. Al three were killed right away. There were pieces of bloody rags, smoking all over the tank from the engineer. We put the bodies on the back of the tanks and continued.

Home sweet home was a small bunker just big enough to get four cots in. It wasn’t high enough to stand in. It was an underground sand bag village. Here we ran many operations. The area was full of North Vietnamese regulars who were well trained and well equipped. It was at the end of a transit area coming from the north.

From this base I was wounded but never got a purple heart as I was treated by the Korean Marines. It was here we got countless sniper fire. It was here we some time s got hit three times a night. We stayed there for probably two months.

When I got back to company headquarters I was constantly being sent out on operations to different areas. Most were not good. On one operation we were sent with a platoon of grunts. We sat as a blocking force. We sat for hours and nothing happened. They called and told us to come back in. We were all happy. Cold showers, a warm meal and cold beer. What a great day. I asked the grunt Lieutenant if they wanted to ride back on the tanks. He said “Sure.” I told him to make sure his people had their feet above the fender of the tank. He did not pass this information on and I should have told him to either do it or get off the tank. I did not want to have an issue with a grunt lieutenant so I told the driver to move on.

As we were riding along and feeling good, I remember taking a deep breath of air. It was very hot air. Things started to get fuzzy and I thought to myself this is it. The next thing I remember I was like a brown blob. I had to force myself to come back to life again. I remember seeing a small bit of brightness, finally after what seemed to be a long time I started to function again. I saw people’s mouths moving but I couldn’t hear anything. nothing. It took me a long time to realize we had hit a mine. I was amazed that I never heard the explosion. Thinking back not one person asked if I was OK. The driver and I were knocked unconscious. At that time if there were no blood you were fine.

I honestly think that mine changed my life. I lost all confidence in myself, I started to think everyone was talking about me and I had a hard time making decisions. I was selected for Staff Sergeant and had all the privileges but I didn’t stay in the Marines because after that mine I felt I just couldn’t do it.

I admire and respect all of you who go out of your way to do whatever you can for Veterans. If it were not for you we would probably still be the scum of the earth and have no benefits. Thanks you so much!

This is a synopsis of my book available at Amazon in soft cover or Kindle or Barns and Noble.