MARINE CORPS TANKERS VIETNAM HISTORICAL Foundation's
Vietnam Personal Accounts
Joe Androlowizc, MSgt., USMC, Retired
Joe Androlowicz's career almost mirrored the adoption of the 106mm recoilless rifle and its changes on the antitank units of the Marines. Joe also rode the Ontos from its earliest assignments to its decommissioning in 1970.
Prior to the 106mm recoilless rifle being adopted as the antitank weapon of the Marines, the 75mm recoilless rifle was the antitank choice. In 1958 Joe was with the 4.2 mortar section. At this time the big mortars were considered an infantry weapon. Later when the 4.2 mortars were assigned to the artillery, Joe was reassigned to the newly formed anti tank sections. This reassignment coincided with the adoption of the 106-mm recoilless rifle as the Marine's anti tank weapon. Joe's first anti tank assignment was with 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, at Camp Lejune, NC. At this time the 106 had been mounted on a modified M38A1 jeep. In 1959 Joe was involved in the testing of mounting the 106 on the M274 mechanical mule. The mule was a 900 lb. fat tired off road machine that was designed as an ammunition carrier. The mule with the 106 was considered an antitank weapon, but was used as a direct fire weapon that did good service in this configuration against everything but tanks.
In 1961 he was assigned to the Ontos as Platoon sergeant, 1st platoon, A Company, 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendelton, California.
In 1965 Joe found himself in Chu Lai, Vietnam. They were called out to support infantry by destroying fortified villages and performing convoy duty. The Ontos platoons were respected for using their guns against any sniper fire even though Regimental permission may not have been secured. Many of the field commanders warned the Ontos crews to secure Regimental permission, but most commanders still covered for the gunners when the fire fights developed too fast to get it. The Ontos crewmen had to defend the stripping of the Ontos's 30 caliber machine gun against unit commanders that just wanted an extra automatic weapon. Some commanders wanted to use the Ontos as a minesweeper. This exposed the vehicle to destruction. On one occasion Joe walked in front of his vehicle to show contempt for the order.
Joe's outfit once modified an Ontos by mounting a 50-caliber M2 machine gun to replace the 30 caliber. They then removed all but two of the 106 rifles. The vehicle made a great assault vehicle.
Joe's Ontos was destroyed by a remotely triggered, buried 105 MM artillery round. This occurred near a fishing village outside of the Air Base at DaNang. A heavy and light section of Ontos was working without supporting Infantry when the Ontos was blown up. Joe was sitting on the top of the turret using a radio when the machine got hit. Joe was blown off the machine onto the road in front of the Ontos. He sustained shrapnel in his right thigh. The driver lost hearing and had debris in his face and eyes. The commander soiled his pants. The Ontos lost its right track. The track ended up 15 feet behind the machine. It also lost the front two road wheels and drive sprocket. A small hole was found in the hull. As a result of the detonation of the 105 shell, the wire that had triggered the explosion was lifted and exposed on the road. The wire was easily followed back to the women that had triggered the mine. She was armed when found and so was killed by the crews of the remaining two vehicles. About a half-hour later the men of the village (about 150 men) surrendered to the Ontos platoon. The 14 crewmen had to guard the 150 prisoners until they could be relieved the next morning
The Ontos platoons often did outpost work by setting up a good observation point and look for targets of opportunity. It was a common route for Joe's platoon to patrol from the air base at Chu Lai to hill 69 about 10 miles north of the air base. From hill 69 they could observe the entire valley. About the 3rd or 4th visit to the hill the second Ontos crew heard a horrendous metal to metal screech. The noise came from the steel track bars (grousers) rubbing on the fuse of a buried bomb being used as a road mine. The crew did enough digging around the fuse to realize that the bomb was huge. A call was made to the combat engineers who used towing cables to slowly pull the Ontos off the bomb/mine. The engineers then uncovered a 500-pound bomb attached to the fuse. The bomb was exploded in place. From the size of the hole it left, there was little doubt that, if detonated, the bomb would have destroyed the entire platoon of five vehicles and crew. It taught the crews of this platoon that spacing between tracks would forever after be observed.
PIG, in reference to the Ontos, may sound like a derogatory term, but it could have been worse. In 1960 the 2nd Marine Division performed an amphibious landing at Onslow Beach. President Kennedy and other VIPs were there to observe the landings. A static display of tanks and Ontos was observed by President and a Colonel that later related the story. President Kennedy commented " what a weird little bugger that is". Most crewmen I have spoken to would choose "pig" to "weird bugger"