MARINE CORPS TANKERS VIETNAM HISTORICAL Foundation's
Vietnam Personal Accounts
Ed "Alwful Ed" Mason
H&S Co., 3rd Tanks & Bravo Co., 3rd Antitank, ‘65/’67
This is my old outfit, Bravo Co., 3rd Antitank Battalion, 4th Marines (Regt.) at Chu Lai, which was about 50 Miles south of Da Nang.
The only way to get back and forth between Da Nang and Chu Lai was by plane. The enemy had control of the highway. I use to go down there about once a week to do turret work on tanks and I'd help out on Ontos when their Maintenance Chief needed help.
The Maintenance Chiefs from Tanks and Ontos and I had gone to school together in one tank course or another. So we were old friends. Never did much with LVT's because their
was crawling with Mechanics. Ontos and Tanks had a platoon stationed near the waters edge at the sight of the picture. Look at the Ontos real close and you'll see a folding cot on the fender just above the track. On the front of the Ontos at the left headlight looks like a case of 'C' rations or a box of ammo?
If memory serves, the 3rd Marine Division (Rein) - (minus) 4th Marine
Regt. and support moved to Okinawa from Japan in 1954 or 55? The 4th Marines moved to Hawaii and operated from there until moving to Viet- Nam. The date on the photo is about the time they arrived. That was a month before I got there.
Then I joined Bravo Co. about the same time the 4th Marines were relieved by units of 1st MarDiv (from CampPen) at Chu Lai, around March or April 1966. Later they moved to Phu Bai, about 50 or so miles north of Da Nang and that’s where I joined them. Third Tank Battalion Headquarters was across a dirt road from 3rd Anti-Tank Bn Hqs (minus 'B' Company), which was still in the Da Nang serving as perimeter of defense.
It was nice moving to Phu bai even if it was the 4th Marines Hqs. It was pretty flat and spread out and the perimeter (TAOR) was pretty easy to control. We were very lucky because we set up in a Camp the CB's had just finished building. Our Company C.O. even made suggestions about the location of our Hooch’s. I set up shop where the CB's wanted me and I had electricity in my shop long before they wired in lights to the camp area.
The first thing the CB's built when they put up their base camp was a water well, and then they installed an electric outlet at the well. After that they hooked up a scuttlebutt producing cold water to drink. All this was on a little hill they built, about 3 feet above ground level. "The only cold water in Phu Bai."
When a Marine Battalion rotated off the line, they returned to our camp
Area and assumed the (TAOR). That's "Tactical Area of Responsibly," for the Regimental perimeter of Defense.
Our company ate at their field mess hall. All staff NCOs from our company messed at the Navy (CB's) Chiefs mess. CPO or Chief Petty Officers (E-6 to E-9). Our base camp was, at times better than a stateside camp
All CB's (naval Construction Battalions) pulled a 6 months tour in RVN. Each Battalion had the work scheduled and all the supplies they would need before leaving the States.
Our CB's built buildings, "A camp." The unit that relieved them brought PVC pipe. Their job was to build a sewer system and install running water, showers, heads and whatever else goes with that.
One of the earlier units rebuilt the Phu Bai Airport Runways to accommodate C-130's. I believe they were the ones that converted the Dong Ha airstrip to accommodate C-130's there. Dong Ha was a tactical airstrip and the traffic was pretty heavy.
Vietnam is noted for red soil and when a C-130 lands and reverses thrust to stop, the only thing you can see for hours afterwards is a cloud of red dust. The need for airstrip covering was important.
Mars matting (a WW II product designed for prop planes) was tried first. The first C-130 reverse thrust piled it up at the end of the strip, hidden by the red cloud.
Then they tried a newer version, 20'X20' aluminum sheets about 2 inches thick, that locked together and were air droppable from low altitude. These were used and that ended the Mars dilemma.
My C.O. ('B' Co, Capt Camby (a Tank Officer) didn't like to fly, but I got him in a C-130 to go to Dong Ha for a tank inspection. When we left to head back to Phu Bai, the Marine C-130 was empty, so I talked to the Crew Chief and asked him if he would ask the pilot to make a power take off (the same way they take off a carrier without using a cat.) The skipper agreed.
After we got belted in to our seats the skipper set the brakes and powered up. When he released the brakes, the plane jumped about 50 feet and we were in an immediate vertical clime. I guess we leveled off about 1500 feet. After we leveled off my C.O., looked at me and said, "You did this! "I'll never fly again, not even to go home."*
When we moved as a Company I always sat in the boom operators seat on the M-62 Wrecker. Once we were retuning to Phu Bai after an operation and I was in my usual seat, when the convoy came to a sudden halt. Word passed back that we were waiting for a sweep of a village off to the right of direction of travel.
I got my field glasses out and stood up on the seat and scoped the sweep. Sure enough there were VC's moving and returning fire. I even saw some shooting in our direction. I wasn't paying much attention to the yelling around me until a bee sound or two passed by. Then I heard the screaming and what they were hollering. "Get down you Asshole, they're shooting at you." I took the hint and sat down with the boom between them and me.
The guy I relieved also rode in the same place and he got hit in the leg one day. But he wasn't standing and he didn't have the boom between him and the bad guys either.
*Editors Note: Capt. Steve L. Camby of Spindale, NC, never did make that flight home. He was Killed In Action (KIA) on February 2, 1967.