Vietnam Personal Accounts


The Hitch Hiker Incident

Jim Coan - Alpha Co., 3rd Tanks, ‘67/’68

Lt. Jim Coan Jim Coa


I had been the platoon leader of 1st Platoon, Alpha Company, 3d Tanks, since September, 1967. One spring morning in 1968, long after things had quieted down up at Con Thien, I was summoned back to company headquarters in Dong Ha. The purpose of the visit escapes me now, but we were eagerly anticipating hot showers and something to eat besides C-rats. My tank exited the southern gate at C-2 and was cruising along as fast as our A-11 could travel, when I spotted a lone grunt standing beside the dirt road. I ordered the driver to stop and find out what this grunt was doing out here in the middle of nowhere between C-2 and Cam Lo.

“What are ya’ doin’ out here, Marine?” I asked.

“The gunny sent me in to go on R and R,” he replied.

I told him we would give him a lift to Dong Ha and helped the Marine climb aboard.  “Hold on tight to the gypsy rack,” I warned him, then ordered the driver to move out.

We had gone a few hundred meters when I turned around in the TC cupola to see how our passenger was doing. To my complete surprise, he was no longer on the tank. He was lying flat on his back in the middle of the road.

“Stop, driver!” I shouted into the inter-com. “Turn around--our passenger fell off the tank!”

When we reached the grunt, he was out cold. I was afraid a sniper had shot him, but there was no blood anywhere. Just then, a jeep pulled up. A Marine major ran over while a captain remained in the vehicle, radioing for a medevac.

“What the hell happened to this man?” asked the major.

I thought fast. There were no witnesses. The man was unconscious. Certainly, I would be blamed because this knucklehead grunt did not believe me when I told him to hold on tight. I replied, “We don’t know, sir. We just found him lying here like this. He must have fallen out the back of a truck.”

Within minutes, a medevac chopper landed nearby. As the grunt was being carried off on a stretcher,  by  now  regaining consciousness, I heard him mumble to a corpsman, “What happened?”

The corpsman reassured him, “You fell off a truck, buddy. You’ll be okay.”

“Sure glad you tankers found him before someone ran over him,” said the major.  “Nice work, Lieutenant.”

“No problem, sir. We’re always glad to help out.”

I told the driver to goose it and get us the hell out of there before that grunt came to enough to remember he fell off a tank, not a truck. Usually a lie will come back to bite you, but this one saved my butt.