MARINE CORPS TANKERS VIETNAM HISTORICAL Foundation's
Vietnam Personal Accounts
August 17, 1967
H & S Co., 3rd Tanks, 1967-68
Submitted by Richard Carey
Cpl. Richard Carey, 1968, The Rockpile
I was one of the (f.n.g.) new guys at H&S Company, 3rd Tanks, (Gia Le) Phu Bai, South Vietnam; having arrived in Vietnam some time during the month of July 1967. I held the MOS 2141 (tank mechanic), but had been stationed on Okinawa at Camp Hansen since August 1966 with the 3rd Force Service Regiment, Tank Maintenance Battalion as a 0161 (postal clerk) for the battalion.
I got the job because I could use a typewriter—a rare skill in the 60's in the Marine Corps. Even when I was Stateside, I worked as a 0141(office clerk) in the tank maintenance office at Camp Lejuene. At Schools Battalion before I went to tank repair school, I was nabbed for the troop intake processing office and was a 0141 (office clerk) and served as a troop handler for all new incoming "student" Marines. I was still a Private, but was promoted to Pfc. before entering tank school.
Here it was, 21 months into my enlistment, and I was in Vietnam as a Lance Corporal. At the age of 21, I had never actually worked in my MOS. That was not about to change right away even through I was assigned to H&S Co., Maintenance Platoon.
Upon arriving at Gia Le, I was assigned to the tool room during the day and drove the forklift. At night, I was doing perimeter guard duty, night patrols and the infamous listening posts. I also served with Gia Le's base reactionary rifle company that entailed doing convoy security as an M60 machine gunner on the back of a 6X6 truck, taking supplies from Phu Bai, through Hue City and to such places as Camp Evans and other points on and off Highway 1.
The convoys would go out everyday and I would go on them every other day. Every other time I would go on the convoys, they would get hit in ambushes along Highway 1. On August 16, 1967, a day I will never forget, I was on one of those convoys.
On that morning as the sun rose, I got on the back of the 6X6 truck to await the complete formation of the long convoy of jeeps, trucks, quad fifties, dusters, tanks, men and supplies. The wait would be about 90 minutes. For an August day, the weather was not too bad for Vietnam. It was a little overcast and partly sunny.
The trip up to Hue City was quiet, and nothing out of the ordinary happened which was not unusual for that stretch of the road. When we got to Hue, the young children were there along the curb yelling "chop, chop" (food, food), as they always did.
Today, they were not counting the number of vehicles in the convoy; so we knew that there was no ambush planned between Hue and Camp Evans, our destination. As expected, we got to Camp Evans around 1300 hours and had lunch from the box of C-rations that were issued as we boarded the trucks for the day.
At the gathering point for the return trip, a tank from the convoy was parked close to the truck I was on. The crew had just mounted the tank and was getting ready to take the lead for the convoy and its return trip to Phu Bai. I decided to go over and see if I knew any of the crew. I did. I knew the loader and the gunner.
L/Cpl. Richard R. Smith from Hopewell Junction, NY, and L/Cpl. Kenneth R. Spohn of Portland, OR, were the two crewmembers I knew from Schools Battalion in 1966. They were surprise to see me and we exchanged some friendly snide remarks as we had always done. After a few moments of a conversation, the tank commander, Sgt. Joseph M. Hallas of Youngstown, OH, told the driver, LCpl. Anthony H. Bennett of Tulsa, OK, to fire up the tank as it was time to leave. As the tank engine started, I turned and walked away, never giving a second thought as to what was about to happen.
Within a couple of minutes, there was a horrific explosion that seem to shake the ground. Immediately a voice screamed: "The tank hit a mine!!!" I was about to see an image I will never forget.
I ran to the bridge "by-pass" leading in and out of the Camp Evans area where the tank had hit the mine. My mind was blank as I tried not to think or imagine what could have happened. It was the worst scene I would ever see of a destroyed 52 ton M48A3 tank.
When I got there, the first thing I knew was that the four crewmembers were dead. Hallas, Bennett, Smith and Spohn died in a fraction of a second in that explosion.
I noticed the hull of the tank was on its top and almost all the wheels and tracks were blown completely off. The under side of the hull was facing up, and it appeared to me that someone had taken a huge can opener and cut right down the center of the hull. The next thing I saw was the 37-ton turret that was blown away from the main hull and laid about 50 feet from the point of detonation. As I turned to get away from the scene, I caught out of the corner of my eye a body on the ground. I don't remember seeing any blood but I do remember the body was completely void of any clothing or equipment.
I returned to the convoy gathering point and was instructed to get on the truck. I don't remember the return trip to Phu Bai other than the fact that we did not get attacked.
Within the month, I was transferred to Bravo Co, at Camp Carroll. Here I would continue to do perimeter guard duty and listening posts. I would eventually be promoted Corporal and became the first and second platoon's maintenance man and tank commander of Bravo 23 at the Rockpile, running road sweeps and convoys from Khe Sanh to Cam Lo on Highway 9.
After one year, seven months and three days of overseas duty I returned to the United States. It was the first week in April, 1968. On my way home, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.