THE TRIP - From Ft. Riley to Vietnam - Pre AP Bau Bang I
As told by Bill Baty
A Troop, 1/4th Cavalry - Mar 65-Oct65
They put us through something akin to Ranger Training at Ft. Riley during the months
leading up to deployment. Booby Traps, Escape and Evasion, Live firing on the ranges,
Patrolling, Geneva Convention, First Aid, Individual and Crew served weopons training.
We spent most of our time in the field. Around August 65 they brought us back into
garrison and we prepared our TOE for Shipping. We cleaned everything several times then
carefully wrapped it in sticky stuff. One night at the NCO club on Cavalry Hill I won
a double barrel 12 gauge Shotgun and I stuck it in the tube of my 4.2 mortar before we
wrapped it. Someone either saw me do it or they checked everything closely because it
wasn't there when we unwrapped the mortar in Vietnam. Finally in late August they gave
us leave to take our POV's home and say our farewells to family and friends. When we
returned to Riley we stood numerous inspections with emphasis on personal equipment
serviceability and accountability. Had a couple parades and then boarded the Train for
a fantastic ride from Ft. Riley to Oakland, CA.
19 year old SGT Bill Baty taken at Camp Funston, Ft. Riley, KA just prior to Shipping out to RVN
The day before we arrived an announcement
was made that we could expect protestors trying to stop the train when we neared the
terminal so we were eagerly hoping to see our first blood. The protestors must have been
forewarned that we weren't going to stop even if they were lying on the tracks cause they
didn't show. All went well as we loading onto the USNS Sultan and got assigned our bunks
and compartments. After that there really wasn't much to do except go up on deck and take
in the sights. Sorta like going on a nice cruise compliments of the Army and Navy.
We left the terminal and cruised by Alcatraz, San Francisco (I left my heart, in), The
Golden Gate Bridge and into what had to be some of roughest water on earth. There was
aft to stern puke. In the stairwells, latrines, on deck....everywhere, even the mess hall.
The Navy probably still tells stories about those tough Army GI's who nearly didn't make it
to Vietnam thanks to the sweet smell of salt water. How rough was it??? Well I tell you,
at one point in time the ship's Captain ordered everyone inside except for the swabs and
they battened the hatches behind us. I'd always heard that you don't have to worry on a ship
unless you heard the propellers slapping water. I remember lying there for two days and
nights listening to the props as they left the water and then mercifully began churning again.
Prior to entering the Army, I worked in a rendering factory so I considered myself as having
a cast iron stomach. I did fine until one day about two weeks into our journey. I was the
projectionist for Troop A and while on board ship our training continued. It was a hot muggy
day and on tap for that day's training was a "First Aid" training film. I went into the
projection room and got the film rolling and it had the most realistic scenes I had ever
seen. Spurting blood, exposed broken bones, gushing eye and mouth wounds. And the ship
rocked, and it got hotter and hotter in that little room. I almost lost it. I made my way to
the deck and fresh air real quick. After two weeks the seas calmed and it began to feel like
a vacation cruise again. We enjoyed watching the porpoises, jelly fish, flying fish, playing
cards and reading dirty books. Who knows where they came from but it seemed like everyone
had one. We customarily met up on deck everyday to exchange porno books for one we hadn't
seen. This was very upsetting to the Chaplain and it finally came to a head one day when he
got on the ships intercom and chastised everyone for their choice of reading material. He
ended by saying, "Just read them, read them until your sick of them and want to throw them
over the side of the ship". I felt a little guilty after his talk and gave all my books away.
A few days later I got bored and started asking my circle of friends for some reading
material. Not a one of them would give me anything and I didn't have a single thing to trade.
Fortunately for me, we arrived at Subic Bay, Philippines about this time and were given passes
to go ashore provided we stayed on the base. I enjoyed one night of freedom spent entirely at
the Chiefs Club with friends. My Mortar Section crews consisted of all three mortar platoons
and they really did a great job of sticking together. One of them was a recent newly wed and
his young bride was in her 8th month of pregnancy. He took quite a bit of ribbing from his
fellow mortar men but it was always good natured. On our first night of freedom in two weeks,
they settled in at the post Bowling Alley and drank enough beer for everyone on the ship.
Everything went well until in walks this beautiful young lady who must have been 7-8 months
along. Out of respect for Mac, no one said anything but there was a group of Marines in the
bowling alley who, according to my entire section, verbalized the poor women, so Mac went to
her rescue closely followed by my entire section. I'm told they wrecked the place. The Shore
Patrol apprehended most of my people except Givens who didn't stop running until he reached
the open sea. He then stole a boat and paddled across Subic Bay landing near a small village.
Thinking he was in Vietnam already, he proceeded to single handedly assault the village until
the local authorities arrived and bundled him up. All my people were placed under ship arrest
and I immediately went to the top of the duty roster for CP duty which lasted for the remainder
of our stay at Subic Bay. We left the Philippines and headed across the South China Sea for
Vietnam. The adrenaline started flowing and everyone was on edge. I'm not quite sure what was
done to make the Ships Captain mad, but one day he got on the intercom and read us the law.
Something about the Captain of a ship at sea was next to God in authority and pretty much
convinced us that if our attitudes didn�t improve he would have us all thrown overboard, or
words to that effect.
Our first view of Vietnam pulling into Vung Tau...Getting ready for the trip to Bein Hoa AB
Upon our arrival we were loaded with personal gear onto Landing craft
and taken ashore, just like in the movies, at Vung Tau. Then loaded onto waiting trucks and
moved to Bein Hoa where we were reunited with our TOE. We had the privilege spending the next
several nights in a Vietnamese Cemetery while we unpacked and cleaned our equipment. It was
in this cemetery that I was introduced to the largest scorpion I have ever seen. It was jet
black and bigger than your hand. Evil looking thing. When everything was ready we did our
first Vietnam convoy from Bein Hoa to Lai Khe.
(Lai Khe from the air)........................(Lai Khe from the air)
Upon arrival we spent the next week digging in.
Lai Khe - The way we found it in 1965.......PVT Neeldner volunteered to fill all the sandbags!!
Kampfert doing a small job for 1SG Pepe.......Consolidated A Trp Mortar Positions
The engineers came over with their bulldozers and dug out large holes to park our APC's in.
We set up tents among the rubber trees, surrounded them with sand bags and were finally
introduced to cobras, monsoons and our constant enemy, the communist ants (Reds). All three
mortar sections were placed together at south end of the runway and we did daily fire missions
and established new registration points. We began to slowly settling into our new way of life.
Remember "Hot and Dry or Hot and wet" weather.
Ukn, Warne, Dempsey and Pullen.......A Trp Billeting area
1SG Pepe and OR personnel clean weapons.......SSG Noelder wondering where Kampfert is?
Personal hygiene was a top priority. We took
baths in everyway from helmet liners to digging holes in the ground, then lining them with
our ponchos and filing the hole with water. The rains became a favorite time. You jump outside
with a bar of soap and in a few minutes you'd be sparkling clean. At night when most sane
people were sleeping, we were up enjoying live fire demonstrations, (sure relieved the stress).
Our favorite target was the old water tower which sat almost directly out from our position.
All the APC's along that perimeter used the tower for target practice. I always hoped it would
fall while we were firing but it withstood many .50 caliber and M-14 attacks before it finally
fell. (after I was gone). When we weren't busy firing at shadows we had great times on guard
duty. One of our Infantry Squad leaders was a Samolian named SSG Joe Kekepi.
Cavalry Scout Extraordaneer!
He was a Korean War veteran with Silver Star so all we young NCO's listened and hung onto his
every word. Some of his more popular teachings were:
1. When posting a young troop on guard, and your not sure if he will stay
awake, hand him a hand granade and pull the pin out. Tell him you'll put
the pin back in when you return.
2. Same scenario, tell him in a serious tone, that you'll be attempting to
sneak up on him while he's on guard, and if your successful, you'll cut
his throat and claim the VC did it.
3. Use every weapon at your disposal. When SSG Kekepi ran out of ammo
during a fire fight, he would commandeer the driver's seat of his APC and run the enemy down
using his vehicle as a weapon.
4. When in a fire fight using his .50 caliber, you could hear him anywhere
on the battle field screaming "yahoo" at the top of his lungs. He said
this unsettled the enemy giving him the advantage of firing first.
Our favorite mentor of course was First Sergeant Michael Pepe. 1SG Pepe was "Cavalry" clean
through. He ate nails for breakfast and washed them down with gasoline. He spit them out at
anything that got in his way during the day. It was quietly spoken in back rooms and places
of loneliness that 1SG Pepe should have been retired with the last horse from active duty.
Back at Riley 1SG Pepe's office was adjacent to the orderly room and the CO's office was off
to one side with a doorway into 1SG's office and another door that had been build leading
outside. Although we rarely had any extra time we used to hang around the orderly room in
hopes that one of the young 2nd Lieutenants would enter the orderly room and attempt to access
the CO's office by going thru 1SG Pepe's office. Everyone feared confrontation with 1SG Pepe
but all who knew him respected him because while he was strict and verbally gruff, he was fair.
On more than one occasion he passed on some of his valuable knowledge and wisdom to this young
and eager NCO and I can recall him picking my 190 pound body up and shaking it to get his point
across at least on one ocassion. He is one of the finest Troopers I have ever known. I hope he
checks in someday because I've lost track of him. We made it through the first 30 days without
a single casualty except for 2lt Snaverly who was stung by two scorpions hiding in his fatigue
shirt when he put it on one morning.
(Mess Kit washing machine)
Life was mostly digging in deeper and learning to live with the weather and red ants. We left
the comforts of Lai Khe several times participating in operations like Hopscotch, Viper and
Hump, and while we were fortunate enough to be casualty free, others weren't. The body bags
became a common sight lying along the airfield. It was a sight no one ever got used to.
Somebody up above was looking out for us because in early Nov we received a shipment of metal
plates which when assembled, protected the TC on three sides. Problem is, they didn�t send
along the mounting devices for these wonderful shields. So we assembled them and "placed"
them into position facing forward. This at least provided some protection from incoming but
restricted the rotation of the .50 caliber machine guns. We were also told to fill sand bags
and cover the floor of our APC's with them which would soften any land mines we ran across.
Then we were told to fill sand bags and place them around the top edge of our APC's so that
when we exposed ourselves we would have a sand bag between us and the enemy. Now the M-14 was
a fine weapon, as long as it was clean. Lessons learned: A bullet ripping into a sand bag
throws sand all over the place. One grain of sand in the right place and an M-14's only use
is as a baseball bat. Lessons Learned to late: never discard unused mortar round charges
onto the floor of the APC. It makes a hell of a fire when/if ignited. Throw them outside.
Mortar firing tables were designed with distance in mind. They didn't make any provisions
for close in firing. We learned soon after arrival in country that we needed to elevate the
mortar tube almost vertical using sandbags or empty ammo boxes in order to fire close in
"illumination, WP and HE" fire missions.
A Troop lining up at Lai Khe on 10 Nov 65
In early Nov 1965 A Troop left Lai Khe with a road clearing task force made up of different
elements of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division. About 5 miles north of Lai Khe, we pulled
off Highway 13 in a logger NDP. The next morning s Alpha Six pulled back onto the road a mine
was detonated blowing up harmlessly but barely missing his APC. CPT Hubbard was a fine Officer
and he had seen that we all were trained well, but that day he did a foolish thing. He exited
his vehicle and picking up the wires that had been attached to the mine, he began following
them into the underbrush alongside the road. When he came to a point where grass had overgrown
the wire, he yanked on it setting off a personnel mine which severely wounded him. He became
our first WIA and was air-evac'd out. lLT Garcia, the XO, became Acting Commander of A Troop.
We continued our road clearing operation. We soon learned another valuable Lesson: never ride
on top of an APC unless you prefer a sniper bullet to dying of heat exhaustion. We lost PFC
Benjamin Costello, Infantry Squad, that day as he became our first KIA.
The seemingly peaceful hamlet of Ap Bau Bang, 11 Nov 65
About mid-day we arrived at the hamlet of Ap Bau Bang where we provided mounted guard duty for
task force personnel performing "Civic Action" duties. Our medics administered to anyone who
needed medical aid and we passed out c-rations and chewing gum mostly to children. There was
a noticeable absence of men in the village but we had been briefed that the VC had forcibly
recruited most of the able bodied men from that area into their ranks. Little did we know that
they were nearby and waiting for the opportunity to launch an attack. Sometime prior to midnight a couple
mortar rounds were sent into our perimeter, The first battle of Ap Bau Bang was about to begin.
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This page was last updated on 4 Feb 2017