I was a school trained track and wheel vehicle mechanic. I graduated from Armor School in 1964, as a 632.20, which later became 63C20. I was trained on all vehicles used in an armor unit. This was a great school. We were well trained on the M60 tank the M59, M114, M113 APC and all the trucks.
After graduation I was assigned to the 63rd Armor at Fort Riley. I was in HHC battalion maintenance under Msgt. Spon. This was nothing like armor school. We had the old M48A1 tanks, which were gas driven. I was not trained for this. They didn�t have all the fancy tools either. The way things were done in the motor pool was nothing like armor school. Msgt. Spon was a hard core, "get the job done" NCO. He was not "always by the book", but his approach was more of a "just keep them running no matter what you have to do". How would I know this was the best training I could get?
As a mechanic, we were not required to pull Guard Duty or KP. That was just fine with me. But, we did work long hard hours in the motor pool. When it came to other combat type training we were told, "You don�t need that. You will be in the rear fixing the tanks". All the field problems we did bore this out. So, when the fighting started I would be in the rear drinking beer and fixing tanks. This, too, was fine with me.
In May 1965, C/2/63 was being readied to go to Vietnam. They needed 6 volunteers from Bn. Maint. to go with the Company and I was one of the 6 that were going to go. We got all our shots and were ready to clear post when it was canceled. I did not find out until Feb of 2001 that Capt. Sturgis was to command this unit.
The spring and summer of that year, at Fort Riley, was one big rumor mill about us going to Vietnam. Hell, most of us had no idea what or where Vietnam was. When I learned about it in school it was French Indochina. It is surprising that I remembered their main crops were rice and rubber. Little did I know, in school, how much rubber plantation I would see. The rumors started going around the 63rd that we would not be going with the division. We had had no idea they would break up the 63rd. The guys in my section started getting orders. Some went to the Signal Company and others got ordered to the infantry as infantryman. I was about the last to get orders. I got A Troop, � Cav. I was thinking that this was better then the Infantry, but not by much.
Reporting to the Cav. was a day I won�t forget. The place seemed to be in total disarray. New people coming in and old ones going out. It seemed they had no idea who was where. Then I meet 1st Sgt. Pepe, which was the end to a perfect day. This was a man, I just knew, I didn�t want to remember MY NAME. He was a soldiers� soldier. The first day I was at A Troop, 1st Sgt. Pepe had a meeting with all the new guys. We reported to the mess hall and sat down for our introduction. In came 1st Sgt. Pepe. He stood at the front of the mess hall with his hands on his hips, legs shoulder width apart, head held high and looked from side to side. His face looked like stone, no smile. I just knew this was not going to be good as I felt my stomach tighten. As he started to talk he told us a little about the unit and what he expected from us. Then I started to see another side of him emerge. Here is a man that really cared about his troops. That was fine, but I still don�t want him to have a reason to remember my name.
I was assigned to the maintenance section. I moved into the barracks and met all the guys. This section had some real colorful guys in it. I was the only new man. The next day at the motor pool I found out we did not have a Motor Sgt. The one they had profiled out and they were waiting for a new one. Sp/5 Wren was in charge of the section. We were getting ready to go out on field problems and a driver was needed for the maintenance track A-8. The new guy got it. I signed for it lock, stock and 50 cal. When I signed for A-8, I had no idea what she would come to mean to me. I drove A-8 on every mission the first year in Viet Nam, but one. When I got A-8 it came with a M2-50 Cal., M60, M79 and an M3-.45Cal. "Grease Gun". I was never trained on these. Again, I was told "Don�t worry, your a mechanic. You will be in the rear fixing the tracks." So I read the manuals.
On the field problems we played all the war games (Wrong War!). Guess where I was? In the rear fixing nothing! I asked about learning to use the radios, I was told the TC would do all that so don�t worry. I asked about map reading, I was told you just follow the track in front of you so don�t worry. Most of the troop got a lot of benefit from our weeks in the field. Not us. We were in the center waiting for tracks to fix. As I remember it, there was a large gap between the line troops and the support troops. They were the ones who did the fighting and we supported them. There was no disrespect from them; we were just different than them. They were the most important.
We arrived "in country" in October of �65 after a wonderful cruise on the Daniel I. Sultan. We spent about a week in the staging area at Bein Hoa. Most of my time was spent readying A-8, unpacking all the overseas crates, setting up the .50 Cal. by the book (it even worked!), setting up the radios, sand bagging the floor and loading ammo on board (basic load) plus pulling all the maintenance on the track. The rest of my section was working on troop vehicles. We pulled no other duty. So far, it was just as expected, we were doing our MOS. We received orders to move to Lai Kai to set up base camp. At this time we had APC�s. Only our tanks were not going with us, they were staying at Division. We joined a rather large convoy and made the trip to Lai Kai. After finding our little spot for the 4th Cav., tents went up. That�s when things started to change.
Our first blurs of MOS�s were to set up a perimeter and dig and built bunkers. All the support sections had a bunker on line, just the same as the line troops. We even ground mounted our .50 Cal. We manned the bunker day and night the same as the line troops. We did our MOS as well, just as they did. As I remember there were no complaints. We were part of the troop and that is how the rest of the troop treated us. We had a few unnerving experiences on the line. I remember how shocked I was to see green tracers, but more so, I remember the night we were told we were going to be hit by 1200 enemy troops. That�s the Night 1st Sgt. Pepe fell in one of the uncovered holes and injured his knee.
The troop started going out on missions. At first, the missions were road securing and convoy escort because they still weren�t sure how to use the Cav. A-8, A-2, A-1, A-50 the HQ. Plt. Vehicles went also. This was not what we did in the states. When out, we were doing the same thing as the rest of the troop. The maintenance, commo, radar and 1st Sgt. Track was the same as the line Plt. Tracks. At this time A-66 was the CO�s track. All the mechanics had platoon assignments. Mine was the 1st Plt. When the 1st Plt would go out by itself I would got with it. For the most part, I road on Sgt. Blairs and Sp/5 Okleys track, but was on Sgt. Kecks and others from time to time. I got to know all the guys in the 1st Plt. and was adopted into the platoon.
When we would be out on a platoon mission I would pull my load the same as any in the Platoon. Guard, dismounted sweeps and tunnel clearing. All the mechanics were ready and able to do any job that was asked. We were all in this together.
I believe what brought this all together was the battle of Bau Bang. All the Hq. Tracks fought the same as the line tracks. It�s notable to say the first man in the 1/4th Cav in Viet Nam to be recommended for the MOH was mechanic William D. Burnett, who was awarded the DSC. We had several mechanics also wounded at Bau Bang. It is also notable to mention the first man to be killed by a command detonated mining of a 113 was Sp/5 Jenkins, a 63C20, riding with the 1st Plt. November 12,1965 (The Battle of Bau Bang) changed A Troop forever. MOS was just something you did along with being a combat Cav. Trooper.
The mechanics, the guys in commo, and the other Hq. Plt. were now looked upon as one and the same. We were combat troopers first and support second. The night the troop came in from Bau Bang, we all worked through the night to get as many tracks combat ready as we could, because we were going back out the next day. The crews helped us because we were short mechanics. We all worked together. I am not positive, but I think we only went out the next day with 18 out of 27 tracks. We had 2 in Lai Kai that had been destroyed, prior to Bau Bang, which we were using for parts. Another 5 destroyed at Bau Bang. The rest were just not fit to go out.
At this time, Capt. Sturges was in command. We went out on November 13, with a new mission. This time? We were hunting! We were looking for the unit that hit us at Bau Bang. The first of many "Seek and Destroy" missions. That night, A-8 was on the perimeter, as well as what was left of the Hq. Tracks. What a night! That was a night no one slept. We just knew we were going to get it again. The night was quite.
On most missions, A-8, A-50, A-2 and A-66 would be in the center of the logger. We would only move to the line when we were short tracks or to reinforce. Capt. Sturges knew we still had our jobs to do. He knew we would be hard pressed for time to fix the tracks if we were on the line.
On a mission in April of 66 we were working with the 25th Division. The troop was engaged with the enemy and A-50, A-8 and the VTR were coming up to join the troop. My track was hit with a command-detonated mine and I lost my crew, the Motor Sgt. and a medic. I was the only one to walk away. In only a week and I had a new A-8. My crew never consisted of the same men. I was the only one that was always on A-8. The section rotated on A-8 and A-9, the VTR. When tracks were hit and needed to be recovered A-8 and A-9 were called. If a tank were to be recovered A-9 would hook up and A-8 would support her. That meant we had to get out and hook up tow bars many times under enemy fire. That�s when I started using cross cables. It was a quick hookup and we could get moving faster. In combat conditions, we just hooked up. The hell with the final drives. We would unhook them when no one was shooting at us. Several in our section received awards for this.
Things sure were not what we trained for in the states, but after 3 mo. in country, we were all hardened. We knew all the jobs. I was talking to Ralph Sturges a month ago and I was telling him the NVA and VC could not tell the difference from the maintenance track and the line tracks. To them, we were all the bad guys.
June 8, 1966, proved yet again the great cavalry sprit. The troop was short personal. We had cooks and clerks on the tracks manning M-60�s. We went out with 128 men and 4 officers. Unknown to us, we were bait for the 272nd NVA Regiment, which was a part of the famous 9th NVA division. Because of a tank and APC mining, we were split into two parts, a main body and a trail party. I was in the trail party. Both were hit hard. Both almost over run. But, all did what the cavalry does best, fought like hell. We lost a lot of men in that battle. Even one of our cooks gave all.
I wonder how it was in the old horse Cav. They had support that went with them. Horses had to be fed, shoed and cared for. They had to bring their supplies with them. I guess it would have been the same, TROOPER FIRST!
I am, still to this day, proud of A troop and all the men I served with. The mechanics were respected as combat troopers and cavalrymen. To the line troops we were the same. No one had to tell them that we took part in anything we could have gotten out of, but chose not to. When I talked to Capt. Sturges he told me how proud he was of us and how well crossed trained the troop was. He was correct, we were.
I am very glad to see, from our Cav. e-mail, the respect the line troops still have for us. Gentlemen, if I, as a combat mechanic, have your respect and honor as an equal in combat then that would be all the ribbons, medals and awards I will ever need or want.
I thank you for not forgetting what we added to the troop in Viet Nam.