History, Early 1970
As the 1970s opened, the 228th Supply & Service Company (Direct Support) had substantially the same mission, in the same location, as it had since it arrived in Tay Ninh Province in October, 1966. From outward appearances, Tay Ninh West Base Camp and the logistical activity there — of which the 228th had been a key component from the beginning — continued as before. The base camp in early 1970 was home to both Headquarters, 2nd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division; and Headquarters, 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry (Airmobile). There were other independent operations (such as a small Air Force detachment) there. The 228th upheld its tradition of providing logistical support to both divisional and non-divisional units.
According to the 1st Cav's history, "in the opening months of 1970, several pitched battles were fought with the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong who attempted to overrun bases [in III Corps area, including near Tay Ninh].... There had been a slight increase in the fighting during the first week of each month. Many considered that the North Vietnamese were attempting to improve their bargaining position at any peace negotiations. These attacks shattered a general lull that had prevailed over the battlefield since the previous September." Tay Ninh, which had earned the nickname "Rocket City" in earlier years, was hit occasionally by Russian 122mm rockets and a mortar round every once in a while.
So there was plenty of work to be done, and things were hardly peaceful and quiet. But having been on the same base for more than three years, the 228th had settled into a life of relative luxury that would have been unimaginable to the company's soldiers in 1966. Hooches were permanent buildings, wood framed, with mosquito netting inside fiberboard walls. They were sandbagged beyond all reason, the work of years of short-timers' anxiety and ingenuity. A set of generators provided electrical power for lights, radios, and the reel-to-reel tape decks that seemed to be everywhere. Spare parts for the generators were readily available, if not through Army channels then from Sears & Roebuck in the Philippines.
On top of some of the bunkers, on a good night, you could even pull in Armed Forces Vietnam TV. Most of us stuck to AFVN Radio. Besides news and the usual military announcements about rotation rules and avoiding venereal disease, AFVN Saigon allowed you to wake every morning to, "another exciting adventure in the life of the most fantastic crime fighter the world has ever known, Chicken Man!"
The biggest difference a 228th soldier from two or three years earlier would have seen, though, is that much of the work was done by Vietnamese civilians. This was consistently true of the lousiest jobs, such as human waste disposal ("s__-burning" as seen in the movie Platoon). A lot of the manual labor in the yards was done by "papa-sans". Cleaning the hooches and doing the laundry was the work of "mama-sans"; thanks to them I showed up for duty every day in freshly starched fatigues. But Vietnamization included other jobs. For example, when SP5 Albert Di Iorio DEROSed March 24, 1970, leaving myself (then PFC, Darrell A. Martin) as the new Company Clerk, the company secretary Dang Thi Vinh did enough of the routine typing and filing to make it unnecessary to appoint another Assistant Clerk. ("Ving" spoke at least five languages: besides Vietnamese and Cambodian, she included in her repertoire English, French, and Cantonese Chinese.)
Since shortly after the company arrived from stateside, the normal Army rotation policy in Vietnam — individual replacements with exactly one year in country scheduled — kept the 228th more or less at strength. (Mostly less.) This had some drawbacks. A soldier usually arrived alone, or in a very small group. Most soldiers rotated home the same way. This wreaked havoc on many as they tried to readjust to life "in the World" ... frequently, they found themselves feeling even more alone back home than they did when they first reported to the Orderly Room for assignment.
However, traditions and attitudes were passed on. One of these was the nearly universal feeling that we were "on our own". The 25th Infantry Division, although it occasionally mentioned the 228th or parent units in "Tropic Lightning News", regarded us as useful outsiders. But the biggest discontinuity was with higher echelons in Long Binh and Saigon. We wore the "leaning outhouse" shoulder patch of the 1st Logistical Command, but few identified with 1st Log. There was little indication that anyone on the Saigon side of Cu Chi — to the southeast — even knew that Tay Ninh existed — northwest of Cu Chi. (Cu Chi is where the most famous NVA tunnels were. Ironically, directly overhead was the divisional headquarters of the Tropic Lightning.)
This feeling of isolation from our parent units was nothing new. Then Assistant Company Clerk Ron Fischer said about the 228th in 1966, "in Tay Ninh ... [Company Clerk] Art [Neighbor] and I went through hell with the folks down in Long Binh. They made everything unnecessarily difficult and time consuming. Long Binh was spit and polish, Tay Ninh was dirt, mud, heat and sweat. We had two very different cultures trying to work together." A little of the spit and polish did migrate to Tay Ninh in the next three years, but a spirit of cooperation couldn't seem to find its way onto a truck. Even basic communications sometimes broke down. In January, 1968 many officers and men who were on the 228th's Morning Report believed they were part of the 567th S&S Bn (DS). However, that unit had been inactivated and returned to the U.S. almost three months earlier!
Another form of alienation arrived with each replacement soldier. Society in the U.S. was rapidly polarizing around three things: the anti-war movement, racial tension, and the drug counter-culture. These all hit the 228th hard, which made us no different from other U.S. units in Vietnam.
More than a few 228th soldiers in 1970 openly wore anti-war symbols and slogans, sometimes even on duty. The preferred "billboard" was the helmet cover or the non-regulation boonie hat. Hooches were decorated with posters urging "bomb North Vietnam into mud" or "pull out of Vietnam NOW", depending. At the beginning of the year a majority of Americans still supported the war, or at least thought it was necessary. That support was crumbling.
From its earliest days, the 228th had to some extent allowed soldiers to billet in whatever part of the company area that they wanted. Often this was, naturally, by platoon or section; often it was not. By early 1970 arrangements had gravitated toward racial segregation, among other things. Besides the African-American "soul brothers", there were a number of Latinos, many of them Puerto Rican draftees who went through both Basic and Supply School at Fort Jackson. Spanish being the official language of Puerto Rico, it was completely understandable that some of them spoke English poorly, if at all. Still, the communication problem amused Ving no end. She often shook her head, over that and other puzzling things, and said "no wonder you GIs are losing the war."
As for drugs, even 40 years later there is bitter disagreement over the extent and impact of drug abuse in the U.S. Army in Vietnam. My experience is that it was rampant in the 228th in Tay Ninh in 1970. Marijuana seemed to be everywhere. Hard drugs such as heroin and opium were readily available, and cheap; they came in the main gate every morning with the Vietnamese work force. At night, some hooches were such a haze of pot smoke that you could get high, or get a headache, just walking in. This caused those who didn't "partake" to sleep elsewhere.
With race, language, and drug use dividing the company into cliques, it was a rare man indeed who was acquainted with more than a fraction of the soldiers in the 228th. Even those of us in the Orderly Room were hard put to find specific enlisted men at night. About the only thing we all had in common was a short-timer calendar.
And yet, it would be a very serious mistake to think that this once proud group had become nothing more than a gaggle of loafers, potheads, and malcontents just waiting for DEROS (Date of Expected Return from OverSeas). There were at least enough soldiers who rose above the environment to accomplish the mission of the 228th every day. Some of them were career soldiers; some were just trying to stay clean and go home; and more than a few simply had enough self respect, maybe even old-fashioned patriotism, to persevere in the face of low morale. Then, in May, 1970 the entire unit was put to the test — again; and passed — again.
President Nixon had announced the policy of "Vietnamization" shortly after taking office in 1969 (hence the increasing number of Vietnamese doing jobs formerly handled by GIs). The first withdrawals were announced in July of 1969, when there were 540,000 U.S. soldiers in Vietnam. Our troop strength declined steadily after that. January 1, 1970 saw roughly 425,000 GIs in country, and the number dropped every day.
So it was a shock to nearly everybody when on April 30, 1970, with U.S. troop strength down even further to 385,000, President Nixon announced the Cambodian "incursion." Major combat elements of both the U.S. and the Republic of Vietnam poured over the border, overrunning sanctuary after sanctuary. The North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong mostly avoided major clashes, running for cover deeper into Cambodia. Within a few days, if not hours, the 228th and its related units at Tay Ninh were stretched to the limit, handling tons of captured supplies and arms being sent back into South Vietnam. Operation Bold Lancer was conducted by the 1st and 2nd Brigades of the U.S. 25th Infantry Division, west and northwest of Tay Ninh, between May 6 and June 30 (1st Cav operations were farther away, to the north and northeast).
The change at Tay Ninh West was immense. Suddenly, the base was bursting at the seams. Bags of rice were piled in the yards. There were crates of AK-47 assault rifles and SKS carbines stacked up wherever room could be found. Heaven only knows how much captured ammunition was funneled into the ammo dump (or what would have happened if some local VC had managed to get a mortar round on target, but they didn't). There would have been even more, but a lot of the captured munitions were given to the pro-American Lon Nol government of Cambodia.
Of personal interest to those of us who stayed on base, we were overrun. Not by the NVA, but by rice bugs, pale little beasties that didn't bite but did get into everything. They weren't the "rice bugs" you will find on the Internet or in dictionaries. They weren't even insects (way too many legs). They were pillbugs, a kind of woodlouse. Wherever there is a lot of rice, you will find these things. We had a LOT of rice.
Most objective historians regard the Cambodian Incursion as a success, in the strictly military sense. Although General Abrams probably cringed at President Nixon saying the Communist South's political cadres were a key target of the invasion, at least two of the three announced objectives were met.
First, most of the operations were led by South Vietnamese units (ARVNs), demonstrating the viability of the Vietnamization program. Even after limits were placed on U.S. penetration into Cambodia, ARVN units went farther.
Second, the count of casualties shows 11,562 enemy dead, to 976 friendlies (338 American). A massive amount of materiel was captured or destroyed, estimated to be enough to support the entire NVA/VC for more than six months. Importantly, this led to a quiet period in which the U.S. drawdown could continue unhindered.
The third objective, of upholding U.S. ideals and credibility, is not easily evaluated. We showed a willingness to hit the enemy hard in support of our South Vietnamese ally. However, U.S. prestige around the world was shaken. Still, there are reasons to believe that the Cambodian Incursion played a key part in bringing the enemy to serious peace negotiations.
As successful as the attack on the Cambodian sanctuaries was militarily, its effect on the anti-war movement in the U.S. was even greater. The news media was filled with hourly reports of campus demonstrations. Then on May 4, 1970, four student protesters were killed by Ohio National Guardsmen at Kent State University. The country seemed to erupt. In Washington, D.C. it was reported that 100,000 demonstrators had occupied public buildings and national monuments. (In a move that must have given the Secret Service fits, President Nixon impulsively visited protesters late at night, at the Lincoln Memorial.) AFVN Radio reports of the unrest were limited. Meanwhile the 228th kept moving ton after ton of rice.
On June 24, 1970, the U.S. Senate repealed the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which was the legal basis for American involvement in Vietnam. On June 30, the last U.S. troops withdrew from Cambodia.
We did not know it then, but when U.S. troops pulled out of Cambodia, the 228th became a short-timer in Tay Ninh. As Operation Bold Lancer ended, and the captured materiel was distributed, there was a pause for about a month. Then the 277th Supply and Service Battalion (Direct Support), just pulled up stakes and headed southeast — all the way to Di An, part of the huge Long Binh - Bien Hoa - Saigon military installation.
The 228th did not go with the battalion.
July, 1970 has faded in memory more than a little, but what follows is my recollection of the end of the Tay Ninh era for our company.
HQ and HQ Company of the 277th headed for Di An first, about mid July, and the rest of the battalion followed in short order. I was in the last convoy of the 277th to pull out, but not as part of the 228th. Before then, all of us had been transferred. Many of the long-timers, especially those who were considered good soldiers, filled slots at battalion. CPT Danny L. Pelton, our CO, took the same spot at HHC. I became the Company Clerk of HHC, and eventually the Battalion Chief Clerk. Several members of our motor pool, at least, also ended up in Di An. When the 277th was done picking over the roster, the remaining men were reassigned wherever needed.
A skeleton crew of the 228th was left behind in Tay Ninh to tie up loose ends (orders suggest SSG Tom Medlin, SP4 Bob Swanson, and myself — by then also a SP4). For a few days the company area was a very lonely place. In that respect, perhaps it was like when the 228th first arrived in 1966. But then, there were all those empty buildings. They looked the same, yet they didn't. All the life was gone. We weren't alone; the 25th Infantry Division was packing to move, too. (Only air units, such as the 187th AHC, were left behind. They supported ARVN operations flying out of Tay Ninh for about another year.)
About July 28, I finished the last bit of paperwork and turned it over to — well, I have no idea who got it. All that was left of the 228th was history, in a few storage boxes: copies of old orders, Morning Reports, and rosters. Rumor said the TO&E of the 228th was headed "somewhere in the Delta" but that was about it.
The last load of stuff we were keeping was on our deuce-and-a-half, part of the final US ground convoy to leave Tay Ninh West base camp. I took one long look around, gazed northeast through the haze at Nui Ba Din, grabbed my M16, and climbed on the truck.
It is difficult for a civilian to understand that a military unit can just disappear, pop up again somewhere else with a completely new set of personnel and equipment, and yet still be a continuation of the previous unit. In Can Tho or Binh Thuy, sometime after mid-August, 1970, the 228th Supply & Service Company (Direct Support) arose like the phoenix, with all new personnel and equipment. The unit served there almost until the last American troops were withdrawn from Vietnam — that happened March 29, 1973. Their story will have to be told by the soldiers of that time and place.
Tay Ninh West
Tay Ninh West Base Camp was left to the South Vietnamese. The 25th Infantry Division turned over the east end of the camp (formerly PhilCAG and one brigade of the 1st Cav) to the ARVNs first, probably in late July. An article in the 14 Sep 70 issue of "Tropic Lightning News" implies that US troops had pulled out much earlier. Other issues of TLN suggest that happened in late July. Many issues of this newsletter are on line at:
Rocket City Spirit Fizzles
By Wade Genthner
TAY NINH — The 25th Infantry Division’s base camp here is no more. Oh sure, the buildings are still there, but the spirit that was "Rocket City" is gone forever.
The enemy liked the base camp. It sat astride one of his primary infiltration routes into the Saigon area. It thus became the target of almost daily rocket and mortar attacks.
It was a tragically real base joke that a nighttime explosion was automatically followed by someone saying: "That’s Charlie’s 2200 incoming — time to hit the sack!"
But it wasn’t just the nighttime that was scary. The enemy would also set up rockets with delayed fuses which would come ripping into the busy camp any time during the day.
There was a unique spirit that separated the Tay Ninh GI from all others. He was a little grimier than the average, but he was still proud of his surrounding. Many had "Welcome to Tay Ninh, ‘Rocket City’ Vietnam" scrawled on walls and helmets.
Tay Ninh has been around for quite a while. It was originally a small French outpost after World War II and then was taken over by U.S. Special Forces during the early 1960’s. But it wasn’t until the 25th Division took over that the base attained its present large size. [see correcting Note]
It was from here that operations Attelborough, Junction City, and other early forays into previously impenetrable VC strongholds were launched.
Tay Ninh was the end of the road then. It was the jumping off point for War Zone C. From here, one would either head into VC-infested areas or back towards the rear at Cu Chi.
Supplies were brought in by convoy or fixed-wing aircraft and left via helicopter or on some GI’s back.
Tay Ninh was also the staging area for 25th Division operations in Cambodia, but it was like the last gasps of a dying man.
The once-busy runway, where planes could often be seen lined up five-deep waiting for takeoff, is now a quiet strip handling but a few aircraft a day.
The PX area, once the scene of huge traffic jams — yes, traffic jams — now stands idle and barren.
The roads, normally slicked-down and paved, are now a dusty, rutted spider web of lonely pathways.
The rough-built hootches that once accommodated thousands of weary men just in from the fields are deserted and desolate.
[Note] This brief history of the base camp is incorrect. According to www.vietnam-war.info/battles/operation_attleboro.php (which is consistent with the recollections of 228th personnel) "Tay Ninh West, often called 'New Tay Ninh' to distinguish it from the old French constructed airstrip in the Vietnamese town of Tay Ninh called 'Old Tay Ninh', was a newly built and yet uncompleted base camp of GP medium and small tents built especially for the 196th Light Infantry Brigade." In 1970 we called the older location "Tay Ninh City".
It is interesting that the base camp's outline and streets are clearly visible in satellite photos taken in 2010. It appears that some of the buildings from 1970 are still in use, although it is hard to believe that any of the structures in the 228th company area could have survived 40 years of Southeast Asia weather. You never know. One of our veterans recently went back to see what was left. He came back only with pictures of the main gate, of what is obviously an active military base.
Darrell A. Martin - 228th Company Clerk (March-August 1970 as PFC/SP4; later SGT, and Chief Clerk 277th S&S BN (DS) ending April, 1971)..............27 December 2010...... * Deceased 23 July 2013