The 394th Transportation Battalion was constituted 1 May 1936 in the Regular Army as the 394th Quartermaster Battalion (Port) (Colored) and activated 27 June 1941 at Oakland, California. It would be the first port unit to deploy to Australia.
The first American unit arrived in Australia on 22 December and Americans felt the Australian stevedores did not unload the ships as fast as American stevedores did. So, the US military attaché in Australia and BG Brehon B. Somervell, Assistant Chief of Staff G-4, General Staff US Army, recommended the deployment of a port labor unit to Australia to expedite the discharge and reduce the turnaround time because of the shortage of American shipping. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Europe First policy, however, made the Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA) a low priority for Army units. The War Plans Division concurred with Somervell’s recommendation on 22 January 1942 but warned that the Australian Government did not want a Negro unit and recommended sending a white unit instead. USAFIA admitted that the Australian authorities did not seriously object to Negro labor and would take a colored port battalion if no other port units were available.
The longshoreman unions required the US Army Services of Supply to rely entirely on Australian stevedores, so it did not require any Army port units to load and unload the American vessels. The 394th Port Battalion (Colored) arrived in Australia to only prepare for deployment to New Guinea. The US Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) defended Bataan long enough to delay the planned Japanese invasion of Australia. The Australians also held onto Port Moresby on the southern side of Papua New Guinea. It fell under the control of the US Army Services of Supply (USASOS). Australia would provide the base of operation for General Douglas MacArthur’s offensive to retake the Philippines. Port Moresby would provide the initial base of operation for the New Guinea Campaign.
The Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 394th Quartermaster Battalion (Port) arrived at Port Moresby on 18 June and the 611th Port Company arrived on 19 June as the first American port units in New Guinea. The 609th and 610th arrived later on 26 November. After the Transportation Corps was created in July, the battalion was redesignated as the 394th Port Battalion, Transportation Corps. The port city had anchorage for 50 vessels and an Australian wooden T-pier 250 feet long and 330 feet wide. The lack of barges, tugs and cranes delayed the unloading of ships. There were no open spaces near the water for supply dumps, so they established them in the nearby hills. The shortage of trucks also limited the rate of discharge so turnaround time for vessels leaving Townsville, Australia was as long as 13 days.
The Australians then landed at Milne Bay on the eastern tip of the island on June 25, 1942, and in July, U.S. Army Engineers arrived to construct an airfield and construct floating piers at Gili Gili, Ahioma and Waga Waga. The 608th Port Company of the 394th Port Battalion arrived on 26 July. Together with native labor, they unloaded Liberty ships and freighters. The Japanese launched a counterattack to take back Milne Bay on August 25 and finally withdrew under pressure from the Australians on September 7.
All USASOS units operating in New Guinea fell under the Combined Operations Service Command (COSC) created at Port Moresby in October. The 387th Port Battalion arrived at Milne Bay to discharge cargo there. They eventually received 30-ton and 60-ton floating cranes, a floating dry dock, 17 cargo barges, three tugs, four 10-ton caterpillar cranes, and several LCMs. Trucks hauled cargo a couple miles inland to storage facilities or open supply dumps for storage until shipped by smaller craft to Oro Bay, Lae and other forward bases.
The 394th Port Battalion received participation credit for five World War II campaigns: East Indies, Papau, New Guinea, Leyte, and Luzon. For its service, the Battalion received a Distinguished Unit Citation and a Presidential Unit Citation.
The 394th Transportation Battalion was inactivated on April 1946 at Yokohama, Japan, and was later redesignated as headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 394th Transportation Battalion on 9 November 1954. It was activated again on 6 January 1955 at Camp Leroy Johnson, New Orleans, Louisiana. While in Louisiana, it participated in the LOTS operation, SUNEC, in Greenland, Joint Exercises Swift Strike II and III in the Carolinas, Exercise Desert Strike in California and a number of LOTS operations along the Gulf Coast. The Battalion was alerted for the possible invasion of Cuba in 1962. The Battalion had the 71st, 119th, 512th, and 569th Terminal Service Companies assigned to it. In 1963, the Army inactivated the 512th and 569th Companies. Camp Leroy was closed in 1964 and the Battalion moved to Ft Eustis, Virginia, but not for long.
The US Army Vietnam opened four major military ports along the Vietnamese coast; Saigon, Cam Ranh Bay, Qui Nhon and Da Nang. The fishing village of Qui Nhon made a good location for a supply base for operations in the Central Highlands because it had a slightly protected harbor and an airport ten miles from the intersection of Routes 1 and 19. The fishing village of Qui Nhon turned into the base of supply for all logistic operations in northern II Corps Tactical Zone (CTZ) in which the Central Highlands fell. Before any combat units could set foot in Vietnam, the transportation units that would receive and move them had to arrive first. The rapid buildup of troops coincided with the development of the support areas. 1st Logistics Command did not have the luxury to construct terminals, depots, and other port facilities prior to the arrival of the units so they would have to offload combat units, their equipment and supplies by landing craft across bare beaches. This hastily planned buildup of the American troops in the Vietnam conflict was characterized by chaos and confusion.
CPT Thomas E. O’Donovan, Jr., Commander of the 344th Light Amphibian Company, arrived at the Qui Nhon airfield with his advance party on 29 May 1965. The airfield detachment lived downtown. The only American units at Qui Nhon at that time were the 92nd and 117th Aviation Companies and some maintenance units. The helicopter companies had arrived in 1963 and 1964. The 5th Ordnance Battalion had just arrived a few weeks earlier. The bulk of the troops in the area were part of the 22nd Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) Division, which secured the airfield. Consequently, the first arriving units crowded into the airfield, which was the only area considered secure. The rest of the units quickly poured into the area after O’Donovan’s arrival. Right behind him staged six other plane loads at Nha Trang for arrival into Qui Nhon. All the early units flying into Qui Nhon staged out of Nha Trang. At least 1,000 men a week arrived at Qui Nhon. The 19th Quartermaster Company and two transportation companies landed the next day.
The first combat units arriving at Qui Nhon would transfer from their Army transports to landing crafts for deposit on the bare beach. Therefore, the first transportation units needed in South Vietnam were the three medium boat companies of the 159th Transportation Boat Battalion from Fort Eustis, Virginia. Each of the boat companies deployed to one of three ports. The men of the 1098th Medium Boat Company, commanded by CPT Richard P. McKenzie, and 14th Barge Amphibious Resupply Cargo (BARC) Platoon landed at Qui Nhon on 30 May. The Seadogs would conduct ship-to-shore lighterage with their LCM-8s at Qui Nhon. The 1098th Medium Boat was the first transportation company to arrive in Qui Nhon. Since the water was so shallow, deep draft vessels had to anchor two to three miles offshore and the boat company would have to deliver all other units and supplies to a small peninsula that jutted out from land. There the landing craft would offload all men and equipment arriving in country and supplies. Once the terminal operations were established, every unit arriving at Qui Nhon would step off onto the beach from an LCU or LCM-8, known as a “Mike boat.” Otherwise, the boat company mostly discharged the cargo and equipment on the beach from ships anchored at sea.
The second Transportation Corps company to arrive at the Qui Nhon airstrip was O’Donovan’s 344th Light Amphibian Company on 2 June 1965. Its Lighter Amphibious Resupply Cargo (LARC)-Vs would arrive later. These amphibious vehicles carried a five-ton capacity and could drive right up to the depot. They eliminated the need to transfer cargo from the landing craft at the beach to the awaiting trucks. By that time most combat veterans were senior in rank. The first sergeant was a Korean War veteran who had served in that same company for twelve years. The 344th LARC deployed by air from Fort Story, Virginia, and its equipment would arrive on the USS Comet. The operations and maintenance personnel of the 14th BARC platoon fell under this company. The platoon’s four BARCs with their sixty-ton capacity would arrive out of Okinawa.
To offload the cargo and equipment from the ships and on the beach, Qhi Nhon needed stevedores. The 155th Terminal Service Company, under the command of CPT Ralph C. Sande, also deployed from Fort Story. O’Donovan knew the men of this company very well since his company had also deployed form Fort Story. The 155th had been alerted on 5 April and the personnel deployed from Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, in five C-124s. The personnel arrived at Saigon on 4 June, and they then flew up to Qui Nhon the next day. Since there was no transportation battalion headquarters at Qui Nhon at that time, the companies were attached to the 5th Ordnance Battalion for administrative and logistic support. Since CPT O’Donovan was the senior Transportation Corps officer, he controlled all transportation activities at Qui Nhon from 2 June to 9 August until a battalion headquarters arrived.
These units arrived with what they could carry, just their basic issue. As the tentage arrived, the soldiers erected their tent city in an area of real estate that was 200 yards by 700 yards along the airfield. Space was scarce since no unit have ventured away from the security of the airfield up to that time. CPT O’Donovan became the initial camp commander. During that first month, soldiers just tried to exist. The population crowded to over 1,500 soldiers in that confined area. Their B and C rations were already prestocked in tents at the airfield. O’Donovan remembered, “I might say in passing that this was an ‘eat your way into a home’ program. They [rations] were all under tentage and you could have the tent as soon as you ate your way through the rations. There were sufficient tents each day set up to take care of the next day’s arrivals.” The only problem came in a shortage of sandbags for the blast walls around the tents. COL Scott, Deputy Commander of 1st Logistics Command, flew in, walked around and left in a quiet manner. “The next day sandbags fell out of the sky instead of people.” Evidently, COL Scott reported that one enemy mortar round would kill 500 soldiers. By beginning of June, they had their tents up, a consolidated mess hall, security established, and a transportation battalion organization established.
The first major problem that became evident to the Americans was that there was a shortage of real estate. All the good property belonged to someone. The Vietnamese firm, Tai Hai, had been offloading US AID cargo at a small commercial pier and LSTs right on the beach since the 1950s. The rest belonged to the city for locals to go swimming. The Vietnamese government had paid the province chief for the land, but he did not want to release it. The 40th Vietnamese Terminal Service Company, commanded by CPT Thien, had to take the property at gun point. For that reason, the Americans had a beach operation. Neither did it please the locals when the BARC platoon began erecting a fence around the area cutting them off from their local recreation spot.
The beach was a bare strip of land pointing out to sea and a long peninsula stretched along the coast to create a protected harbor. The peninsula culminated with a large hill directly across from the beach. However, the shallow gradient did not allow the sea going vessels to anchor in the harbor. Instead, they had to anchor two to three miles out at sea. T-1 tankers when a third full could also reach the inner harbor. The peninsula only provided protection from rough seas for offloading cargo on the beach facing inland. The tidal rise and fall were insignificant and LCUs could not get stranded if they wanted to. The LCUs did have trouble negotiating the sand bar although the smaller LCMs or the amphibians did not have any trouble. The Americans named their beach, Red Beach. The Vietnamese ran the LST beach.
Since O’Donovan did not have a bulldozer, he had a hundred men with entrenching tools build the first beach ramp. A Vietnamese from one of the engineer battalions passed by and said that was a silly way to do a real simple job. Even the Chinese did not work like that. He told them that the Vietnamese were not going to let the Americans work that way either. He went down the street and borrowed a bulldozer from a Vietnamese Army R&U. He brought to the Americans and said, “Okay, now when you get finished with the bulldozer, you come back, and you see that American advisor and he should tell you how to get the road grader when you’re finished with the bulldozer.” The standing joke became, “The thing that was holding up our mission – or our greatest enemies were in order: Americans, weather, and then the Viet Cong. The Viet Cong weren’t much of a problem.”
The 155th Terminal Service Company began discharging the LARCs and company equipment from the first deep draft ship, USS Comet, at anchor in the bay although their equipment would not arrive at Qui Nhon. They operated 24-hours a day while the Vietnamese only worked during daylight hours. However, the local Vietnamese took a siesta in the afternoon because of the heat. O’Donovan allowed his men to adjust to the climate by having a double lunch break. In other words, one half of the crew ate early, and the other half ate second. They did not work until both had finished. They maintained this routine for a month until became accustomed to working in the heat. He had no heat casualties during those hot summer months.
The 155th would send the ship platoon to unload an arriving ship as soon as it anchored offshore while the shore platoon unloaded cargo off of the LCMs and amphibians on the beach. The temperature became as hot as 120 degrees down inside the holds. One other platoon maintained the equipment, and another documented the cargo coming through. Because of the shortage of property, they had no depot to drop off the cargo, so they had to keep it on the vessels until called for. O’Donovan summarized, “It’s always been my personal belief that someone thought it could float in the water until it was needed because it was a boat type unit, and all the terminal service equipment could float with it.” The transportation soldiers also provided security for their port against possible VC activity.
The USNS Herkimer was the first C-1 cargo ship to arrive. The boarding party convinced the ship captain to take some soundings and anchored a mile and a half offshore. The Amy Lykes was the first commercial ship to arrive.
The 84th Engineer Battalion (Construction) arrived on 11 June. They arrived in an air-conditioned ship. They offloaded onto LCMs and LARCs. The LARCs could drive them right up to the area in the middle of the city near Laterite Mountain where they were their living area had been staked out. The battalion commander after having seen stevedore operations at his last stop, Cam Ranh Bay, believed that none of his gear would move unless his men did it. O’Donovan could not convince him otherwise. An LCU pulled up alongside the ship and some men climbed down into the U-boat to guard their gear while other soldiers threw their duffel bags down before they climbed down. After a while, the battalion commander became a little kinder and let the stevedores help. O’Donovan learned a lesson in public relations. They established their perimeter by 1400 then they went about setting up camp. They had to pull their own security that night.
Because the transportation companies did not any trucks, they had to march the one-mile distance from the airfield to the beach thus wasting time. After a 12-hour shift in the hold, a man was not in any condition to march a mile through soft sand. O’Donovan wanted to move his terminal service company right onto the beach. In the middle of June, COL Dolan arrived by plane and said, “I’m here to solver your problems. What are your problems?” O’Donovan took him down to the beach and showed the colonel what he wanted to do. The colonel said he would go have a talk with the ordnance battalion commander, O’Donovan’s superior. They set up a perimeter and lived right in the area where they worked. This also alleviated the overcrowding at the airfield. He turned command of the tent city at the airfield to CPT McKenzie.
By the end of June, O’Donovan received the task to send one of his LARC platoons up to Da Nang on a 30-day temporary change of duty to help the Navy deliver ammunition to the Air Force. Every 30 days, they received another 30-day extension and remained up there.
O’Donovan kept close contact with Colonel Dolan by telephone and received most of his technical data and instructions. However, the phone system had problems. O’Donovan had to spend up to two hours just trying to get hold of the Transportation Officers at Logistics Command. Even the arrival of his next unit did not help matters any.
The 41st Signal Battalion arrived with a signal company by ship on 24 July. O’Donovan went immediately with a boarding party to visit the battalion commander while the stevedore company commander met with the ship captain. O’Donovan asked the colonel how he wanted his equipment unloaded. The equipment was stored in two hatches, one for B-bags and the company TAT and the other with battalion headquarters TAT. The battalion commander wanted the hatch with the finance records unloaded first since his men had not been paid for half a month. The LARCs brought the men directly to their sleeping area right on the beach. Since they had nothing else to do, they constructed their sandbag revetments around their sleeping area. The 400 signal men went to sleep in their shelter halves by 2000 that night and were paid the next day. O’Donovan remembered that they had filled so many sandbags through the night that their revetment looked like the Great Wall of China. No other arriving unit had to fill a sandbag. They just borrowed from the pile. The LCMs and LCUs delivered their TAT the next day.
In a meeting with COL Hanks of the Logistic Command SF&O Office, O’Donovan learned that his operation would fall under the operational control of the Transportation Officer’s Office. Hanks told him to be ready to receive the arrival of a tactical unit to assume the role of port security and free up his stevedores. The 3rd Battalion, 7th US Marines, commanded by LTC Charles H. Brodley, had departed Okinawa aboard the Iwo Jima (LPH-2), Talledega (APA-208) and Point Defiance (LSD-31) on 26 June for Vietnam and was diverted to Qui Nhon. A Marine planning detachment arrived to coordinate the landing. On 30 June, UH-34D helicopters, of the Helicopter Medium Marine (HMM)-161 from Phu Bai, flew around the surrounding hills while the Iwo Jima waited over the horizon. The Marines announced that they helicopters were just reconnoitering the hills. No one noticed that they had in fact secretly inserted two companies of Marines on the surrounding high ground. This impressed O’Donovan. He had never seen completely air mobile unit before, and they had occupied the most difficult terrain first. The next morning on 1 July, the Marine Public Information Officer arrived and asked that the soldiers not swim in the beach so the Marines could take pictures. O’Donovan had scheduled swimming program since his men did not have showers facilities. The Beach Landing Team landed and met with the town mayor.
The 3/7 Marines did not have the sustainment to hold ground for any length of time, so LTC Utter’s 2nd Battalion of the 7th Marines arrived from Okinawa aboard the Okanogan (APA-220) and Alamo (LSD-33) on 6 July. This beach landing team came ashore the next day with a platoon of Amtraks, a platoon of tanks, an engineer company and logistics package. The 3/7 Marines flew back to the Iwo Jima and continued their journey up north.
The Marines had their own LCM-6s. The stevedores would occasionally draw fire from the nearby hills, but the range was so great that the soldiers did not worry about it. They just sent the Marines over to look for the snipers. All they ever found were farmers working their fields. Evidently, they had taken shots at the soldiers then hidden their weapons. The area outside the perimeter wire had so much enemy activity that the soldiers referred to it as “Indian country.”
O’Donovan learned that right behind them was a ship with an Army infantry brigade. The advance party and their jeeps landed in C-130s on 11 July. The soldiers had cut off their patches for security reasons, but O’Donovan could tell by the faded outline where the patch had been that it was the “Big Red One.” He could also tell by the faded outline of where the pocket patches had been, what regiment they were. It was the 18th Infantry of the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division. O’Donovan put them up in some spare tents he had on the beach.
Their mission was to secure the beachhead. The plan was for one battalion to go to Cam Ranh Bay, one battalion to secure the heights on the peninsula across the bay and the third to secure the high ground above the city. They advance party busily got everything arranged for the arrival of their brigade then their destination was changed at the last minute and the brigade turned south. The advance party had 48 hours to race down and catch up with them. Physical security remained a problem at Qui Nhon. Unfortunately, the first transportation units deployed with a support package that was designed to move a unit no further than the water’s edge. They had a serious problem of port clearance.
To clear the port required trucks. CPT Ronald Bodziony’s 597th Medium Truck (12-ton) was the first truck company to arrive at Qui Nhon and the other transportation companies were very glad to see them. It was a stake and platform (S&P) company with 60 M52 tractors and 120 M124 trailers. Anyone with 90 days left in the Army was deployed so that the whole unit would not rotate out at the same time and as the first truck company from Fort Eustis, Virginia to deploy to Vietnam, it was brought up to full strength. It left Fort Eustis on a troop train to catch up with the ship carrying its equipment in late June 1965 and the company boarded the USS Breckenridge at Oakland Army Depot, California, then sailed out of Oakland Bay under the Golden Gate Bridge where people waved goodbye. After 29 days at sea, the vessel docked at Vung Tau, Vietnam, to off load troops then sailed north to Cam Ranh Bay. At that time, Cam Ranh Bay was nothing more than large sand dunes. Finally in the predawn hours of 23 July 1965, the Breckenridge arrived and anchored offshore from Qui Nhon.
There was no reception party waiting for the company when it docked offshore. The company commander, Captain Ronald Bodziony, and 2LT Rodney Stubbs went ashore to determine where they would bivouac for the night. Bodziony headed toward the airport and Stubbs the nearest MACV headquarters. Because of the heat, Stubbs did not wear his fatigue shirt but walked around in his white T-shirt. He managed to catch a ride with a local Lambretta taxi scooter to the MACV office, a former French compound surrounded by barbed wire and Chinese Nung mercenaries armed with AK47s as guards. He had arrived around 0530 hours, and someone told him to wait in the bar where breakfast would be served. The main floor was the mess hall and officers club with a veranda looking out over the bay.2
The gentleman behind the bar was preparing to serve breakfast. “Can I help you?” Stubbs replied, “Yes I need to know who is in command at the compound and where is his office.” The commanding officer will be here at 0600 for breakfast, can I get you a cup of coffee?”3
The commanding officer arrived with his staff consisting of two officers and a couple of sergeants. Stubbs waited at the bar as he noticed the officer lean over looking at him while talking to a captain. The captain rose from his chair and approached. “LT,” speaking in a commanding voice, “Why are you out of uniform?” Stubbs replied “Uniform, Sir?” He was stunned by the question because he was dressed in Army fatigues. The captain then asked, “What are you doing here?” Stubbs replied, “Sir, I am here to find the location for our unit.” Becoming very annoyed the captain asked,
“What Unit?” Puzzled by the line and attitude of questions, Stubbs replied, “The 597th Transportation Company with 250 plus, the 85th Evacuation Hospital with 90 plus nurses, …” and Stubbs listed all the units on board the Breckenridge. The captain replied, “What in the hell are you talking about?” Stubbs replied, “Out their sir!” pointing toward the bay. The captain walked to the edge of the veranda to observe the armada of over 20 ships and exclaimed, “Holy Shit! What is going on?”3
“What Unit?” Puzzled by the line and attitude of questions, Stubbs replied, “The 597th Transportation Company with 250 plus, the 85th Evacuation Hospital with 90 plus nurses, …” and Stubbs listed all the units on board the Breckenridge. The captain replied, “What in the hell are you talking about?” Stubbs replied, “Out their sir!” pointing toward the bay. The captain walked to the edge of the veranda to observe the armada of over 20 ships and exclaimed, “Holy Shit! What is going on?”4
Then the commanding officer and his staff rose and walked to the edge, the sun was beginning to rise, and the entire bay was full of ships. That was an omen for things to come in this unreal world known as Vietnam. Stubbs returned to the beach and met with Bodziony who reported that he found someone from the 1098th Medium Boat Company that arrived a few days earlier. They needed to set up camp next to the runway and they would park trucks in depot located south of the airport.5
The men of the 597th Transportation Company climbed down the cargo nets into the awaiting LCMs of the 1098th Medium Boat for a ride to shore. The first home of the 597th was adjacent to the small landing strip in Qui Nhon, whose sandy conditions along the beach and airport made it difficult to erect GP medium tents. The temperature rose to 127 degrees during the afternoon, and then at 1630 hours the humidity reached 100% and then it would begin to rain. The rain came down so hard it was possible to shower in the rainstorm. They parked their trucks in the soccer stadium. Most soldiers’ first night in a combat zone is jumpy and during their first or second night in country, the perimeter guards opened fire. Everyone else jumped out of their bunks looking for their socks and wondering if they were being overrun. The next day they found out some of the fire hit the Qui Nhon mayor's house and nobody owned up to exactly what happened. Fortunately, no one was hurt. The initial mission of the 597th was to conduct beach clearance mission by moving the cargo to inland sites which would later comprise the depots of the Qui Nhon Support Command.6
The transportation companies unloaded every ship that arrived without waiting at anchor. At one time the soldiers received a break and had no ship to unload for two days. They lay on the beach, and some were put on detail. They were eager for the next vessel. CPT O’Donovan had a man orbiting in a boat in the water searching for smoke on the horizon. When he did, he radioed into O’Donovan. The captain had a boarding party meet the ship before it reached the two-mile anchorage while the ship and shore gangs mustered. The boarding party checked the manifest and gave the ship captain an estimate of two days unloading. It only took 46 hours setting their record for fastest discharge of a ship. The pace had been easy up to that point. An entire air assault division would arrive soon significantly increasing the demand for cargo.
The three transportation companies arrived without any battalion headquarters and operated that way for another month. Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 394th Transportation Battalion (Terminal) had been alerted at Fort Eustis in July for movement to Vietnam. Its personnel had departed Langley Air Force Base on a C-130 on 2 August and landed in Saigon on 7 August.
LTC Thomas D. Emery, 394th Battalion Commander, arrived on 9 August and immediately assumed command of all the transportation units with mission of operating and clearing the port of Qui Nhon. The battalion headquarters arrived on 12 August 1965 and was assigned to the 4th Transportation Command (TRANSCOM), which arrived from Fort Eustis. While an average of 500 tons were arriving a day, Emery was informed to prepare for a significant increase with the arrival of the 1st Air Cavalry Division, with the 1st Republic of Korea Division right behind it.7
The battalion headquarters billeted right in the center of the beach and became operational within 12 hours after its arrival. 1,000 soldiers occupied beach space that was essential for the logistics-over-the-shore (LOTS) operation and had to move. However, real estate in the Qui Nhon area was extremely limited. The Quartermaster and transportation units competed for space in Qui Nhon. LTC Emery consulted with the support commander and by the end of the month they found some vacant property nine miles up Route 1 in the Phu Tai Valley. Emery did not consider it practical to have his terminal and boat units move there. It would work for the truck company though since they would eventually have to haul cargo up and down the highways.8
The 597th Medium Truck was the first truck company to move up Highway 1 to Phu Tai Valley where the soldiers had just enough room to set up their tents and motor pool. A couple engineer companies followed later, but for those first few nights, the lonely 597th did not have any trouble keeping guards on the perimeter. One night a very irate LTC Utter, commanding the Marine Battalion Landing Team, scolded CPT Bodziony for his drivers driving with their headlights on and having lights on their camp and motor pool while his troops were in foxholes and running with black out lights. Emory would assign the arriving truck companies to the camp at Phu Tai.9
After much consideration, Emery decided upon an area in Qui Nhon that was much inferior for living than the beach, but he needed the beach space. He directed that the units move their tents, showers and mess halls within a week and clear the beach.10
Emery then had the engineers bulldoze and cover the back beach and road with laterite hauled down from the nearby laterite mountain in order to make the mud trafficable. He had the engineers lay pierced steel planking (PSP) down on the beach for a beach landing ramp so vehicles could drive over it. The officer in charge of contracting (OICC) contracted Raymond International, Morrison-Knudsen, (RMK) Construction to prepare additional ramps for the landing craft. The engineers completed this task by 5 September, and they could safely beach two LSTs at the same time. Landing craft discharged passengers at the LST Beach while amphibians discharged cargo across Blue and Red Beaches. However, after about four landings, the heavy surf during the monsoon eroded the ramps on a regular basis requiring constant repair. The laterite the slowly slipped into the ocean building up the sand bar making Red Beach unusable.11
Mr. Leon B. DeLong later arrived at Qui Nhon to meet with LTC Emery and inspect the harbor for installing a 50 by 250-foot, portable pier he had designed that could stand up to rough seas. After looking around, he reported back to Emery with bad news. There was no way he could install one of his piers. DeLong then traveled down to Cam Ranh Bay and Emery forgot about the matter. He had a lot more pressing issues with the arrival of more troops and equipment.12
The 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne began filtering in through Qui Nhon on 29 July. Their initial mission was to secure the main supply route to An Khe and secure the base camp for the arrival of the 1st Cavalry Division. When the 101st arrived, they were wondering where the “deuce and a halves” were for their troop movement, and CPT Bodziony explained his was the only truck company in town and all he had were 5-ton tractors with 12 ton S&P trailers. Notwithstanding putting 50 troops on the trailers, the officer insisted on them putting their windshields down as part of the tactical move. Bodziony later had to explain to BG Monk, the first commander of Qui Nhon Support Command, why he had so many requisitions in for replacement glass.13
From August to October, more transportation units continued to arrive. The 71st Terminal Service Company arrived from Fort Eustis on 26 August. It moved into a cantonment in downtown Qui Nhon. The 58th Light Truck Company (2 ½-ton) arrived from Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, on 27 August. The 2nd Medium Truck Company (12-ton) from Fort Ord, California, the 61st Medium Petroleum Truck Company from Fort Eustis, and the 119th Terminal Service Company from Fort Eustis arrived on 31 August. The 151st Light Truck Company (2 ½-ton) arrived from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, on 2 September. It moved to a cantonment in Phu Than Valley, known as Valley “C.” The 117th Terminal Service Company arrived from Fort Eustis on 4 September. The 541st Light Truck Company (2 ½-ton) arrived on 5 September. These units had to go to work immediately and did not have sufficient time to prepare their living areas. When they were not driving or on shift, they built their camp.
Until the next transportation battalion arrived, the 394th Battalion commanded up to 12 companies and about 4,000 soldiers.
There was total confusion in those first months. The first task of the arriving truck companies was to set up their own camp. The 61st Petroleum Company did not even have tents when it arrived. Company sergeants went down and took from the cargo on the docks what ever they needed to survive. They improvised with available supplies to build showers and mess halls. Every company erected a beer hall tent for its drivers to relax at the end of the day. As time went on contract engineers from Pacific Architects and Engineers (PA&E) came in and built wooden structures, first for the dining facilities, latrines then barracks or “hooches.”
The first major task of the 394th Terminal Battalion became the reception of the 1st Air Cavalry Division on 11 September. The first ship arrived at Qui Nhon on 3 September, but Operation HIGHLAND did not begin until 12 September. The camp equipment preceded the arrival of the main body. The first soldiers of the 1st Cavalry rode in on a 1466 series LCU to the beach. A crowd of reporters waited to immortalize the moment. When the LCU reached the beach, nothing happened. Emery in his beach operations shack realized that the ramp was jammed. He quickly ordered stevedores to go help the crew fix it.
Commanding a force more than the size of a brigade kept LTC Emery extremely busy. To accomplish everything at once, he had to delegate authority down to the company commanders. He had confidence in his captains. Emory just looked for results and let the commanders do what they felt was right. He handled the politics of the business and dealt with the colonels and generals.
The commander of the 98th Quartermaster Battalion at Qui Nhon was not happy with LTC Emery. The transportation soldiers were offloading cargo faster than the Quartermaster soldiers could properly store it in the depot. The Quartermaster colonel did not know or care that there was a great backlog of vessels in Saigon and that every day in anchor was charged to the Army. Without the Traffic Management Agency, no one planned the arrival and movement of cargo vessels in country. Ships simply arrived often before the stevedores had finished unloading the last ship. As many as 20 ships began to appear in the harbor creating backlogs. Emery had to get them unloaded as fast as he could to save the government money. The upcoming monsoon season with its high waves also created an increased sense of urgency.
The Quartermaster commander ordered Emery to stop unloading the ships until he caught up. Emery told him that he would not and challenged him to do something about it. LTC Emery was senior to the other. The Quartermaster officer complained all the way to Saigon. Emery’s boss, the commander of the 4th TRANSCOM, did not tell him to stop but simply to be a little more polite when dealing with his peer in the future.
The pace of work was so great that one of Emery’s company commanders even came to him and asked to be relieved. He said that he could not handle the pressure. Emery talked with him and told him that as long as he could physically work, he could. He asked the captain to go back and try a little longer. The captain came back a month later and thanked his commander for talking him into staying.
The 394th Terminal Battalion offloaded 39 cargo ships, 10 passenger ships and four aircraft carriers. By 28 September, the 394th Battalions had offloaded and moved approximately 50,000 long tons of cargo, 16,000 troops and 477 aircraft of the 1st Cav in 15 days then moved them 45 miles to their new home at Camp Radcliff at An Khe, a former Special Forces camp. Previous to their arrival, Westmoreland had sent the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division to secure the camp for the arrival of the 1st Cav. The 61st Petroleum Company even borrowed stake and platform (S&P) trailers from the 597th to help haul the 1st Cavalry Division up to An Khe. This became the first significant LOTS operation of its size during the war. Only after the Cav arrived did the 61st have another customer for fuel besides the Air Force.
With the arrival of the brigade of the 101st Airborne Division, the trucks finally drove into hostile territory. They convoyed up the coastal highway (QL1) to Check Point Charlei, the intersection of Highway 1 with Route 19 (QL19) then drove up Route 19 to the hamlet of An Khe on the other side of the mountain pass of the same name.14
There really seemed to be no definite plan to the assignment of transportation units. Over the next four months 1st Logistics Command would shuffle terminal service companies around Vietnam adding to the confusion. In September, the 117th Terminal Service Company received orders attaching it to the 11th Terminal Battalion and for the company to move to Saigon. The men boarded the USNS General Gaffey at Qui Nhon on 29 September and set sail for Vung Tau.
In early October, the terminal service companies moved closer to their work areas. On 3 October, the 71st Terminal Service moved from its cantonment in downtown Qui Nhon to the vicinity of Blue Beach. On 6 and 7 October, the 119th Terminal Service moved from Phu Than Valley next to the 71st. It then moved its operations from Red Beach to a newly constructed finger pier located near the LST Beach in the inner harbor. This pier was better protected against heavy surf during the monsoon season, which had already begun.
In October, the truck companies extended their line of communication beyond An Khe. The road west of An Khe to Pleiku had a number of blown bridges and convoys negotiated over temporary bridges or around by-passes. They drove past a bullet-riddled monument and graves of the French Groupe Mobile 100 that was destroyed along route 19. Highway 19 was a decent two-lane paved road from Qui Nhon to Pleiku, but the heavy monsoon rains and the pounding of the heavy loaded cargo trucks, so took its toll and potholes appeared faster than the ability of the engineers to patch the highway. Each day after the Engineer units declared the road cleared of mines. The fully loaded trucks crossed at Bailey Bridges that spanned creeks in place of destroyed concrete bridges in a cloud of dust. Infantry troops living under the bridge were rudely brought out of a deep sleep running for cover, yelling and cussing. When the convoys started hauling beer, the drivers managed to drop off a couple of cases at each bridge which seemed to make the infantry appreciate the drivers better.15
Clearly there was a need for another transportation battalion headquarters but it did not arrive until late October. The advance party of Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 27th Battalion arrived in Vietnam from Fort Eustis on 11 October 1965 and the main body followed on 27 October 1965. They moved to Phu Tai. The 27th Battalion, under the command of LTC Henry W. Goodell, became the first operational truck battalion in the Qui Nhon area. In addition, the 444th Light Truck Company (2 ½-ton) arrived from Fort Riley, Kansas, on 28 October. On 27 October 1965, the 27th Battalion assumed control of six companies at Phu Tai:
The 264th Terminal Service Company arrived next from Fort Eustis next on 16 October. The 394th Terminal Battalion also gained the 268th and 396th Transportation Detachments and 554th BARC Platoon on 27 October. It lost the 169th Transportation Detachment on 26 October. This brought the number of companies under the 394th Terminal Battalion to six:
The 394th Terminal Battalion next offloaded the Republic of Korean (ROK) “Tiger” Division. Westmoreland had sent them to Qui Nhon to replace Utter’s Marine battalion. The 394th Battalion began discharging the first vessel, USNS Geiger, of Operation GOODFRIEND on October 7 and completed the discharge of the last of three increments by 10 November. The Koreans were the second major combat unit assigned tot he area. They relieved the Marines and assumed control of the area of responsibility along the coastal plain from Cam Ranh Bay to Qui Non. The Marines redeployed to Chu Lai in November.
Initially, the 394th Battalion tried to use the “company beach” concept with all cargo from one ship being discharged on one beach operated by one terminal service company. LTC Emery randomly assigned companies as tasks came up. Priorities changed so often with the unpredicted arrival of ships that he could not maintain a pattern. One company might be assigned to unload one ship, then when it completed that it might then work the beach. Sometimes, priorities changed, and the company would have to leave one ship to go unload another.
Surf conditions, however, caused three Navy LCM-6s to breach on Red Beach in one day. Because of the rough surf, the battalion determined to only discharge LCM-8s and LCUs at Red Beach. The smaller LCM-6s would drop ramp at the more protected LST Beach. During the operation, the battalion offloaded 9,624 long tons of cargo and 12,298 soldiers from 21 ships at anchor. After the end of that operation, LTC Norman L. Kirby arrived on 9 November and assumed command from LTC Emery. The Korean Tigers then assumed the mission of securing Qui Nhon.
On 20 October 1965, the 155th Terminal Service Company had been alerted to move for temporary duty to Cam Ranh Bay. It detached the 585th Transportation Detachment (MH-HU) to the 71st Terminal Service Company and turned the entire shore operations on the LST Beach to the 71st. On 6 November 1965, the company loaded aboard the USNS Comet and moved to Cam Ranh Bay where it remained throughout the war. The 394th Terminal Battalion also lost the 160th and 161st Transportation Detachments on 5 December. The 116th and 285th Terminal Service Companies finally arrived from Okinawa on 16 December to take the place of the 155th. On 22 December, the 272nd Transportation Detachment (Tug) and 474th Transportation Detachment (Reefer Barge) arrived. The 544th Medium Boat Company also arrived from Okinawa on 21 January 1966. The 394th Battalion later picked up the 484th and 487th Transportation Detachments (Reefer), and 497th Transportation Detachment (Liquid Barge). The reefer barges kept perishable foods frozen for preservation. Qui Nhon became increasingly crowded.
The 554th Transportation Platoon (BARC) arrived from Fort Story on 14 November. Each Barge Amphibious Resupply Cargo (BARC) had a 60-ton capacity that could deliver cargo right up on shore and drive to the depot rather than stop at the water’s edge. In an effort to reduce duplication of operations and maintenance activities, the 14th, 544th and 554th BARC Platoons were consolidated into a Provisional BARC Company on 22 December. The platoon leader of the 544th BARC Platoon was made the commanding officer of the company. Later the 522nd BARC Platoon also arrived and joined the company.
By the end of the year, the 394th Terminal Battalion consisted of the following:
On 23 December 1965, LTC Kirby announced that the battalion would shut down operations for Christmas, from midnight on 24 December until midnight on 25 December. This was the first time that terminal operations had ceased since the arrival of the companies. The 597th Medium Truck Company celebrated the holiday by tossing candy canes to the local children along Highway 1 on the way to Bong Son in an operation they called the “Candy Cane Express.”16
The personnel of the 159th Transportation Terminal Battalion flew from Fort Eustis, Virginia, across the United States in full combat gear with weapons during an air strike to catch their ship at Seattle. Their subsequent voyage lasted 18 days with a stop at Okinawa. The main body of the 159th Battalion headquarters arrived at Qui Nhon on 10 August 1966. The 159th received control of the 285th Terminal Service, the Medium Boat and BARC Companies from the 394th Terminal Battalion. The 854th Terminal Service Company arrived Fort Story on 12 October 1966 and joined the 159th Battalion. The 159th Battalion assumed responsibility for the outer harbor discharge where it primarily offloaded cargo and ammunition for lighterage to the beach.
The 387th Terminal Service Company arrived on 11 September 1966 and joined the 394th Terminal Battalion. The stevedores of the 394th Battalion still offloaded the cargo on the beach. The engineers finally figured out a way to install the DeLong Pier at Qui Nhon. Two DeLong Piers arrived around November 1966, shortly after the 159th Battalion. Prior to that the US Navy had erected a pier on 8-foot-by-8-foot steel cubes. The engineers connected two DeLong Piers together end-to-end inside the harbor so that they could berth four vessels at the same time. The engineers then built a causeway out to the pier. Upon completion of the DeLong Pier, the engineers abandoned the steel cubes on the beach. The 394th Battalion assumed responsibility for offloading cargo at the Pier.
The 394th Terminal Battalion consisted of the following companies:
During Vietnam in 1966, the 394th Transportation Battalion was assigned to the 5th Transportation Command at Qui Nhon Support Command. During the Tet Offensive of 1968, the port was attacked by Vietcong and the Battalion defended the piers for several days until the Korean Tiger soldiers fought their way through.
The Battalion provided terminal service for which it received a Meritorious Unit Citation. It was inactivated in Vietnam on 26 November 1970. It was reactivated as an Aviation Intermediate Maintenance Battalion at Nellingen, Germany in March 1978 but inactivated in November 1987.
1 David Helmer, “History - 597th Truck Company in Vietnam; June 1965 to June 1966,” 23 June 2007, revised by Rod Stubbs, 16 July 2007; Rodney Bodziony email to Stubbs, July 19, 2007.
2 Helmer, “597th Truck Company.”
3 Helmer, “597th Truck Company.”
4 Helmer, “597th Truck Company.”
5 Helmer, “597th Truck Company;” and Bodziony email, July 19, 2007.
6 Helmer, “597th Truck Company;” Bodziony email, July 19, 2007; and Gary Agansky email to Stubbs, July 18, 2007
7 Emory interview.
8 Emory interview.
9 Bodziony email, July 19, 2007; and Emory interview.
10 Emory interview
11 Emory interview
12 Emory interview.13 Bodziony email, July 19, 2007.
14 Helmer, “597th Truck Company.”
15 Helmer, “597th Truck Company.”
16 Agansky email, July 18, 2007.