601st RRDet -198th LIB
by David E. Blakeslee
It was 5 May 1967 that I got those dreaded orders with less than a year to serve:
EM WB for dy w/80 Man Det upon arr at Ft Hood, Texas. EM being asg new dy sta for fur asg to a restricted o/s area.
Initially, we were assigned to the 373d ASA Co (Armd) Ft Hood, Texas, but on 7 June 1967 we were assigned to the 601st ASA Det (Inf Div) Ft Hood. From this time on we were to train with the 198 Light Infanty Brigade.
Our CO was a Ranger who at the time was a Captain. He was
ASA, and to our surprise did not give the impression of being Gung Ho.
. A month or so later, Capt. Kane was promoted to Major. He did encourage our creative minds to procure whatever we needed to complete our mission. In short, our merry band did not live up to the virtues of Robin Hood.
Since I was the only one in the Detachment to have marshal arts training, I became the hand-to-hand combat instructor. My training came from that wonderful Gym in Asmara where a few of us were cannon fodder for some black belts from Hawaii. I could give you great details of the overhead lights in the Kagnew Gym. Anyway, Major Kane invited another officer to one of our training exercises to convince him that we were self sufficient. We put on a great show without any serious injuries.
We learned EE (Escape and Evasion) by practicing in a parade that we did not want to attend. Five of us spread out a Company formation to escape to a PX in the 2nd AD. Those training film techniques really do work!
In our Vietnam Village exercise, we ambushed some 198 grunts in a machine gun nest covering the village. They convinced us that they had orders to fire on the village to show the troops what it was like to be in an ambush. This was not the last time we ambushed the ambushers.
On 18 September 1967, I was assigned to head a security detail to escort our voice scramblers etc. by rail to Oakland California. This was the first time that I enjoyed TDY without Government quarters and messing facilities. We had a "live car" well stocked with beer. Our XO came by to inspect the car before we left for Oakland and found our stash in the fridge. As long as we didn't have any hard stuff and used good judgment he didn't have a problem. Of course we offered him a beer to confirm that it was not harmful to his troops.
They actually issued us live ammunition which did come in handy. My orders were to supervise the loading of the conex in the middle of the troop ship GORDAN. When we arrived in Oakland, the Yard Master disconnected the conex car from our car. You never saw five guys grab their weapons and run after a train in sheer panic. One of the guys mounted the conex car and I threw him his M16. I found some poor worker and told him he had better connect the cars. He did not believe me until I made sure he saw a clip of live rounds being inserted into my M16. He got on the phone and quickly explained to the Yard Master that there are a bunch of Army types with loaded weapons insisting the conex be connected to the "live car". I wound up having to explain to the Yard Master that we are escorting classified equipment, and if he wished to call the military or FBI then do so, but that car will be guarded. They did connect the conex back to our car without any further incidents.
When we arrived at the loading dock they did not place the conex in the middle of the other containers. Of course I declared that the container was not secure and demanded special quarters for our guard detail. You must keep in mind that only E6 and above had separate quarters on a troop ship. Two of us were E5s, two were E4s, and one PFC. The E6s and E7s that eventually were assigned to our cabin were not happy campers about our sharing their quarters. One E6 became so obnoxious that I had to explain to him that we were a special security detail and that if he persisted I will include his name in an incident report to S2. An experienced E7 explained to this guy that you really do not want to f___ with these guys cause they will place a world of hurt on you. After this incident, these guys swept the room and did not bother us.
Later on our cruise, I ran into my XO and he asked why we were not in the troop quarters. I explained the situation and he just shook his head with a big grin. He told me to at least take PT with the rest of the 601st. We took PT but that did not last too long. Some poor soul jumped off the fan tail of the ship and we were restricted to quarters for a few days while they searched for him. I don't think they ever found his remains because earlier we saw sharks feasting on the remains of a whale.
After a stop in Subic Bay, we proceeded to Da Nang to disembark on LSTs to Chu Lai. Of course the Army in their infinite wisdom announced on the Gordan's public address system for the 601st Army Security Agency Detachment to disembark on the LSTs. After we arrived in Chu Lai, I am told that Hanoi Hanna welcomed the 198 Light Infantry Brigade to Viet Nam and a special welcome to the 601st Army Security Agency Detachment. The Army did not know that the 601st ASA became the 601st Radio Research Detachment as a part of the Signal Corps enroute to country. So much for the Geneva Convention about ASA units being deployed in RVN.
When we arrived in Chu Lai, we could not locate our base camp. We located a jeep and wound up with the 196 that I think was located on the western perimeter of the airport. We helped the grunts by drawing sniper fire under a yellow alert. Needless to say, we bailed out of that jeep only to hear a mortar and some small arms fire. Later, we spent the night in a hooch when some grunts came in and asked who those idiots were that came driving into the camp during a yellow alert. We remained quiet and humble even though they thanked us for locating the snipers.
We eventually found our base camp which was located on the north side of the airport next to the 101st Airborne. We were not that far from the hospital that became a part of the unrealistic TV show "China Beach". We were in a compound with a Marine Security Group in which they had constructed a white fiber glass dome that contained R390s and voice scramblers etc.
We spent much of our time in tents until we could procure water buffaloes or wood from the Army Corps of Engineers. The Army Corps of Engineers were worthless and so we made numerous raids at night to procure building materials. However, our CO, Major Kane, was promoted to Lt Colonel and we were assigned to support S2 of the Americal Division. He pleaded at the Divisional level that our operators could not hear too well by living in tents and perform mission objectives under such circumstances. We did receive some support, but most of our materials came from unorthodox means. For example, four of us went to the motor pool, at night, and procured a water buffalo that we mounted on a jeep. Hauling a water buffalo on a jeep was not a good design practice, but we got away with it. Our compound was guarded by our own MPs and I am sure that we drove them nuts by covering our "midnight requisitions" by keeping out unauthorized persons following our activities. Once we procured our buffalo, we had stencils and paint to claim them as unit ownership.
We had an 'in' for obtaining an abundant supply of beer from our contacts at the docks. We used the beer in exchange for materials to build our EM club but that twisted the nose of our First Shirt. We had to complete the building of the orderly room before we completed the club. With a case of beer, the Seabees gave us everything we needed to finish both structures in a short period of time. We even procured mess hall emersion heaters, expended F4 fuel tanks and some wood to build a shower with hot and cold water.
Our Detachment had seven KY9 scramblers and the only electronic technicians in the 198th to install and repair them. One of our mission objectives was to locate targets and call for BUFF or F4 suppression. (As Dr. McCoy on Start Trek would say: "For goodness sake Jim, I'm an 058 not an 054!"). Charlie or the NVA soon learned it was not alway wise to try and take out Beavers or Mohawks unless they enjoyed air strikes. We could feel the B52 strike 40 clicks away and it was always neat to know what time the action would begin. However, it was always disturbing to hear your target sending XGC and continue traffic.
Although I left Chu Lai in February of 1968, I left feeling that there was not enough time to learn the targets much less to pass on my experience to the NUGs. There is a wide gulf between working a strategic mission and a tactical mission. Although my brief descriptions of these experiences may not be appropriate for military history, they are nonetheless true accounts of the start of the 601st RRD. We were very creative individuals that did not fit the typical warriors of the military. We find the escape of the horrors of war by recounting the humorous memories that helps us to remain sane and human. We are still loyal Americans and will defend this country in spite of having a present day Coward-in-chief for a leader. May God bless America... she really does need His blessing!
David E. Blakeslee