CDT Ops Vietnam CPOCD T Ey. Pt. 4

 

 

CDT Ops Vietnam CPOCD Tony Ey. Pt 4

 

incoming team accompanied two members of the old team on a "routine" sensor implant mission assisting a US Jungle Surveillance Group. With an ARVN unit as support, the group were to conduct the operation to the south of Da Nang, on Cam Thanh Island. A Viet Cong bunker system was soon discovered and as expected, it had been booby-trapped. A member of the Surveillance Group, keen to find a few souvenirs, triggered a booby-trapped 105mm howitzer round and sustained severe injuries to both legs. After the detonation, the Viet Cong, who had been lying in wait, initiated an ambush and the group came under heavy small arms fire. True to form, several of the ARVN Support Group dropped their weapons and departed the area rather hurriedly. During the ensuing fire-fight, LSCD John Aldenhoven and ABCD 'Blue' Furner crossed open ground to recover the wounded US Adviser and carry him to relative safety, recovering several of the dropped weapons in the process. The first 'Dustoff' (Medical Evacuation) chopper attempt failed as a result of the heavy VC ground fire, but after a number of strafing passes by U.S. Cobra helicopter gunships, the second Medivac attempt succeeded. Unfortunately, the Adviser died whilst in transit to the nearest Military hospital. He had been within one week of completing his tour of duty and going home to the States. The remainder of the team was extracted by Helo to Da Nang and John Aldenhoven was subsequently awarded the Australian Distinguished Service Medal (DSM). His Citation stated that he "displayed personal courage of the highest order". Because of the pathetic inconsistencies of the bureaucratic British modeled Australian awards system, Blue received absolutely no recognition whatsoever for the equal part he played in the same action. The team had 'ARRIVED!"

 

Over the next few days, events continued to remind us that we were now smack in the middle of a War Zone. On the 25th October 1970, a radio call was received from US Harbour Security informing us that a large ammunition barge, having broken adrift during Typhoon Kate and run aground on a sand bar in Da Nang harbour, appeared to have been sabotaged. Security personnel reported seeing a small but intense fire burning on the upper deck, so three members from the 'new' team were immediately dispatched to investigate. The old team having said they were too "short" (going home) to take any more risks, the task fell to the new crew. I was driving the vehicle and took several wrong turns in trying to locate the Harbour Security wharf. This series of events fortunately delayed us by several minutes. As we were climbing aboard the waiting security skimmer boat to proceed to the barge, the barge detonated in a massive blast that shook the whole of Da Nang. While watching the mushroom shaped cloud forming from the fireball, I remain convinced to this day that I saw a body heading skywards amongst the flying debris. We were later informed that two male VC suspects from the nearby village had disappeared without trace. Had I known the most direct route to the wharf area, or had a member of the old team accompanied us, CDT3 would most certainly have suffered its first serious casualties in Da Nang. Approximately half of the 154 tonnes of mortars, rockets and projectiles on board the barge had detonated and the remaining 70 odd tonnes were 'throw-outs'. The process of recovering and disposing of this ordnance kept us busy during our quiet days for the next few months.

 

 


Our living accommodation when in DaNang. They are all our vehicles.
We had 5 vehicles and a boat between 6 of us.

 

Several days after the barge episode, Speed (John) Gilchrist flew to Saigon. During his first night down south, the VC decided to saturate the area in which he was staying with 127mm and 140mm rockets. Within a week of surviving the rocket barrage, Speed returned south again aboard a U.S. Marine Corps DC3 to pick up, among other things, three pallets of Australian beer from Vung Tau. Returning via Saigon, the aircraft crashed during landing at Tan Son Nhat Airport and fortunately Speed walked away unhurt. When the news reached Da Nang that the Chief's plane had crashed, the three AB's asked in shock horror, "What about the beer?" When Speed finally arrived back in Da Nang, he was mumbling aloud about whether or not he should stay in bed for the remainder of the tour.

 

The US Marine EOD detachment at Da Nang airfield very kindly arranged a Marine DC3 on an 'as required' basis to re-supply us with Aussie beer from Vung Tau, about 800 kms to the south. The only condition to this arrangement was that we sold them one pallet of beer per trip. To the best of my recollection, there were about 168 cartons of beer to the pallet and the beer cost us 11c per can. A lot of favours could be "arranged" with promises of Uc Dai Loi beer.

 

A week or so after we arrived, I had what is officially known as an 'accidental discharge'. I was in our workshop cleaning my .45 when Jake wandered out from his office, saw what I was doing, pulled out his .45 and asked if I would clean it as well. It was standard procedure to clear all weapons on entering the hootch and I made the mistake of assuming Jake had done so. I removed the magazine and got the shock of my life when it discharged a round into the workbench. The bullet struck a steel punch blowing it in half, and then buried itself in the wall. Fortunately, training and habit had me pointing the weapon away in a safe direction as I began the stripping procedure. The noise was deafening and it was pretty to watch how quickly everyone responded to the sound of gunfire within the hootch. Larry mounted the spent cartridge behind the bar with the inscription 'Tony's first shot fired in anger'.

 

The old team had all departed for home after a fortnight and the realization that we "new" boys were on our own began to sink in. Routines were quickly established. While two members of the team remained on duty for 24 hour stretches, another two were on stand-by, and the remaining two on stand down. It is interesting to note for posterity that two Able Seamen (the lowest rank in the team) were regularly on duty together, and if a call for EOD assistance was received, these same two responded on their own and without 'supervision'. This would not and can not happen in a peace-time Navy, and it speaks volumes for the responsibility, maturity and professionalism instilled into the team during its pre-deployment training, and the very high standard of Clearance Diving training in the 60's. It also shows how peacetime regulations can be bent through necessity in time of war. Had we strictly adhered to Navy regulations, we would have been severely limited in fulfilling the role we had been sent to perform.

 

South Vietnam was divided into four Military Regions which were also known as Corps. We were to spend our entire tour based in I Corps . This was very fortunate from an experience point of view, as Vung Tau in III Corps, where previous teams had been based, had become relatively pacified because of the large Australian Army presence. I Corps was still regarded as 'Charlie country'. The northern limit of our area of responsibility was the DMZ and our range of operations included normal hull searches in Da Nang Harbour and an increasing number of surface EOD and "other" tasks throughout the length and breadth of I Corps. Our 'Hootch' was located within Camp Tien Sha, a US Naval Support Facility located on Da Nang's Tourane peninsular. Home consisted of a workshop/lounge room complete with a 16mm movie projector and pool table, a fully self contained kitchen, garage, outdoor barbecue and arguably the finest bar in South Vietnam. The team's transportation comprised of two Jeeps, a Dodge Pickup truck, a Dodge four wheel drive 'Power Wagon', a Kaiser Jeep truck and a 16 foot 'skimmer' boat equipped with the hottest 85 horsepower outboard motor in Da Nang. We had a full time 'Mamma San' who was a Vietnamese lady of indistinguishable age with a very limited comprehension of the English language. She attended to our personal laundry, made the beds and maintained an impression of neatness about the place. Occasionally she was encouraged to cook a Vietnamese meal which always meant liberal lashings of the local fermented fish sauce, 'Nuoc Mam', which was very tasty, but unfortunately smelt exactly like fermented fish.

 

The team had two able assistants, a mongrel affectionately known as 'Dog', and 'Fred', a female Rhesus monkey. Dog closely resembled a Queensland Blue Heeler cattle dog in both appearance and temperament, and was an excellent watch-dog. With the exception of our Mamma San, he would not allow an unescorted Vietnamese national within a 100 metre radius of our Hootch. I think he was aware that dog meat, or 'Cho', was a favourite dish of the Vietnamese, and as a consequence, he hated them all. Fred had to be watched constantly as she had an amazing appetite. On more than one occasion she had snatched a lighted cigarette from an unsuspecting visitor, flicked off the burning ash and eaten the entire cigarette in the blink of an eye. She also had a bad habit of scrounging through the empty beer cans every morning and after drinking the dregs of several cans would become quite aggressive in her inebriated state, particularly towards poor old Dog. Her favourite party trick was to sneak up behind Dog, give his vital parts a quick tug, and then squealing with delight, head for the top of the nearest banana tree with Dog in hot pursuit. Needless to say, Dog was not a great admirer of Fred.

 

Our team operated totally independent of Australian support. We wore U.S. 'Cammies', carried U.S. weapons, lived in a U.S. compound, drove U.S. vehicles, ate U.S. food and were officially known as EODMUPAC Team 35 . We answered directly to a Captain M. A. Horn USN. The only other Australians in I Corp. were the Australian Army Training Team (AATTV) and we saw little of them. We mostly associated with other EOD units and US Special Forces including Green Berets, Navy Seals and Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT). Most US Forces assumed that we were in fact the Australian equivalent of their Seal Teams. We had a lot to do with these fellows and it is interesting to recall their motto:-

 

 

"Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death,
I fear no evil,
for I am the meanest mutha-fucker in the Valley."

 

 

Being the only fully operational Navy EOD team in I Corps, we had a large area of responsibility. The Airforce and Marine teams looked after the Da Nang airfield and the Army team was responsible for Da Nang City. We virtually had the rest of I Corps. A South Vietnamese Navy team, under the guidance of four U.S. Navy EOD Advisers, was responsible for Cua Viet, located near the DMZ. However this team was relatively