During the week of April 12, 1968 eight members of the 585th Transportation Co. (Medium Truck Cargo)` 39th Transportation Battalion, volunteered for a mission to bring much needed ammunition and gun barrels into FB Bastogne from their base camp at Phu Bai. This is the story from three of the eight who took part in this convoy.
On January 14, 1968, headquarters, maintenance, and 2nd platoon of the 585th were loaded onto LST 551 in Qui Nhon harbor and sailed for Da Nang for ultimate relocation to Camp Eagle, 101st AB base camp, Phu Bai. The remainder of the 585th would join the lead elements sometime in March 1968 following the same procedure.
Prior to the 585th’s redeployment to Phu Bai in I Corps, the 585th was part of the 27th Trans Battalion running convoys to exotic places like An Khe, Pleiku, Dak To, Bong Son, Phu Cat, etc from their base camp at Phu Tai in II Corps.
The 585th was a 5ton tractor-trailer unit. Like most transportation companies in Vietnam, we were self sufficient and very mobile. We were a very close company and depended on each other very much.
In mid April 1968, Sgt. Edwards, our 1st Platoon Sgt., asked for volunteers for a convoy. Eight members volunteered to the best of our knowledge. Four of these volunteers were Wayne C Chalker, Marion Amos, Steve Plummer, and James McGrath.
Sgt. Edwards would not tell us where we were going, but told us to be ready the next morning. “Never before had we ever been asked to volunteer.”1. “We were loaded with artillery projectiles and black powder at the Phu Bai ammo dump.”2. At least two of us, Marion Amos and me, were loaded with 175mm howitzer barrels.
“The 101st guys seemed surprised that none of us had assistant drivers. I stated that our company was always under strength and that we always drove by ourselves. He told me that where you guys are going, you need to have someone riding shotgun with you, especially with black powder because ‘Charlie’ gets nervous when he sees this ammo coming toward him. I really didn’t know what he meant at the time..
We were going to Fire Base Bastogne which was at the mouth of the A Shau Valley. FB Bastogne conducted fire support missions for units operating mostly in and around the A Shau Valley. FB Bastogne was located west of Phu Bai in Thua Thien Province. We were going to be the first convoy from our company to attempt a resupply of FB Bastogne.
“The eight tractor-trailers were lead from the ammo dump through Camp Eagle and into the countryside by a 101st AB jeep. The farther we drove, the heavier the jungle became. I thought it was unusual that there were no civilians in the area. We went around a bend in the road and met up with tanks and APC’s that were interspersed with our trucks. I started to worry and put on my helmet and flak jacket.
The OIC of the armor advised us that we would have escort for the last mile or so into FB Bastogne. He stated the left side of the road was under 101st control, while the right side was not. The OIC also told us NOT to stop under any circumstances or we would simply be pushed off the road by the armor in back of that truck.
“The road was turning into a steep narrow path with jungle growing up to the edge of this so called road. In II Corp convoys through ‘Ambush Alley’, we were told to keep lots of space between trucks so to lessen the effects of an ambush. With this in mind, I dropped back from the APC in front of me. A soldier from the armor behind me ran up and said I was going to get all of our asses shot off if I didn’t stay close to the other APC. It then struck me that our survival depended on firepower from the armor.. This so-called road, which turned into a path through the jungle, had several steep hills before ending at Bastogne. “Because of the steepness on one hill and my overloaded trailer, I was pushed by a APC.
“Suddenly, all hell broke loose".. The armor opened up with everything they had on the ride side of the road. “The noise was incredible. I started seeing red flashes flying over the hood of my truck and exploding on the other side of the road. I could also see small arms fire hitting hear me. I panicked and almost jumped from my truck into the jungle for cover. I’m sure this would have ended everything for those and me in the armor and trucks behind. The Army taught us that you always try and drive through an ambush. Somehow, I got down as low as I could behind the wheel and kept driving. Believing that I was about to die, I remember thinking about how bad my parents were going to feel, and I started to pray.
In my truck, I remember the intense firing, but I also remember that I had to get my truck up and over each hill in front of me. Survival, in my mind, was to stay close to the tank in front of me. As mentioned before, I was carrying 175mm howitzer barrels. The weight was far too heavy for my 5ton tractor. While going up one steep hill, I reached ‘1st under’ in a very short time. Even at 1st under, I felt my Rpm’s drop.
As I neared the crest of this hill, even over the firing, I knew something happened to my engine. The thought of being pushed off the road by the APC behind me was frightening. I said a prayer and miraculously my engine held out to the top of the hill.
Not long after, all our trucks made it safety into FB Bastogne. “The guys who unloaded us at Bastogne seemed surprised we arrived intact. One asked me if I had any RPG’s fired at me. I said I don’t know, what are those? He said they would have been red flashes and explosions after they hit. I said yes, several and I wondered what those were. They also asked which side of the road the incoming fire came from. I said the left. They told me that the left side was supposed to be secure.
Having never been to a firebase like Bastogne before, I got a bad feeling about this place and was very anxious to get unloaded and back on the road again. The jungle came right up to the perimeter of the base. Sort of like an island in the middle of the Pacific.
We were hurrying to get unloaded and regroup for our fun drive back, when the Major (OIC) informed us the road back has been closed. Just prior to this, Steve remembered a small convoy of duce and a half’s leaving Bastogne just after we arrived and escorted by the same armor that brought us in. It was rumored that this convoy was hit hard going down the same road we just came up.
The OIC told us to spread out our trucks in the firebase so we would be a smaller target. The Major also advised us to be ready to move out on 15-minute notice. We were to remain at Bastogne for the next six days waiting for the road to be re secured by the 101st.
We were obviously unprepared for our unscheduled stopover at Bastogne. None of us had any change of clothes, food, personal hygiene items, or extra ammunition. During the week, we experienced what life was really like at a firebase. “Sitting and waiting all those days, I’d see jets dive and drop napalm near the perimeter or on the hillsides.
We caught up on much needed sleep during this week. I remember pulling guard duty with a 101st guy and trading hand grenades with him. I had the newer, baseball type and he had the older oval style. (In addition to our personal issued weapons, 585th members carried hand grenades in their trucks). During the week, the base ammo dump blew. “We jumped into bunkers with the 101st people. The ammo was still going off when I saw at least four medics with stretchers running towards it. I think that was the bravest thing I ever saw. No one must have been hurt because when it was all over, they walked back.
On or about April 24th, the Major told us to pack up and get ready to move out in 15minutes. Our stay at Bastogne was ending. We were happy to be leaving and getting back to base camp, but were fearful of what lie ahead. “Many of us were worried about the road back, and I remember some of us were saying good bye to our friends just in case.
The return convoy was set up similar to the one we came in with a week earlier, tank, truck, APC, truck, etc. I remember the Major asking us if we could assist his armor with suppression fire on the left side of the road. I thought this odd, as all of us know it is hard to shoot and drive at the same time.
Soon after leaving Bastogne, the firing commenced again. The intensity was the same as coming in the week before. I remember several explosions on the edge of the road to our left. I was doing my best to fire out the window and steer at the same time. I remember shell casings from my M-14 burning my left arm.
“We left the fire base and started driving down the mountain when all hell broke loose. The tanks and APC’s opened fire and we started shooting to the left of the road. I had my rifle cradled in my left arm and I was shooting out the driver’s side window. It was a real challenge shifting gears and shooting out the window and not running into the back of the APC in front of me. When one magazine emptied, I would put in another and keep firing.
“After checking my forward movement, I looked to the left, and continued to fire my weapon. This is when I thought the devil himself had just hit me between the eyes with his fist. My head jolted and snapped back. My black plastic rim glasses were shoved back and down into my nose. The pain of being hit between the eyes was excruciating. I thought my nose was broke. I wasn’t sure what happened. So many things run through your mind. First, I thought I must have hit a pothole and bumped my head on the steering wheel. When I looked up, everything was black. I looked around and saw nothing but darkness. A few seconds passed and my vision returned. Everything happened so fast that I was in a state of confusion for a moment. After realizing I didn’t hit a pothole, I gathered my thoughts, pushed my glasses back up on my nose and kept shooting and driving. The only thing on my mind again was to get out of that area as quick as we could.
Marion’s truck was ahead of mine in the convoy back. As I previously mentioned, I remember several explosions just in front of my truck on the left edge of the road. One of these explosions would have been in line with the driver’s side of Marion’s truck. When we cleared the fire zone area, the armor pulled out and we pulled off and stopped to regroup. Marion came walking back to me and had blood streaming down his face from a hole in his forehead just above the rim of his glasses.
He had obviously been hit with shrapnel and it had been deflected off the center portion of his glasses. This may have saved his live or at least prevented a more serious wound. I knew we had to get out of this area as quickly as possible. We were still in hostile territory without any armor or convoy protection.
I sat Marion down and bandaged him as best I could and asked him if he could drive. He said he could. I told him to stay in front of me so I could watch him until be arrived back at Phu Bai which was 10-15 miles away. In addition to no convoy protection, we had no radio and no OIC.
The convoy into Bastogne the week before began to take its toll on our trucks. “We all knew that this area was unsafe and everyone wanted out of there as fast as possible, but more trucks started breaking down. I think we may have had up to four trucks no longer running by the time we got back to Phu Bai. We came in pushing and pulling each other at about 5miles per hour. No one was left behind. We all came back together.
When we arrived back at Phu Bai, I escorted Marion to an aid station. The medic examined him, re bandaged him and told him to go back to work. Several days later, Marion experienced severe headaches and returned to a Marine aid station. There he was re examined and some shrapnel was removed from his forehead.
Marion still carries a small piece of shrapnel in his head from that day.
Nothing more was ever said to the eight of us about that convoy. We all went back to work the next day hauling to Camp Evans, Quang Tri, Dong Ha etc. No one, to our knowledge, ever received any award or commendation for our volunteer mission into Bastogne.
Marion never received a Purple Heart. It may be that we were not deserving of any recognition, but Marion should have his Purple Heart.
After 34years, the three of us have found each other thanks to the Internet and ATAV! We are still searching for the other members of the ‘Bastogne Convoy’. God willing, someday we will find them and learn even more about that week in April 1968.
Marion is making attempts to get his military medical records for his Purple Heart and health care he never received from the VA.
Marion lives in Colorado and works for Coors, Steve lives in Minnesota and works for the Postal Service, and I live in Maine and work for the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection.
The above story is as accurate as our collective memories will allow. All three of us recognize the heroic acts of many, many others truckers in Vietnam and the supreme sacrifice many combat truckers made during the course of that war.
The three of us would like to be considered for any decorations from the Army for this mission.
Wayne C Chalker, Steve Plummer, Marion Amos