© 2010 Bob Stockton. Adapted from 'Listening To Ghosts' (Xlibris Press) by Bob Stockton. Unauthorized use prohibited.
At the onset of Tet the airfield at Danang had been hit heavily by rocket attacks and flights in and out were severely restricted during the early fighting. After several days of heavy fighting flight operations resumed some semblance of normality and the C-47 shuttle arrived at Cam Ranh to load supplies for the complex at Danang. I managed to convince the crew to let me ride in the cargo bay on the return flight. There were no seats or seat belts, you just perched yourself on a cargo crate with your belongings and the old cargo plane lifted airward wearily and headed for the airfield at Danang which was still dealing with occasional rocket attacks.
Our two hour plus flight path took us directly over the jungle, drawing small arms fire from VC pockets below. I could actually see the muzzle flash from some of the weapons. A little more altitude and airspeed would have been safer but the loadmaster told me that we were so heavy with cargo that a higher altitude would have been difficult. I prayed to God that no one had instructed those guys below how to lead the aircraft with their firing.
We arrived in Danang in mid afternoon amid mass confusion. I was one of a group of sailors and Marines heading out to the LARC Compound (LARC: Lighter Amphibious, Resupply, Cargo) where Gallup was apparently located. We were told to wait until there was a Six By - a six wheel drive cargo truck first designed for use for World War II - headed out that way. Finally about 2100 we were informed that a truck was loading and heading out. A dozen or so of us, Marines and sailors jumped in the cargo area and we started east. Included in our group was a Marine 2nd Lieutenant Paymaster who was heading for an Exchange complex about halfway to our destination. The lieutenant had a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist and a holstered .45 sidearm on his waist.
As we traveled toward the coast we could see the artillery duels to the North. The Marines were giving as good as they got up around Hue and then some. 81mm flares lit up the night and the Whump! Whump! of exploding artillery was ever present on the horizon. This wasn’t the movies, it was the real McCoy. I could taste the adrenaline in my mouth. Presently we came upon a pontoon bridge and checkpoint that was manned by Vietnamese Army soldiers. They turned their high beam light on our truck and began shouting wildly in Vietnamese. These guys were really jumpy! I remember hoping that our driver knew the current password. We came to a stop and our Vietnamese Navy Liaison Petty Officer in the cab assured the bridge guards that we were the good guys and we crossed the bridge. Shortly after crossing we stopped at a crossroad. The Marine driver informed the Lieutenant paymaster that this was where he got off. The Exchange complex was apparently a mile or two down that pitch black road. The driver explained that he had no orders to take the lieutenant to the Exchange. He’d have to walk it on his own. The Lieutenant jumped out of the truck and started down that lonely dark road, briefcase handcuffed to his wrist and the .45 sidearm strapped to his waist. I often wonder if he made it.
The LARC Compound was nestled in a natural harbor just below the radar site atop Monkey Mountain. There were all sorts of Marine and Army resupply boats along with Navy amphibious supply and landing craft, Swift Boats and a few PBRs. In the middle of all this mess was Asheville (PG-84) and Gallup (PG-85) in port to effect a few engineering repairs. These two vessels were the first two operational “super gunboats,” and boasted some pretty heavy artillery for a shallow water vessel. Constructed entirely of aluminum and fiberglass, they were 140 feet in length and drafted out at around 200 tons. The boats carried a crew of twenty, had its own galley (no more C-Rats!) and packed a 3”50 caliber turreted naval rifle forward and twin 40 millimeter “pom pom” cannon aft. There were armor protected twin .50 caliber mounts located on each side of the fiberglass superstructure and aft on either side of the fantail were stanchion mounts for the boat’s M-60 machine guns. Gallup also carried M-79 grenade launchers and M-16 assault rifles along with the ubiquitous .45 caliber pistols. These small arms were located in a weapons locker aft. Twin diesels were Gallup’s main propulsion but as was true with all boats of the Asheville class there was a General Electric J-79 gas turbine nestled amidships between the crew berthing areas. This was the same engine that powered the feared Phantom jets of the Vietnam War. When the propulsion system was connected to the turbine the boat became really throttle responsive and could easily reach a top speed of more than 50 knots.
Directly across from the LARC Compound was an Enlisted Men’s Club where Marines and sailors could go for a few drinks and let off some steam from running the resupply routes up to Cua Viet and Hue. The club was a “slop chute” type of affair and was staffed by local Vietnamese. Close by was a Vietnamese graveyard where - is nothing sacred? - Vietnamese prostitutes plied their trade. The local military authorities had placed the graveyard “Off Limits” to the American military personnel in the area but that didn’t stop a few Marines and sailors from frequenting the graveyard to do business with the Vietnamese hookers. I had been invited to visit the graveyard on more than one occasion but had declined the offer which proved to be a wise decision when a young Marine was discovered there early one morning with his throat slit.
Apparently his “date” had been either a Viet Cong sympathizer or herself an irregular. After that event the graveyard business dried up almost entirely.