THOSE MAGNIFICENT GI’s
By: Jack Serig, Sr.
Not long after our January 1962 arrival at Nha Trang,
South Vietnam, our 18th Otter company Executive Officer, Captain Doug Brandon,
advised me to report for a meeting with him and the Commanding Officer, Captain
Bob Felix, at company headquarters. I was Platoon Commander of the
Service Platoon, which performed aircraft and vehicle maintenance, aircraft
refueling and servicing, crash rescue, and aircraft flight testing.
Captain Felix advised me that I was to lead a small “secret”
taskforce for our unit’s first ground mission into potential Viet Cong
territory. The mission: To transport 1,500 gallons of aviation
fuel, in our unit fuel truck, from our Nha Trang base camp to a military
unit at Duc My (Zook Me) about 50 kilometers northwest of Nha Trang.
I was to select sufficient personnel and
weaponry to insure the mission’s success. At Duc My we were to rendezvous with two CH-21
Shawnee (Banana) helicopters and refuel them for their highly classified
mission. The personnel I would select for the mission could not be
briefed on any particulars until the moment the taskforce was ready to leave
our unit compound. There were several days of preparation time before
I performed a solo aerial/map reconnaissance of the route
to and from Duc My in a unit airplane. I selected an inconspicuous
back-road route out of Nha Trang to circumvent the busy main-road vehicular
and pedestrian traffic. And to reduce the possibility of mission compromise.
To avoid marking the map I committed to memory possible ambush sites, bridge
crossings and the terrain features, which were advantageous and disadvantageous.
A recon by jeep was made later in the day to check the inner-city route,
selected in the aerial recon, that the taskforce would use to leave Nha Trang
city. Once leaving Nha Trang we would be forced to take Highway 1 north
to where it Intersected with Highway 21, then proceeding west to Duc My on
21, where we would meet the two helicopters.
The following day I directed my Service Platoon Sergeant
(E-7) A. B. Holly to form the platoon. All platoon members were present.
I explained to them, and I’m paraphrasing, “That I needed a few volunteers
to form a small taskforce to tackle a highly secret mission. That I
was not able to provide any details. That the missions was simple and
doable if we weren’t attacked. But there was no guarantee that there
wouldn’t be casualties if we encountered enemy forces as we would be
traveling through unprotected territory. That’s all I can tell you
at this time!”
Upon bringing the platoon to attention, I asked:
“Volunteers, take one step forward!” The entire platoon, in unison,
took one step forward.
I hadn’t expected one hundred percent to volunteer.
Should have known better! “All aviation types but magnificent GI’s”,
I thought. They had no reservations about stepping forward; no one
holding back. No questions. Willing to put their lives on the
line for their country and their buddies. They knew nothing about the
mission except that it could be dangerous---they could be attacked---perhaps
I thanked the platoon members for their outstanding spirit
and willingness to volunteer. Then began the tough process of selecting
the few men who would make up the taskforce when the time came.
I will attempt to reconstruct from fading memory, after
nearly 40 years, why I selected the five men who accompanied me.
Any of the platoon members would have performed splendidly but there were
certain qualities that stood out in those chosen than I felt would help lead
to the mission’s success. Or, if it failed, guy’s that would rally
around each other and “fight-like-hell” , if necessary, to escape and evade.
Specialist E-5 Richard L. Posey. Posey was an aircraft
maintenance Section Chief. Quiet, knowledgeable, dependable, highly
respected by enlisted and officers alike. A natural leader of men,
doing so with a quiet aura of dignity. He set an outstanding example
in all that he did. He would be in command to see the mission through
if anything happened to me. He would also be responsible for the jeep’s
crew and our 30-caliber crew-served machine gun mounted in our jeep trailer.
Specialist E-4 Ronald Bich (pronounced Bish as in bishop)
is the kid anyone would want in a back-to-back-with-a-buddy kind of fight,
holding off superior numbers. Bich was always dirty because he
worked the refueling truck and handled the filthy jobs on the flight line.
He could, by himself, manhandle a full 55-gallon drum (300 pounds) on and
off a truck. He was aggressive and willing to tackle any job assigned
with a great optimism. He had a ready smile that was accentuated through
the relentless black grime on his face, which he acquired through his dirty-job
dedication. He was tough but not braggadocio.
PFC Gordon Mowry. Mowry possessed a combination
of the exceptional qualities of the two aforementioned GI’s. But he
was more like Posey. A quiet toughness! Another kid you’d want
around if things became exciting or explosive. He loved flying and
all aspects of aviation.
Fading memory and incomplete records do not permit me
to remember exactly who the other two GI’s were. Suffice it to say
they were all selected because of their special qualifications, exceptional
soldierly qualities, and leadership potential, in the event we ran into trouble.
On the appointed day of the mission I briefed the commanding
officer and executive officer on how our small force would attempt to accomplish
the task. I got a surprise. We were to take a guest with us.
Jack Foisie, a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. A last minute
change! Be we accommodated him by moving the jeep’s “shotgun” to the
rear seat. Also, I was advised, Foisie was a VIP. His sister
was married to Dean Rusk, Secretary of State.
Mr. Foisie accompanied me to the two-vehicle convoy, the
refueling truck and the jeep with trailer-mounted machine gun. Weapons
and ammunition were checked again. Vehicle maintenance had already
been completed after a thorough going over by our capable maintenance crews,
which included, then Sergeant Joe Talbert, Airfield Service Section
Chief. All personal effects were left behind. This was double-checked.
Identification tags were checked. Our uniform was fatigues and jungle-type
combat boots, each man carrying their assigned weapons and other weapons
they felt comfortable with, such as jungle knives and sidearms. Protective
armored vests completed our combat-ready wardrobe.
The mission briefing began. I explained, using the
unmarked map, where likely ambushes could be. Where a bridge had been
sabotaged over what was thought to be a fordable stream. The jeep would
take the lead through the city by the pre-determined route I had selected.
Several kilometers after passing the city’s north gate on Highway 1, where
we would begin an uphill climb, the refueling truck would take the lead.
If necessary, the fuel truck would attempt to breach roadblocks by crashing
through them. The jeep would drop behind by several hundred yards to
provide covering fire if the fuel truck was attacked. Everyone’s additional
mission, if it appeared the fuel would fall into enemy hands, was to concentrate
on blowing up the fuel. Tracers and matches had been distributed for
We loaded up. Bich, Mowry and myself, in the loaded
fuel truck—1,500 gallons of aviation gasoline. The jeep driver in his
front seat with the reporter, Foisie. The jeep’s back seat occupied
by the “shotgun”. Posey rode the jeep’s trailer, ready to fire
the pre-loaded 30-caliber machine gun.
We left Nha Trang airfield compound to waves and thumb
ups from the 18th’s stay-behinds who would have willingly joined us had they
been invited. 50 klicks (kilometers) to go!
We departed Nha Trang city without incident, passing the
last South Vietnam Army’s occupied guard post, onto a narrow bridge, heading
north on Highway 1.
Fires were burning in the nearby hills, presumably to
rid the underbrush of Vietcong hiding places and ambush sites. Farmers
and a few water buffaloes pulling wooden plows were working fields.
We spotted a scarecrow in one field made up to look like a coolie in black
pajamas with a conical straw hat. A little later, we began our ascent
toward the pass on the hilltop ahead, passing the jeep, as planned.
It was a seemingly long, slow pull up the steep hill with the loaded fuel
truck. Everyone was nervously alert, adrenaline pumping. This
was a major potential ambush site. But we had made it, so far!
Descending the other side of the hill toward the valley
bottom where Duc My was located, we rounded a bend where we slowed, then
stopped, for the destroyed bridge. I dismounted the fuel truck to determine
where we could best ford the stream. The jeep kept its covering distance
behind us. I was nervous as hell! Since the Vietcong blew the
bridge, why couldn’t they have mined the approaches to the makeshift crossing?
I proceeded to the stream, slowly, my footprints following several tracks
of vehicles that had apparently successfully breached the streambed, and
gave directions to Bich where to cross. We made it! The jeep
and trailer followed at the pre-planned interval..They made it! A momentary
relief but we couldn’t afford to relax. We were still 10 klicks from
Duc My, our destination.
Finally, we could tell we were getting close to Duc My
when we observed Vietnamese walking and on bicycles. Eventually, we
entered the MAAG (Military Assistance Advisory Group) compound without incident.
50 klicks in less than an hour! It seemed much longer!
We refueled the two CH-21’s never learning a word about
their top-secret mission and said our good-byes to Mr. Foisie. Reversing
our route for our return to Nha Trang was more suspenseful. We were
at an even higher level of alert now, as we all recognized we may have tipped-our-hand.
We could have given the enemy time to set up ambush sites
if they had spotted us on our initial jaunt to Duc My. But we returned
to Nha Trang without incident.
The 18th Aviation Company’s first ground mission into potential enemy territory was a success.
1. Another account of this story, written by Mr. Foisie, appeared in the
Wednesday, March 28th, 1962 issue of the San Francisco Chronicle.
2. Service Platoon Sergeant A.B. “Bill” Holly retired as a major, Transportation
Corps. He has also retired from an executive position in the civilian
3. Airfield Service Section Sergeant Joe Talbert retired as a Chief
Warrant Officer-4. He works on aircraft flight simulators in his civilian
4. Aircraft Maintenance Section Chief, Richard Posey, transferred to
the Air Force and retired as an E-8. He now works in electrical contracting.
5. Pvt. Gordon Mowry, an aircraft mechanic, became a crop duster and instructor
pilot, single engine and twin, after leaving the service in ’64.
6. Specialist-4 Bich, Airfield Service Section, and fuel truck driver, works
for the electrical industry. Upon returning to CONUS in early’63, while in
uniform and awaiting transportation home from San Francisco, Bich was spat
on by a civilian Vietnam protester. Bich knocked his adversary unconscious.
This type of instantaneous response was why he and the other members of my
team were selected for the mission. They could be depended on to react
to the unusual and unexpected.
THEY WERE MAGNIFICENT GI’s!!!
This article was published in the LOGBOOK, a tri-annual publication of the Army Otter-Caribou Association. July, 1994 edition.