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 H-hour.

    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 wounded---perhaps fatally.

    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 that purpose.

    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.
Author’s notes:

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 trucking industry.

3. Airfield Service Section Sergeant Joe Talbert retired as a Chief  Warrant Officer-4.  He works on aircraft flight simulators in his civilian career.

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.


This article was published in the LOGBOOK, a tri-annual publication of the Army Otter-Caribou Association. July, 1994 edition.