Driving a 5-Ton Truck in High Pucker Factor Mode Through An Ambush Site While Loaded With 175mm Ammunition By Charles Adams
While assigned to the first ammunition section of the Service Battery, 2nd Battalion 94th Field Artillery in the northern I Corp section of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War, we conducted many convoys of trucks delivering the tools of war to the guns on the fire bases on the DMZ! The 2/94th was the heavy artillery sister battalion to the 8th Battalion 4th Field Artillery. After the 8/4th stood down on October 15, 1971 and went home, the men who still had time left in country to complete their 12-month tours, were reassigned to the 2/94th.
The story starts out when the entire Service Battery of the 2/94th was called upon to conduct a very large convoy of ammunition trucks to resupply the battalion's firing batteries near the end of the war. This convoy was critical to the mission to make sure that the American units had enough ammunition on hand to be able to fight their way out of the northern mountains of South Vietnam. Keep in mind that the date of this convoy was January 28, 1972. It was during this time that the Communist troops were preparing for their Spring Offensive that was going to start in just days near the end of February. We did not know of this offensive, but we did know that the war was coming to an end, and all of the Americans still on the DMZ had it in their minds that they did not want to be known as the last Americans killed in this senseless war.
The Convoy started out from the huge American ammunition dump located at the Dong Ha Combat Base near the highway QL-1 near the coast in I Corp. Our destination was fartherest northern American occupied base at that time of the war called Fire Base Bastogne located on a jungle mountain peak about 15 miles west of Dong Ha. The roads with triple canopy jungles on both sides were high and treacherous and we knew the going would be very dangerous. The roads were very narrow in places so you could not turn around.
Our trucks consisted of ten Army 5-Ton ammunition carriers, containing tons of 175mm high explosive artillery rounds and very flammable crates of powder used to propel the artillery rounds, two fuel trucks containing mo-gas and diesel fuel, and some deuce 1/2's containing small arms ammo and food. By this time all of the trusted and preferred convoy escorts, the "Duster" units of the 1/44th Arty with their twin-40's, had already stood down, turned their tracks over to the ARVN, and gone home. Instead of the "Dusters," our convoy escorts consisted of two old V-100s. The V-100s were left over from some long gone MP unit. The Military Police Vehicles were militarily called all terrain vehicles, but we called them worn out pieces of junk because they kelp breaking down. They had six huge rubber tires that carried an armored chassis. The armor on the Vs was enough to stop an AK-47 round, but would not stop an RPG or other anti-tank round that the dinks had. The "V" as it was known only sported a single unprotected 50 cal machine gun mounted high up on the top of the vehicle.
As stated above, each truck was loaded with everything that would blow up and burn! One dink round or a mine on a truck and it was all over! So as you can imagine the "Pucker Factor" was in "High Mode" during this convoy! Each truck had a driver and a co-driver. The co-driver or "Shotgun" as you guys may remember had everything from an M-60 machine gun to an M-79 or an M-16 rifle to provide some protection for the trucks. The two V-100s were located in the front and the rear of the convoy so they could respond to any emergency. In the past, it was required that all truck convoys have a lot more firepower for protection, but due to the American pullout in early 1972, there were no units left in country to help us in this convoy, so we had to do our own. We did have air units above ready to respond if the dinks attacked.
We were only two hours into the all-day convoy when, as we were slowly moving up the winding jungle road about two miles out from Firebase Bastogne, we heard on the radio "CONTACT!" The word contact was the code word for "Convoy under attack!"
I remember hearing firing up ahead of our truck. The firing was automatic small arms up ahead, and I knew we had to move! Then we saw the mortar rounds start to impact near and above the road. The dinks were adjusting their fires as the telltale black smoke started to move up into the air from the round's impact. At this time the guys opened up with everything that we had! The front V had turned around and came back to the point of the contact. Before they were on station, they had opened up with the 50 cal spraying rounds into the side of the mountain from which the dinks had been firing. As the Vs continued to fire into the jungle us drivers were shifting gears like crazy to get the ammo laden trucks to move. With tons of artillery rounds on the back of your truck it was real hard to make them move any faster than they could. By now we we're all really scared with all the firing going on, however we continued on as fast as that Cummins Diesel engine would top out! A lot went through my mind as the firing continued. "Well, was this it?" "Were we going to die here on this God-for-shaken road in Vietnam?" "Were those SOB-in dinks waiting for us around the next curve with an RPG in his hand?" "Pure Pucker Factor!" But I knew one thing that we had to do was to get out of their "killing Zone" as fast as we could! So, our heads were down and I had the pedal to the medal in my 5-Ton!
The Army 5-Ton ammo carrier truck had ten 38 inch wheels on the ground, and all wheels were in drive because the 5-Ton was an all-wheel-drive vehicle. I remember as I was down shifting to negotiate a hair pin curve my wheels, I lost traction in the soft dirt and I bogged down to an almost stopped position. Well, the guy behind me, I think his name was Neese, slammed into my rear! It was a good hit too because I almost lost control. Neese was a professional truck driver back in the states and could shift all 16 or so gears in the 5-Ton Army truck like it was nothing! When he shifted the gears on his truck he was moving the torque from his rear axle to all of his axles like it was his second nature. Finally, after my tires started to dig-in my truck broke free and we were moving again! We finally moved into the staging area just below Bastogne and parked. Everyone jumped out of their trucks and took cover. For about an hour we watched as the Jets and the Cobra gunship bombed and machine gunned the position from where the dinks were firing. The big 175mm guns at Firebase Bastogne could not shoot for us due to the fact that those guns could not shoot that short range. They could shoot 22 miles, but they could not shoot less than five miles (except under direct fire conditions) and we were a little over two miles from Bastogne!
Luckily, all of our trucks arrived to Bastogne intact, however a few of us had to change out our pants!! The ammo that we delivered that day gave the men of Firebase Bastogne and the big 175 mm guns of Alpha Battery of the 2/94 Artillery enough ammo to hold back the dinks until most of the American units could relocate to the coastal areas like Phu Bi and Da Nang. Once those units got to the coast they could stand down and go home!
The 70 or so men of the Service Battery, 2/94 Artillery were some of the last Americans off the DMZ before Uncle Ho's horde came across the DMZ in Spring of 1972. It was our trucks which hauled the last load and closed the door on the heavy artillery activities on the DMZ. Our motto was "We haul with style class 5" We were known on the DMZ as the "MOTHER TRUCKERS!"