Remembering earlier times of violence…

Violence seems to closer to the norm these days than it should be. Americans can remember when their participation in aggressive actions were for the safety of free peoples and fighting for democracy.

Todd empathizes with a West Point classmate in this post:

At the end of my message, I have included a link to a memoir that some may find to be food for thought in these difficult times in the United States.

It is a piece writtern by one of my West Point classmates who was in Vietnam about the same time as I for my 1st year there. It is based in his daily journal writing and his letters back to his wife and children in the USA. Thus, it has extreme detail which in sum presents a very accurate feel for what life was like for my classmate and in many ways for myself as I served that year. Many in the US never hear of the war beyond what media portrayed. The details were often clouded by the division in our nation over our being in this war which took the lives of over 50,000 of those who served. In my West Point Military Academy 1962 class of about 600, 50-60 would die including one of my dear roommates.

The writer of the story behind the Internet citation noted above was one of classmates. He was a Captain in the artillery which fired explosive rounds at real or suspected enemy locations. My duty by contrast as a Captain was to command an engineer company of 150 men which for a part of the year expanded to 300 for a special project (an oil pipeline across Vietnam from the ocean on the east to westward near to the Cambodian border.

This project included (1) building a port site to unload 5 kinds of gasoline/diesel from ships to dozens of bolted steel tanks we built capable of holding over 500,000 gallons of fuel. (2)for the tank farm building complex pumping stations/filters sites to fill tank trucks and mostly to push these 5 kinds of fuel into the near100 mile pipeline that would cross that nation, (3) building pumping stations each 16 miles to keep the fuel moving in an 8” steel pipe line on ward at 600 gallons/min and at a pressure of about 15-20 times (450-600 lbs/in2, PSI) that used on our automobile tires and to (4) create on the way up a mountain along the way mechanisms to assure the pressure never exceeded 1000 psi. This pipeline would be the lifeline for 10s of 1000s of vehicles, over 1000 helicopters, perhaps 100s of cargo airplanes and fuel for electric generators, etc. for perhaps a total of near 200,000 soldiers in that sector of Vietnam. That year saw about 11,500 of the over 50,000 Americans to die in that war.

In addition to this critical pipeline my C company of the 19th Engineer Battalion, built 3 airfields to land cargo planes, one of which was at Bong Son called AZ English that is spoken of in this Captain Zenker’s story. Much of his year in Vietnam was near that airfield. My company also built near 250 miles of major roads and perhaps 40 bridges that same year. My company had about 16-20 dump trucks (5 ton load), 6 bulldozers, 2 graders, 3 soil compaction rollers, large concrete mixers, air compressors to run various tools and lots of trailers (cargo/water). I received 2 Bronze Star Medals for Valor in the building of the airfields under enemy fire. Of my 150-300 men I lost only one, and that was due to a accident, the steel rim of an exploding truck tire.

I believe the enemy saw we engineers different from the infantry that might shot them or the artillery that might fire exploding bomb like munitions at them. Being that all of our building projects were seen by the enemy as something that would be of value to them if and when they won the war they welcomed roads, bridges, pipelines, buildings and airfields where their planes could land someday. Further, for many of my projects I would hire 100-300 enpoverished local men at $3/day to join us in building our projects. We in fact were often the only money the local people could fine. The letter “E” painted on the bumper of our vehicles told the enemy that we were engineers, not soldiers aiming to kill them. Thus, the number of times we were ambushed was much less. However, enemy explosive mines buried in the road had no eyes to see our “E” on the bumper.

The story told by my classmate is quite excellent in painting a picture of what day to day life was like in that 1966/67 year, the 1st in that war for me. His story makes also clear the trials of parents, wives and children in the USA who had to with prayer wait in the hope for the safe return of their father, brother or son.

In that I may never write such detail about my 2 years in this war, I recommend you to consider its reading since my classmate with his daily journal entries and perhaps 100 letters to his wife and children back in the USA reveals details one might not even imagine.

Best wishes to all,

Todd D. Stong PhD
Colonel, USA 30 yrs, Retired


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