FORT HOOD, TX & THE “BOATPEOPLE” SAIL TO “NAM”

By David L. Woods 

The real story of the 183rd from a historical perspective contributed an awful lot to a lot of folks on the ground.  What you are under taking as historian is very, very important.  Today’s generation look at us as antiquities since flying 0-1’s into combat is something they never would have thought about. 

We received every medal except the MOH I believe, although Lee Chock was recommended for the MOH and it was downgraded to the next level.  Distinguished Service Medal, posthumously.  There were several DC’s awarded.  Bronze stars, purple hearts, air medals, etc. and each order/citation details the story of that particular incident so it could be useful info for you to substantiate dates, events, and details of combat actions. 

In addition to combat actions the efforts involved in forming a company from scratch, organizing and training its personnel, gathering all the proper equipment from jeeps to truck to A/C maintenance tools, making sure we had them all and everything was in working condition in just five months was herculean and everyone contributed.  We then had to prepare each and every piece of equipment for sea shipment to a combat zone.  In parallel the pilots were training on the few A/C we had and traveling to Cessna, Wichita to accept and fly back to Fort Hood the newly refurbished 0-1’s with their new self sealing fuel tanks, additional FM radios and armor plated seat protectors, plus more.  It was a busy time. 

I would like to strangle the Pentagon Travel Agent who made the travel arrangements.  One early morning we formed on the Fort Hood parade ground as the Ft. Hood Army Band was playing and with some family members and a few friends we were launched with their best wishes on our journey.  I was concerned there might be some kind of inspection, but no one cared what we were taking.  I was so happy to my S&W 357 magnum buried in my socks and underwear along with ammo and no one caring what I had in there. 

We boarded buses at the parade field and by 6:30am we were unceremoniously sent off to war (BETTER THAN THE EGG SPLATTERING OBSCENE CALLS WE GOT ON OUR RETURN.)  In Kileen, Texas the buses dropped us off at the train station where we preceded to board troop trains (all of us were hung over from the night before at whatever bar we happened to be at.)  In San Francisco 1½ days later we were marched from the troop trains to the ramp to board the USS Gordon where another Army Band played patriotic music.  The ship was not ready for departure still loading equipment and we had to mill around for hours waiting to board.  The total number of troops on board was 2400. 

We finally boarded around 5pm and the group of pilots I was with were shown our quarters for the next 22 days which consisted of one room with one porthole and 17 bunk beds with little to no room to walk between them.  It was better than the EM’s quarters below because we at least had one porthole. 

We departed San Francisco Bay about 8:30pm and it really put a lump in my throat to look up at the rusty dirty steel girders of the San Francisco Bay bridge as we entered the Pacific Ocean.  So many guys got sea sick when we hit the rougher ocean waters the merchant marine folks had turned on the showers so guys could upchuck without standing in line for a sink or toilet. 

We stopped in Okinawa to take on fuel and supplies. We stopped off at Vung Tau to drop off some troops and supplies and the next morning we were at Cam Ranh Bay.  We boarded with our M-16’s and Army issued 45’s the LST landing craft to go from ship to land.  I remember rope ladders, ala, John Wayne storming the beaches at Iwo Jima. 

Then we were piled into dump trucks on the beach for transport through Cam Ranh Bay to Dong Ba Thin.  Dong Ba Thin was the home of the 1st Avn. Battalion, I think.  The 183rd was assigned the north end to set up its company area.  The first night all we accomplished was moving further out into VA territory, the concertina wire around our new area.  We slept under the stars wondering what the hell are we doing here?  From nothing except a sandy soil area began the roots of what was to become on of the better company areas, dining halls, movie screen, etc. in the area. 

The real legacy of the Boat People is so misunderstood by many.  Of course, since we were together for months training we made some strong life lasting friendships, something not really available to replacement pilots that flew into Nam and then were farmed out to small groups of pilots all over II Corps.  When we lovingly refer to ourselves as boatpeople it is not meant to be anything but a sense of pride in having formed this great 183rd RAC and set the stage for the others that followed that created over five years of superb combat performance. 

It should also be noted we still have one MIA, Maj. Strobridge.  I think it is also worth noting that every enlisted man assigned to the 183rd made it home on the right side of the ground. 

On another note, I had a great football weekend.  UGA lost and their fans are screaming bloody murder.  I am not a UGA fan.  My real love, pro football was just great to me yesterday.  I was able to watch my number one team, Steelers, beat Tampa Bay while simultaneously watching my 2nd best team the Falcons beat the Saints.  I rooted most of last year for the Saints and thought they had some help from above to do all they did including winning the Super Bowl.  But, that was last year. 

Have to go (more surgery?) 

Regards, 

Woody                                                                              ALL COPYRIGHTS RESERVED

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