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Subject: Class A Agent Man

Bill Bellinger
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Date Posted: 05:59:14 02/02/05 Wed

One of the duties performed by most junior officers during their tour in Viet Nam was that of Class 'A' Agent or pay officer. I arrived in Phu Tai on May 21, 1966, and was immediately assigned as a Class ĎAí agent. I guess since all the 56th Signal Companyís Officers were rotating back to the States in June and July that they thought Iíd better get that experience under my belt before they all left. Early on payday we arrived at the finance office in Qui Nhon and collected our loot. We came with loaded 45ís strapped to our hips, M-14s, wearing flak jackets and our steel pots. The payroll for the 56th Signal and itís detachments was about $20,000 or so. But it was that funny Monopoly money that the military used in Viet Nam. We called it script. But it had value and we had to count every cent. We then had to total the pay vouchers for all the troops to make sure we had enough money. Then we had to count out the money for each soldier. This was done to save time and to guard against mistakes. Most soldiers would receive about $50 or so and send the rest of their pay home. One Officer would also serve as the currency exchange Officer. He would collect a large sum of Vietnamese currency (piasters or dong). This was exchanged one for one, which was a rip-off because the Vietnamese currency was not valued at any where near the American Dollar. Most soldiers did exchange a certain amount of their pay for piasters. In those days most Vietnamese establishments in Qui Nhon were not off-limits and the military policy was to encourage GIís to spend money locally to help the economy. We also needed piasters to pay our hootch maids who cleaned our clothes, made our beds and generally cleaned up the place. But, I suspect most of it was spent on Ba Mi Ba beer and houses of ill repute or ĎBoom Boom Roomsí.

In 1966 the 56th Signal Company had maintenance detachments all over the I and II Corps areas. The ones I recall were at An Khe, Plieku, Kontum, Chu Lai and Dong Ha. Getting around to pay all the guys in the detachments was quite a trick. It usually took a week or so. To get to An Khe and Pleiku we would drive the infamous route QL 19. This was a road known for its ambushes, land mines and booby traps. All of the bridges between Qui Nhon and An Khe were blown up by mid 1966. Most of these were modern design bridges probably built with U.S. aid in the 1950s. On June 24, 1954, about 15 kilometers west of An Khe near the Mang Yang Pass, the French Groupment Mobile 100 was ambushed and annihilated on QL 19 by the 803rd Viet Minh Regiment. Groupment Mobile 100 was a battalion sized armored unit. Many of the hundreds of dead French soldiers were buried in a cemetery just north of QL 19 near the ambush site. The white crosses marking their graves were still visible from the road in 1966. Had I known the history of the road ahead a time I probably would have been a lot more scared than I was. In hindsight, the way we made the trip was probably not the wisest thing I have done. We, another company officer and my self, left Phu Tai about 10 am wearing our steel pots and flak jackets. I was told that this was the best time, since the morning convoy had already left and any landmines, etc., would have been cleared. We made the trip to An Khe alone in a jeep. QL 19 was pretty much deserted at that time of day. There was no civilian traffic on the road that I recall and only an occasional Korean Army truck. The Koreans were responsible for security on QL 19 from Qui Nhon to An Khe Pass. I watched the local Vietnamese working the rice fields very carefully, fully expecting one of them to pull out an AK 47 and open up on us. We made this part of the trip very quickly, only slowing down to traverse the river beds of the blown bridges. The Army had not replaced any of the bridges between Qui Nhon and An Khe at that time, they simply bypassed them. We arrived in An Khe in time to pay the troops in our small detachment there and a quick lunch of C-Rations. We then hurried to get in line for the 1 p.m. convoy to Pleiku. I was told that it was best to be up front and not get stuck in back with all the tankers filled with aviation fuel and gasoline. Before the convoy left An Khe, a Huey gunship preceded us up QL 19, but we never saw it again. After we cleared Mang Yang pass we left the convoy, much to my chagrin, and sped the final distance into Pleiku alone. Later, I was told that the MPs put a stop to that practice.

1st Log began constructing a pipeline to carry fuel from Qui Nhon to An Khe and Pleiku later that year. After the pipeline was completed local VC (Viet Cong) and NVA (North Vietnamese Army) sapper squads constantly subjected it to sabotage. They would simply walk down QL 19 at night and shoot holes in the pipeline or blow it up with grenades. In January of 1969, an ambush was set along QL 19 by a night patrol of the 50th Mechanized Infantry, 173d Airborne Brigade at a stream called Dak Po about 10 kilometers west of An Khe near Mang Yang Pass. Members of the patrol reported that when the NVA entered the ambush area they were casually strolling along laughing and talking and periodically shooting holes into each section of the pipeline as they went down the road. The NVA caught in this ambush came to a bad end, as did the pipeline, which also caught hell from the gunfire and grenades.

After paying the detachment troops in Pleiku, we spent the night there. There was an American VFW Post in Pleiku. It was a fairly nice club as I recall. They said I should join because you could get a lifetime membership real cheap. But I didnít. We returned to Phu Tai the following day without incident. While waiting for the return convoy at Pleiku, I saw a beautiful young Eurasian girl about twelve years old. I suspect, judging from her age, that her father was probably a French soldier. The Vietnamese kids would congregate near the convoy staging point and beg for money or C-rations or whatever. There were also Montegnard kids there, but they would never beg. They would just stand silently and watch. Just outside Pleiku there was a small Montegnard village. All the houses were elevated on stilts with thatch roofs. They were very neat and clean. This was in contract to many of the Vietnamese hootchs that I saw which were usually built flush to the ground. That could be a problem during monsoon season.

My next task was to pay the detachment troops in Kontum. At that time the only way to get to Kontum from Qui Nhon was by helicopter or an Army fixed wing craft.
I went to the Army aviation unit at Qui Nhon Air Base and was told that there was a Caribou flight to Kontum the following day. This was before the Air Force stole the Caribous from the Army. The flight that day had been canceled due to engine trouble. I took a look at the plane and the mechanics were working on it. I reported the next day for the flight and we took off without incident. As I recall I was the only passenger. There was a small amount of cargo for Kontum. About half way there the right engine on the plane, the one the mechanics were working on, began to cut out. Each time it would do that the plane would lurch to the right. There was some talk of returning to Qui Nhon but the plane began to behave normally and so we continued on to Kontum. We landed at Kontum without a problem. I was told that our time on the ground would be very short and that I was not to leave the plane. The detachment troops had been instructed to meet the plane on the runway to get paid. After we landed, the Caribou taxied to the end of the runway. The back ramp was lowered and the cargo quickly removed with the engines still running. The detachment troops drove up and I paid them. And then we were off. It couldnít have taken more than ten or fifteen minutes. I was later told that the pilots did not like being on the ground at Kontum for too long. Kontum Province was not a good place to be. Kontum City was overrun and occupied by NVA and VC forces in the 1968 Tet offensive. Just as we were taking off from Kontum, the right engine cut out again causing the plane to lurch right just as we left the ground. During the whole trip back to Qui Nhon, the Load Master looked out the window, watching the right engine. Needless to say, none of this was very comforting to a green troop like me. I had visions of the plane going down in the middle of VC country, but it didnít and we made it back to Qui Nhon in one piece.

The following day I flew up to Chu Lai to pay our troops there. After paying the troops at Chu Lai I was told that two soldiers were on a contact mission at an Army artillery fire base south of Chu Lai. I asked the detachment commander, an NCO, how could I get there. He gave me a look that said ďyou really donít know what youíre askingĒ. But, he acquiesced. We donned our flak jackets and steel pots. The sergeant lined the floor of the jeep with sand bags and we took off. He told me that one of the detachment soldiers had received a Purple Heart. He was riding in back of a deuce-and-a-half when the vehicle in front hit a land mine. He received a cut on his hand from the shrapnel. He got a Band-Aid and a Purple Heart! We made it to the firebase without incident. As we were entering the base a fire mission was under way. We drove behind a 105mm howitzer just as it was being fired. The concussion from that firing, caused physical pain to my ears and ringing and partial deafness that I have never fully recovered from. We returned to Chu Lai and I spent the night there courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corps. The trip back to Qui Nhon and Phu Tai was without incident.

Itís funny, but after this experience, I have no recollection of any other payday in Viet Nam or of having to serve as a Class A agent again, although Iím sure I did.

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Re: Class A Agent ManLloyd Hayashida12:52:06 05/11/12 Fri

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