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Subject: Running Amuck in Vietnam

Bill Bellinger
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Date Posted: 06:55:17 07/14/05 Thu

Most soldiers survived their tours in Vietnam without too much trouble. Some ran amuck and some paid the dire consequences. A few paid with their lives. Early in my tour in Vietnam I served on a Summary Court Marshal panel. We tried a soldier who got drunk one night, took an Army jeep and went into Qui Nhon. He had accident and a Vietnamese woman was killed. He was charged with manslaughter and misappropriation of a government vehicle. The panel found him innocent of the manslaughter charge by a 3 to 2 vote and guilty of the lesser charge by a unanimous vote. The panel consisted of a Captain, a 1st Lieutenant and three 2nd Lieutenants. You can guess how the vote went. Enlisted men usually chose to have all officers on their court marshal panel, believing that they would be more lenient. The defense presented extenuating evidence in the sentencing portion of the trial. This soldier received a weird letter and poster from his girlfriend, which he claimed caused his behavior. The panel didn’t buy it and he was sentenced to six months in the stockade.

Sometime in the summer of 1966, the 5th Maintenance Battalion CO decided to have a ‘Dining Out’ at the Qui Nhon Officer’s Club. It was an opportunity to socialize with all the officers in the Battalion. I remember being concerned, because it meant that we had to drive back to Phu Tai at night along QL-441 and QL-1. Since we expected to be drinking that night, we arranged to have drivers. My company supply clerk, SP4 Schribner, was the driver of the jeep I was in. I don’t remember much about that evening other than drinking a large quantity of beer. I do remember smuggling out a cold beer to Schribner, who was waiting patiently with our jeep. We arrived back at the 56th Signal Company (554th LEM) compound without incidence. I gave Schribner a couple of beers from our cooler in thanks for his driving and patience. Later that night Schribner and two others slipped out to go across the street to visit the Vietnamese establishment, which was off limits. They simply walked out the front gate waved at the guard telling him they’d be right back. After enjoying some warm Ba Mi Ba (33) beer the MPs showed up. The Vietnamese kept them out of sight and the MPs passed on by. They then made a beeline back to the company. They were lucky, they could have been picked up by the MPs or worse. They were unarmed and in a civilian establishment that was off limits at night. The only thing that happened other than the bad hangovers was that they missed bed check.

After the reorganization in August 1966, I was transferred to the new 85th Maintenance Company. A 2nd Lieutenant arrived to replace me in my old job as Supply Officer for the 56th Signal (which became the 554th LEM). One day he went with some of the unit members to the car wash by the river in Phu Tai Valley. Someone had a camera and took pictures of him with a half naked Vietnamese woman. Not the kind of thing that you want out there if you ever plan to run for public office!

When the 85th Maintenance Co. was located in Charang Valley, we had a soldier who went on guard duty very tired after drinking all night before. He left his post and fell asleep at another location. He was found asleep after his relief arrived. He was charged with sleeping on guard duty. At his court marshal, his defense council, 1st Lieutenant Alfred Pelham of the 618th HEM argued successfully that he was not at his post when he was found and that he had in fact been relieved. He was acquitted. The Army should have charged him with abandoning his post. He was not re-tried.

In the fall of 1966, I served my only duty as a defense council in Vietnam. The Army was trying a soldier from the 526th for disobeying a direct order from his First Sergeant. This soldier had an injured right wrist and had been put on light duty by an Army doctor. The First Sergeant ordered him to dig a trench. He refused to even try. I tried unsuccessfully to show that the First Sergeant’s order was invalid because of the pre-existing Army Doctor’s order. He was convicted and sentenced to six months in the stockade. I was told by the Court Martial Judge that had he just picked a shovel and attempted to dig that he probably would have been acquitted but he did not even do that.

In 1966 alcohol was the drug of choice in Vietnam for most GIs. However, some did do hard drugs. One night in Phu Tai Valley I was summoned from a sound sleep by one of the Company NCOs. He told me that SP4 F. was going berserk, ranting and raving and lashing out at everybody and everything. It was obvious to me that he was either going to hurt himself or somebody else. I had several Soldiers subdue him. We piled him into the back seat of a jeep and I drove him up QL-1 to the medical unit that was next door to the 554th. They took one look at him and gave him some type of sedative or something and kept him there under observation for the night. He showed up back at the company the next day as good as new. I don’t know what he was on, but he was certainly hallucinating and having a very bad trip.

Later, after we (85th Maintenance Company) had moved to Danang, SP4 F. got into another more serious pickle. He and two other soldiers from the 85th decided one night to leave the Danang Sub-Area Command Compound (DASC) and visit some of the local establishments in East Danang. These guys were armed with their M-14s. There was a disturbance and one of the soldiers was shot in the leg. The MPs showed up and one of the soldiers pointed his loaded M-14 at the MPs. After thinking better of it, the soldiers were taken into custody. They were charged and released to the company. I was assigned to investigate the matter and recommend an action. The soldiers would not talk to me, so all I had to go on was the story according to the MPs. I recommended a trial by court marshal even though the DASC Commander wanted to give them an Article 15. I felt that the offense was serious enough to warrant a trial.

In early 1967, the MACV Officer’s Club in Danang had several very nice looking young Vietnamese women who worked in the bar. They were stunning in their white Ao Dais. One in particular was named My. (They were all named My weren’t they.) One night after consuming a large quantity of beer I closed the Officer’s club (last man out.). I offered to drive the girls home. This was normally done by the club manager but he was more than happy to let me do it. So here am driving the streets of Danang about midnight with two Vietnamese girls in my jeep. You guessed it the MPs stopped us. After checking ID’s and my drivers licensee and some fast-talking they let us go on our way. After dropping the girls off I went straight to my BOQ. Enough excitement for one night. Here I was driving around the streets of Danang alone after midnight. Not too smart. On another occasion I was walking around Danang alone at night looking for a place called the ‘Take Ten Club’. I was told there was going to be a party there. Everything in Danang was off limits and there was a curfew so this wasn’t too bright either. I found the ‘Take Ten Club’ later but the party was over. It was a Navy club. I could have called a Navy ‘Taxi” and they would have taken me right there. Dumb guy!

In the spring of 1967, two soldiers from the 85th Maintenance Company’s Detachment in Dong Ha and two soldiers, who I believe were from 2nd Battalion, 94 Artillery, decided to drive into town one night. They were probably headed for Quang Tri along QL-9 and QL-1. The roads in Quang Tri Province were dangerous during daylight hours. At night… They drove into an ambush. Two soldiers were wounded and two were killed. They paid the ultimate price for their foolishness.

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Re: Running Amuck in VietnamBobbie Joe Meredith14:17:09 10/30/05 Sun

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