|Subject: Street Without Joy
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Date Posted: 08:01:55 09/18/05 Sun
Some believe that "Street Without Joy" refers to that section of QL1 between Quang Tri and the DMZ. Actually, in his book, "Street Without Joy", Bernard Fall describes the "Street Without Joy" as an area that lies east of Quang Tri between QL1 and the South China Sea. Fall reported in 1967, that the same VC regiment, the 95th, that had given the French fits in the French and Indochina War in 1954, was again active and operating in the same area. The only
difference was their enemy was now the U.S. Marine Corps. Fall was killed later in 1967, traveling with those same Marines in the "Street Without Joy".
In 1967/68 the NVA and VC had the equivalent of approximately 5 divisions, or 50,000 troops operating in and around Quang Tri Province. Most of these were at Khe Sanh where the NVA were attempting another Dien Bien Phu. They used similar tactics against the Marines at Khe Sanh that the Viet Minh used against the French at Dien Bien Phu. They attempted to surround the Marines and bombard
them with artillery and rockets. They dug perpendicular trenches toward the Marines lines inching closer and closer each day as they had done at Dien Bien Phu. But there was one big difference. The French did not have the massive airpower the U.S. had. As bad as it was for the Marines, it was worse for the NVA and they finally gave up the 77-day siege effort after TET 1968.
Early in 1967 the Department of the Army sent two Department of the Army Civilians (DAC) to the 85th Maintenance Company in Danang to train a maintenance team on the M-113 Self-Propelled 175mm Cannon. Their training consisted of completely rebuilding a M-113 float vehicle. When they were done we had a fully operational 175mm cannon
sitting in our maintenance yard. After the training, the team , the DACs and the M-113 shipped out to Dong Ha. Their mission was to support the 2nd Battalion 94th Artillery who in turn provided fire support for the Marines in Quang Tri Province including those at Khe Sanh. I sent two technical supply clerks to Dong Ha, who in turn supported the maintenance team. The 5th Maintenance Battalion sent an Ordnance Lieutenant from one of their companies.
During off duty hours up at Dong Ha and the artillery fire bases there was very little to do other than drinking beer, smoking pot, listening to music and shooting the bull. Some got a little stir crazy after a while. That happened to four soldiers one night in the Spring of 1967. Two from 85th Maintenance Company and two from the Artillery Battalion decided to drive into town. They took the 85th
Maintenance Company detachment's 3/4-Ton Dodge maintenance contact vehicle. I suspect they were headed for Quang Tri down QL1. Mistake number one. They drove down the road and came to an ARVN checkpoint. Shortly after passing the checkpoint they came to a large pile of brush in the road. They rolled to a stop. Mistake number two. The VC opened up on them. Since they had just passed an ARVN checkpoint, they thought it was friendly fire. Mistake number three. They started shouting cease fire, we're Americans to
no avail. Three of the soldiers were hit, two fatally. The two that could, ran off the opposite side of the road into the safety of the night. The VC then approached and finished off the two wounded soldiers and attempted to blowup the truck by tossing a hand grenade into the engine compartment. All the grenade did was blow a few holes in the hood. It was a tough truck. The `Street Without Joy'
claimed two more victims. The two soldiers who were hiding in the bush, made their way back to the ARVN checkpoint.
We heard about the ambush the following morning at a company
formation. After the formation, the CO, Captain Young, told me that I would be escorting the remains to the Saigon mortuary. The 85th Maintenance Company soldier was in my platoon, even though he was detached to Dong Ha. The Army has a tradition of escorting it's dead. This is not true of the other services. I was driven to the Navy graves registration collection point, which was attached to a
field hospital at the Danang Airbase. When I arrived, I was shown the remains of the Army troops. They were stacked like so much cordwood in body bags, in a walk-in refrigeration unit with 10 dead marines. I was also shown the paperwork on our soldier. He had multiple gunshot wounds in his torso and one wound over his left eye. I was told that the next KIA evacuation flight to Saigon was
not until the following morning. Danang did not have a mortuary at that time. I called the unit and was told to stay with the remains until they reached Saigon. I spent the day and that night with the Navy hospital unit. They treated me well. I guess I was a curiosity.
The following morning, three Navy ambulances arrived at the graves registration point. The body bags were loaded, four to an ambulance. I rode in the lead ambulance and we made the short trip to the flight line at Danang Airbase. The C-130 that we loaded onto, was rigged to carry stretchers in the center of the plane. After the 12 body bags were loaded, an Air Force ambulance drove up with a 13th body bag. The ambulance driver said that someone had left it on the side of the runway and that there was no identification tag and no paperwork. They decided to load it on the plane and take it to Saigon and to let them sort it out. I guess that's how `unknowns' happen. So much for graves registration. The Navy graves registration chief gave me all the paper work for all 12 of the remains they were shipping to Saigon. So at that point, I guess I became the escort for our two Army troops, ten brave Marines and one
unknown. There were two other passengers on that flight. I could tell from the look on their faces that they wished they had taken another flight. The flight to Saigon was uneventful. Not a word was spoken in the back of that plane.
When we arrived at Tan Son Nhut Airbase in Saigon, the C-130 taxied right up to the Saigon mortuary, which was located adjacent to the airbase at that time. When we deplaned a line of Army ambulances were waiting to take our grim cargo to the mortuary. As I was leaving the plane I noticed an Air Force transport being loaded with large casket like metal cases used to transport remains. It was not the reverent picture you see today of the neatly spaced flag draped caskets returning from Iraq. These cases were stacked on pallets and were being loaded with a forklift. I walked to the mortuary, which was a short distance from the flight line. When I walked into that place the enormity of the war hit me. There were body bags everywhere. They lined hallways and corridors. There must have been fifty or more there. I went into the preparation room and gave the man in charge the paperwork for the new arrivals. In the preparation room there was a row of three tables. The table on the right had a zipped body bag on it. The table on the left had an unzipped bag. The man in the unzipped bag was of small stature and appeared to have olive skin. He also appeared to be very dirty. The man on the center table was not in a bag. He was a large white man with dark hair. There was not a visible mark on his body. There were several
others on the floor of the preparation room waiting their turn. I took all this in, in a matter of seconds, because at that point I was in a panic and in a hurry to get out of that place. But it was all seared onto my brain and it remains as if it happened yesterday.
After I left the mortuary, I made my way downtown and checked into a hotel. I stayed in Saigon for two nights. It was pretty much a blur. I did go to Directorate of Supply at 1st Log Headquarters to try to clear up some repair parts requisition problems we were having. I spent a lot of time drinking, trying to erase the images of the previous two days from my mind, to no avail. I went to Vietnam a hawk. My visit to the Saigon mortuary made me a lot less
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