By Roger McGill, HHT 65/66
After we unloaded the LST Westchester County at the end of the Saigon River, all vehicles were lined up in convoy and ready for movement. Well, as all of us do when we meet friends we haven’t seen in a while, we stop and say hello. Well, that is exactly what Major Russell the XO of the Squadron did, and they talked and talked, as the convoy moved out. Then Major Russell realized that the convoy was gone and said to me “MAC”, as that was my nickname – where did they go, well as I had been watching, they went up the street and made a right turn. I told him that, but said I have no idea where after that Sir. Anyway, he said his good bye to his buddy and we saddled up and off we went.
Well, the convoy was nowhere in sight, here we were in the middle of downtown Saigon less than a few hours in country and woops – where the hell are we going. So we just kept going and at a stop light, right next to a cemetery and a cab on the other side of us, he leans over and ask the cab driver. “Heh, you know where camp Bravo and Alpha is”, well the look on that guys face was priceless, but the look on the two Vietnamese in the back of the cab didn’t look good at all. So, the Major said where is my .45, I said right here Sir, and I locked and loaded it and gave it to him. His next comment was, “I guess we really are in country.” We saw an MP at some intersection and asked him, and he told us where to go, and where the convoy had gone.
Now the next morning day 2 in country was the trip North to Base Camp at Cu Chi, 25th Infantry Division base camp. Again, in the morning we all saddled up and out of the camp where we were at overnight, and in convoy formation. The 3/4 Cavalry was rolling and nothing was stopping us now. Well, there were gunships flying above and were there our whole trip up to Cu Chi, moving back and forth, ahead and then back again crossing over us on both sides. But, and there is always a but in every story there is, we reached the Hoc Mon Bridge, and the convoy was being held up, and this wasn’t good. So Major Russell said “Mac” get up there and let’s see what is going on, holding this up. I must tell you that M/Sgt. Pickering was with us again a Great NCO, and tested in WW II & Korea veteran. So, I pulled out of the convoy, and started moving forward on the side of the road, and there wasn’t much side of the road as I remember, and a hell of a lot of dust. So, we get up to the bridge at the river crossing, and low and behold we see the problem. Now, I know if you were like me when I was a kid, I saw just about every WW II movie there was, and I thought to myself, this is the same thing I saw as a kid in the movies from Europe, traveling on some road convoy, all their tanks and vehicles and tracks were being held up by something. Funny how the mind wanders back to time and places during live living times. Well, we get up to the bridge and here is one of our M 48 tanks moving like a snail , because this bridge, sure is not the bridges in the USA or any other place. So, Major Russell says, get across the bridge, I want to be on the other side. So, I being the good scout do just that, made it across, pulled over, and out jumps Major Russell, and M/Sgt. Pickering and me. Well, Major Russell goes right up to the bridge and starts with his fist raised, not in anger, but with his arm raised in a 45 degree angle, fist closed, and showing the driver of the M48 Tank which way to move the tracks and keep in the middle of the bridge. I’m thinking to myself, I have seen this picture before, but it was in the movies. Well, that is how the convoy goes moving again and across the Hoc Mon Bridge. The other interesting thing that happened right where I had pulled over, and while the Major was directing the M 48’s across the bridge, the 113’s and the rest had no problems coming across it, this Vietnamese comes out of nowhere, was there for a few seconds and was gone as fast, as M/Sgt. Pickering and I were looking and fixing on him. To this day we have no idea where he came from, or where he went. Top and I talked about that many a time after that, about that guy. Now we were in the middle of no place really, just the bridge, the river and us. Oh, I’m sure now where he had come from, but back then had no idea. Well, we made it up the rest of Hwy #1 to Cu Chi, when you got to the town of Cu Chi, you had to make a right and then maybe a mile or mile and ½ out to where the Base Camp was, as we were that far away from the town of Cu Chi itself. Hwy #1 went up North from there, and I have no idea what the name of the road was out to Cu Chi. There was an ARVN compound right at the intersection there as you turned to go out to Base Camp.
There is another part of this story that was told by Dave Cox – A Troop 3/4 Cavalry wrote after I posted this story, and I will tell his story here in his words.
On 629/2006 This story was added by Dave Cox – A Troop, Track A-14 ’65-’66 a very good Vietnam Veteran buddy of mine, that went over with us from Hawaii to Vietnam, and we have been to reunions of the 3/4 Cavalry since. This is the second story of the Trip up Hwy #1 – In his words:
“Heh Rog, I just read your account of the road march Hwy #1 from Saigon to Cu Chi, when you guys arrived in country. Good Stuff. The A Troop experience was a little different. We arrived in port late afternoon and they immediately began hoisting our vehicles off with a crane. As each vehicle came off the ship, it was driven by the crew around the corner from the dock area and parked in column on a street that bordered the Saigon River. This went on into the night and those of us who had tracks parked around the corner took turns manning the .50/radio all night ling. The other guys slept and there were some Saigon MP’s patrolling around. The area was partially lit up with street lights etc., plus there was a fair amount of commercial activity out on the river. Anyway, it was mid-morning of the following day when the whole troop unloaded. To this day, I don’t know how they got the tanks out of the lower vehicle well, because I wasn’t on had to see it. Probably just hoisted them out.
In any case around noon, I think we started the drive up to Cu Chi, we had MP escort to the edge of the city and then we were on our own. We did fine getting out of Saigon, but after we crossed the Hoc Mon Bridge, we managed to keep going straight when the highway made a slight jog to the left. Anyway, we went along for a couple miles, it seemed like until somebody realized we were on Berm Road. So, since there was no cross road, and at that point to get back over to Hwy #1, and we weren’t yet at that point where we’d just didn’t drive across farmers’ property. We ended up completely reversing our order of march and drove back down to the junction of the Berm Road and Hwy #1. There, we made a right turn and completed the trip to the Cu Chi base camp. We drove deep into the camp and ended up over on the west side behind the 27th Infantry area. Our advance party already had our tents set up (in the mud), and we pulled into line at a right angle to the 27th positions. I was driver on A-14 at that time and we were the last track, the far left of the line.
They told us to immediately begin digging foxholes next to our tracks, which we did. We also left the ramp of the track up with the single-man access door open. What we didn’t really pay attention to was the fact that right across the road on the left flank of our positions was a battery of 175mm self-propelled guns. I’m sure you remember those. Well, there we were, digging away, when one of those guns fired, right over our heads. To this day, I believe that all 3 of us went through that little doo in the ramp at the same time! LOL. We thought we were being mortared or shelled, or something. So, we’re sitting in there waiting for more explosions and I could hear the automatic loading system cycling on the gun across the road. So I said something to the effect of “Maybe that was one of our guns firing.”
So, Terry Walker, who was sitting next to the little door, decides to open it to take a look. Sure as hell, as soon as he sticks his head out, the gun fires again. BOOM! LOL We were only 150 feet or so away, that battery on the noise and concussion were almost deafening. So, we crawled out of the track with sheepishly looks on our faces and resumed digging our hole. Not long after that, somebody came to the brilliant realization that if it did hit the fan while we were parked there, we wouldn’t be staying in holes, but mounting up to move or fight from the tracks. So the hole digging stopped.
Anyway, that’s the main thing I remember about our first day at Cu Chi. I also seem to remember a 27th Infantry 1st Shirt driving down the line behind our vehicles in a jeep dropping cases of beer off at about every third track and saying, how glad they were to see us
I thought I would share another bit of History written by another 3/4 Cavalry Trooper Scout from our Unit. Thanks for Sharing Dave.”
From Art Bonevich, A Trp 1963/1966
The USNS Sultan that carried A Trp and C Trp to Okinawa enroute to Vietnam ran aground prior to docking at the port of Naha on Jan 16, 1966. See news article below.
Letter from General Otis (then LTC, squadron cdr) to the troopers of the 3/4 Cavalry in June 1968 after he had been wounded during fighting in May west of the Phu Tho Race Track.
In Memory of Major Albert Lawrence Russell
Al served as the 3/4 Cavalry Executive Officer when the squadron deployed to Vietnam in 1966. A World War II and career military officer who retired as a Colonel in July 1979. Al entered service in January 1943 at Philadelphia, PA. Trained at Camp Hood, TX and in April 1943 was assigned as a crew member in Company B, 629th Tank Destroyer Battalion. Landed at Omaha Beach, Normandy on July 1, 1944. He was in constant combat until the end of the war. His M-10 tank destroyed three enemy tanks in Jan. 1945 at Bihain, Belgium, while attached to the 83rd Division. For this action he was awarded the Bronze Star with V device. Mentioned in the book "Tank Destroyer Forces WW II". He was discharged in Nov. 1945 as a Sergeant. Al re-entered the Army as a 2nd Lt. of Armor in June 1951 after graduation from ROTC at Temple University. He was assigned to the 3rd Squadron 4th Cavalry in 1964 as the operations officer. He planned and implemented the squadron's training for deployment to Vietnam. He developed the first whole island squadron size field training exercise on Oahu. Squadron elements moved through Honolulu at night and established a CP at Diamondhead. To local citizens it may have looked as if WWII had returned to Hawaii. His most important contribution as S-3 was the development of independent platoon training for platoon leaders that paid off when the units arrived in Vietnam. When Al became the executive officer in 1965 he planned the deployment of the squadron to Vietnam. In Vietnam he planned the move to Cu Chi and the development of the 3/4 Cav portion of the base camp. Additionally he implemented Medical Assistance Programs with the local population.Al's driver, Roger McGill remembers him as a "take charge person." Al had been talking to a friend when the convoy from Saigon departed from the docks. Realizing the convoy had left, Al jumped in the jeep to follow. Roger had seen the direction the convoy had gone and started to follow. They stopped at a traffic light and asked two Vietnamese in a cab which way to Camp Bravo. Al turned to Roger and said, "We are in country, aren't we? Where's my .45?" Roger pulled the gun from the box between them and Al was now suitably armed.. Several days later the convoy moved from Camp Bravo to Cu Chi on Hwy 1. The convoy got bottled up at the Hoc Mon bridge. Al passed the convoy, jumped out at the bridge and directed traffic to speed up movement. After promotion to Lt. Colonel Al served in the G-3 section of II Field Force in 1966. Al returned to Vietnam in 1968/1969 and commanded 4th Bn, 3rd Inf Regt, 23rd IN Division. Other assignments included the Dept of Army Inspector General's Office, Military Advisory Group Ethiopia as a Colonel, and Chief of the Military Advisory Group Argentina. Colonel Russell retired in 1979.
Decorations include the Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, DOD Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star with V device and three oak leaf clusters, Air Medal with V Device and fourteen oak leaf clusters, Purple Heart and misc. others. Married to Rita Ann Rusche in Feb. 1946. They have two sons and one daughter. Al Russell was born August 10, 1923 and passed away on April 22, 1996. He received an inurnment with military honors at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Honolulu, Hawaii on August 9, 1996.