Alpha Co. 1st Platoon, Who Came and Went 9/67-7/68

October 12, 2012 by  
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1st Platoon, Alpha Company, 3d Tank Battalion at Con Thien
10 September 67 – 14 October 67

A-11 Sgt. Guivara* 1102 2nd/Lt. Coan
Cpl. Hubert 4259 Sgt. Davis 2039
Cpl. Graham 3013 Cpl. Hodge 9380
L/Cpl. DuBose 3939 PFC Minch 2023

A-12 Lt. Coan 0944 Sgt. Carter 8613
Cpl. Sanders 2133 Cpl. Irizarry 3575
Cpl. Johnson* 3438 PFC Clark 6720
L/Cpl. Trevail 6546 L/Cpl. Trevail 6546

A-13 Cpl. Aranda* 4074 Sgt. Howard 5796
PFC Sudduth* 5498 Cpl. Baker 4850
Pvt. Burnett 6046 PFC Bishop 5929
L/Cpl. Bores+ 8787 L/Cpl. Coggins 2939

A-14 Sgt. Weicak+ 5125 Sgt. Weicak 5125
Cpl. Holmes 6613 L/Cpl. Brown 0633
Sgt. Shands 7574 L/Cpl. Mims 1433
L/Cpl. Woodall 0092 PFC Palazzari 3048

A-15 Gy/Sgt. Hopkins 2320 G/Sgt. Hopkins 2320
Cpl. Martin* 0960 Cpl. Jordan 7193
L/Cpl. Apodaca* 4103 L/Cpl. Workman 1597
L/Cpl. Augustine* 9398 PFC Berkholtz 0840

*Short-timers rotated back to Dong Ha on 15 September.
+WIA. Note that replacement crewmen Pvt. Manchego and L/Cpl. Murray
arrived at Con Thien on 15 September and were WIA (evacuated) less than one week
later. Replacements temporarily assigned to 1st Platoon during this time frame and then
reassigned were: Sgt. Osborn; Cpl. Crist; PFC Glass; L/Cpl Blum.
Lt. Coan assumed “command ofthe pi Platoon on 10 September, 1967. He
replaced Lt. Tom Barry who had received two Purple Hearts during his three weeks as the
tank platoon commander at Con Thien. On 14 October, the 1st Platoon’s ”time in the
barrel” was over. Lt. Brignon and Gunnery Sergeant English brought their 5th Platoon
tanks up to ”the hill of angels” and replaced 1st Platoon.

The pi Platoon rested and PM-ed their tanks at C-2 for the rest of October. Then,
just before Thanksgiving, they got the word to move up to the C-2 Bridge half-way
between the firebases at C-2 and Con Thien. Two tanks from 5thPlatoon joined them at
the C-2 Bridge, which gave them six tanks. The following crewmen were assigned to 1st
PIt. during this time frame: Cpl. Ramirez 0188; L/Cpl Blum 0862; Cpl. McCartney 6006;
L/Cpl. Ingalls 3839; Cpl. Matthews 5612; Cpl. Larson 8965. Fifth Platoon tanks were:

A-52 Gy/Sgt. English 2422
Cpl. Baker 4850
Cpl. Gehl 7387
L/Cpl. Bishop 5929

A-42 Cpl. Calderon 5066
L/Cpl. Wallace 8958
Pvt. Sudduth 5428
Cpl. Samia 9278

On Christmas Eve, 1967, 1st Platoon (-) was instructed to move back up to Con
Thien in support of 2nd Bn., 1st Marines where they remained until February, 1968. The
four tanks had the following crew assignments:

A-12 Cpl. Joe Irizarry 3575
Cpl. Howard Blum 0862
L/Cpl. L.A. Clark 6720
PFC Rael8114

A-14 Cpl. D.L. McCartney 6006
L/Cpl. lB. Ingalls 3839
PFC Myers 5561
PFC Melton 5617

A-13 Sgt. Howard 5796
L/Cpl. Pena 8973
L/Cpl. c.r, Coggins 2939
L/Cpl. Minch 2023

A-15 2ILt Coan 0944
Sgt. Osborne 0433
L/Cpl. Workman 1597
Cpl. Matthews 6512

After rotating from Con Thien down to Carn Lo Bridge for a brief spell, they
moved back up to C-2 in March, 1968. In April, they got the word that 1st Platoon of
Alpha would move back permanently to Con Thien. Crew assignments were as follows:

A-12 Gy/Sgt. Thomason 7957
Cpl. Coggins 2939
PFC Woodard 2698
PFC Kendrick 4810

A-14 Cpl. Bert Trevail3438
Cpl. Ingalls 3839
PFC Melton 5617
Pvt. Unland 5854

A-13 Sgt. Howard 5796
L/Cpl. Pena 8973
L/Cpl. Minch 2023
PFC Kohnke 5316

A-15 Lt. Coan
Cpl. McCartney 6006
PFC Miers 5561
Cpl. Workman 1597

Gunnery Sergeant Thomason was wounded along with Lt. Coan during a mortar
attack at Con Thien on May 4th. The gunny was medevaced, and his replacement was
S/Sgt. Woodward 2068. Also corning to the platoon in April was Pvt. Moad 0633; PFC
Yanos 0939; PFC Horb 7634; and PFC Wise 6594. In June, S/Sgt. Woodward returned
to Alpha Company in Dong Ha with an ailing A-12. He never returned to 1st Platoon. His
replacement as platoon sergeant was S/Sgt Tews 4792. There was another reshuffling of
crews in preparation for the anticipated regimental invasion of the DMZ by the Marines in
the summer. Crew assignments were as follows:

A-13 S/Sgt. Tews 4792
Cpl. McCartney
Cpl. Pena
Cpl. Minch

A-14 Sgt. Trevail
Cpl. Ingalls
PFC Unland
PFC Renteria

A-15 Lt. Coan
Cpl. Workman
L/Cpl. Wise
Cpl. Hunt 2468

F-31 Cpl. Wear 4788
L/Cpl Fleischmann 6292
PFC Steffe 7571

A-51 Sgt. Irizarry 3575
L/Cpl Hendon 4991
PFC Woodward 2698
L/Cpl. Jewell 1432

On July 6th
, 1968, 1st Platoon participated in Operation Thor along with the 2nd and
3rd Platoons of Alpha Company. This operation involved the entire 9th Marine Regiment in a
sweep around Con Thien up in to the DMZ, clear to the Ben Hai River, and back across the Trace
into Leatherneck Square. The 1st Platoon consisted of the following six tanks and crews:

A-13 *S/Sgt Tews(S/Sgt. Waggle) A-14 Sgt. Trevail
Cpl. McCartney L/Cpl. Wagner 0111
Cpl. Pena L/Cpl. Miers
Cpl. Minch PFC Unland

A-15 Lt Coan A-22 *Cpl. Moinette 5680
Cpl. Workman PFC Bradley 0448
L/Cpl. Wise LlCpl. Larsen 6137
L/Cpl. Melton PFC Maxwell 2906

F-31 Cpl. John Wear A-23 Cpl. Bonilla 2728
L/Cpl Fleischmann Cpl. Beeson 3810
PFC Steffe L/Cpl. Sargent 9143
PFC Clark 1475

*Two tank commanders were wounded in the DMZ by incoming artillery during
Thor, S/Sgt. Tews and Cpl. Moinette. Tank A-13 was replaced by A-II during the
operation, and that new tank crew consisted of S/Sgt Riggins 3660; PFC Shackelford
9605; PFC Spencer 2567; and L/Cpl. Madison 4684.
On 16 July, 1968, Lt. Coan was made the XO of Alpha Company in Dong Ha
and his replacement was 2nd/Lt. Frank Blakemore.
This information was provided from personal records kept by Lt. Jim Coan during his tour in Vietnam as
the platoon leader of 1st Platoon, Alpha Company, 3d Tank Battalion-courtesy of Jim Coan, Sept., 2001.

Tanks for the Memories

October 12, 2012 by  
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Tanks for the Memories

By: Jim Coan

            It’s been discomforting to admit it, but the passage of time has dulled some memories of my tour in Vietnam as the platoon leader of 1st Platoon, Alpha Company, 3rd Tanks, 1967-68. Of course, I can recall many of the close calls, the fear I felt during incoming, as well as the times I was ready to spit nails when dealing with ignorant grunt officers who neither understood nor appreciated the tankers attached to them. But what I hang on to the most, and pray they never fade, are my memories of some of the most gregarious, extroverted, one-of-a-kind characters that I had the honor and pleasure to share a cup of C-ration coffee with.

Sgt. Howard always comes to mind first. He had served a hitch in the Marines during the late ‘50s, early ‘60s, then left the Corps to become a construction worker. He decided to rejoin the Marines when the war in Nam was heating up. By 1967, he had worked his way up to sergeant. That Marine loved every day he spent in the Corps. When we were getting mortared, or rockets were hitting our compound at Con Thien, we could always count on Howard to say something to break the tension and get us laughing in the grim reaper’s face. He was the platoon scrounger. Clean cots and new blankets would show up in our bunkers overnight. I asked no questions because I didn’t want to hear any lies.

Howard’s tank and mine were marooned for a few days at C-2 when a monsoon deluge washed out the MSR between Con Thien and C-2 in September, 1967. One afternoon, Howard and another tanker walked in carrying a crate of apples and some large cans of dehydrated potatoes. Their story was that they had convinced a sympathetic cook that we had nothing to eat and were starving. I suspected that they had filched the food from the mess hall tent when the cook was distracted. Again, I asked no questions.

We had rigged up a tent-like tarp between our two tanks to keep us out of the rain. One day, a dozer tank from the Cam Lo Bridge joined us. The TC was L/Cpl “Charlie” Brown. His tank had been marooned when the bridge flooded, so he was looking for some shelter until the rain subsided. Unbeknownst to me and my little band of orphaned tankers, Brown was a legend in the Marine Corps, having been busted and promoted more times that anyone knew. He was the type of combat Marine you wanted watching your back in a fight, but not someone to go bar hopping with on liberty. When he asked innocently if anyone had a deck of cards, we stacked a few cases of C-rations to make a table and played “tonk”, then we rolled some dice. By the time “Charlie” Brown and his crew left, none of my tankers had any piasters left. We were all cleaned out, having been taken to school by the best in the business.

My first platoon sergeant was Gunny Hopkins, a Korean War vet from West Virginia who only had a few years to go until retirement. He greeted everyone as “old cob.” His dream job upon retirement was to drive a beer truck. He had forgotten more about tanks than I knew, so I depended on his input and experience. Despite his countrified tendencies and me being a city boy from Tucson, we hit it off right away. We shared a Dyemarker bunker at C-2 for a month, and I enjoyed it when he would serenade us with a country song—“Yo-ure cheatin’ heart . . . .” He scrounged up ice from somewhere so we always had cold beer, which was a blessing after 40 days under siege at Con Thien. Of the five platoon sergeants I served with in Nam, Gunny Hopkins is the one who always comes to mind first.

One of the most unforgettable characters I met was Bert Trevail. He was a 24-year old Lance Corporal who had once served in the Canadian Army. He tried college but didn’t adapt well to the confines of academia, so he joined the Marine Corps to go to Vietnam. My first day at Con Thien, I ducked into the tanker bunker to say hello. Trevail stabbed a bayonet into a warm can of beer and offered me a swig. He said, “Welcome to the fightin’ first platoon, sir!” I remember thinking, “All right! I’ve found a home here.” Trevail would challenge anyone, enlisted or officer, to a game of chess. He never lost. I wrote him up for a Bronze Star after we had a tank drive into a 2,000 pound bomb crater in the DMZ during Operation Thor. My platoon was attached to G/2/9 attacking NVA dug into a bunker complex. Ignoring the mortar shells dropping around us, Trevail and another crewman got a tow cable hooked up to the stuck tank, then he stood out in the open to ground guide the other tank out of the crater. We were then able to resume the attack.

There were some other characters I’ll never forget. We had a Lance Corporal Charlie Coggins with us for awhile. He was from Cullowhee (sp?), North Carolina. He lived so far back in the hills that I doubt he owned a pair of shoes until he joined the Marines. Coggins was assigned to Sgt Howard’s tank. One night, unbeknownst to Coggins, the scout-sniper team behind us observed him through their night vision scopes sitting atop the turret playing with “Mr. Happy.” The next morning, some smirking scout snipers were asking who had the 0200 to 0400 watch. Coggins just laughed it off like no big deal.

We had some other unforgettable characters in the platoon. I’ll always remember Cpl. Ken “Piggy” Bores. He was a happy-go-lucky, high energy kid who, by the time I ran into him, had seen too much war. But he kept on putting out 100%, even though he was a short-timer. I recall the day he got wounded and medevaced from Con Thien. I had mixed feelings–glad he was going home alive, but knowing his loss would leave a void of positive energy in the platoon.

I have lots of fond memories of those Marine tankers that I served with in Nam, how they carried out orders even though they might bitch about it, their steadfast courage in the face of danger, and the camaraderie we shared with each other. I was privileged to have known and served with them.

 

The Marble Mountain “Mad Dog” Caper

October 11, 2012 by  
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The Marble Mountain “Mad Dog” Caper

When I assumed command of B Co, 3rd Tank Bn in the Spring of 1966, the company CP was located just north of Marble Mountain. Two of my platoons were supporting 9th Marine battalions in the general area of Hill 55. My 2nd Plt, under the leadership of 2ndLt Bill “Lurch” Lochridge, was supporting the 1st Bn, 1st Marines in the area south of Marble Mountain. 1/1 had built a large “fort like” command post from which it conducted company operations in the coastal area.

Following one company search and clear operation, the grunts found a young calf wandering loose and brought it back to the Bn CP area. Since it was so young it required hand feeding with milk and other “nutrients”, a job which the grunts willingly shared. While trying to come up with a mascot name, someone suggested the name “Shits”, since that was what the calf did a lot of.

In the same company area, other grunts had “adopted” a dog which became very territorial and unfriendly to anyone or anything that invaded his TAOR. Because of his nasty nature, he was named “Ass Hole”. One day, “Ass Hole” took exception to “Shits” being in his TAOR and bit him. Several days later, it became obvious that “Ass Hole” was rabid and he was put down. Seems like that should have been the end of a sad story, but it gets much worse!

The several Marines who could be identified as having had contact with “Shits” following the biting by “Ass Hole” were immediately evacuated to the hospital in DaNang and given the series of rabies shots. Because it was uncertain how many more could be infected, the entire battalion was taken off the line and quarantined in a Division rear area to see if other cases would emerge. I’m sure this did not result in a favorable fitness report for the battalion C.O.!

Soon after the Marble Mountain “Mad Dog” caper, Division published an order that all dogs within unit perimeters be vaccinated against rabies if they were to be retained as “mascots”. There was to be a $3.00 fee for the shots to be paid by anyone assuming ownership of the dogs. If no one assumed this obligation, the dogs were to be humanely destroyed or otherwise removed from unit perimeters.

Within my CP area, we had a number of dogs which all of a sudden didn’t belong to anyone in particular, for some strange reason, after I announced the $3.00 fee for keeping them around. Now I was faced with the decision on how to humanely dispose of the dogs. My Company Gunny said he had a .22 Cal pistol and could take the dogs to the rear wire of the compound and solve the problem. Somehow, that didn’t seem to fit the definition of “humane disposition” to me.

Our company Corpsman said he could go up the road to the Sea Bee’s compound and get sodium pentathol from the medical section and put the dogs to sleep with a simple injection. That sounded to me like the humane way to solve the problem. It turned out that, while my Corpsman knew how to give shots to people, he didn’t have the foggiest notion how to properly put an animal to sleep. He didn’t get the injection directly into the blood stream and that poor animal screamed and writhed for several minutes before finally succumbing. I said that was the end of that solution.

Bill Lochridge’s 2nd Plt was due to head back down south to coordinate operations with the battalion which had replaced 1/1. I told Bill to load up all the dogs on his tanks and to drop them off in the “villes” as they passed through. I knew that the dogs would be welcomed by the villagers, “one way or another”! This put a humane end to the “Marble Mountain Mad Dog Caper”as far as I was concerned. I also made it clear that any other dogs showing up in my areas of responsibility had better bring their “papers” with them!