CATKILLER HISTORY, 1965, By DEWEY GROCOX
Ft. Lewis to Phu Bai in 1965, By Dewey Grocox:
In December 1964, I arrived at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for basic training. After basic training I went to Ft. Eustis, Virginia, for aviation training with an MOS 670D (fixed wing aircraft). I then traveled to Ft. Benning, Georgia, to join the 11th Air Assault for airborne training. Upon arrival, the 11th Air Assault was being disbanded to join the 1st Cavalry Division in Korea. Orders changed and between 50–75 men were pulled out and sent to Ft. Lewis Washington. We were to be the advance party of the 220th Aviation Company.
After arriving in Ft. Lewis, Washington, we traveled down to Oakland, California, to board the troop ship USS John Paul Getty (DDG-53) to travel to Korea. Orders changed again, and we were pulled out of line. We boarded a C130 bound for Guam and then Vietnam. We landed in Guam where I dropped a letter to my fiancé informing her we were going to Vietnam and not Korea. Our next stop was Saigon, refueled, and then dropped off at the Phu Bai Air Terminal.
It was pitch black when we landed and there I saw my first fire fight. Sgt 1st Class Barnaby (New York) told me to get the men squared away. My reply was “how do I do that?” We set up our quarters for the night on the runway surrounded by duffle bags. The next morning, I could see nothing but sand, airport, and Marine helicopters. There were no signs of the firefight from the night before.
Our first orders of the day were to fill sand bags and build a perimeter defense. Our living quarters were the black tar tents which we would learn to call home. Terribly hot and humid, with no jungle fatigues or boots, but we survived it all. In typical Army fashion, one of our first supply shipments contained hundreds of wool blankets which had managed to catch up to us from Korea. We were equipped with (2) M2 Brownings, (6) M60 GPM’s, and the normal allotment of small arms. We immediately set about building living quarters, gun towers, and bunkers with Vietnamese workers that were hired from Hue. We also began construction on a 3ft perimeter trench that would wash out with the coming monsoons. We then began to work with the 3/5th Marines in a shared hangar, but it would not be long before the rest of the 220th would arrive from Ft. Lewis.
Everything seemed to fall into place as the men, pilots, officers, and equipment began to arrive. Our first CO was Major Curry. It was during his command that the original “We Observe” 220th patch was designed. The only patch we wore was the MACV patch. We did not have a patch to distinguish us as a unit. Our first patch was designed on an engine crate by Gustof Fagerson (Texas). Major Curry gave his approval and we went to Hue to have them made. Our next CO would be Major William Schmale.
No words could ever describe what a fine man and CO that any man could stay and serve under. A class act by all means. I was his crew chief and had the opportunity to fly with him on many occasions. He would often ask “is this plane safe to fly?” I would reply that it was safe. He would then say “get in.” Old timers will remember that Major Schmale had a special punishment if you got out of line. He would have you fill 1,000 sand bags. Major Schmale was able to talk Sgt 1st Class Barnaby and I into extending our tours. I am still not sure how he was able to do that, since we both had to fill a thousand sand bags. WO Donovan Benhey often said I would return home via Okinawa, but I did return home to Indiana on 9 September 1966. It was during this time that I would form a lifelong bond with these young men. Among them would be Max Menerey (Michigan), Marvin Harvey (Wyoming), Roger Sabaj (Indiana), Charles Brown (Virginia), and Gustof Fagerson (Texas).
This is the just the start of the information that I can share with you. We were the first there and paved the way. I have pictures of the base, living quarters, and early personnel when Phu Bai was nothing but tents and sand. In closing, if you need more information, I will do my best to help. I have a list of at least 20 men of the original 1st team that I can remember. I also have addresses for some along with pictures. You must remember that after 45 years, I have lost contact with many of them and memory fades with time. Maybe another 220th member can recognize men in the pictures that I just cannot remember. I remain ever grateful and thankful.
1528 N CR 350E
Rushville, IN 46173 765-932-4347
HISTORICAL PHOTOGRAPHS—FIRST YEAR (1965):
The following photographs are presented courtesy of PFC Dewey Grocox, original 1st Team member, 220th Aviation Company. Most of these will be displayed in the order received, unless there is evidence of it's appropriate placement. Photographs represent the 1st Team's initial efforts at construction of the 220th living area and necessary fortifications (see link to page 2 of Grocox photos at bottom):
Additional pages of photographs by PFC Dewey Grocox, original 1st Team member, are available at the following pages: