The Fourth of July Party
By Mike O’Farrell
Sometime in early to mid 1967, after about 6 weeks of jungle busting along the Cambodian border, the 3rd Squadron road marched back to Xuan Loc, to do their stint at Blackhorse and get some well deserved rest and maintenance. In the late afternoon, we were met by MP’s who carefully guided us through Saigon, where people lined the streets and balconies, cheering, giving the peace sign, and in some cases, throwing us cold cans of beer.
As I remember, we were quite well behaved, and only ran over a couple of Renault taxis which had dared to challenge our right of way. There may have been a couple of curbs and street lights that got bumped too, completely by accident, of course. We looked like a scene from a WWII newsreel; tanks devoid of all fenders and sponson boxes, and ACAV's equally beat up and filthy, some with holes from RPG penetrations. Dusty, helmeted faces with bloodshot eyes peered back at the crowd, goggles pulled up on the helmets, Afrika Korp style.
But perhaps the strangest sight was the loot. We had been quite fortunate on this mission, and just about every vehicle carried sacks of VC rice piled high around the turrets and gun shields. Liberated bicycles hung anywhere they would fit, and the sound of enemy pigs could be heard coming from the inside some of the tracks. One tank was even towing a slightly damaged Australian Landrover, the symbolic kangaroo carelessly painted over with black paint, but showing through anyway. The brass must have had a fit.
I cannot remember where the idea for the 4th of July party started. It was probably in the jungle when we captured the VC tax collector with a bag full of MPC’s, or it might have been after the Zippo had been brought up again to burn captured rice, when someone might have said that it was such a waste to destroy it all.
It had started among the younger enlisted types, and crept up to the younger officer types. But booze was needed if there was going to be a party. Slowly “The Plan” started to take shape, over the radio and in personal conversation. We knew that we would be going back to Blackhorse soon, and would probably go through Saigon and then pass right in front of Second Field Forces, home of General Westmoreland and the BIG PX.
We needed a couple of breakdowns right in front of the main gate, and some volunteers, armed with lots of ration cards and MPC money. On a long road march, broken down vehicles were a common sight, waiting for help from a maintenance truck or track. A tank, an ACAV, and a maintenance deuce and a half were chosen for the special mission. A 1LT., one Sgt. E-6 and a Spec 4 were volunteered to be the insertion team, mostly because of their reputations for petty larceny. Ration cards were collected days in advance, money was accumulated and clean fatigues were secured for the 3 man PX assault team. No one over the rank of 1LT. “officially” knew what was to take place. Operation “Whiskey” was ready to be activated.
The radios buzzed with coded talk as the convoy came over the bridge out of Saigon, and on to the four lane highway. Just over the bridge, where the road leveled out, a tank lost its right track at about 30 miles and hour and proceeded on a leftward course, across three lanes of highway, through a barbed wire fence, a mine field, a mud field, and ended up against a very recently abandoned ARVN bunker.
The tank commander was laughing so hard when he radioed his plight that he was almost unintelligible. The convoy didn't miss a beat, and kept going. Second Field Forces was reached, and then another tank reported that he was stopping to tighten up an end connector. A few minutes later, an ACAV pulled over because it was overheating. A maintenance vehicle reported that it was pulling over to help them, and then would go back with a couple of VTR’s to get the tank in front of the ARVN bunker.
Third squadron pulled into Blackhorse at about dusk. To the surprise of most, we saw doughnut dollies, graded red clay roads, MP’s and even wooden buildings (WABTOCS.) Civilization had come to Blackhorse while we were gone.
Although progress is inevitable, it is sometimes sad. There was even an officer's club and an NCO club. Early the next morning, some stragglers arrived, two tanks, an ACAV and a maintenance deuce and a half. They say that the truck appeared to be very heavily loaded and was driven very, very carefully.
The party was held on July 4, 1967 in the tank company motor pool. The Rhesus monkeys screamed their indignation from the trees around the motor pool. Doughnut dollies were invited and came, and were treated with great dignity by all. They even got to go on a tank ride. No MP’s were invited.
The party was held jointly by one of the ACAV troops and the tank company. Care was taken to make sure that the perimeter was manned at all times by sober individuals. Troopers raised on farms slaughtered the pigs and we had roast pork Cuban style and barbecued pork, Texas style. A Cajun Spec 4 made “dirty rice”.
There was salad and ice cream donated by the mess hall. Cold beverages were in abundance, both spirited and not, and were enjoyed by all except for some non-drinkers who chose to smoke odd smelling cigarettes behind the motor pool tent. The party ended at nightfall, and the doughnut dollies were driven back to their secure area in a newly repainted U.S. Army Landrover, escorted by troopers on bikes. The MP’s did not interfere.
After all these years, this is
still a good memory.