Phu Bai, RVN
Boom / Boom in I Corp

by: Raymond Cochran
Naval Mobil Construction Battalion Seven
attached to the 3rd Marine Division
Vietnam 1966
(© 2007)



1966 - The story starts in a place far away; a long time ago; a place called Phu Bai, Republic of Vietnam in the summer of 1966. My Seabee outfit named Naval Mobil Construction Battalion Seven was attached to the 3rd Marine Division. Our camp of 800 men was located in a Buddhist cemetery about sixty miles south of North Vietnam.

As a twenty year-old E-4, I was ordered to engineer, supervise the construction, and protect a heavy duty fifty foot span-bridge over a creek, in an area primarily controlled by the Viet Cong. A crazy Marine colonel wanted to run his tanks over it. I asked the Col. who was going to protect it after it was finished? He replied; a RVN Army squad. I laughed and carried out my orders. The bridge was finished two weeks later. It only took the VC one week to blow it up.

1967 - On my second tour, I was in Đà Nẵng East in 1967. As an E-5, I was ordered to engineer and supervise the construction of a major above-ground aviation-gas fuel-tank, as an addition to the Air Force jet fuel farm on a hillside. I asked my superior officer to let me bury it  fifteen feet underground with heavy timbers on top of the tank to protect it from enemy rocket and mortar fire. It was just a little more work. He said no do as ordered.

This time, remembering my bridge, I appealed my idea all the way up the chain of command to our battalion Commanding Officer. He said, do as ordered. I went back to my desk and stewed about it some more. Then I did something I should not have. I called up the naive Air Force Colonel base commander that ordered it and explained my position. He cussed me up one side and down the other and slammed the phone down (probably because I was a lowly enlisted man). I asked myself who do I contact next: LBJ?  I was out of options, I did as ordered. The AF Colonel called our CO and chewed him out about my phone call. I was called to the CO's office and told by the CO that I needed some leadership training. I would be immediately transferred from engineering and be placed in charge of the mess cooks at the chow hall.

Two weeks later the aviation fuel tank was finished.

Three weeks afterward, there was a major daytime rocket attack around the fuel farm. I was standing with about six other Seabees on our west perimeter watching the attack from five miles away. One rocket made a direct hit on my above ground tank, followed by a 5,000 foot fire ball. It looked just like a nuclear explosion; mushroom cloud and all. A few seconds later the concussion hit us and blew us off our feet. Later, I went over to the fuel farm. Everything was leveled and burned and buildings were askew up to a mile out. I do not know how many were killed or hurt.

No planes operated out of Đà Nẵng for two weeks. The Air Force temporary pumped fuel to the planes direct from the tankers in the harbor. No one said anything to me about the fuel farm; I was still in charge of the mess cooks.