"Every Job Was Important"

by Gene Kuentzler, WS LM-10, 1966 - 67
19th Engineer Battalion
© 1996
40+ years ago . . . February - April 1967

War-StoriesIncoming!: With the end of the monsoon season in January, the 19th Engineer Battalion began to expend major effort on completing complex construction projects, dodging artillery illumination rounds and moving from its original cantonment area in Valley A to Long My (ValleyF).
      Construction rapidly increased during the dry season as attached and assigned units changed a bit, with the 1st Platoon of the 572nd Engineer Company (Light Equipment) replacing the 2nd Platoon of the 630th Engineers. Meanwhile, Charlie was looking us over, and we were doing reconnaissance on them and their Uncle's buddies.
      During this period we completed two major construction projects at Van Canh: a permanent CH-47 Heliport and the expedient renovation of a 3,600 foot T-17 membrane airstrip. We also constructed two steel stringer, timber trestle bridges.
      During the Van Canh airfield project, the unit met resistance in ambush by a platoon-sized NVA unit. A violent firefight, with mortars, gunships, and F-100 air to ground support (via the Van Canh Special Forces Camp), accounted for four NVA KIA (by body count). Friendly casualties were two CIDG KIA and one Special Forces advisor wounded.
      Later reconnaissance efforts met with little or no resistance along QL19 from Qui Nhon to Pleiku and QL1 from its intersection with QL19 to Bong Son.
      New construction commitment for the 19th resulted in its move to Long My--the Valley A cantonment area. While we were still located in Valley A, our compound underwent its most illuminating experience. ROK Tiger Division artillery was attempting to light up an area near a QM laundry, about a mile away from the unit. That laundry had fallen victim to a VC sabotage incident--blowing up the laundry is bad for morale, you know, and probably a safer target than a frontal assault. Nevertheless, the 19th became the next victim.
      105-mm Howitzer: Don Poss On the night of 12 April, more than a half ton of illumination canisters penetrated the perimeter. Twenty-six empty 155mm illumination rounds, weighing over 50 pounds each, disrupted an unusually quiet night. Unaware the origin of the artillery was ROK, and considering the possibility of incoming, the pucker factor took hold sending soldiers scurrying to-and-fro seeking out damages and injuries. Fortunately, only four personnel were injured in the foray. Still, the 50 pound 155mm illumination rounds continued hitting within the camp with such impact as to penetrate four feet of soil! Some of those rounds went through corrugated steel roofing, wall lockers and steel filing cabinets, then actually buried themselves in concrete. We had been on the radios telling the ROKs to stop the firing. It actually ticked us off to think they were so stupid as to fire in our direction, since the 19th had been in Valley A, for two years and was the coordinator of security.
      As we huddled inside the HQ Co orderly room and supply room, I remember 1SG (Richard) Lawson saying he'd just as soon see what was coming in as to be hit from the blind side, so we headed around the corner to see what we could see. We could smell the odor of something burning and could hear the tinny wail of incoming empty canisters that seemed to hit about 60 meters or so behind the light of the parachutes. We were near the helipad when one suddenly struck the Pierced Steel Planking, skidding along the PSP and shooting sparks along the pad. Lawson was right about feeling better about seeing what was coming in.
      S-2 and S-3 (Bn Recon & Operations) gathered in the Ops office to coordinate reinforcement of part of the perimeter, assess damage and injuries, estimate potential strength and location of an opposing force. Leaving the office, I recall hearing several horrendous explosions and a lot of screaming. We ran back to the S-3 section to investigate and render aid if possible.
      It was obvious that a 155 had come through the roof and penetrated the concrete floor. The concrete became shrapnel and Rick Love was writhing in agony and pain, having taken a lot of shrapnel. We decided that ten guys in one room was a cluster, so we left two men to help Love and the rest of us dispersed. Love recovered, but received no Purple Heart because his deep scaring wounds were "friendly fire."
      The move to Valley F went largely without incident or comment, except for the GI's perennial question: "Why?" Rumors abounded! It seemed the area was highly desired and other units coveted our good fortune. One rumor held that the 19th compound in Valley A was far nicer than that of the 45th Engineer Group in the heart of Qui Nhon. In fact, the 19th compound had concrete monsoon storm drains; the 45th compound was as ugly as sin!
      Naturally, the officers met to determine compound assignment. How we lost the compound is in question, but the fact that we lost it is not. One rumor was that a weekly coordination briefing among various commanders contributed to the sudden move. Totally unsubstantiated rumors that Colonel George Bush, group commander, made a bad bet in the post-briefing poker game, and lost the compound to an unnamed commander, who in turn lost it to someone in the (Transportation chain-of-command. It is, we must be reminded, all rumor.
      The rumors continued: The 45th Group wanted the compound because it would not be convenient for them, so, they moved the 19th out so the 8th Transportation Company could take it over. Whatever really happened, we were out, they were in, and the 19th began it's odyssey to Long My.
      Valley F was a flurry of activity that turned into a full-blown storm. The operational concept was for the battalion to be centrally located to assigned projects. Company C started the work in late March, grubbing, clearing adjacent land amounting to a 30 acre, 2,000 man cantonment area, and other useable land.
      A portion of the site was leveled and terraced, where necessary, for tent sites. A prefabrication yard was established to construct tent frames, tent floors, latrines, shower facilities and mess hall area, all of which would eventually be acquired and used by Logistical Depot personnel.
      Company B came in to remove 74,000 cubic yards of laterite and 24,000 cubic yards of soil in construction of internal roads, drainage facilities and storage areas. Numerous open steel sheds went up, with more in the plans. At the same time, the Phu Tai Ammo Storage Point, four miles southwest of Qui Nhon, was under continued maintenance and repair. It was the major ammo point for the Central Highlands.
      Attached units, the 544th Float Bridge Company and a platoon of the 509th Panel Bridge Company, transported engineer supplies to Bong Son and Tuy Hoa. Two 7-day assault boat commitments in support of 1st Cav. The missions were successfully completed and the 509th moved on to Operation LaJune. Elements of these units then moved by sea and made amphibious landings near Chu Lai on a mission in support of Operation Oregon.
      We felt complete trust and admiration for the Officers of the 19th, many of us have survived because of the decisions made by them, they cared about the welfare of their men and looked out for us, they were our "Buffer" between the unwise decisions made by the higher up desk commanders who were only interested in their careers and not the well being of the men under their command.
      The supply channels and even those in the USA providing the logistical support were all needed. If we did not have the beans & bullets shipped to us by them, then how could we function? Every job was important, no matter how trivial it may seem to someone else!

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