Flight #1

Quan Loi International Airport

The 3rd Maintenance Company. Dian, assigned to the 610th Maintenance Battalion, Cu Chi, was tasked in the early spring of 1967 to supply a contact team for support to A Battery, 6/27 Artillery in Quan Loi. Five mechanics, an experienced NCO, and a young 2nd Lt. formed up in the next convoy northbound on Rt. 13. (Photo 1) The trip was uneventful to An Loc. (Photo 2) The team took the right turn, drove through the rubber and then came upon an airstrip with four SP guns on the left. (Photos 3 & Photo 4


(Photo 1) (Photo 2) Photo 3)
(Click All Images to Enlarge)

A Battery's Quan Loi home (Photo 4)

Battery Commander, Capt. Erv. Kamm, warmly welcomed the team. He showed them around, pointed out a vacant area near the Metro unit over by the Frenchy’s house and pool and said “we’ll have work for you soon”. The next thing was a 175 firing! It quickly became apparent that hearing and life would never be the same again.
A shop area was set up and the mission soon became clear. Not only was the normal automotive type of repair for vehicles operating in a red dust bowl or a red mud pool a part of our mission, the changing of tubes was job one. It was quickly learned that the effective safe total tube life could come at anytime of day or night. A change had to be accomplished safely and speedily. A true testament to the professionalism of the entire battery was the frequency of the call for a tube change.
OJT worked its wonders and the team became fairly proficient in the trade. (See “Changing a 175mm tube” on this site) Charlie also got to know that the battery was there. One night the contact team was awoken by incoming mortar rounds. This was a totally different sound than the outgoing 8” and 175mm rounds which one could adapt to for sleep purposes. The VC wanted to stop the nightly H&I fire, Turkey Shoots, support missions to the area Special Forces bases, and general havoc those 4 guns brought to the enemy. Others can give the full story of how the battery staved off being overrun that night. Let it be said that it was a long night and the VC managed to severely damage an 8” gun.

A day or two passed, more perimeter support was received, the area was policed. Visitors from artillery and maintenance higher Hq’s arrived. Stars and eagles all over the place looking at the damaged gun. It was asked if we could repair the gun.  Were they just trying to be nice to us?  They were politely (?) informed that with all the parts, tools, repair manuals, and expertise, it might take six men several months!  Not a satisfactory answer.  The entire base camp shortly found out what stars and eagles could really accomplish when they wanted something other than giving lower ranks condescending looks.  They wanted four operational guns in Quan Loi.

The road from the south had not seen a convoy for several weeks.  There were no plans to dedicate resources to open the road.  Everything; food, beer, mail, ammo, replacement tubes, POL, personnel, all came to Quan Loi via air.  The C-130 and smaller aircraft could handle those items. A M-110 SP carriage was another matter.  A C-141 was capable, but out of the question as the airstrip was considered unimproved as far as the large jet was concerned.  That left the propeller driven C-124 Globemaster.

C-124 II

Within days, an Air Force technical team arrived to measure every part of the strip. Borrowing a line from a popular Guthrie song of day, “they left no part … injected or uninspected.” By the end of the day the decision was a definite maybe. The length, width, and firmness of the strip were marginal considering the total weight of the aircraft. There were no replacement chassis in Vietnam. The closest one was in a depot in Okinawa. The stars and eagles made it happen. We were advised there would be a delivery in a couple of days. Quan Loi was going to have an international flight.

A safety team arrived to set up communications with the aircraft for advice on exact weather conditions at the time of touch down. The major concern was stopping. Head wind, fuel load, temperature, all played a critical part of safely bringing the aircraft to a halt. By mid-morning a large aircraft could be seen and heard circling the strip to burn off fuel. The “come on in” was given and many eyes and cameras focused on the end of the field.

The safety team told the observers that the pilot would actually reverse pitch on the props prior to ground contact. The aircraft would drop to the start of the runway since airspeed had been lost.  The crew’s precise timing worked. Initially, the only visible confirmation that the plane was on the ground was a growing huge red cloud approaching the battery end of the strip. The roar of the four piston engines in full reverse grew.  Out of the red cloud came the large shape of a C-124.

There was no taxi to a gate. The crew didn’t wait for the captain to turn off the seat belt sign. Their job was half complete; they were safely on the ground waiting to open the cargo doors. You can just about make out a smile of satisfaction on the crew member faces as they were getting their first look at our home. Without ever shutting down the engines, the loadmaster got the doors opened and started the track. Out it came. 

(Click Images to Enlarge)
It is doubtful if the vehicle was ever this clean again.  No time was wasted.  The track was driven to a waiting new 8” tube which had been delivered earlier by air. While the contact team and battery personnel were putting the gun back in service, the air crew readied their aircraft for departure.  The plane was required to stop at Bien Hoa for refueling.  Though capable of carrying enough fuel for a round trip from Okinawa, the weight at landing prohibited this unnecessary momentum contributor.

     FIRE MISSION   On target.

 William Carr, (2Lt. 3rd Maint. Co., 1967)    Then  and  Now 



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