Quan Loi:  Where I Learned the Meaning of Fear and Other Memories

Hi, Bunker-mates!

I am Tom Atkins (was PFC) who served April to August 1969 with A 6/27.  I learned the real meaning of fear at Quan Loi and LZ Joe.

My mind is a blank when it comes to names of those in FDC, however I remember the FDC Chief was a truly outstanding SSGT (E-6), a highly capable warrior and leader.

I remember the incidents of what seemed like almost daily in-coming harassment mortar fire around chow time.  The first time that happened I dove to the ground right at the entrance to the chow tent.  Everyone else took off running.  It seemed they had forgotten the rule from basic training: "HIT THE GROUND!  You can't outrun shrapnel!" 

But as I peeked up from under my helmet as I lay prone on the ground, I immediately realized the reason for their haste to run.  I was laying less than 5 feet from a huge butane tank!

Remembrance 2: While assigned to night perimeter bunker guard for the first time (it was facing the tree line on the west side), a flare was tripped in "the wire."  My fellow guard and I saw what looked like a human figure quickly hitting the ground.  We communicated what we saw.  The officer of the guard stated that rats often tripped the flares, but would send someone to investigate.

Immediately after communicating that, 2 incoming 122mm rockets bracketed our bunker, a third landed near us but did not explode.  They were incoming from BEHIND us (coming from the east, obviously trying to hit the aircraft on the airfield),

Suddenly we realized that a NVA Sapper unit had breached our wire and a huge firefight broke out.  I think on that occasion we had two casualties that did not survive.  

At the break of dawn we had a least eight enemy lying dead (and pieces of them) inside our wire.  I'm not sure how many bodies were outside the wire.  They had breached our wire through the trenches - wash-outs under the wire caused by the rains.  If the trip-flares had not been there, I am certain our casualties would have been great.

As we checked the bodies of the enemy, one of my buddies flipped over one of the bodies that had a leg missing.  To our alarming surprise, the poor soul was still alive and lifted his hands saying, "Chu hoi."  Shortly thereafter a South Vietnamese Army interrogator came over and started stomping on the chest and shouting questions to the sapper. 

At that point I felt like emptying my M-14 clip into that brutal interrogator.

The last I saw of the terrified NVA Sapper, he was being thrown onto a stretcher -- hopefully he received more humane treatment.

I can also recall when we were almost over-run at "LZ Joe" near the Cambodian border in late July 69.  That is where we took two 8" tubes to interdict an NVA Regiment that was to pass through there, according to intelligence, in two weeks.  They showed up in four days!  We were a reinforced company of infantry and our two eight-inchers.  It was about 170 of us against 4000 enemy.  DEFCONs, air gunships, and our direct 8" fire saved our bacon.   We suffered at least 30% dead and wounded that night.  My bunker-mate there, a red-haired Medic, was awarded the bronze star for his heroism.  He deserved more.

I'll save more details for later.

I'll be very interested in getting names of any of our bunker-mates.   The best email address for me is chapatkins@msn.com. 

Strangely enough, after I got out of the Army,  I taught high school, went to seminary, served a church in Texas, and then became a U.S. Navy chaplain.  I served with Marine infantry, combat engineer, and aviation units for 8 of my 24 years as a chaplain.  I retire in July 2003.

Thanks for this website.  I remember a lot of being in Vietnam (Quan Loi), but have drawn a blank on the names of those I served with there.

Tom Atkins
Captain, Chaplain Corps, USN, Retired


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