Thunder Road

Quan Loi was connected to Saigon and Long Binh Post via Highway 13.  Most Americans called it Thunder Road - it could be a very dangerous road to travel.  Many troopers lost their lives or were captured on that road.

I found myself with two health problems in February 1969.  A filing had come out of one of my teeth and my eyesight was getting bad.  I tried to read a book each day, and I guess the dim light from flashlights or the few lights overhead and run by the generators caused my eyesight to deteriorate. 

Foolishly I had dropped out of the University of South Carolina when Dean Morrison had told me to “quit wasting my daddy’s money and go on in the Army”.  Well I took his advice about dropping out of school, but waited on the draft before going in.  In those days the Navy and Air Force recruiters just laughed at me when I tried to volunteer for those services.  I had gotten as far as a physical exam in the Air Force, but my blood pressure was slightly high and in the end, they turned me down.  If I had gotten into the Air Force, and with my luck, I probably would have wound up stationed at Quan Loi Airstrip anyway. 

At any rate, the Army doctors didn’t see anything wrong with a little high blood pressure.  I guess they knew the odds of life expectancy for combat arms MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) were one in ten of dying and five in ten of being wounded.  What’s a little high blood pressure in comparison?

My tooth was aching and my eyes going bad, the medics told me that I needed to go down south to Long Binh to visit a dentist and an eye doctor.  Long Binh was a huge supply center.  Each week a deuce and half (two and one-half ton truck) was sent to Long Binh for supplies.  The battery commander issued a pass for me to ride shotgun on the truck so that I could attend to my health problems.  The driver was a good guy.  When he wasn’t making the supply run to and from Long Binh, he hauled potable water for drinking and taking showers.  Personally, I never drank the water.  I preferred the Budweiser that only costs ten cents five nights and was free on the other two nights of the week.

When going for supplies the transportation guys would form long lines of trucks into a convoy, and the MP’s would be escorts for the convoy.  Many convoys were attacked by Charlie either by mines, rockets or in some cases actual ambushes.  If it was an ambush Charlie usually paid the ultimate price because Cobra Gun Ships constantly patrolled the road.

I remember packing my gear and the other guys of Section 4 were not happy to see me go.  You probably think they would miss me because of my great personality – no, they were going to miss me because we were constantly short-handed.  With me gone they were going to have to take up the slack of still one less body.

The driver and I mounted the truck.  I felt like I was going on R&R.  We joined other trucks as we were pulling out of Quan Loi.  I had been issued my usual two clips of ammo for my trusty M-14 and also a pair of goggles to keep the dust out of my eyes.  More and more trucks joined up as we pulled onto Thunder Road.

At this point, I would like to tell you how we fired at Charlie coming out of the bush; how we were out of ammo, and fought hand to hand, and killed him with our bayonets, but that was not what happened.  There was no sign of Charlie along Thunder Road that day.  The trip was uneventful.  The scenery was barren jungle treated by Agent Orange, with large potholes on the sides of the road from B-52 air strikes.  All in all the country was desolate, barren and appeared dangerous.

We arrived unscathed at Long Binh Post.  When the driver took his goggles off you could see the whites of his eyes, but that was all.  Every other inch was covered in dirt.  The first thing we did was take a shower and put on fresh clothes.

Long Binh was a sprawling rear area supply camp (See Map).  Most of the higher level Army staff was stationed at Long Binh or Saigon.  These incidentally were thought to be the two safest places to be in Vietnam.

That night a trailer of iced-down beer was rolled into our area, and we watched a movie on a big screen (actually a sheet).  “Man”, I thought, “what a life.  These guys type orders, process paper work, and live like this at night.”

The next day I went to see about my tooth and the glasses.  “Bad News,” they told me, “You won’t be able to ride the “A” Battery truck back.”  I would have to wait at least a week until the truck was back for re-supply, and catch a ride back to Quan Loi then.  It was a tough week, that one week that I spent in Long Binh.  None of the officers knew me, so basically I slept and enjoyed life.

One night while we were at Long Binh we ate at a Chinese Restaurant.  The waitress brought steaming hand towels for us to wipe off our hands before we ate.  The food was great.  I thought about my buddies humping ammo and powder back in Quan Loi.  They would not believe this way of life existed in Vietnam.

My tooth was filled with a temporary filling because no permanent material was used in Vietnam.  My new glasses actually allowed me to see the leaves on the trees.  An uneventful ride back up Thunder Road led to a welcome home from my gun bunny comrades.  Back to a routine life of ninety-nine percent monotony and one percent sheer terror.

Larry Jameson  Then and Now


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