604th Came Ashore At Qui Nhon Like D-Day!(first-person account of unit arrival & first days)
I was on the USS Nelson Walker when the 604th departed for Vietnam in January, 1966. We departed from San Francisco and went under the Golden Gate Bridge. The commanding officer of the 604th was Major Cote, therefore the 'Cote's Angels' patch.
What a trip. It took us something like 16 days to get to Qui Nhon and I was sick the whole time from the turbulence on the trip. I still have the ship's paper and the daily progress of our trip. Incidentally, my father, Apolonio Jaso, went to Germany on the same ship in WW II.
My platoon leader was a huge man we called the Jolly Green Giant, Captain McDermott. He was a great guy if you got to know him. Some of the guys didn't care for him because he was gung-ho. I remember when we came off the ship at Qui Nhon, we got off the ship like you see in the movies. Keep in mind that we landed at Qui Nhon and not Nha Trang because the word was that Nha Trang was under heavy fire. Little did we know, until later, that there was no such thing, that Nha Trang was actually an Australian Nurse resort.
Anyway, we climbed down the side of the ship on those big rope ladders and got into several PT Landing Craft ... fully geared for battle … guide-on flags and the works. I still remember that men were praying, thinking of loved ones and all that stuff. When the Landing Craft finally got to the beach, we watched the front gate of the craft drop and we all poured out into the water and began to run up the beach, hitting the ground thinking we were in for a fight.
Then everybody that was on the beach stood up from their lawn chairs and stared at us like we were crazy!
That was Captain McDermott! Many more stories like that and I learned to appreciate him a lot. He was at Mass every chance he got and especially on Sunday morning. Yes, we had a chapel that we put a Bird Dog propeller on as a cross on the steeple.
I was there when we built the unit up out of nothing. All we did was sandbag, sandbag, sandbag … and shoot water buffalo for luaus. We built a perimeter of wire and built the officers hooches out of wood, while the enlisted men had 8 man tents. We sandbagged each one and we stood guard in the rain, with polished boots and the whole question and answer bull. We witnessed several monks douse themselves with gas and light a match in town. That was on our way to the lake or river on the other side of Pleiku, where we went to fill sand bags. We built an entire company from scratch and it was not the best experience.
I was so impressed in seeing the company area in your photographs. I remembered some of those areas personally and it really touched me. Most of your photos show a company area that was modern and we never had it that good. I was fortunate to see the beginning of the first wooden two-story barracks built. A few days before completion, Charlie got to them … as well as what would have been our first glimpse of hot water. Our floors were always the ground and we had alert after alert. But, we survived!
Several of our GIs were hit during mortar attacks and we were fortunate to witness a medal pinning ceremony by Gen. Westmoreland at the 604th for our wounded.
There are many memories … it's been a long time since these stories have come out.
Hernan E. Jaso, Sp/4, 1966-67
[ed note: the 203rd Signal Det. (of the 219th Avn. Co., Camp Holloway) was reassigned to the 604th in April/May, 1966]
Those of us that were absorbed into the 604th [from the 203rd] didn't have to move over into that area because of being "short timers". We were allowed to stay in the 219th hootches because we would be rotating out in weeks. I remember that we were really thankful because of the action of the new unit.
Camp Holloway had a platoon of Infantry that was mainly for security of the entire compound. When any new unit arrived to stay at Holloway there would always be the usual military ceremony and then at night there would be a "special" welcome when part of the perimeter and the mortar pit would stage a mini fire fight to shake the newbies up a bit.
When the 604th got there they had all their weapons and ammo and for some reason they failed to recognize that we had infantry patrolling out side the wire at night. They started a fire fight with our own security platoon for three nights in a row. Their accurate fire resulted in absolutely no casualties but lots of dirty under wear. After the third night of this it became mandatory to request permission to fire unless there actually were people IN the wire. After that there were numerous requests for flares from the mortar pit, they always seemed to be over the 604th area. Walter 'Lou' Costello, SP/5, 1966
My Name is Raymond O'Hearn. I was a Spec 4 in the 604th from 66-67. I had Cote as our CO. He was not liked at all. We were known as Cote's Angels. One quick story. He had a structure put up with a galvanized roof. Then covered it with a 10 man tent. That was his hooch. When night came the guards would throw rocks at it. It was quite a distance, but we managed to hit the roof once in awhile. Made a loud bang.
I would imagine he didn't get much sleep. It went on as far as I know every night. Wasn't long before he transferred out of the company.
De-Gunned In '69!
Anybody else remember when they took our weapons away from us and locked them up?
Man, they did some stupid stuff over there ... and I bet our Highlander brothers who were there before and after us are finding this one hard to believe. But it's true.
The CO called a company formation one day in August or September, 1969, and announced that we didn't need our individual weapons anymore. So we turned them all in and were issued weapons cards that we had to show to the armorer to retrieve them. And the crew-served and platoon weapons were all locked up in an arms room in each barracks and one of that building's SP/5s or Buck Sgts had the key. Like we were back in Basic at Ft. Campbell instead of in the middle of a frickin' war with three divisions of NVA deployed within a few miles of us across the Central Highlands!
Excuse my French, but what a jungle f**k that was! First time we got hit, we ended up at our defensive positions completely unarmed! Hmmm ... I wonder why everyone ran for the bunkers instead of standing in line in the middle of the company area while rockets were impacting within the perimeter?
There were no M-14s, no M-16s, no M-60s, no M-79s, no grenades ... NO NOTHING! The only people who were armed were the guys on guard duty and the officers and NCOs. If it had been something more than just rockets, the company would have been wiped out.
We got them back immediately. I found a letter the other day that I'd written to my sister about it ... the whole fiasco lasted just six days. "Hey, Mr. NVA, Mr. VC ... don't shoot us just yet, please; not fair; first we gotta line up, squared off like good little soldiers, in front of the armory, all 200 of us right in a row, to show our cards and sign for our weapons ... and then find the guy who has the key to our platoon weapons that are locked up in the barracks .... and then, finally, run down to our perimeter positions to fight with you. You'll wait for us to do all that before you start trying to kill us, right?"
Like I said, un-frickin' believable.
Harald Hendrichsen, SP/5, 69-70
This story is about Old George. He was not your ordinary fellow. We had this guy for about a week, hid out on our bunker line. Well, time passed and we killed Old George ... and then we ate him. We were joined by guys from the Air Force base and from several units on post. We had cold beer and we all enjoyed Old George. SP/5 Thomas from the Armament Shop and Mortenson cleaned him. The BBQ sauce was about 5 fifths of Crown Royal and other stuff added to the cook out. Well, to make this story real, you see Old George was a water buffulo we stole from a nearby village. This the truth.
Mack Lambert, 604th Eng. Shop. 1968
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