Charlie Company’s Action in Cambodia Earned Citation For Valor

Submitted by John Lough, in honor of all those Engineers who served and supported the Cambodian mission from headquarters to the front line.
The Cambodian Incursion in May and June 1970 was one of the largest combat operations of the Vietnam War. President Nixon sent 32,000 soldiers, including engineers of the 20th Brigade.
 
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Engineers prepare explosives to clear the twisted wreckage of a blown bridge, Cambodia 1970

Twenty six men of Company C 31st Combat Engineer Battalion became the first engineers to reach Cambodian soil on May 5th.  A bridge destroyed by a stunned and retreating enemy kept the 11th Armored Cav. from encircling the enemy sanctuary. After combat assaulting with the 11th ACR into the dense jungle, they were able to clear the mangled bridge away.

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Army engineers work on a bridge in Cambodia, 1970

The first of a three bridge section assembled in Quan Loi by the 79th Engineer Company was brought in by Sky Crane to be wrestled into position by Charlie Company Engineers.

While the road to Memot was inching its way forward, other engineers including Charlie Company were building their way to Snoul chasing the NVA back toward their headquarters. Then the word was received that “The City” had been found. Company C 31st Engineer Bn and 557th Engineers were dispatched to begin ripping a trail while under enemy fire to “The City” and “Rock Island East” then began removing tons and tons of NVA supplies, destroying what was left.

1970 Cambodia, 31st Engineer Battalion
1970 Cambodia, 31st Engineer Battalion

Many Engineers were killed or wounded during this operation. For their action, Charlie Company 31st Combat Engineers was awarded a Citation for Valor.

Editor’s note:

John Lough served with the 31st Engineer Battalion (Combat) (Army) and was wounded during the Cambodian Incursion in 1970. He is a Purple Heart recipient.

If you served with the 31st Engineer Battalion and have an experience to you’d like to share, please email the editor. Thank you.

Submitted stories are not verified for historical accuracy; they are personal accounts as told by those who experienced them. Comments are welcome.

 

 

If You Build It, They Will Come

By Paul Sharp

HHC, 31st Engineer Battalion (Combat), US Army, Vietnam

Our battalion of the 31st Engineers was attached to the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment at Blackhorse base camp in 1968, during the Vietnam War. Base camp was about 6 miles from Xuan Loc village, which was about 30 miles east of Saigon. During our first few weeks we were busy with our regular duty as well as trying to improve our living quarters (Army tents stretched over wooden frames) which was referred to as “the hooch”. Our hooch provided a home away from home for me and my buddies James D. (“JD”) Gillis, Douglas Leo Neely, Sam J. Van Riper and Joseph P. (“Joe”) Shahum.

After duty hours we typically spent time cleaning gear and weapons, writing letters to loved ones back home and reading letters after mail call. We spent time just talking with our buddies about the day’s challenges as well as what the next day might bring and routinely drank a few or more beers. In base camp time passed slowly and we constantly sought various ways to avoid the boredom. We had some fun playing poker, talking, laughing and reliving the events of the day.

On evening before dark I noticed a couple soldiers outside, playing catch. I walked over to them and mentioned to them how smart they were to bring their gloves and a ball. They told me they got the gloves and ball from the supply section. The next day I went to supply to see what kind of equipment they had. I was surprised to find gloves, balls, catcher equipment, bases … even a home plate! They had everything you needed to play a softball game.

The next morning I excitedly mentioned what I’d found to Lt Leo Farias, the company commander and suggested that we capitalize on the find by building a softball field for the troops – it would give us something to do in the evening, help keep us in shape, great for morale and would be fun and a distraction from the war.

Lt Farias was immediately supportive, but wondered where we would find an area that could be used for the ball field. Having already checked out several potential areas, I showed him the best one I’d found and explained how it could be done. He agreed that it would be good for the morale of the men and arranged for me to present the proposal to Colonel Patterson, the Battalion Commander.

Farias jumped right on it and a short time later he informed me to report to Headquarters to talk to the commander. Colonel Patterson listened intently until I was finished and then responded, “That sounds good to me, but where can we find space for a field?” I gave him my thoughts and he asked me to show him the exact area. I pointed out the area and a few trees which we’d have to take down and showed him how we could lay out the field. He asked me if I could get enough men to volunteer their time to accomplish and I assured him that I could. He said “OK; approved! You are in charge of getting it done ASAP” and that he would arrange to have a grader at our disposal the next morning at 0700 hours to remove the trees. He finished our conversation with, “I’m looking forward to playing some softball myself, Sharp; as I’m sure the men will.” With an emphatic “Yes sir; thank you, sir!” I was quickly out of his office headed to pass the good news to the rest of the guys.

A number of men from Headquarters Company promptly volunteered to help build the ball field and work began immediately. We worked on the field as time permitted and all had fun doing it. It was only a few days later that we had finished the field, complete with a chain link back stop, wooden benches and lime to mark the foul lines. What great excitement we all shared working on this together!

Our first game began with 2 teams: Officers versus enlisted men! The game was marked by varying levels of athleticism and lots of good sportsmanship. We urged our team on and razzed our opponents, laughing and kidding all the while. That first game on our new ball field provided us a venue and sport just like we’d find if we were back home, even though we were very far from home.

That was just the beginning of our ball games. As the word spread, other teams comprised of 31st Engineer Battalion soldiers were formed and the great fun continued, long after I left my buddies to go back home. We all said it didn’t matter who won and I suppose that was true. At the end of the game both teams left the field with heads held high, still discussing the high and low points of their efforts that day.

I will always remember that softball field and the times we played ball in that very tough place during that very hard time. You learn a lot about a person during an athletic endeavor and our efforts on that field taught me much about those with whom I served, regardless of their rank or years of service. The undertaking provided substantial exercise in which all the men could take part – on an equal basis. It increased morale, built esprit and provided a positive focus for what would follow a tough day operating heavy combat engineer equipment in the hot southeast-Asian sun.

Those games on that ball field brought us all closer together. I will always remember my comrades and buddies, young as we were; but also those we did not know so well, but lived and served with us in Vietnam – the great officers, NCO’s and men we were with every day. We laughed with each other and we cried for all those who were wounded and those who died. Although far from home, we cared for all who served with us at Blackhorse base camp no matter what rank, color, or religion.

We were a Band of Brothers, eternally bonded with those who served our country in the past, those who serve now and those who will serve America in the future.

Phuoc Vinh Ground Zero

In our Water

When you consider that we LIVED there, (ate, drank & sleep) with an open tank for the drinking and cooking water, slogging through the mud during the rainy season, could we really avoid exposure?

The veterans who were physically present at Phuoc Vinh Groundwater Zero are, undoubtedly, the most likely to show high level body-burdens of the compounds, even today. Why haven’t we tested the veterans who were subjected to the heaviest and most continuous contamination? Thousands of these soldiers can indeed be found today, through service organizations and the various grassroots networks addressing this issue.

Establishing a group of veterans subjected to high levels of exposure, by evidence of Dioxin (2378 TCDD) testing, and THEN studying these epidemiologically will get at the truth of the matter. The results of blood or tissue analysis of these veterans of Ground Zero will definitively show very high levels of exposure. An additional survey of the medical histories of deceased veterans of Phuoc Vinh will provide STARTLING data.

A year ago I was diagnosed with actinic keratosis, a precancerous skin condition and a cancerous spot (squamous-cell carcinoma) was surgically removed. Whether my skin condition is linked to the thirteen months, I spent in Phuoc Vinh and surrounding areas remains to be seen…

Agent Orange, named after the color of the stripe on the barrels in which the defoliant sprayed by American forces during the Vietnam War was stored, contained tetrachlorodibenzop dioxin (known as TCDD), one of the most poisonous chemicals ever made by man.

The following is an Agent Orange study done by Gregg Knowlton:

The following photos are from “fold3” a collection of original military records

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Origin of the Black Spade, 31st Engineer Battalion Coat of Arms

SUBJECT:  Coat of Arms for the 31st Engineer Battalion                   3   JUN  1965

TO:         Commanding Officer

31st Engineer Battalion

Fort Bliss, Texas 79906

  1.  The coat of arms redesignated for the 31st Engineer Battalion on 16 August 1954 is rescinded.
  1.  A coat of arms for the 31st Engineer Battalion is authorized.  The blazon and symbolism are as follows:

BLAZON

SHIELD:         Per Chevron wavy gales and argent, in chief two mullets of the last, in base on a spade sable on edelweiss proper.

MOTTO:       Demonstramus   (We Demonstrate)

SYMBOLISM

The two stars allude to the arms of the town of Bischwiller in France (Alsace Ardennes).  Considered a “hot spot”, the unit suffered its first casualties there.  The wavy chevron represents Central Europe, the area in which the unit constructed bridges.  The edelweiss refers to the Rhineland.  The spade with edelweiss together with the two stars represent three battle honors awarded the unit for services in the European Theater, World War II.

  1. Each CARS regiment or separate (fixed organizational structure) battalion is authorized an organizational color.  The shield of the coat of arms is embroidered on the eagle’s breast and the motto on a scroll held in the eagle’s beak.
  1. This authorization is in accordance with the following:
  1. Paragraph 68, AR 840-10, 23 August 1962

(Below is the original document, which has been recreated above.)

31st Engineer Battalion Coat of Arms original document

Many thanks to LTC Robert Dixon, 31st Engineer Battalion Commander, for providing this information.

Preserve the history of the 31st Engineer Battalion (Combat) – share your story

31st Engineer Battalion landing in VungTao, Vietnam, April 1968Sent in by Leo Neely:

April 25, 1968: landing day in Vung Tau, Vietnam

The landing was a serious day for all of the troops of the 31st. The day before (April 25th,) we arrived in the bay of Vung Tau, but could not deboard the ship (USNS Barrett) because Vung Tau was under Viet Cong mortar attack. The ship was moved back into the China sea. We watched from the deck of the ship, all night, seeing what the next months would be like. We prayed that God would take care of us, and for the most part, God did. Young twenty year olds that had to grow up fast and let our training as Combat Engineers and support staff get to work and serve our Country, The United States of America.

Thanks to all of my brothers whom with I served.
D. Leo Neely