History of HQ & A Co.,
709th Maintenance Bn,
9th Infantry Division
By Mike J Williams
This unit was formed and nearly up to strength when I was assigned as CO late in 1966. The outgoing commander was Capt John Banks, obviously a very bright and innovative officer who had brought the company from activation to a state of combat support readiness. By my takeover, the primary tasks facing the unit had resolved to packing and shipping out its equipment, and deploying its soldiers to South Vietnam. Shortly after I arrived, the company also gained its First Sergeant, Thomas Nienabor, arriving from the 3rd Infantry at Washington, DC. He was a strong, highly qualified, and supremely professional NCO who provided invaluable service during the year to come. Lt Bean was the Shop Officer. Lt Campbell the Supply Platoon Leader. Mr. St. John the Armament Section warrant. Memory fails for the other officers, warrants, and NCOs.
Throughout, the company faced two major difficulties. The first was its size, which reached nearly 400 souls at one time, and made command and control unwieldy at best. Second was its dual nature as a maintenance/supply unit and as a battalion headquarters support unit. As CO, I was HQ Commandant for the battalion and simultaneously commander of a company providing Direct and General Support for a major portion of the 9th Infantry Division for tank and automotive maintenance, armament, communications, and repair parts supply for my own and for C, D and E companies. B Company provided aviation support and repair parts supply.
The first impact of the company’s size was that we could not deploy as a unit. Transportation requirements dictated that some soldiers had to ship out without their own leaders. Mr. St. John, the armament warrant, was unable to go with his section at all. We had to make an ad hoc reorganization of platoons made up of different company elements under officers and NCOs available. Last minute assignees proved unqualified and in some cases unwilling to accompany the move. Troopers, NCOs and officers were packing and shipping equipment not their own with which they were not familiar, but eventually most problems were resolved and the element I still led departed via troop train one snowy evening in very late November 1966. The trip was revealing for anyone new to the American west—pronghorn antelopes roaming over apparently limitless open plains.
The train pulled onto the docks late at night at Oakland Army Base. We exited the train cars and then went up the gangways of the MSTS Vessel Upshur (later ruefully dubbed “The Upchuck”). This smallish ship swallowed our contingent, several battalion HQ and other 9th Div. officers and troops with no visible bulging. Accommodations were four or five-high bunk beds jammed in the troop compartments, and bunk beds for company-grade officers, four to a room. All went well under the Bay Bridge, which some mistook for the Golden Gate, and then we were passing under that as well. Sailing date was on or about December first. Unhappily, many soldiers became seasick at the first ocean swells and were seriously ill by the Farallons. Relays of well soldiers and NCOs were kept busy consoling the ailing and getting them out of bunks to walk in the fresh air on deck. Some soldiers stayed sick halfway across the Pacific.
We stoped for repairs in Okinawa and remain overnight. Next we encountered a typhoon in the South China Sea so everyone could see what waves really were. The bow of the ship was rising and dropping about 50 feet every few seconds. Finally, after more than a month since departure from Oakland, we arrived at Vung Tau harbor, in the heat of the season and the smell of the stagnant, steaming water. We bobbed around for four or five very unpleasant days, and were then loaded into LCVPs and LCUs for the ride to shore, then onto trucks for the run up to Bearcat. The arrival at Bearcat was the first time the company had seen itself together in about 45 days. The ensuing formation, and roll call was a nightmare that the First Sgt got under control as his first miracle of the tour. The orders were to dig and fill sandbags until there were trenches and overhead cover for every man. There was one WABTOC building for Co HQ, a Quonset hut for Bn Hq and several rows of GP tents.
Concrete pads for the maintenance tents, shop organization and flow setup, a generator to electrify the company area, hooches, sandbags, the rough terrain forklift, laderite, peema-prime, missing supply parts punch cards, barbed wire, bunkers—everything merged into priorities.
We sorted out recovery missions with the Engineers with some minor excitement and the occasional trip into the boonies. E company moved to Dong Tam sometime. Raccoon airlines was set up, using the organic Hueys.
The monsoon came. Imagine the air getting hotter and thicker throughout the day, until at about 1400 it became a solid liquid mass that instantly left you totally drenched and standing in a foot of water. Bunkers filled and the roads washed. We began getting metal roofs on the tent-covered WABTOCs, which helped a bit.
Good soldiers developed ways to reinforce the sprocket mounts of M113s to stand up to jungle-busting. We made makeshift mounts to put the 106 RR on the same vehicle, as ad hoc assault tracks. The fleschette round was totally awesome.
Things become a blur. Days merge into endless progressions of days with no variety, except berm guard duty, visits of VIPs. Sappers blew the ammo dump at Long Binh and the smoke cloud was visible from Bearcat all day.
The problems were small, because the great NCOs and soldiers we had took care of the mission. Everything else was housekeeping. The Bn. Engineer Officer was a super nice guy who got banged up going into a shell hole in his jeep, one of the few injuries.
One day, a pale Captain of Ordnance showed up, and was announced as my replacement. I could hardly believe it. Then I looked at myself in the mirror, and realized he was the normal one. I was thin, burnt by the sun, and infested with fungus. But HQ and A Co had done it. Enter the new CO with the mission of moving the unit from our cushy digs at Bearcat on to the delta.
I am sure that someone kept statistics on numbers of vehicles repaired, quantities of parts provided, deadline rates, and such. I kept memories as the above, and others. Here’s to the men of HQ and A. They did a tough, dirty job and did it well.
Thank You Mike Williams for the info.
E Mail Mike at
Page started 1/22/06