Qui Nhon February 1971 - Attack on the International Shell Storage Yard

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Vietnamization was a policy of the Richard Nixon administration to end U. S. involvement in the Vietnam War through a program to "expand, equip, and train South Vietnamese forces and assign them an
ever-increasing combat role, at the same time steadily reducing the number of U. S. combat soldiers." Essentially, it called for U. S. troops to back off and allow the South Vietnamese to fight
their own war. Military Policemen from the 127th M P Company never backed off.

Submitted: February 17, 2018

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Submitted: February 17, 2018

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It was Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1971, but there was no love lost in the city of Qui Nhon, Republic of South Vietnam. Three days earlier a tower guard at the Support Command had mistakenly inserted a high explosive round (HE) into his M-79 grenade launcher. He meant to send up a parachute flare to illuminate the perimeter.  Instead, he dropped an HE round into a Vietnamese civilian hooch, killing two children and wounding three others.

 

This was the final straw.  The Vietnamese had put up with the disgusting behavior of our support troops for too long. They felt our soldiers disrespected their customs and way of life. The GIs had caused their city to become a hot bed of corruption, prostitution, drugs and violence. They saw us as crass interlopers – foreigners who needed to leave.

 

The morning of the 12th of February the pot boiled over.  Qui Nhon had been a powder keg ready to explode for some time.  There had already been severe rioting in December when a young student was inadvertently shot and killed by one of our soldiers.  Now the streets were full of rioting indigenous personnel chanting “Yankee go home!”

 

American soldiers were beaten and stoned. Motor pool facilities were firebombed. Helicopter rescue missions plucked frightened individuals from roof tops to carry them to safety behind the wire of our compounds. After a day of mayhem and destruction throughout the city, U. S. military authorities imposed a 24 hour curfew, closed all our compounds and confined our soldiers to base.

 

The disturbance went unchecked on the 13th and 14th. Vietnamese military and civilian police were overwhelmed. Fortunately, a pounding rain on the 15th doused the flames of hatred and resentment and the anti-American demonstrations began to break up and subside.  By evening on the 15th, U. S. military authorities had lifted their curfew and re-opened our compounds.

 

I pulled duty officer out of the Qui Nhon Provost Marshal’s Office that evening.  Thankfully, most of our fence jumping GIs, who went AWOL each evening and dashed to the vill, stayed on base, rather than risk the wrath of the disgruntled locals. So, it was a pretty quiet night and the city seemed to be returning to normal.

 

My duty driver and I sat in our quarter-ton just across from the Korean Hotel on Le Loi Street, chatting with some of the locals. Then, around 2300 hours our ANVRC-47 radio began to crackle.  There was a fire reported at the International Shell Storage Yard.  The Vietnamese had abandoned their posts and the American advisor to the Vietnamese firefighters needed help. One of our MP patrols had to escort a fire engine, and that’s when the party started. So, my driver and I “hatted up” (threw on our MP helmet liners) and moved out smartly.

 

Arriving on site, we found the International Shell Storage Yard at LST beach engulfed in flames.

 

The American Advisor/Fire Chief asked us to assist first by establishing TCPs (Traffic Control Points), which we did.  As this occurred just when the rioting had ended, it was important to keep the locals at bay while we fought the fire.  One patrol maintained its usual route in the event the fire was a diversion. 

 

The chief didn’t have enough firefighters and asked us to help.  I called in my other patrols and asked who wanted to jump in and assist.  Naturally, everyone volunteered.  So, off the rest of us went to help battle the blaze, which wasn’t brought under control until 0800 hours the next morning.

 

During the course of the evening, I went through two uniforms, which got covered with foam and crap. I lost my glasses for a while in the foam and had my pants torn up pretty good by barbed wire.  The duty officer’s jeep was covered in foam and grime.

 

Early on, we found a Shell gas tank truck being licked by the flames.  After I released the emergency brake, SP4s Wiseley, Pendergaff, the chief and I pushed it out of harm’s way.  Then Wisely, Pendergaff and I, along with our other MPs, manned the hoses.

 

One of the storage tanks split and flaming fuel came running out.  There was an explosion and Wiseley got blown off the sea wall into the shallow water below.  He appeared injured, so I jumped in, pulled him out and up a ladder to safety.  A pipeline began to ignite, but we got it out before it exploded.

 

We requested a helicopter to see if we could somehow fight the fire from the top of the tank, but to no avail.  There were no fireboats available, so we tried to have a fire truck loaded on a barge and brought over, but the water was too shallow.  So it was up to us to get behind the flaming tank to get a better vantage point for our hoses.  That meant crawling over the pipelines and conduits, now full of foam, which in some cases went all the way up to our chins.  Eventually, we were successful in getting a cherry picker to hose the tank from above.

 

There were at least a couple of loud explosions on site which were heard all over Qui Nhon that night.  We continued to fight the fire despite the two explosions, and didn’t get it under control until early the next morning. Now, for the rest of the story.

 

I returned to Camp Keystone and parked the duty officer’s jeep, which was covered in crap, right next to the Battalion Commander’s quarter-ton.  The fire chief had called the desk sergeant and reported our fine efforts, relaying how much he appreciated our assistance and how heroic our MPs were.  Unfortunately, the desk sergeant never relayed the message on to MAJ Greenwald, the Provost Marshal, so it never got to LTC Duffy.

 

Instead, he had gotten a call from some major, I presume from Binh Dinh TOC.  The Vietnamization program was just beginning.  That is, having the Vietnamese do it for themselves.  It was also observed that our MPs were getting too involved in everything that came up, which was true to a certain degree, because our guys were so damn brave and jumped into action wherever they thought they were needed.  So, the major got to Duffy before he ever heard from the fire chief.  Duffy saw me and the duty officer’s jeep covered in foam and proceeded to chew me out (not an uncommon occurrence for me) for getting our MPs involved in a purely civilian matter and endangering their lives as well as my own.

 

Now for the rub.  On the 19th, our S-2/S-3 shop reported that there were five VC involved that evening and that the explosions resulted from satchel charges, B-40 and RPG strikes. Supposedly, they found an AK-47 on site the next morning.  So, there was no way this was purely a civilian matter.

 

To add insult to injury, a few days later, COL Hill, the 16th MP Group Commander, was being given a tour of Qui Nhon by our commander, LTC Duffy, MAJ Mackintosh, our Bn XO, and me. COL Hill saw the gas field and asked what happened.  Major Mac gushed out that if it wasn’t for the prompt and brave action of our MPs the whole field would have been destroyed.

 

Vietnamization! Purely a civilian matter!  Don’t you just love it?  So, instead of our guys all receiving Soldiers Medals for their efforts, the duty officer got reamed and recognition due some very brave men was subordinated to the politics of the moment.  Such are the fortunes of war. Regardless, the attack on the Shell Storage Yard the evening of February 15th, 1971 is one that will never be forgotten by me or my fellow Military Policemen from the 127th MP Company, Qui Nhon, Vietnam.

 


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