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

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic


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.


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.

 


Submitted: February 17, 2018

© Copyright 2020 REMF MP. All rights reserved.

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IAM1

Your article brought back memories. I was one of the two investigators that investigated the December 1970 incident that you refer to in your piece. My partner CW III Charles McKin, who would have been the CID OIC at the time of the incident you are chronicling, and I were charged with covering the serious incidents which usually concerned Homicide (Fraggings) and war crimes, suicides and accidental shootings. I was very "short" at this time and in fact left for home only a few days after the incident and had uncharacteristically thrown a flack vest helmet and M 16 in my jeep just because I was so short. I was on my way out to the Cha Rang Valley on the day of the that December incident to investigate a Fragging of a Lt. I was taking the North route out of Qui Nhon when I came upon a large "parade" of students coming up the road. It quickly became obvious that they were not a parade or friendly as they began throwing rocks at us. I turned around and headed towards the southern route out of town. Of course our CID jeeps did not have radios so I did not find out until about midnight that night why they were rioting. As soon as I completed the first phase of the investigation of the fragging in the Cha Rang Valley I was sent two V100s to escort me back to Qui Nhon to work on the shooting that started the riot. That shooting was completely accidental but very careless and involved a young soldier jumping off a supply truck and his trigger getting caught on something. Sadly his weapon was on full auto at the time and killed a young boy. I left Country before either of the reports were filed. My partner Mac left country a couple of months later and we ended up serving together at Ft. Hood. Sadly there were way to many last straws In the Qui Nhon area I personally investigated a lot of Vietnamese Civilian deaths, accidental, incidental (collateral damage) and intentional.

Mon, June 4th, 2018 1:31pm

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Thank you for your comments. That clarified what I had heard about the shooting. I had heard that a group of Vietnamese kids climbed aboard an American truck carrying boxes of C rations and tried to steal some of them and that one of the two soldiers guarding the truck fired off anow errant warning shot that struck and killed a nearby high school student, who was not involved in the attempted looting. The fog of war I guess. The student was supposedly from a Buddhist school with a politically conscious student body made up largely of An Quang Buddhists, a militant anti- government faction.

Mon, June 4th, 2018 11:16am

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REMF MP

Mon, June 4th, 2018 4:29pm

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steve miller no band

That was a great story.the part about 127th MP's being too brave and jumping into action opened up a 50 year old can of worms,It was 2 days I think into Tet 1968 and i was on town patrol with another mp who was probably newer than me(i had 7 months in country by then) because i was sorta in charge.We were wearing flak jackets steel pots and had rounds in chamber of our 45's and m-14's.Orders for the last few days were not to patrol certain parts of town.Over the radio came that it was ok to patrol downtown from the airport gate on lei loi to the pmo and tovo thanh street.Being only 20 I said lets go see whats happened there.We get there and there are a bunch of cahn sats blocking off one of the streets.We knew some of them as we sometimes had joint patrols with them and i had been with the 66th MP Co. for a few months and we worked some of the gates with them.The head cahn sat pointed to a bldg which was the radio station and wanted us to go inside and flush out a vc.There were a lot of white mice around and it was funny he asked us to do it.I was no hero and wasn't going to do it unless I had to.I didn't think it was our responsibility but i didn't want to lose face and turn them down flatly.So i got on the radio and called for the duty officer to decide what to do.After a while a jeep rolls up with 1Lt Dingus Banks and his driver.I told him the story and he got on his radio and called the pmo .He tried to asked the Provost Marshall LTC Ford what to do.But LTC Ford was in his trailer on the compound of the pmo with a mp on the roof of his trailer and wouldn't come out and answer the lt.So after several trys to no avail LT banks told me and my partner to take cover behind some sandbags and he and his driver were going in.There was about 5 steps up to a small landing and there was the door.He went first ,opened the door and was instantly shot.His driver dragged him down the steps into the jeep and sped away to the hospital.I called the desk sgt told him what just happened and told him we were leaving.When we got back to Camp Granit that night our capt Corey told the whole company that LT Banks had died.I am only around today because he didn't send me in that day.But if Col Ford had got involved or if the LT had not been so bold nobody would've been hurt.I told this story a few years ago to Lt Banks' widow and she said he had promised her not to take any unnecessary risks.So being brave does not always have a happy ending.When i look at my kids and my 5 grandchildren I know that could have so easily been me ,either by my bravado or by Lt Banks' order.Your mentioning of the 127th being brave and jumping into action struck a nerve with me.

Mon, June 4th, 2018 5:10pm

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I have four kids and 12 grandchildren so I know exactly what you mean. I guess God had other plans and things for me to do later in life. I will always feel it was the hand of God that reached down into the quagmire of Qui Nhon and pulled me out no matter how many dumb ass things I did.

Mon, June 4th, 2018 11:03am

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