To the Vietnamese, the word "Kysu"' (Key'Soo) means engineer. And the word engineer means a brighter future for the people of the Republic of Vietnam.
Today in Vietnam the name of the game is Vietnamization. Army of the Republic of Vietnam Engineers are rapidly learning needed skills for preserving and continuing what U.S. Army Engineers have already accomplished. Accordingly, this issue of the KYSU' emphasizes the progress of Vietnamization efforts.
The Engineer in Vietnam has opened up the remote countryside with a complex network of primary and secondary highways. Through land clearing operations, he has used his know-how and courage to destroy enemy sanctuaries. From water supply operations to medical assistance, the U.S. Army Engineer has carried out innumerable missions designed to help the people. Vietnamese Engineers are determined to continue these missions.
In short, the Engineer and his equipment are rebuilding the Republic of Vietnam. If you served in Vietnam as a U.S. Army Engineer, then you can say, "I helped build a nation."
In the past, the Batangan Peninsula has been a notorious Viet Cong stronghold and a horror for allied troops. But Since Army Engineers have moved into the area the Batangan Peninsula has become secure enough for some 5,000 civilians to consider it safe to return and thousands are expected to re-settle the area soon. New villages are sprouting up and old villages are being revived overnight. One of these old villages in the area is very well known----My Lai. But now it is a new My Lai. The Story of the new My Lai and the other villages in this area is the story of road construction and land clearing by the 39th Engineer Battalion and the 59th Land Clearing Company. It is a case study of pacification by bulldozers and bridges rather than by bullets.
The Batangan Peninsula, located some 75 miles south of Da Nang in the Quang Ngai Province, was for years a rich and productive agricultural region for the South Vietnamese. But since 1963 Viet Cong efforts have converted the Batangan Peninsula, the birthplace of Ho Chi Minh, into the largest enemy held area east of National Highway (QL) 1 in the -First Military Region.
As the VC activity increased in the Batangan area, the Vietnamese villagers who lived and worked there were driven away. As a result, these farmers and craftsmen and their families became refugees in their own country, deprived of their homes and their livelihood. The economy in the region slumped, food prices rose, and shortages in consumer goods appeared. Soon the enemy gained a strong foothold in the area and U.S. and ARVN infantry went into the area to try to drive them out.
But the VC were so well entrenched that, without taking huge losses in men and equipment, the Batangan area could not be completely recovered by direct attack. A large percentage of the U.S. casualties in the area initially resulted from booby-traps set in the difficult terrain.
The VC hollowed out the center and moved within like "a subway system under a city", remarked Lieutenant Colonel Fred F. Woerner, commander of 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry, 23rd Infantry Division (AMERICAL). Trenches were dug within some of these hedgerows, making enemy movement within relatively immune to artillery fire. This allowed the VC to approach undetected, fire and displace himself under cover. Allied efforts were hampered by limited movement on the ground and restricted visibility from the air.
Enemy control of most of the region was intolerable and the key to the situation was finally found in land clearing operations coupled with a road development program. Tactically, land clearing is a double edged weapon denying the enemy cover and concealment while increasing allied ground mobility and the more effective use of artillery and air support.
Now the VC had to cross open areas and travel farther to strike. This made him vulnerable to observation and when discovered left him no where to hide. Five Viet Cong soldiers recently rallied (voluntarily surrendered under the open arms program) to the district chief; their reason--"There was no longer any place to hide."
The Engineers began work in the Batangan area late last summer with the mission of replacing the Viet Cong terrorists with the rightful occupants of the area. This mission is obviously being successfully accomplished and the results are becoming more apparent with each passing day: The 59th Land Clearing Company is destroying the dense thickets and jungle which have long protected enemy operations. More than 13,000 acres have been cleared, with a bonus of over 300 enemy bunkers and 8,000 yards of tunnels and trenches discovered and destroyed. Large quantities of ordnance and food supplies have also been discovered and confiscated from the enemy.
Quang Ngai has been called a "ribbon province" because of the more than one million residents seeking safety along government controlled Highway 1. But some 50,000 people have already returned to land cleared by American bulldozers. They are rebuilding their homes and villages in a steady advance east from QL-1 toward the sea.
Major Jimmy Kinlam, advisor for Son Tinh district in which considerable land clearing has taken place stated, "Without land clearing, resettlement would take much longer. It would have taken much more effort and cost many more lives to resettle. It is very damned important."
Security is vital to resettlement of the Batangan. "Land clearing in terms of pacification is no good without security responsive to the people 24 hours a day," says Major Clarence Matzeder, U.S. military advisor for Binh Son district. People will not move back to their land if they know the VC will come in the night to kill and steal. Once the land is cleared and the roads are secure the Regional Forces (RF) and Popular Forces (PF) will protect the people from the VC. Currently many more RF and PF forces are being trained to secure more areas as they are resettled.
The importance of this land clearing work to the pacification of the area is also brought out in the comments of the soldiers most directly concerned with the operation. Sergeant David Downing, an infantryman with the AMERICAL's 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry and who is part of the security element for the 59th, says, "Land clearing should have been thought of about five years ago. It makes the war effort and the infantry's job in this area a lot easier. Being shot at is bad enough, but the mines and boobytraps are literally murder. There is no way to fight them and the Engineers are a big help in eliminating them."
Specialist Five George B. Adkins, who is assigned to the 59th as a bulldozer operator, puts it this way: "If we don't clear the area of boobytraps, the infantry will certainly hit them and it makes their job that much harder and less effective if they do. My work isn't all that hard."
What keeps them on the job after having a mine go off underneath them? "We (operators) stand a better charrce with 26 tons of steel protection than an infantryman on foot. And if we don't clear this area they would have to do it," answered SP4 John Felleman.
As the men clear the jungle they often come across signs of enemy activity. Rice caches, bunkers, tunnels and sleeping positions are commonly found. Sometimes a cooking fire is found still warm indicating the enemy has left within hours.
Every operator carries his M-16 ready to fire. Sniper fire is common. Security for the operators is provided by armored personnel carriers (APCs)t and two Sheridan armored reconnaissance vehicles, attached to the 59th. Each watches the surrounding undergrowth carefully and an ARVN Regional Force unit also provides security night and day.
All vehicles on the land clearing operation are tracks. Rain and mud render wheeled vehicles useless. Often one dozer becomes bogged down and must be pulled free with the aid of another. In hilly areas where ravines are hidden by dense vegetation dozers turn over with an irritating regularity, but the operators calmly climb out and motion for a buddy in a nearby dozer to come over and help.
The behemoth Rome plow blades are set to move over the ground six inches above the surface. This allows the vegetation to be cut and crushed while leaving the root structure to prevent erosion.
As the dozers move out to the cut area each day, the lead dozer operator, who wears a head set connected to a radio, gets instructions from the officer in charge. He outlines an area about half a mile across in the shape of a square with rounded corners. Other operators then fall in behind him in a drawn-out staggered formation, completely ringing the cut and steadily closing in toward the center with each revolution.
Deer, wild pigs, and pheasants are often seen fleeing from the area being cleared as the square shrinks under the relentless bites of the dozers. Snakes up to ten feet long have difficulty running from the dozers and unnerve the operators considerably.
A flock of birds circle the cut, alert for the hordes of insects released by the vegetation as it falls. The smell of damp, freshly turned earth laced with diesel fumes pervades the air. The congestion at the center of the square yields to one or two dozers to finish the job. Then they move on to start the process anew.
"Tactically, there is no doubt about land clearing reducing American casualties and seriously crippling VC activity in the Batangan," said LTC James C. Ton, who as commanding officer of the 39th Engineer Battalion (Cbt) and has responsibility for road building and the 59th Land Clearing Company. "In terms of pacification, when you fly over and see the number of new tin roofs far removed from QL-1, you can see progress. The willingness of people to move into newly cleared areas to cut wood and graze livestock are also indications of progress. But since land clearing began late in the summer we will see the real measure of security and resettlement on the Batangan Peninsula by the quantity of next spring's rice harvest," he concluded.
While the 59th is clearing the area, the 39th Battalion is constructing and improving a secondary road network throughout the peninsula. Altogether, about 42 miles of roadway are being built. As the roads are opened the recently returned Vietnamese farmers are able to truck their produce to larger markets and in turn receive more for their goods.
With this combination of better roads and increased acreage, more food is being distributed and the flow of commerce is on the increase as a result. The economy of the peninsula has consequently turned upwards already and continues to rise as work of pacification through land clearing and road building continues.
"While the overall future of resettlement of the Batangan Peninsula seems good there are still serious problems," stated MAJ Matzeder. "Some materials such as tin for roofs are in short supply. Vietnamization of the war requires that ARVN troops be trained to call in artillery, air strikes, and medevac missions. It takes some five months per platoon to train PF platoons to shoulder the burden of guarding roads, bridges and villages. But MAJ Matzeder added with stern confidence, "They have the will if we give them the means."
This article was contributed by SP-5 Kenneth Coffee of Ostrander, Ohio and was originally published in THE KYSUí magazine, spring 1971 issue, a publication of Engineer Command Vietnam.