Chu Lai
Coastal Division 16

Arial View of Chu Lai Combat Base

Marked Channel Entrance to Chu Lai Harbor

Chu Lai Harbor

 

Naval Support Activity Chu Lai

A small city: The Army-Marine-Navy Base at Chu Lai

 

The Swift Housing Quarters on Rosemary Point


Music by Ry Cooder©

Images courtesy of Herb Blume

The primary US Navy activity at Chu Lai was the logistics support for both the Marine Air Units and Army Americal Division. This was accomplished by material offloading of supplies from LST and other small cargo vessels proceeding from the larger ports at Da Nang, Qui Nhon and Cam Ranh Bay. The provisions for the Swift Boat contingent formed a minor portion of that material support.

 

In early June 1967, PCF 45 was the first Swift Boat to be transferred from Cam Ranh to the newly forming CosDiv 16 at Chu Lai. After the long trip north, we entered the narrow marked channel, turned abruptly left into the rock bordered shallow waters at the tip of the spit head entrance, and tied up stern first to the Swift Boat pier.

And instinctively perceived: "Toto, I don't think we are in Kansas any more."

"Chu Lai Beer Drinking Song"

The white sandy beaches of Cam Ranh Bay had been replaced with the fine red dust and more noticeable presence of barbed wire and sand bagged bunkers in Chu Lai. The naval facilities on the spit of land at the harbor entrance were probably just as secure as those at Cam Ranh. And living conditions while off patrol, although sparce, were no less comfortable. But the general feeling was more "warlike." As we found out, this matched the activity going on in the patrol areas around and north of Quang Ngai.

 

We were also caught in the middle of some minor administrative confusion common to any new entity: As we arrived, there was some doubt about the command structure for the new division, which was still in the process of being formed. Were we a separate detachment of CosDiv 14 reporting to Cam Ranh? On temporary duty with the CosDiv 12 detachment already there? Or were we truly part of a new organization separate from both? Eventually, a Commander for the new division was assigned from Da Nang, and Coastal Division 16 became a reality and not just an idea. Concurrent with this activity, the assimilation of our crew, and those that followed us from Cam Ranh, was accomplished quite readily and we very quickly got into the normal cycle and rhythm of operations. The enthusiasm existent in the new organization, along with a much higher tempo of activity in the area, was contagious. But we never really quite reached a point where we felt we were part of the first team of old hands from CosDiv 12. Regardless, we were there to do a job, and so we got on with doing just that ... by going on daily patrols and letting events ashore sort themselves out.

 
 

Another aspect of our move north was that it was to a region where the "Sea Services" were dominant rather than the US Army. I Corps was the purview of the Third Marine Amphibious Force (III MAF), the commander of which was also the I Corps Commander. This made decision turn around on such tactical issues as indirect fire support much smoother. It also meant that logistics support was supplied directly by the Navy.

Even though the Marine Division in our area had recently been relieved by "Task Force Oregon" - soon to be the re-formed 23rd (Americal) Infantry Division - the Naval Support Activity Detachment at Chu Lai was still in full swing. The naval base facilities reflected this, with the SeaBees and supply folks doing a quite credible job providing a few amenities to our small portion of the much larger military presence at the base. Including a very nice chapel and a Fleet Post Office in Chu Lai. Both were very important morale boosters.

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A young supply Ensign assigned to the NSA Det, by the name of Roger Staubach, was often seen playing catch with a football in off duty hours on the open field (called Staubach Stadium) next to the chapel. One of our crew even heard him remark as his receiver scrambled toward the sanctuary: "Watch this 'hail mary' toss I am perfecting. I may just find a use for it some day ... perhaps against the Vikings!"

 
   Image courtesy of Terry Jelcick
{Just kidding Roger}

"Officer's Country" at CosDiv 16 consisted of "duplex hooches" with from four to six Swift Boat "skippers" sharing each side of the duplex. But since half of the junior officers were on patrol at any one time, it might be days or even weeks before one would again be in touch with other occupants of a particular berthing area. The SeaBees also provided modified metal storage barrels that made nice barbeque pits for "roll your own" alternatives to the mess hall fare.

 

One facility that definitely was "not" provided by the SeaBees, was the Coastal Division 16 Junior Officer's Club. Use of a spare "hooch," midnight requisitioning of materials, including a green US Army blanket, and plenty of sweat equity soon resulted in a place where un-winding from the stress of the southern patrols could be practiced as only young americans know how. Not exactly as elegant as the Taj Mahal at Qui Nhon, but pride of accomplishment and ownership overcame any such insignificant flaws.

 

The serious side of the Swift Boat operations in Chu Lai were centered around the CosDiv 16 headquarters building and the local coastal and harbor operations center with its radar keeping tabs on both Dung Quat Bay and the inner harbor.

 

Pride, and a strong desire to accomplish the tasks we had come to Vietnam to perform, was what Coastal Division 16 and the individual Swift Boat crews in it were all about. The division insignia shield outside the enlisted barracks was strong evidence of this enthusiasm. Despite the restraints imposed on the crews from equipment shortcomings, and the pressure made to conform to traditional naval tactics, the members of the division were determined to take the conflict to the enemy in an area where we knew he was, and where we could make a significant difference ... close in to the coastline and rivers near Quang Ngai and Mui Batangan. No pussy footing platitudes here: The ace of spades, the South Vietnamese flag, and the skull said it all ... !! No Quarter !!

 
Post Script

During 1967-68, then Lieutenant Harold W. Gehman, Jr was assigned as OinC of PCF-27 operating out of Chu Lai and subsequently promoted to become the Senior Officer in Charge of the Detachment of Swift Boats that remained there after Coastal Divsion 16 was deactivated in November 1967. Gehman remained in the Navy with a very distinguished career spanning some thirty five years, culminating as the highest ranking Swift Sailor when he became the four star Admiral in operational command of all four military services in the continental US: Commander Joint Forces Command and Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic.

Upon his retirement in the year 2000, Admiral Gehman was appointed co-chairman of the investigation into the attack on the USS Cole and also the chairman of the Space Shuttle Colummbia Accident Investigation Board. His most recent assignment was as a board member of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) that recommended to Congress and the President the utilization of all facilities operated by the US Military. We were fortunate to have such an accomplished Swift Sailor address the Swift Boat reunion in 2007 at San Diego.

 

Diligence and Pride

The following poem was penned by (then) Quartermaster Chief James D. Wiggins of PCF-99 based in Chu Lai.
{Listen to his voice in the
Hearts & Minds and the Rules of Engagement sections}

The gleaming white wave caps break over the salty blue brine
Reflecting the sunrise as it begins to first shine.
The wind blows quite strongly, with the boat throwing out spray
If not for for our mission, we would soon be on our way

All through the night, we have searched near the coast
With no hint of an intuder, from which we can boast
He prefers to stay hidden in the klongs and "The Trail"
While avoiding the places where the "Boats" WILL prevail

Astonishing is the fact, that in such a short time
The Swifts have made Charlie take a far different line
He goes south through the border, with Marines in his way
But of the rivers and shoreline, he says "Better stay away!"

His leaders advise: "We will let them be complacent
And then without warning, attempt infiltration!"

Such is the strategy of the wily VC

Here's to you Victor Charles, as cunning as you may be
We have learned of your ways of sneaking in by the sea
So make your attempt, if you really desire
And the Swifts will be waiting, and will NEVER retire!!

===============================================

As the sailor reloads, and takes aim with his mortar
The Swift cry resounds, we will give them "NO QUARTER!"

===============================================

Between March 1967 and March 1968, three armed North Vietnamese
resupply vessels were interdicted or captured by Chu Lai Swift Boats
Visit the Sa Ky Victory  and Duc Pho sections for the results of this diligence.

 

Post Script

"See-Bee-Yah-Boo-Tah"

The following set of photos result from a guestbook entry by Bill Bachstet, who was with the CB {Construction Battalion} detachment at Chu Lai from October 1966 to May 1968

He and three of his cohorts came into possession {by surreptitious means} of two A4D airplane drop tanks from the nearby air field, and "stealthily" designed and constructed the latest and greatest way to slip up on the "wily cong" at Batangan unannounced. I am sure that the project was designated "top secret" and all work was accomplished in the CB Detachment Chu Lai "Skunk Works."

To make a long story short: the designers were a little too strong in the hull stoutness department and a little too weak in the marine propulsion and good seamanship areas.

On the maiden "flight," the mast snapped off at the base.

After re-thunking the mast, the second "voyage" ended up out of control on the island across from the landing docks at night with the security forces taking pot shots at the designers, constructors and navigators.

Maybe if they had painted squinty eyes on the pointy end of the fuel tanks {pontoons} they just might'a had better fortune. That's why the VNN Yabutas always had them.

Although they built great chapels and bar-b-que pits, the Dung Quat Bay SeaBee sailors obviously had entirely too much leisure time on their hands.

 
 


The Ghosts of Change

The words "Chu Lai" are not Vietnamese, but a Mandarin Chinese abbreviation for the family name of US Marine General Victor Krulak, who selected the area around Dung Quat Bay for construction of an air field and base to supplement the major facility at Da Nang. When told by his staff that the area had no name associated with it on the maps of the day, he immediately decided that it would be called Chu Lai. Rank has its privileges.

The new Vietnamese government has continued to maintain both the facility and its name

They also have very agressive plans to develop the area as described below. Currently, access to the area is restricted, but the following two images, taken in the year 2002, show the main gate entrance to the area and the still beautiful view of Dung Quat Bay.

Click on the above image to visit the economic zone web site

The multi-functional Economic Zone of Dung Quat is designated for diversified investment fields, especially oil-refining, petrochemical and heavy industries (steel mill, shipbuilding, machinery, container, cement, heavy equipment production, auto assembly), consumer goods, export-oriented sectors; bonded zones and financial, banking, tourism activities and human resource capabilities. All efficiently facilitated by the Dung Quat deep seaport, Chu Lai International Airport and the industrial service towns of Van Tuong and Doc Soi.

The first phase of infrastructure has been completed and the second phase is now extensively underway with an aim to offer a comprehensively improved environment for in-zone enterprises. Apart from the US$2.5-billion Oil Refinery and the US$300-million Shipyard now under construction, more than 100 projects of the petrochemical, steel, and heavy equipment sectors have been awarded investment license or approval. In the year 2006, the Tycoons Steel Mill project worth US$556 million and the Doosan-Vina Heavy Industrial Complex Project worth US$260 million have been licensed to be invested and implemented in Dung Quat, both are 100% foreign-invested projects. It is projected that by 2010 the combined registered capital of Dung Quat based enterprises will reach approximately US$5.5-6 billion.

Dung Quat Sea Port

 

Dung Quat Oil Refinery

  

Chu Lai International Airport

 

Infrastructure Projects Continue

With the concept of Dung Quat as the driving force of Central Vietnam's economy in mind, the nation's Government has granted Dung Quat with the most favorable regime of investment incentives characterized for an open economic zone, in terms of land, taxation, banking, customs, and exportation/importation ...

Dung Quat Hospital

 

Vocational Training Complex

  

Students open the Vocational School

 

Electricity Class

 


This web site is Copyright © 2002 by Robert B. Shirley.
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