Those supplies were the lifeblood of the base in northern South Vietnam that had been under siege since Jan. 21.

Although combat troops dominated the news during the Vietnam War, much was owed to the vast armada of support personnel who backed the fighting troops up. For every infantry soldier in the field, nine other soldiers were necessary to ensure his success against the enemy.


However much combat troops dominated the news during the Vietnam War, the grunts knew they owed much to the vast armada of support troops who backed them up. The battlefield heroism performed in the rainforests and the highlands would have been impossible without the weapons and ammunition to fight, or the food to sustain those who fought.

All of those supplies had to be shipped or flown over thousands of miles to the main bases, then distributed by truck or aircraft to the scattered posts where they were most needed. Before that work could be done, the main base facilities had to be established, built up by Army engineers or the legendary Navy construction battalions, abbreviated CBs, or more colloquially, the Seabees. Those facilities had to be periodically maintained and repaired.

A Jeep is towed by a pick-up truck as United States Marines load vehicles onto a US-bound transport ship at Da Nang, Vietnam, 23rd April 1971. (Photo by Bettmann Archive via Getty Images)
Armorers load 20 mm rounds on Lt. Cmdr. William Bowes’ A-7E Corsair II of Attack Squadron VA-94 aboard the aircraft carrier Coral Sea in 1972.
Crewmen push 500-pound bombs across the Coral Sea’s deck to arm the squadron’s A-7Es on missions to destroy key points in North Vietnam’s transportation and supply network.
Specialist 4 Esther M. Gleaton, clerk-typist, WAC (Women’s Army Corps) Detachment, Long Binh, Vietnam, 1968-1969. Esther M. Gleaton Collection, Women In Military Service For America Memorial Foundation, Inc.
Hungry American troops operating far from their base get sandwiches and drinks from a mobile PX.
At Dong Ha, also in the northern part, Seabees of NMCB-11 repair and relay matting on a parking apron damaged by enemy mortar fire.
NMCB-11 Seabees construct an approximately 165-foot suspension bridge.
Ammunition and other supplies needed by troops of the U.S. 173rd Airborne Brigade are strung beneath parachutes that are dropped in War Zone C near the Cambodian border on Feb. 25, 1967. The unit is part of Operation Junction City, a U.S. assault on a Viet Cong stronghold located some 70 miles northwest of Saigon, Vietnam. (AP Photo)
Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 53 repave a road with asphalt at Vinh Dai in northern South Vietnam.
Seabees of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 11 build frames for hundreds of tentlike huts in a Marine camp at Quang Tri Combat Base near the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Vietnam. The tenting was later replaced with corrugated sheet metal roofing.
A Marine cooks soup while others either sit around or work on improving kitchen facility at Khe Sanh. Everything is underground at the base, with a few exceptions such as this one. Not even this is being dug deeper into the terrain.[AP]

Trucks were universally fair game in Vietnam, whether they were communist-run vehicles dodging a variety of U.S. air-dropped ordnance on the Ho Chi Minh Trail or American haulers who were subjected to frequent ambush and often defended their own vehicles with makeshift armor and gun positions.

Airplanes and helicopters also often came under fire while transporting “beans and bullets” from a firebase to some platoon in the boonies.

Even the clerk typists were appreciated when payday arrived…or the tour of duty ended and the service member was signing up for a ride on the Freedom Bird.

Despite the disparaging names that combat troops had for the rear echelon soldiers, Vietnam was distinguished by not having much of a rear echelon. Whether you were a clerk, a cook or a supply sergeant, there was no place from Khe Sanh to Saigon where mortar fire or some Viet Cong with a bag of explosives couldn’t find you.

This article appeared in the April 2022 issue of Vietnam magazine.


Admin: Anybody ever see a “Mobile PX”? This is a first for me…

This article, although depicting Marines, applied to all services that hunted the enemy on the ground, in waterways, and from the air. A Special THANK YOU is going out to all those who supported us and came through when needed. God bless!

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