ILL-FATED B-52, THE COMMANDER'S JEEP



by Jim Tolbert

Have you ever known someone who was accident prone, couldn't walk and chew gum at the same time? We had a few in every outfit when I was in the Army. I didn't have to soldier with many, somehow they got culled from the units I was assigned to. I often wondered where these people went. We sure as hell didn't keep them in the airborne and special operations units.

But, unlike the US Army, the civilian world is full of these accidents, just going somewhere to happen. Also, in the civilian world, no one tells them which foot to start out on, and nobody's counting cadence. So out here, we just keep building more handicap ramps.

I have a sister-in-law, bless her heart, she's always in a cast. And then, there was my neighbor, he's gone now, what a hard luck case. But, have you ever seen a piece of equipment in that category? Project Delta had such an item, a jeep, the
commander's jeep, Delta B-52.

When you walked into the Delta compound at Nha Trang, one of the first things you saw, was the Commander's quarter ton jeep parked in front of the orderly room. For the most part, it just sat there with it's brand new numbers freshly stenciled, and it's brand new tarp shinning in the sun. This jeep, numbered B-52 after the unit designation, seemed to have a curse on it. If that can be said of a piece of equipment. It was wrecked at least once on every stand-down, and in the shop for maintenance when every operation started.

No one had the authority to take the old man's jeep, but someone always did. If Doc Simpson's Recon personnel didn't steal it out of the compound, then Krelick's Rangers would. If not the Rangers, then one of Gilbreth's Commo Crew or Stanfield's Nungs took it. But on every stand-down, someone slipped it out, and before the night was over, wrecked it. Sergeant Major Fuller always raised hell about that jeep; But, Major Allen, who was the commander at the time, never once mentioned it.

The Philipino Tech Reps at the motor pool told me B-52 had been wrecked no less than twelve times. They could have created an additional job slot just for this one piece of equipment. It seemed Maj Allen had his own pit crew. Yet, he never once drove B-52, maybe he knew it was cursed. When found in an ill state of repair, no one would ever admit to having driven the jeep. But many times on stand-down, early in the morning, it would be found in front of the orderly room, tore all to shit. It drove Fuller crazy but it kept the Tech Reps busy. George Pruitt should have left that jeep at Cam Rahn Bay where he stole it.

On one of those beautiful days like you only find in SEA, with the blue sky just full of cumulus clouds, it had not yet rained, I was walking back from downtown Nha Trang. I had just reached Dong So Ba (Street number Three), when I noticed a DC3 coming in over the Bay of Nha Trang, flames shooting  from the tail section. Air Vietnam used a lot of these aircraft back then, and for the most part they were worthy, but this one was in trouble.

I don't know what caused me to notice the plane. Hell, I almost didn't see Bruiser's jeep, B-52, when it passed me on the road a few streets back. Air Nhuc Man, the name Americans had given to Air Vietnam, was now struggling hard, and skipped along the runway, bouncing up and down, as if the pilot couldn't decide to take off or land again.

The hard dirt road, which led to the Delta compound, separated Nha Trang Air Base from the CIDG village at the end of the main runway. The road, where it passed the runway's end, had been elevated, and was a good six or eight feet higher than the surface of the runway. Rolls of razor wire, three strands high, lay along the road on the runway side, and a cluster of cardboard and tin shacks set on the other side. Somewhere in the middle of these shacks sat the CIDG dependant school. I remembered it because a small bar sat along side, and sometimes, when I stopped there, I could see the kids playing.

As I watched the aircraft, I saw something else. The Commander's Jeep, B-52, was approaching that section of road at the runway's end. I've often wondered why they didn't offer me a ride when they passed me walking in from town. I'm glad now they didn't. I've also wondered why the driver of B-52 didn't see something as big as an airplane, and it lit up like a Roman candle.

They both reached the end of the runway at the same time, Air Nhuc Man, and ill-fated B-52. The Air Vietnam flight, with both engines straining, and fire now coming from the passenger section, bounced from the runway, almost clearing the road, dragging wire, pickets, and B-52 with it. It landed directly on top of the dependant school, and the whole area burst into flames.

By now, I was in a dead run. But when I reached the school, there was nothing anyone could do. The flames were so hot you couldn't get within 30 meters of the crash. I still remember helplessly watching the passengers, some still strapped in their seats, frantically waving their arms and crying as they went up in smoke. Sometimes when I'm walking through my memory, I can smell the burning flesh and still hear the screaming.

B-52 had made it's last dispatch. It would never be stolen from the compound again either. No more joy rides to Nha Trang by the troops. They took what was left to salvage. Surprisingly, only one American died, when the jeep was pulled across the road by the trailing wire. I've never been able to remember the American's name.

All the occupants of the DC3 died, the CIDG school was destroyed, and with few exceptions, all the children perished. It got mighty drunk in the Delta Club that evening.
 

EPILOGUE:

DJ Taylor, an old Special Forces operative, who was assigned to Project Delta at the time of this incident, informs me that the individual who was killed was SFC Richard V. Williams. DJ also said that Williams did not die at the scene but died in the Hospital later from his injuries. He also stated that the aircraft I thought to be a C-47 was in fact a C54. SFC Williams was assigned to Delta on 1 January 1970 and died from his injuries on the 26th.

 

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