The Vandergrift Ice Run- April 1969
The following article is a true story, the names have not been changed to protect the innocent. We were all innocent.
In my Vietnam experience, there was no scarcer commodity ‘in country’ than ice. Staff Sergeant Harold Riensche (Navy Cross Recipient and Maintenance Chief, B Co., 3rd Tanks, 1968/1969) and I agreed that when and if we returned to the ‘world’, we would get together, buy a block of ice, get two lawn chairs, set the ice block on the sidewalk, sit there and just slowly watch it melt, while savoring several ice cold brews.
In Vietnam, we got used to drinking every consumable liquid, water, beer (Falstaff, Miller & Black label, soft drinks, etc.,- all of it warm to boot.
In our area of operation, I Core, there was no ice cubes, blocks of ice, shaved ice, ice sculptures, ice storms. None, nada, zip, zero. The coolest thing was a hot tank. There was only one occasion that our fantasies came true: I call it, the Vandergrift Ice Run.
In April 1969. 3rd Platoon, Bravo Co., 3rd Tanks was assigned to provide security for about twenty-five 25 Seabee bulldozers clearing land between Cam Lo and Con Thien, just below the DMZ. Our operation was part of what became known as the McNamara Line. It was a land clearing and sensor installing effort designed to slow down the NVA troop movements across the DMZ into Quang Tri Province and points south. The bulldozers would clear football field size sections of terrain of all brush and foliage and leave it looking like freshly tilled farm land. Early one afternoon, we got a radio message to head back to our base camp near Cam Lo for a hot meal, courtesy of the Seabee’s. It was great working with the Seabee’s as they had the perks that we didn’t; real chow, spare parts and beer. The rest of the afternoon was to be spent doing maintenance on the tanks and dozers and chowing down.
We enjoyed their mystery meat and fresh vegetables, which was a significant upgrade from our usual C Rations. As we finished eating, Staff Sergeant Jim Jewell, Bravo 3 Platoon Sergeant, approached me and said, “Lieutenant, let’s take a ride”. As I learned early on to do whatever my senior NCO suggested, I followed him to a nearby Jeep, threw on my flak jacket and pistol, and jumped in, It wasn’t until we had gone a click or so west on Route 9, near the Rock Pile, that I asked Sergeant Jewell about the ten insulated chow containers bouncing around in the back seat. Jewell said, “We’re making an ice run.” I yelled back, “It’s a long way to DaNang.” Jewell said, “We’re going to Vandergrift, there is an ice plant there.”
So there we were, armed only with our 45 caliber pistols- no grunts, no tanks, no security, in the middle of “Indian Country”, racing down Route 9, looking for ice!
As the sentry waved us in the gate to Vandergrift Combat Base, a siren went off, not in honor of our arrival, but signaling “In Coming”. Everyone started diving into bunkers and Jewell kept heading toward the ice factory. There were approximately fifty vehicles lined up waiting for ice when we arrived. However, everyone had abandoned their vehicle and was hunkered down in the nearest bunker. Jewell accelerated to the front of the line, said., ” Grab the chow containers and follow me”. Inside the ice plant there was no one around. Even the ice plant workers had headed for the bunkers. We filled the containers with ice, loaded up the jeep and headed out. As we passed through the gate to Route 9, the all clear siren sounded.
We arrived back at our base camp near Cam Lo and iced down the cases of beer supplied by the Seabee’s. Once appropriately chilled, we issued two beers (our daily allotment) to every Tanker, Seabee and Grunt. Not just two beers but two ICE COLD BEERS!
3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, 3rd Tanks, sat around our sandbagged hooch and each man was asked to describe the last time he had had a cold beer. To a man, it had been a long time.
That was the one and only time that I had experienced ice during my 13 months in Vietnam. To this day I cannot look at, much less drink a Falstaff, Miller or Black Label beer.
by Pete Ritch, B Co., 3rd Tank Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, Vietnam 1968/1969