!!! TRA CU !!!
Tra Cu ATSB after 500lb bombs counter an enemy attack.
This photo is courtesy of Ron Decker
Contact him through Steve Crandall
EMAIL: crandalls46[ at ]aol.com
A recent map shows Tra Cu near the mouth of the Bassac River; however.....
Paul Cagle states that TRA CU is located on the VAM CO DONG RIVER west of CU CHI near the PARROT'S BEAK of CAMBODIA and VIETNAM.
EMAIL: pwc01[ at ]earthlink.net
TRA CU was an ARMY GREEN BERET "A" TEAM BASE with South Vietnamese Special Forces and Cambodian Mercenaries.
TRA CU was part of OPERATION GIANT SLINGSHOT that was carried out on the VAM CO TAY and the VAM CO DONG RIVERS.
TRA CU was called two names, "HELL ON EARTH" or "THE ASSHOLE OF THEWORLD". Casualties ran ABOVE 100% counting KIA and WIA.
Many of us had multiple PURPLE HEARTS during our time at TRA CU.
Paul Cagle was wounded three times in 56 days and was severely hurt on the last one.
Ron Laratta claims TRA CU was a dusty, dry no-good piece of land in the middle of nowhere, yet the NVA would never leave us alone.
EMAIL: rflaratta[ at ]juno.com
We were smashing the HCM trail. Charlie didn't like that.
Ron Laratta was on PBR140 in RS532 at Tra Cu starting in January 1969
He was WIA Feb 18 1969 at a bend called the horseshoe or snoppys nose.
THE END OF THE TRA CU BASE ??
May 1969 ??
THE ATTACK ON PRB 139
PBR 139 of River Division 532 was hit from the west bank of the Vam Co
Dong River with automatic weapons fire, 2 RPGs, and one Recoilless Rifle
round. This was about 8-9 klicks north of Tra Cu going towards the Sugar
Mill. It was approximately 2300 when all hell broke loose.
One minute everything was calm, except for the gentle hum of the engines, then from the corner of my eye I saw a white sparkle. This was followed by a deafening explosion that literally blew me into the air about 10 feet above the boat. I could not hear anything and time was in slow motion, but I remember the green tracers going by me. The next thing I remember was being burnt by the engines as I was laying on top of the starboard one.
All the weapons had been blown away, but I frantically searched for anything to use to fire back. All during this time, green tracers were cutting through PBR 139. SN Carl Gerkin on the forward fifties was the only person able to return fire. But I noticed he was firing at an odd angle. Then I realized that we were sinking and Boat Captain Bill Akin was transmitting over and over, "we are sinking, we are sinking". After Gunner EN3 Robert Blais was badly wounded an unable to return fire. He had taken the brunt of the recoilless round.
Then PBR 139 was under water and going down. The water forced me under the canopy where I became trapped and unable to move. It was DARK, so very DARK, and I could hear the boat breaking up and parts falling off as it went down. By now I had resigned myself to the idea that I was going to die, and I was OK with that. Then PBR 139 hit the river bottom. I remember being able to get out from under the canopy and get out of my flack jacket. I was wearing the type that had the armor plating in it. Then I began swimming upwards as fast as possible. Then when I thought I was not going to make it, my head was out of the water and I was literally gasping for air.
COVER BOAT TO THE RESCUE
As I looked around, I could not find anyone. At that moment, I was surprised by the bow of 139 popping out of the water about five feet from me. I figure that was the safest place to be and hung on. For reasons that will not be speculated about, our cover boat then returned and I was pulled from the water by my left arm. That is when I noticed that the pain was bad, especially in my upper left arm. By now, All others had been spotted and one by one were pulled into the cover boat. EN3 Robert Blais was in serious condition. We were taken to the Sugar Mill for Dust Off to Cu Chi.
Final casualty count was one KIA(Blais) and three WIA. PBR 139 had been home to the four of us for a long time( Akin, Gerkin, Blais, and myself Cagle).
We had been in
several bad fire fights on the Upper My Tho River and even caught a
major enemy crossing on August 28, 1968. It had brought us through TET
at My Tho and Ben Tre.
It was even used in a Special Operation with the ROKs in Qui Nhon while
stationed on the U.S.S. Hunterdon County in March of 1968.
Yet on the very last day of January 1969, it was finally overwhelmed by enemy forces on a dark lonely river called the Vam Co Dong near the most hellish place on earth, TRA CU. More died and were wounded. Boats were sunk. Men lost limbs. Death was always lurking. Purple Hearts were abundant. Awards were constantly given until they were just thought of as something natural. Many did not get their awards because of the intense fighting and the lack of access to TRA CU (by boat or air ). But the River Rats struck back with a vengous. We caught crossings, set waterborne ambushes, and had no mercy for them. Many a body would be floating in the river after a successful ambush.
The Vam Co Dong was
truly the River of Death and TRA CU was HELL ON EARTH. God bless our
fallen shipmates and help those of us who are suffering the experiences
of NAM even until this day. As my dear Friend Ron Laratta always says,
"all wounds are not visible". So very, very true.
The story told by Paul cagle is so true, as Tra Cu was a hellish place. Home to a lot of brave men who worked and fought the kong on the rivers and door steps of tra cu.
HOW I GOT THERE
I was a cm-3 in the Seabees and was stationed in DaNang early 68 Very early on I got special TAD orders to Ben Luc for 3 months. The night before I left Danang my shop at the deep water piers was hitby a rocket attack. We took a lot of damage that night but other than a few cuts and scraps, all was well. But now I think back to that event and it should have been a omen as to what was coming for me next as I jumped on a C130 for Saigon. When I checked in at Saigon temp barracks for the night.
I was told to head out to Ben Luc next morn, as this is where I was going to be stationed. When I got to Ben Luc next day..got to look around and thought to myself ...."not a bad set up" how wrong I was afterchecking in there.
They told me to grab my gear and jump on that LCM "over there" and they will take you to Tra Cu. Was told to be ready for anything by the crew of the LCM...after a long long boat ride up the Vam Co Dong river the chief swung the LCM into a cannel and on my right was Tra Cu.
ONLY ONE DAY BEFORE MORTAR ACTION
Grabbing my gear and my 16 I jumped off. Being young and stupid at the time and coming from DaNang, the first person I ran into was a guy with cut off's no shirt and a bonnie hat, playing a harmonica, so I asked him where do I check in at? He stooped playing and looked up at me and smiled....said: "your checked in" from that point on I knew this was going to be the nextthing to HELL itself and it sure did turn to be that.
The very next night Charlie sent in some mortars as a welcome gift. all hell broke loose that very night. I remember the cook lost part of his ear from shrapnel and a few others took hits too. There where lots more fire fights and PBR crews getting blowed out of the water during my 6 month stay.
CATCHING THE APPROACHING VC UNAWARE
Delling and Wood stood watch together one dark night at Tra Cu. During watch they spotted VC approaching the base from the east. (opposite canal)
They sounded a silent alert, we all went to silent GQ including the PBR crews who stayed beach. Our CO used the radio's and bunker phones to a count down to open fire on the VC. The PBR's stayed home and use all there rear fire power they had.
It was a blaze of automatic weapons, small arms fire, mortars. The VC never knew what hit them! The fire fight was over in a short period of time.
Airman David Delling and Boatswains Mate Patrick Wood both awarded the Navy commendation metal for there action in this battle. This was reported in the BenLuc ATSB weekly newspaper the CourtlyGrapes Romeo paper dated Aug 26, 1969.
WHY I EXTENDED 3 MONTHS
I extended there for 3 extra months. There where 100 reason why I should have went back to DaNang but there was only one reason I stayed the extra.
I had worked and fought alongside the best dam men in the Navy. Guys like Steve, Scaf, Delling, Cheif Cox. Some there names have faded from my brain. but there faces have not. There voices, The music, The smells, The sounds, will always be there. in my mind and in my heart forever.
"All gave some and some gave all" God bless all who served in the Brown Water Navy.
GROUND SURVEILLANCE RADAR
I was at Tra Cu for several weeks, in October of 1969 I believe. My 5 man team operated a TPS-25 ground surveillance radar system. The 60 to 84 foot orange tower was unmistakable. Our mission was to detect infiltration along the Cambodian border from the HCM trail.
I remember Tra Cu as one hairy place. Even in the short time we were there I recall some very hair raising moments, including a C-47 gunship hosing down the "north 40" just north of the camp one night.
THE BUNK HOOTCH
We bunked with some infantry guys on the west end (I think) of the camp. I remember a very dim light bulb hanging from the ceiling of the hooch, wrapped with some sort of duffle bag to keep the light very, very dim -- sort of crude night light. Also, I remember a general officer visiting one day to award a Silver Star to an infantryman for successfully capturing an enemy prisoner.
Anyway, I spent my entire 12 month tour somewhere near the border. Places like Go Dau Ha, Loc Giang, Ben Soi, Ben Cau, Tay Ninh, FSB Crook, FSB Washington (close to Nui Ba Den) still come to mind. We were nomads and moved our radar system no less than 12 times, which was a real pain.
Oh yeah, I also remember the nightly "depth charges" while
at Tra Cu. I guess every 10 or 15 minutes, someone would
drop a concussion grenade into the canal, in hopes of giving
sappers a headache.
TRA CU OPERATION IN 1970
That particular hell on earth was still operational in 1970, RivDiv 594 was
stationed there for a while from Tuyen Nhon, I got dusted off from there
after a minor wound developed the crud.
TRA CU ATSB
Photos of Tra Cu ATSB
This photo is courtesy of Ron Decker
Photos at Tra Cu ATSB
of the recovery of PBR139
Paul Cagle was on PBR 139 at Tra Cu from January 69 to when it was hit and sunk on
January 31, 1969.
EMAIL: pwc01[ at ]earthlink.net
Casualties included one KIA and 3 WIA (Paul Cagle included).
Paul lost everything He owned when 139 was sunk as he was living on the boat at that time.
Paul left Tra Cu in March 1969.
Photos at Tra Cu ATSB of the recovery of PBR139
ARE THE COURTESY OF Paul Cagle
PHOTOS OF THE TRA CU BASE
ARE THE COURTESY OF Richard Jones
PHOTO 501 Shows the Doc's Bunker,
next the chow hall and then the showers
Far tower show location of 2 ARMY 155mm guns
<<< Richard at his GQ station, bunker #4
It was located behind the hooch's, defending the west side of the camp.
We rebuilt bunker #4 soon after I got there, as the 60 was wide open over top of the 50 cal: at ground level.
I was catching to much shit so we built it higher and put a roof on it. Also had room to store lots of ammo.
Charlie tested the new bunker on a few occasions. I spent many a sleepless night on that mount.
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