US Infantry in Vietnam - Road Clearence on Highway 13 (QL#13) in Vietnam, Thunder Road

Highway 13, Thunder Road

Most of my experience with QL#13 (HWY #13 or Thunder Road) came as a grunt and not as an MP. Here is how why.

On 3 separate ocassions my battalion made air assaults into LZs near Thunder Road with the expectation of trouble in 1967, which fortunately did not appear.

So, we established a NDP about a 1/2 klick from the road, in an area where Rome plows had destroyed the jungle and conducted operations out of same for a week at a time. In addition to all normal infantry functions (searches, patrols, OPs, ambush patrols, reconns, and population resources control - a military term used to describe taking the war to the VC by watching the civilians and making unexpected searches of body and vehicles, home and hut, etc, at gunpoint), the battalion had to clear and secure the highway for so many miles each day, along with a combat engineer detachment assigned especially for this mission.

A minimum of 2 companies of infantry plus the engineers are involved in this each day. Company number 3 is left in the NDP as a reserve, along with the battery of 105mm howitzers, and the 4th company is at base camp standing down but on call (read resting, patrolling, perimeter guards, getting drunk and having sex with the local bar girls in the village or town adjacent to the brigade base camp), along with the battalions rear echelon people.

Early, right after chow, the road clearance and security sweep starts, with the companies leaving the NDP and deploying in line, one on each side of the roadway, with the engineer minesweepers, EOD, and battalion HQ element plus some odds and ends from the mortar platoons from battalion and the companies serving as riflemen as a reserve and security element, on the roadway in a classic infantry double file.

Now I know this is not true to life, but for simplicity sake, visualize the highway as a line. On each side of this line an infantry company deploys in a line like one arm of a V, with the open end facing forward from the line that is the highway. Initially it well be a platoon online on each side with the remainder of the company trailing behind and parallel with the highway. I wish I could draw with this thing!

Grunts are loaded with weapons, ammo, water and a C-ration meal dangling from their web gear in a boot sock. The minesweepers, with their detectors, move down the roadway searching, searching, searching for mines, command detonated bombs and artillery rounds etc,

The grunts on the wings of the V have fireteam and squad leaders trailing behind the wing to keep it straight and to keep eyeball contact with platoon HQ and the roadway. All grunts and NCOs are looking for anything that is not "right" as they walk slowly forward on line, watch the trees for the enemy, for booby traps, mantraps, etc, but mostly for any wires that connect a command detonated mine or bomb to a VC command group with a command detonator!!

These wires can be hard to see as they can be buried under the surface, or they maybe exposed due to rain or stupidity. The wire is commo wire from the local ARVN or stupid or careless GI, or household wiring or extension cords wired together and connections covered with electrical tape. I have seen the latter in the following colors: sky blue, pink, white, yellow, black, brown, red, just like y'all can buy at almost any store in The World.

If you see it, you freeze and pass the word RAT NOW!!!! The whole line and the highway party stop immediately. Now, y'all look around very carefully for the booby traps that are bound to be there, snipers, LMG, anything can happen, but usually just booby or mantraps. Most common are toe poppers and HG of various types with the pins loosened and the wire run through the pin. This is for the idiot that gets excited and grabs up the wire and yanks it to see where it goes in both directions, thereby presenting himself and his buddies with armed HG that are gonna explode within seconds sailing about the area. Very, very carefully, a few inches at a time, the wire is exposed to get an idea where it leads to in the tree line and the roadway. The engineers are supposed to do this but it is usually some poor grunt that gets the job. The wire is very, very carefully cut ASAP so it cannot be used to fire the explosive at the business end! Wire must be cut carefully 1 strand at a time to avoid a short circuit and a BOOM! down at the highway. A squad is sent into the trees looking for the owners at the same time, and if a fight starts, it may suck everyone into it! Usually the gooks fade away if they cannot blow the mine, or maybe they will snipe and harass the clearing troops until killed or driven off. Back on the road the engineers are busy finding and cutting wires while the grunts are doing their thing also removing the mine and any booby traps at their end. Some time it is easier and safer to just blow it up, and have a D-9 bulldozer or tank with bulldozer blade fill in the crater.

After the designated length of road is cleared, OP from the rifle companies are posted in fire team strength inside the treeline to provide security for the road. Squad leaders now have the task of walking between their fire teams to maintain contact with them (you are really spread out here folks! a squad is holding a platoon or more of frontage, with trees, brush, etc blocking LOS and no radios).

The engineers and all the troops from the battalion now return to the NDP as a reserve. Those rifle companies are spread thin and all alone, charged with securing the road, and watching in all directions for their own safety too. In rubber plantations which are open this is nerve racking, with jungle it is really tense. The infantry is out there all day until the convoy serials roll by with their MP escorts. Some times, the rubber workers, who are nearby and could be VC or sympathizers, tell the Coke Kids where the GIs are set up, and soon the Coke Boysan or Girlsan shows up with their dummy stick and baskets loaded with Vietamese made Coca Cola and Ice with rice husks and 33 Export Beer. Some time, whores appear and service the GIs carnal needs. But this is only if there are no gooks encountered! Man the locals vanish when there is a chance of a GI and VC/NVA shootout, so if they do not appear, the GIs get antsy and tend to shoot and talk later. So it is dangerous, not just fun and games. Still the road clearance operation was looked upon as a vacation of sorts from normal grunt duties.

At the end of the day, the fireteam at the extreme end of the line (both sides of the road remember) falls back on the neighboring fireteam, then the squad joins the next, etc. Thus the companies retire upon themselves as they retire towards the NDP and sanctuary for the night. The formation for this operation is determined by officers, but is usually a double file or a squad diamonds, circles or boxes, two forward, one trailing with flankers and scouts out.

The company that remained in the NDP is the one that usually sends out AP patrols that night, but sometimes, after the perimeter is entered, a squad will be sent out from each clearance company after darkness falls, in addition to normal LPs.

The theory is that the convoy people know that you are out there in the trees on the danger stretches and (hopefully) will not shoot at you. Now I know this was not done all the time as I describe as there simply were not enough grunts to do it, so it was high risk areas. In the Mekong Delta on my next tour, there were no grunts to do this, just an ARVN mine sweeper team to proceed the convoy serials. And with the convoys and MPs if there were any available for convoy escort security, plus MP highway patrols.

Well, this is how I spent my time on HWY 13 as a grunt. Always operating from an NDP or a firebase, not as an MP.

Delta Mike 2


1st Infantry Division TAOR (1969)

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