by Paul Silva
I was a CH-47 Chinook FE ( flight Engineer aircraft 66-00070) flying combat missions all of 1967 with Company C, 228th ASHB, 1st Air Cavalry Division. In mid 67, after flying missions out near the coast, we returned to The 1st Cavs home base up in An Khe, Central Highlands. After we landed at “the Golf Course”, and I had completed my post flight inspection & secured the aircraft, I was told to report to our Company Commander. All I could think was, “Holy crap, now what?”. The CO and I knew each other well, he flew my aircraft when he wanted to get some flight time. Reporting, “Yes Sir”, CO looks at me and says, ” Silva I’ve got a problem, can’t get Portland cement through normal supply channels, can you help me out. We can’t mix concrete for the new hooch slabs without it”. “Yes Sir, I believe that can be done. Send pilots down to my aircraft tomorrow morning, the sortie will take a few days to complete”. I saluted and exited his office. I notified the other two members of my crew ( crew chief/right side door gunner and left side door gunner) that we’d be taking off early tomorrow on a supply mission.
The 1st Air Cavalry got around in 1967, we flew missions up near Pleiku, near the Cambodian & Laotian borders, out on the central coast, and as far south as Phan Thiet. We would occasional refuel or stop overnight at Air Force or Navy bases. I knew better than to go after Portland cement at a Navy Base like Cam Ranh Bay or Vung Tau– they had Marines providing security, it would be unwise to challenge them. Our best option would be a large Army base or Air force base,–Phu Cat here we come.
The next morning the pilots arrive down on the flight line, “Where we heading Chief?”, I replied, “Bong Son, Phu Cat Air Base”. They had no idea why, and didn’t want to know. Phu Cat was a good size Air Force base out near the central coast of Vietnam, I was hopeful we’d find success. When we landed, the pilots headed out to find officer quarters and the officers club; they were in for a relaxing evening. We were going to be busy. When the sun set, the three of us slipped into one of the many company areas and “borrowed” a 3/4 ton truck, no key need, next stop the main supply depot. Bingo! We located a large quantity of 80 lb. bags of Portland cement–and as I suspected, minimum security. My Chinook, 66-00070 was a “A” model capable of lifting a 8 ton ( 16,000 lb.) load. That night we made 6 or 7 trips from the Phu Cat supply area back to our aircraft, stacked 5 or 6 tons of Portland inside, with a nice load CG I might add. We finished up about 2 am, returned the truck to a different company area, and tried to get a little rest sleeping on the troop seats.
The next morning our pilots walked up the ramp, took a look at the load, and asked if we were ready to go, ” yes Sir”. We flew back to An Khe through Happy Valley, a truly beautiful Central Highland mountain jungle valley with incredible water falls, incredible beauty in the middle of carnage. We landed, the unfortunate guys that “volunteered” for concrete duty unloaded the cargo. I did not have to mix, place or finish that concrete, too busy flying mission, but I did provide a key ingredient. I often wonder how that concrete has held up after 45 years of being exposed to the alternating wet and dry seasons of Southeast Asia.
The attached photos show the unique cement mixer we had, as they say, necessity is the mother of invention. The other two photos are Company C, 228th ASHB, 1st Air Cavalry Division RVN ( Republic of Vietnam) in late 1966, tents built on wood floors to get us off the ground during the rainy season. Another photo later in 1967 you can see the new Charlie Company hooches sitting on concrete slabs.