PANEL BRIDGE AT AN KHE
by Hamely Wadkins
1ST SGT HAMELY WADKINS
That's me (photo below) signaling the Crane Operator to lower the
”Rube Goldberg” concrete form we prefabricated to fit the jagged
blasted hole for the pier pour. As you know, it worked! The surveyor
helped me get an outline of the bottom.
LOWERING THE "RUBE GOLDBERG" CONCRETE FORM
The reason I was so unusually involved was that Col “E” (The Battalion
Commander, Lt Col Edelstein - HPS) tasked me to site, design and supervise
the construction. I talked Captain Owens into a bid on the project at the
daily operations meeting. I knew Co “A” could do the job with less manpower
and wasted time, do a “bang-up” job and do it faster. It was an unusual
arrangement that I submitted a plan to S-3 for site, configuration and construction.
I am probably the only person to ever report to our Group Commander’s
inspection party (“visiting brass”) without a uniform on. They came in
by chopper and we were placing underwater C-4 charges on the rocks where
the pier was to go. I was senior man on the site, so I “double timed” to
report, soaking wet, barefooted and GI underpants. Ha. That's me in the photo
(below) by the rod.
SURVEYING AND PLACING UNDERWATER C4 CHARGES
The local Vietnamese who called me “Kamerade” was a former member
of one of the Vietnamese Bns who served in the French Army occupation
force in Germany. I got some useful information from him such as floodwater
heights, finding local barbers, locating lumber, cement and other needed
items. Col “E” frowned upon me hiring the barbers and required me to fire
them. I also found and developed the laterite deposit which was a “godsend”
for the perimeter and other road’s construction. We could not have accomplished
that mission without it. I also scouted out and started developing the basalt
deposit inside the perimeter. The 630th Lt. Eq. Co later developed the site
with Crushers. I blazed the perimeter road trace with a compass, inaccurate
map, a couple of Clerks and a bulldozer. I caught hell from all the advance
party 1st Cav. Officers and men who had been assigned unit areas. But terrain
dictated generally the exact trace. After the bulldozer “swipe” I told them to
take it up with Col “E”. Ha.
If you remember me, you know that I was a fully engaged First Sgt whose first thoughts
were morale, welfare, safety and mission of our unit. I even tried for some
“creature comforts”. A Co was the first to have showers. I scrounged material,
labor, etc. to build them without taking manpower from the operating platoons.
The Mess Sgt. was tasked to keep us plenty of water, even hot water at times.
Left, COMPANY A SHOWER AREA - Right, HAMELY WASHING UP
SETTING PIER FOR PANEL BRIDGE
If you were on site when we poured the pier concrete, you may remember that we
poured about 42 cu. yds. into the night. The river started rising from upstream
rain! All we could do was “cuss”, pray and build an earthen berm. (See photo above.)
We borrowed a wrecker from the 511th to rescue the mixer. We managed to save the pour
and the equipment. It was a “stretch” to prefabricate the form from pierced planking,
but it worked. We had to do a lot of improvising to accomplish some missions as
you know. You may also know I loved the Corps of Engineers and had been a member
since I was 16 years old. I was quite experienced with explosive use including
underwater and quarrying and had been on an Engineer Bomb Disposal and “Dedudding”
team. I had also been an instructor of tactical fixed & floating bridges at Fort
Belvoir, Va. I retired about 10 months after leaving our unit (May ’67) with
20 years and at 36 years old.
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