Dong Tam, RVN
15TH COMBAT ENGINEER BATALLION
The long and distinguished history of the 15th Combat Engineer Battalion began on 3 June 1916 when the Battalion was constituted as the Fifth Reserve Engineer Regiment. In outline form, the following is the units record of service:
May June 1917 Organized at Oakmont, Pennsylvania
9 June 1917 Redesignated as Fifth Regiment Engineers
8 August 1917 Redesignated as 15th Engineers (Railway) in the
15 May 1919 Demobilized at Camp Sherman, Ohio
25 August 1921 Reconstituted as 15th Engineers in the Regular Army
24 March 1923 Assigned to the 9th Infantry Division
1 July 1940 Redesignated 15th Engineer Battalion
1 August 1942 Reorganized and redesignated as the 15th
Combat Engineer Battalion
27 April 1954 Redesignated as 15th Engineer Battalion
31 January 1962 Inactivated at Fort Carson, Colorado
1 February 1962 Activated at Fort Riley, Kansas
The battle record of the Battalion started during World War I, when it was awarded campaign streamers for the St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne campaigns.
The 15th Combat Engineer Battalion landed on the shores of North Africa in September of 1942 to provide combat support to the 9th Infantry Division in its drive to disable the Afrika Korps. The German Armies were beaten and disorganized, as it was also in the next campaign in Sicily. From Sicily the battle weary troops were transported to England where they underwent a rigorous training program in preparation for D-Day.
The day the Reliable Engineers had been training for came on June 14th, 1944 as they swarmed onto the beaches of Normandy just four days (editors note: D-Day was 6 June 1944 not 10 June 1944) after the first infantrymen waded ashore. Their assignment was to clear minefields and build bridges as the infantry brigades pushed the enemy forces out of France and Belgium. They shared the glory of the 9th Division, as it became the first unit to cross the Seine River and begin the liberation of conquered Belgium, then moving to Aachen and later the Monschau Forest where the Battle of the Bulge saw Germanys final winter offensive of the war fail.
In March of 1945 the Reliable Engineers were supporting the 9th Infantry Division as it snuffed out resistance in Bonn; later that month they crossed the Ludendroff Bridge and established the Remagen Bridgehead for which Company B was awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation.
After an armistice has been signed, the 15th Engineer Battalion remained in Germany until inactivation in January 1947. Following approximately 6 months of inactivation, the Battalion was reactivated along with other elements of the 9th Infantry at Fort Dix, New Jersey, to become part of the training center at that base.
A growing commitment of American forces to the war in Vietnam made it necessary to once again to call upon the Old Reliables. (This nickname was given to it after action around Schwammanauel Dam during World War II). Fort Riley Kansas was selected as the training center, where the Engineers successfully completed a rigorous training cycle to prepare they for the new duties they had been chosen to perform. Leaving San Francisco, California on 1 October 1966 aboard the USS Sultan they spent 20 days at sea and arrived near Vung Tau, Vietnam on 20 October 1966.
Assigned the task of preparing Camp Martin Cox in Long Thanh Province, they set about the job with a determined, aggressive and mission oriented attitude. Working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the camp was ready for the arrival of the Division on 29 December 1966. In the short period of 2 months, a determined engineer unit had cleared 720 acres of jungle, built 110,648 feet of road with associated drainage, built 97 latrines, 89 showers and 28 mess halls.
The first element to be assigned to a combat mission was the AVLB Platoon from E Company, which was deployed in support of the 25th Infantry Division on operation Attleboro beginning in November of 1966.
Along with the expansion of Camp Martin Cox came the planning and construction of a brigade size base camp in the Mekong Delta called Dong Tam. To accomplish this project, Task Force Ripsaw was formed. It consisted of B and D Companies, a detachment from Headquarters Company, an infantry and signal company, and a medical and logistical element. They moved to Dong Tam on 10 January 1967. The 15th was again the first in the Division to move to a new area of operations; they were also the first American forces to move permanently into the Mekong Delta. They accomplished a seemingly impossible task by having Dong Tam ready for the arrival of elements of the 3rd Brigade on 25 January 1967.
The 15th Engineer Battalion has been involved in every major operation undertaken by the 9th Infantry Division since its deployment to the Republic of Vietnam. They have provided demolition teams to destroy enemy tunnel complexes and bunkers, mine sweeping teams and road building teams to keep vital roads open and built fire support bases. The major operations of the 9th Division and the associated elements of the 15th Engineers are:
DATES OPERATION 15TH UNITS
31 Oct 66 20 Nov 66 Attleboro E Co.
20 Nov66 30 Dec 66 Cedar Falls E Co.
30 Nov 66 30 Apr 67 Fairfax A, C, D, E Co.
29 Dec 66 4 Jan 67 Canary E Co.
9 Jan 67 19 Jan 67 Silver Lake HHC, B, C Co.
20 Jan 67 28 Jan 67 Coley HHC, A, C, E Co.
28 Jan 67 31 May 67 Iola HHC, A, C, E Co.
1 Feb 67 15 Feb 67 Palm Beach HHC, D Co.
6 Feb 67 24 Feb 67 Big Spring A, B Co.
16 Feb 67 30 Apr 67 Greenleaf HHC, B, C Co.
23 Feb 67 10 Mar 68 Enterprise HHC, B, C Co
25 Feb 67 3 Mar 67 Chapman B, C Co.
3 Mar 67 29 Mar67 Pittsburgh HHC, A, E Co.
3 Apr 67 15 Apr 67 Junction City HHC, A, E Co.
18 Apr 67 20 May 67 Port Sea II HHC, A Co.
19 Apr 67 15 Feb 68 Manhattan A Co.
8 May 67 14 May 67 Kittyhawk E Co.
1 Jun 67 Present Nirvana A Co.
1 Jun 67 Present Hoptac D Co.
9 Jun 67 Present Coronado HHC, D Co.
9 Jun 67 Present Akron HHC, A, B, E Co.
13 Jun 67 16 Aug 67 Great Bend D, E Co.
3 Jul 67 9 Apr 67 Riley HHC, A, B, E Co.
10 Jul 67 27 Jul 67 Paddington HHC, A, B Co.
21 Jul 67 3 Aug 67 Emporia All
20 Oct 67 7 Apr 68 Narasuan HHC, A Co.
3 Nov 67 5 Jan 68 Santa Fe HHC, A B, E Co.
16 Nov 67 18 Nov 67 Kien Giang C Co.
7 Mar 68 3 Aug 68 Peoples Road HHC, A, B, C Co.
11 Mar 68 7 Apr 68 Quyet Thang A, C, D Co.
17 Mar 68 22 May 68 Peoples Road I HHC, A, B, C Co.
8 Apr 68 Present Toan Thang I,II,III A, B, C, D, E Co.
1 May 68 20 Nov 68 Kudzu HHC, A, B, D Co.
29 Nov 68 1 Apr 69 Speedy Express HHC, A, B, D, E
The first year in Vietnam was a bountiful one for the Reliable Engineers, with 850,000 man-hours logged during this period. The men built eleven permanent base camps, two airfields, 40 fixed bridges, numerous fire support bases and landing zones. An immeasurable contribution was made to the Vietmanese Pacification/Civic Action program with approximately 4,000 civilians treated in MEDCAP operations. Footbridges, playgrounds and roads were also constructed in an effort to win the hearts of the people.
From March through August 1968, the 15th was primarily engaged in Operation Peoples Road, an operation undertaken by Divisional units and, in particular the 15th Engineers, shortly after the 1968 Tet Offensive. Operation Peoples Road consisted of the upgrading, repair and maintenance of Highway QL4 west from My Tho to Cai Lay including some lesser access routes. This valuable stretch of over 30 kilometers of road was the main supply route between the fertile rice paddies of the Mekong Delta and Saigon. The Viet Cong had been successful in disrupting the flow produce and people by blocking, mining and cratering the Delta roads and with
ambushes along those roads. Through the efforts of the 15th Engineer Battalion, principally Companies A and B, and with the coordinated effort of the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) and other non-divisional engineers, these roads were mine swept, cleared and repaired on a daily basis. In addition, the roads were shaped and resurfaced to handle heavier traffic. Valuable civic action was also made possible as a result of military operations in this area and the ARVN engineers as well as the local RF/PF (Regional Forces/Popular Forces), better known as Rough Puff, acquired important training and experience in dealing with VC interdictions. The 15th Engineer Battalion also built several fire support bases and outposts in conjunction with this operation.
Of all the operations undertaken since being deployed to Vietnam, undoubtedly the most extensive has been the development of the Dong Tam base camp, the final base camp used as Division headquarters in Vietnam. Begun in January 1967, work continued through 1968 utilizing the expertise of the 15th Engineers and two other non-divisional engineer units.
The fourth largest dredge in the world, the Jamaica Bay, was brought to Dong Tam and anchored in the My Tho tributary of the Mekong River. It was placed, in 1967, only a few hundred meters from the 3rd Brigade Dong Tam base camp of concertina wire and tents. The 15th coupled huge sections of pipe together so the dredge could begin its task of pumping sand into the area behind the small 3rd Brigade camp. The sand was pumped into the area north of the current base camp and left to dry, forming the area that would eventually be the home of the 9th Infantry Division.
Disaster struck on 10 January 1968 when a saboteur climbed along the pipeline and eventually place a satchel charge on the Jamaica Bay. The resulting explosion sent the vessel to the bottom of the river and halted the work on the new base camp. In March two dredges, the Hung Dai from Korea and the New Jersey from the United States arrived to continue preparing Dong Tam.
Dong Tam, for a time referred to as tent city, gradually became the home of the 9th Infantry Division. With additional elements arriving as the base camp was extended, the move was nearly complete with the arrival of
Division Headquarters in August 1968. E Company, 15th Engineers was one of the last units to arrive, having stayed behind at Camp Martin Cox as a rear detachment and using its five ton bridge trucks for hauling equipment for some of the other battalions.
During the 1968 wet season, generally from May through November, the main Engineer effort was directed towards the following: Maintaining passable roads, keeping water from inundating fire support bases and completing the base camp at Dong Tam.
Once the wet season started to ease, the 15th started opening roads, which had become inaccessible during the wet season. Some were opened easily but for the majority, the Viet Cong made us earn each mile. Access to more roads gave all units of the 9th ID quicker land access to all areas of the Delta and aided in the rapid Vietnamese resettlement of the Delta.
Earthen work was the prime means of building fire support bases. As the rice paddies dried and the water level lowered, fill was bull dozed into base camps and fire support bases. Berms of earth were built high enough to limit small arms, RPG and B40 rounds from entering the bases. Earthen pads for artillery, heli-pads, bunkers and interior roads had to be built and stabilized. Living quarters (okay, they werent THAT great), bunkers and permanent fighting positions had to be constructed. Accommodations were provided for the 2nd Brigade as they left the ships positioned in the My Tho segment of the Mekong River.
During the 1969 dry season, the 15th Engineer Battalion constructed seven fire support bases, repaired four bridges, cleared 2050 acres of jungle and repaired 88 kilometers of previously impassible roads. This was in addition to providing combat support for the infantry brigades. That support was comprised of detecting mines and booby traps, destroying enemy bunkers and arms caches.
Several new concepts were introduced through an engineer airmobile effort. Personnel bunkers and guard towers were built in relatively secure areas and transported by helicopter to new fire support bases thereby providing timely security to those bases. Similarly, bridges were constructed and quickly
moved into areas that were inaccessible to heavy vehicles.
On of many the important tasks performed on a year round basis was the daily mine sweep conducted to, and along, Highway QL4, TL22, TL212 east and west, TL210 and TL175. Using hand held mine detectors, each morning those roads were swept for mines and booby traps.
The history of the 15th Engineers has been one of continued support of the 9th Infantry Division brigades from World War I, World War II, Vietnam and beyond. A legacy of devotion to duty and bravery is a product of the past and a serves as a direction for the future. What more needs to be said, we are Reliable. And we were.
15TH COMBAT ENGINEER BATTALION
SUCCESSION OF COMMAND
LTC C. R. Supplee 23 Apr 66 6 Aug 66
LTC William E. Read 6 Aug 66 30 Sep 67
LTC Thomas C. Loper 30 Sep 67 25 Aug 68
LTC Guy E. Jester 25 Aug 68 Present
CAMPAIGN PARTICIPATION CREDIT
World War I St. Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne
World War II Algeria-French Morocco, Tunisia, Sicily, Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Central Europe, Ardennes-Alsace
Distinguished Unit Citation, Streamer embroidered SIEGFRIED LINE
Cited in the Order of the Day of the Belgian Army for action at the MEUSE River
Cited in the Order of the Day of the Belgian Army for action in the ARDENNES
Company B entitled:
Distinguished Unit Citation,
Streamer embroidered REMAGEN BRIDGEHEAD
Transcribed and adjusted, 3/19/00 by Lt. Richard T. Coogan (Retired 1972)