History of the 51st Asphalt Platoon

I was the original CO of the 51st Asphalt Platoon. After graduating from Engineer OCS at Fort Belvoir, VA in February 1967 I was assigned to activate the unit at Fort Lewis, WA together with my Platoon Sergeant, SSG Sanky Powell.

The 51st was the lead unit of three Asphalt Platoons activated at Fort Lewis with orders to deploy to Vietnam.

The unit acquired equipment, supplies, and limited training prior to mobilization and debarkation. We convoyed to Tacoma, WA and loaded equipment & men onto a Navy Vessel for Vietnam in Mid-August 1967.

My orders were to fly to Cam Ranh Bay, locate the 18th Engineer Brigade, and I would be given orders about the unit assignment. I was advised that the 51st Asphalt Platoon would be paving Highway QL-19 from An Khe to the Miang Giang Pass once we received our asphalt plant and were ready to produce asphalt and commence with paving operations. The unit would be attached to the 589th Engineer Battalion for this project and we would probably be reassigned once the paving operation was completed.

The men and equipment arrived in Qui Nhon by LST locked, loaded, scared to death & ready to fight the war 21 days after leaving Tacoma, WA. The unit was now assigned to A Company, 589th Engineer Batallion.

Prior to the Asphalt Plant arriving we did various chip sealing projects around the Qui Nhon area of operation. Our new Barber Greene Asphalt Plant arrived in early 1968. The plant was set up next to the A Company Quarry operation outside the perimeter of the An Khe compound. A map of the An Khe Base Camp and location of the quarry and asphalt plant can be viewed below.

We successfully assembled the Plant, produced a quality asphalt product, and proceeded to pave approximately 20 miles to the base of the Miang Giang Pass. A good day of production would allow us to pave one mile of 12' wide pavement 2" thick requiring approximately 1,000 tons of asphalt. During this six month period the 51st Asphalt Platoon was the most successful military asphalt plant and paving operation in Vietnam.

The quarry and crushing component of A Company, led by Lt. Lee Ravdin, did an outstanding job of keeping us supplied with the raw aggregates we needed to mix with the liquid asphalt to produce the hot mix asphalt needed by the paving crew. D company was responsible for the road base preparation and also assisted in hauling asphalt from the plant to the paving site. The 51st Asphalt Platoon would not have enjoyed the success we had without the support of A & D Company of the 589th Engineer Battalion.

We were on the General's tour guide stop while we were operating. Every 7-14 days we would have visitors fly in by helicopter to look at the crushing operation, asphalt plant production, and the road trip to that day's paving site. I didn't know there were that many Generals until I visited the Pentagon many years later as a civilian.

The paving was finished by August 1968. Of the original men, almost all were draftees and they rotated out of Vietnam and were replaced during June-July-August of 1968.

September 1968 thru December 1969

After finishing the QL-19 paving project, the unit did some small miscellaneous projects around An Khe and then stopped production of the asphalt plant to perform needed maintenance until late September 1968. Additionally, the unit's personnel and equipment were used to supplement the resources of A Company.

1LT Steven Schilson assumed command of the unit on September 21, 1968. The asphalt plant was disassembled and moved to Quin Nhon in late September for further maintenance and eventual redeployment to Phan Rang to rejoin A Company of the 589th Engineer Battalion in their new base of operations. During this time, 3 unit members and the paving machine were sent TDY to the 73rd Engineer Company in Bong Song to assist in paving QL-1 from Bong Song to LZ English. They would rejoin the 51st a few months later.

1LT Anthony C. Muse Jr. assumed command from 1Lt Steven Schilson on January 7, 1969. The 589th Engineer Battalion acquired a higher capacity – newer technology "Batch Type" Asphalt Plant from the Air Force at this time. The battalion was tasked with road preparation, aggregate & asphalt production and asphalt paving of QL-11 (now QL-27) from Phan Rang Northwest to Song Pha at the base of the Ngoan Muc Pass; approximately 25 miles. The 51st personnel and equipment were used to supplement the resources of A & D Company as this project was started.

Shortly after the acquisition of the Air Force Asphalt Plant, the original Barber Greene Asphalt Plant of the 51st Asphalt Platoon was considered superfluous to the 589th Engineer Battalion and on March 15, 1969 the unit was reassigned to the 577th Engineer Battalion and was relocated to Don Duong at the top of the Ngoan Muc Pass on QL-11. The paving crew of the unit remained with the 589th and finished the paving project on QL-11.

D Company of the 589th Engineer Battalion eventually was reassigned as D Company of the 577th Engineer Battalion.

1LT Goodell assumed command of the 51st Asphalt Platoon from 1LT Anthony C. Muse Jr. around May, 1969.

The Asphalt Plant was set up at the base of the Da Nhim Dam (Dalat Dam) and hydroelectric power station along with the crushing plant of the 577th Engineer Battalion (picture below). The Da Nhim hydroelectric power station was the first hydroelectric power source in Vietnam. It was completed and placed in operation in 1964 producing 80,000 KW/hour to supply electricity to the central region of Vietnam.

D Company continued with their road base preparation activities from Song Pha, where the 589th Engineer Battalion ended their project, Westward along QL-11 with the 51st Asphalt Platoon producing asphalt and paving behind them.

The second of the three Asphalt Platoons activated at Fort Lewis was the 547th Asphalt Platoon. It was initially attached to the 577th Engineer Battalion in Tuy Hua when it arrived in Vietnam in late 1967. It was eventually redeployed to Camp Smith in Bao Loc approximately 60 miles Southwest of Don Duong along QL-20. I do not know if it was still attached to the 577th Engineer Battalion or reassigned to a different Battalion in Bao Loc.

Fallen Brothers – RIP

SP5 William A. Clifton from Harrisburg, Arkansas was 21 years old. Casualty date was June 26, 1968.

SP4 Anthony Robert Werner from Bellbrook, Ohio was 20 years old. Casualty date was May 8, 1969.


Submitted by:
Bob Grant


Then and now pictures of Bob Grant.

                               



Map of An Khe Base Camp and location of the Asphalt and Crushing Plants.


Because the plants were located outside the perimeter of the 25,000 personnel An Khe Base Camp, the 589th Engineer Battalion was responsible for it's security. Approximately 12 – 15 men were required nightly to provide security and protection.

The An Khe Base Camp was highly secured and defended with layers of concertina wire, guard towers, artillery, and helicopter gunships circling the compound nightly. By contrast, the sanity of the Engineer Battalion could be considered questionable as we had no perimeter concertina wire leaving the plants and men totally exposed to enemy advancement should the enemy choose to attack. Eventually, lights were installed to provide some visibility at night. The lights had a tendency to explode when hit with rain. It does rain occasionally in Vietnam. I did not find this to be a warm fuzzy environment to spend an evening and still have lingering thoughts about this place.

Enemy mortar attacks were a fairly frequent occurrence nightly inside the An Khe Base Camp. We also experienced daytime mortar attacks during paving operations along QL-19 as well as land mines (IED'S) placed in the daily equipment loading and unloading zones. In total, we were subjected to approximately 50 such attacks. Amazingly, the crushing and asphalt plant sites with virtually no defenses were never attacked.


A Company Crushing Plant at An Khe 1968.



A Company Crushing Plant at An Khe 1968.



A Company Quarry at An Khe 1968.



51st Asphalt Platoon plant site preparation at An Khe 1968.



51st Asphalt Platoon plant in operation at An Khe 1968.



Load of asphalt heading to QL-19 at An Khe 1968.



Load of asphalt heading to QL-19 at An Khe 1968.



Local Vietnamese worker opening 55 gallon drum of asphalt for liquification at An Khe 1968.



Paving operation outside An Khe on QL-19 Westward toward the Miang Giang Pass in 1968.



Compacting asphalt on QL-19 in 1968.



An Khe BOQ in 1968.



Don Duong and Da Nhim Dam (Dalat Dam) in 1969.



Bottom center is the Crushing and Asphalt Plant at Don Duong in 1969.



Asphalt & Crushing plants in operation at Don Duong in 1969.



Plant staging area in Don Duong 1969.



Asphalt Plant in Operation at Don Duong 1969.