Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Diary Entry 13: Saigon, Tuesday, 22 June 1965


                                                                Saigon, Tuesday, 22 June 1965

Clark standing on the flight line at Vung Tau, 22 June 1965.  The planes in the background are U.S. Army CV-2 Caribou fixed-wing transport planes belonging to the 61st Aviation Company. (Photo courtesy Richard P. Clark, Jr. collection)

  Left Tan Son Nhut airfield this morning at and went first to Vung Tau.  On arrival was met by Major Swayne B. Franklin (TC) who graduated from Leavenworth last June.  Good friend.  He is the executive officer of a TC aviation battalion at Vung Tau.  [Franklin was the executive officer of the 82d Aviation Battalion.]  We talked over old acquaintances for a while and then went to the beach where I met Lieutenant Colonel [Bernard] Dolan, the CO of the TC Composite terminal service battalion (He was S-3 of the 48th[ [Transportation] Group when I was at Ft. Eustis).  [At the time of the diary entry, LTC Dolan was the CO of the 4th Transportation Terminal Service Battalion based in Vung Tau.  Clark referred to Dolan being the S-3 (Operations) officer with the 48th Transportation Group when Clark served as CO of the 63rd Transportation Company (Light Truck, 2.5-ton and 5-ton), a subordinate unit of the 48th Group, at Fort Eustis from 1960-1961.]

Visited the beach, looked over the LARC Vs and terminal service equipment, and in general had a pleasant reunion with TC folks.  Had some pictures taken with Franklin and Dolan.  The city of Vung Tau is interesting.  I can get cargo into Vung Tau only by civilian contract trucks (no military trucks permitted by the VC) and by highway I can ship only food, gasoline, or PX supplies.  Everything else must go by air.  The VC collect a “tax” on all shipments by the civilian cargo.  I may send out 500 cases of food, but only 350 arrive in Vung Tau.  150 cases are taken from the trucks en route by the VC as a tax, I may send out 6,000 gallons of gas from Saigon, but the civilian tanker arrives with only 5,000 gallons at Vung Tau. NO MILITARY convoys are permitted (they are ambushed) and under NO conditions can we ship ammunition or arms by civilian OR military trucks.  All this goes by air.  The VC won’t tolerate any war items on the highways now.  Rations and gas are OK, but everything else is forbidden.  Therefore, I don’t try to ship forbidden cargo by road.  You lose too many people if you try.
Clark, left, and Lieutenant Colonel Bernard Dolan, commanding officer of the 4th Transportation Terminal Service Battalion, right, Vung Tau, South Vietnam, 22 June 1965.  Note the 1st Logistical Command patch on Dolan's left sleeve. (Photo courtesy Richard P. Clark, Jr. collection)

Major Swayne B. Franklin, left, the executive officer of the 82d Aviation Battalion, and Clark, right, Vung Tau, South Vietnam, 22 June 1965.  (Photo courtesy Richard P. Clark, Jr. collection)

          From Vung Tau I flew to Nha Trang and there met Lieutenant Colonel John Goodrich (my class at Leavenworth) and Lieutenant Colonel Leo Martineau (the next class at Leavenworth).  Goodrich commands an aviation battalion at Nha Trang while Martineau commands a very large combat service support unit there.  [Goodrich was the CO of the 14th Aviation Battalion (Combat), and Martineau commanded the 63d Maintenance Battalion (Direct Support).] Both were very nice to me while I was there.  Goodrich is leaving soon to go back to Washington, while Martineau just arrived a month ago.  Nha Trang is a very pretty beach resort, and I’d like to spend a weekend there sometime.

Lieutenant Colonel Leo Martineau, left, commander of the 63d Maintenance Battalion, and Clark, right, Nha Trang, South Vietnam, 22 June 1965.  (Photo courtesy Richard P. Clark, Jr. collection)

         After looking over my aerial port operations at Nha Trang and making some important decisions regarding theater airlift, I flew up to Cam Ranh Bay to look over sealift operations.  Went up by armed helicopter as that is the only way to get in right now.  Thrilling experience but no action.  Have some big problems at Cam Ranh Bay.  Can’t discuss them in entirety, but a leadership problem exists and it looks like we may have to relieve a couple of company commanders to get some attention.  Things are pretty bad out there.  Little leadership, no discipline, and no initiative.  Will go back next month and if there is no improvement, there may be some damaged careers.  The situation can’t be permitted to exist.  We stand to lose a lot if security isn’t tightened up.  Though Cam Ranh Bay is in the middle of VC-infested territory, the people don’t even carry their weapons with them.  I kept mine armed and cocked all the time there.  Went back to Nha Trang by armed helicopter and returned to Saigon at 9 p.m. tonight.  [The companies Clark referred to were the 123d Transportation Company (Terminal Service), the 155th Transportation Company (Terminal Service), the 344th Transportation Company (Light Amphibious-LARC), and the 347th Transportation Company (Light Amphibious-LARC).  The units had recently deployed from Fort Eustis and Fort Story, Virginia in late May and early June.]
            Back to this “very secure” Majestic Hotel and about ready to fall out.  Can’t go to Pleiku, Kontum, or Qui Nhon tomorrow as had planned due to urgent matters.  Guess I’ll just spend a day at the desk.
           Jack Dibbert, classmate at Leavenworth, got zapped last week at Pleiku.  Very careless on a reconnaissance; no weapons, no security.  [Clark referred to Lieutenant Colonel Bernard W. Dibbert, who was a MACV advisor to South Vietnamese combat units operating in and around Pleiku.  Dibbert was killed on 1 June 1965 by Viet Cong small arms fire.]


  1. I am apalled, but not surprised, at Clark's offhand treatment of the death of LTC Bernard Dibbert.

    He treats this loss as if it were a fly getting 'zapped.' His unspoken judgement is a personal indictment of LTC Dibbert. As usual, he can't even get his facts straight.

    For the civilians who were never there Clark's assertion that LTC Dibbert was careless in his job is like saying Ali carelessly left his gloves off or your U.S. Senator forgot he was up for re-election. By his statements Clark shows himself to be a spineless staff officer who should leave combat action to the adults in the room.

    I've read thru his diary, and I was in country in jobs which put me in the main Command briefing at MACV Headquarters and in a jeep with just one other guy 20 clicks into Clark's VC Tax territory. My opinion of this work is that is incomplete, inaccurate, trivial, self-serving, and misleading. A complete treatment is not appropriate here because I wish to focus on the single point of his manifestly misleading comment about LTC Dibbert.

    However, one very telling- and alarming- anecdote presented by Clark himself tells those with experience in the country what an alarmist nitwit they were dealing with: Clark describes how he walked around the work area with firearm locked, loaded, AND COCKED. Any 2nd Lt, Sergeant, and especially Dibbert, would have taken Clark aside and said
    "Look! If you want to blow your foot off walking up some stairs that's fine. But I don't want you blowing my nuts and kneecaps off when you have a seat in the O Club. Clear that weapon, lock but don't load. Get the weapon off full cock, and your brain off half-cock!" The biggest danger to Clark was himself.

    I directly challenge Clark to produce reports, evidence, eyewitness accounts, or any other documentation to prove his assertion that LTC Dibbert was "careless" to the point of causing his own death, as Clark presents by innuendo. I have seen staff officers of this stripe, recognize them, have a disdain for them, and would gladly follow an officer like Dibbert regardless of the circumstances of his loss.

    If Clark cannot produce credible information, I think he should publicly apologize to the Dibbert family, getting the man's name correct this time, and all the real warriors like LTC Dibbert.

  2. Anonymous,

    Thank you for your comment.

    Before you engage in personal attacks, please read the Introduction...or, better yet, take a look at the photograph at the top of the page. Note that the man you disdain as a "staff officer" has a Combat Infantryman Badge, parachutist wings with 2 combat jump stars, and a Presidential Unit Citation. He made 2 combat jumps at Sukchon and Munsan-ni in 1950-51 and led troops at the point of the spear in Korea as an Airborne Infantry platoon leader.

    Clark also personally knew Dibbert, as they were both members of the Class of 1962 at the Command and General Staff College.

    This diary contains Clark's personal observations and opinions. You have every right to disagree with what he wrote. In historical terms, it is a primary source and you should not confuse his diary with a definitive history of the Vietnam War during 1965 and 1966.

    Regarding the anecdote you cited, which took place at the logistic base at Cam Ranh Bay...of course you are entitled to your opinion. However, I will cite Lieutenant General Joseph Heiser's "Vietnam Studies: Logistic Support" to bring perspective to Clark's anecdote: (pages 34-35)

    "Logistic security, including the physical protection of logistic personnel, installations, facilities, and equipment was one of the more critical aspects of the logistic effort in Vietnam. Ambushes, sapper and rocket attacks and pilferage caused logistics commanders to be constantly aware of the necessity for strict security measures. The tactical situation was not always evident or given consideration during the installation construction planning phase. There were no 'secure' rear areas. Often planning personnel did not fully appreciate the tactical situation, and some installations were constructed at the base of unsecured high ground, making the dominant terrain feature a prize for the enemy for observation purposes as well as offensive action.

    "Of special help to the logistic commanders were the combat arms officers on the U.S. Army Vietnam and the Support Command STAFFS [my emphasis] who advised and assisted them on security matters. With their guidance, logistic commanders were able to improvise within their own resources and provide an acceptable degree of security."

  3. Mr Clark,

    Your response validates my original observations:

    - You do not address my central criticism, your offhand comment about LTC Dibbert without documentation or substantial evidence.

    - Instead, you deflect my focus by claiming 'personal attack' and my comments are not ad hominem. If you served on the tip of the spear I respect and salute that. However, I know all too well that a DD 214 and award of ribbon can be misleading. I was awarded a bronze star for riding the bus from the BOQ to MACV HQs. Then ignored when I repeatedly ventured into harm's way. I sat on a panel which awarded a senior officer a ribbon because the senior board member noted "This will complete his 2nd row of ribbons."
    I am not saying your awards are bogus, but rather that I don't accept them as the proof that you are all things to all men.

    If anything, my comments don't attack you, but present you as the metaphor for what went wrong there.

    You were once a combat savvy leader. Now you prize your photo ops with rank, present the trivial as if important, provide no
    new or useful insight, and throw a fellow officer under the bus.

    Once again I bring the focus laser like onto your unsubstantiated comments about Dibbert. If you have documentation, produce it.
    If you have credible witnesses identify them.

    If your comments are your opinion, based on rumor or hearsay, then state that clearly. You owe that to a fallen fellow officer. You owe that to the family.

  4. Anonymous,

    Thank you again for your comment.

    Colonel Richard Paris Clark, Jr. died in Atlanta, Georgia, on 19 October 1996. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, section 60, grave 2928.

    My name is J.R. Clark. I teach history and am related to him.

    When I was organizing his personal papers following his death, I discovered his diary and believed it had historical value as a primary source.

    The diary reminded me of "A Rebel War Clerk's Diary," written by John B. Jones, a journalist who kept a diary of his experience as a bureaucrat in the headquarters of the Confederate War Department from 1861-1865.

    If you ever read "A Rebel War Clerk's Diary," you will recognize that Jones was just as cynical, arrogant, self-righteous, opinionated, and prone to gossip as Clark was a century later.

    However, Civil War historians consider Jones' diary a valuable primary source because it provides them with a real-time perspective on life in wartime Richmond.

    I believe in the same manner, Clark's diary is valuable to Vietnam War historians because it provides them with a perspective on life in Saigon during 1965-1966.

    Right or wrong, this was Clark's opinion regarding Lieutenant Colonel Dibbert's death on 22 June 1965.

  5. On behalf of the Dibbert family I would like to respond to LTC Clark’s entry regarding my father’s death on June 1, 1965.

    Let me begin with the following excerpt from DOD documents released on June 2, 1965:

    “Heavy government casualties were suffered by government forces when VC ambushed three convoys following an attack on Le Thanh District Headquarters. At about 0815H, the province chief and six members of the Ministry of the Interior, accompanied by a security force of two RF platoons, one intelligence and reconnaissance platoon, and five U.S. Army Advisors left Pleiku en route to Le Thanh district headquarters on a routine visit. The convoy was about one third of the way when they learned that Le Thanh had been attacked and overrun by an estimated VC Battalion. The convoy stopped and the security force began a sweep to clear each side of the road to a depth of 50 meters. The clearing force was caught about 1000H by VC on the north side of the road as it was completing its sweeping operation.”

    It is readily apparent that LTC Clark had no personal knowledge of what happened on June 1st and was seriously misinformed, even though he made his entry on June 22nd, three weeks after the attack. As noted above:

    1. It was not a “reconnaissance” operation.

    2. The convoy included a significant security force. The statement “no weapons, no security” is incorrect.

    Clark’s reference to my father getting “zapped” is unnecessarily callous, especially since he was awarded a Silver Star for gallantry in action and left behind a wife and five sons. But in fairness to Clark, I have been told that in some quarters the word was used frequently during the war. Furthermore, I don’t know if Clark ever intended to publish his diary, let alone in its current form. Perhaps if he had edited it himself, he would have changed the wording. And surely, he would have recalled my father’s correct name.

    What is most troubling, however, is Clark’s assertion that my father was “very careless.” In 2005 I personally met with my father’s interpreter who survived the ambush. I have also spoken with several US Army officers who were in Pleiku during the time of the attack. And I have done considerable research in an attempt to uncover exactly what happened. No one has ever suggested that my father was careless, and those who knew him and worked with him unanimously agree that he was an outstanding professional soldier. As underscored by the anonymous comment entered in defense of my father on June 7, 2011, carelessness just wasn’t in his DNA.

    The ambushes which occurred on June 1st marked a turning point in the war because they provided concrete evidence that the 325th North Vietnamese Regular Army had infiltrated the Central Highlands in significant numbers. Over 58,000 American soldiers died in Vietnam; my father was the 500th casualty. His death was a shock to the Army, and the trajectory of American involvement in Vietnam changed dramatically shortly thereafter.

    Personal diaries which soldiers keep during war can provide important insights which historians may find useful. Unfortunately, at the end of Diary Entry 13: Saigon, Tuesday, 22 June 1965, Clark made a thoughtless, inaccurate, poorly worded and unnecessary comment about my father’s death. Being an Army brat himself and the editor of his father’s diary, I’m sure Clark’s son can understand my desire to set the record straight.

    Michael T. Dibbert

    Dallas, Texas