The jeep was our primary transport in those pre-Hummer days. It wasn't your grandfather's jeep from World War II. It wasn't built by Willys. It was a Ford. Unlike the Willys' Jeep, the Ford Jeep had swing axles. These were better suited for traversing uneven terrain, but made the vehicle inherently unstable on roads. I really felt badly for the Military Police who welded sheet metal armor to the sides of their jeeps and mounted an M-60 machine gun on a pylon. Many MPs were killed and injured when these rolled because of their high centers of gravity. Interestingly, I don't have a photo of one nor could I find one in a Google search. Maybe none survived the war.
Every jeep I saw in Vietnam had sand bags covering the floor. I never saw any reports or statistics on the efficacy of these against damage or injury from jeeps striking mines, and I never had a chance to find out for myself – thank God.
Our small cargo carrier was the three-quarter ton truck – similar in size and capacity to a civilian pickup truck. I had the displeasure of driving one to deliver coffee and pastries to the men on guard duty in my section (I made my driver sit in the passenger seat only because I felt like driving for a change). The steering was unbelievably heavy. I can only compare it to driving a car with power steering when the engine stalls. Maybe worse. However, it had an exceptionally high ground clearance and it would claw its way through mud during the monsoon season that would mire down almost any other vehicle.
On one occasion, I went to Saigon to pick up a supply of beer for my men. I had promised them all they could drink in a misplaced attempt at bravado when I tried to quit smoking. I bought a lot of beer. It was only $1.50 a case and I took a trailer to haul it back. Vietnamese children darted into traffic whenever we stopped and set the hand brake on the trailer so we couldn't drive away as they stole cases. I finally had the driver sit atop the cargo and threatened them with his M-16 and I drove until we got out of Saigon.
If you have watched the Great Race on television, you may have noticed a very few contestants who pause to look around at the countries they pass through. Most are too focused on the prize to see the wonders of the places they visit. Incredibly, I met many military personnel who lived abroad who failed to take advantage of the places they were stationed. Once, when I thought I might make a career of the Army, I considered volunteering to return to Vietnam and then requesting assignment to Germany. I asked a fellow officer who had been stationed there what he thought of it. Not much, he opined. The Post Exchange (PX) at the base where he was stationed was inadequate, he complained. The poor man had never ventured off base during the three years he was there.
As a passenger on road trips in Vietnam, I was able to get a glimpse of Vietnamese life as we slowly passed homes and shops along the road. Leroy gave me lots of time to look. I had him stop occasionally so I could shop or look around. I ate the food without ill effect. Indeed, as I will explain in another posting, I found the cuisine to be the best of all Asian fare. The only unfortunate affair I ran into happened in a shop where I was surrounded by Vietnamese children – preteens - we called them "cowboys." I was unprepared when one placed his hands on my wrist and stripped my watch. Fortunately, he lost his grip and it fell to the floor. I reached it before him and rose back with my watch in one hand and the nape of his neck in the other. I held him at arm's length and glared. I waited until the other children scattered and then dropped him. I doubt if he learned anything other than to be a better thief next time.
One day while returning to Bearcat from Saigon, we got stuck in a convoy that included treaded vehicles – Armored Personnel Carriers (APC) and tanks. After much cajoling, Leroy began passing a few. Seeing oncoming traffic from a jeep when you are behind an armored vehicle is extremely difficult. Sitting on the passenger side, I couldn't help other than to scream and curse at Leroy to put his foot into it and try. This didn't help. What finally helped was a command-detonated mine that exploded just after we passed over a culvert. Poor Leroy couldn't find a way to push the accelerator any further than the firewall. I smiled all the way back to Bearcat.