Combat engineer in Vietnam recalls the lighter moments in war

1st. Lt. Gordon Quick is pictured in Vietnam when he served with the 588th Combat Engineer Battalion attached to the 1st Division in 1965. Photo provided

Gordon Quick, who lives off Burnt Store Road south of Punta Gorda, Fla. near the county line, served in the 588th Combat Engineer Battalion in Vietnam in 1965-1966. His unit was under command control of the 1st Infantry Division—the “Big Red 1” with division headquarters and the support command located at Tây Ninh.

Quick was a platoon leader in B Company, 588th Combat Engineer Battalion located at Phouc Vinh home of the 1st Brigade of the 1st Division.

“Mostly we built latrines, mess halls and gun emplacements for the artillery, and helicopter landing pads,” the 67-year-old former 1st lieutenant said. “When the 1st Infantry guys came back from the field and saw the new facilities, you can’t believe how much they appreciated us. We hit a home run over there with the troops in the field.”

“During the year I was in Vietnam we didn’t get involved in any combat action, but we did have two men killed due to enemy action. We did perimeter guard duty next to the airstrip,” he said.

They did their duty, did it well, came back in one piece and went on with their lives. While going to Vietnam they had some crazy things happen.

“We left on the first leg to Vietnam from the airport at Richmond, Va. on a civilian charter airline. There were six or seven DC-6s—four engine prop jobs—and one Boeing 747 jet,” Quick recalled. “Our battalion commander decided it would be better if all the key personnel went on the 747 to the west coast. The idea was to have key personnel in place when the rest of the battalion arrived because the 747 was faster.’

“The brass and the 747 never got off the ground that day. It developed mechanical trouble,” he said. “Meanwhile the DC-6s were lumbering across the country headed for the west coast. However, several were delayed due to engine problems that developed en route.’

“By the time we reached the west coast it was chaos. The DC-6s were scattered all across the country and came in a day or two late. The 747 arrived in California a day or so after everybody else,” Quick said. “Our advanced planning for going to war was shot.”

Even before they took off from Richmond they suffered their first casualty.

“When we were boarding the plane, the guy in front of me, who had his rifle slung over his shoulder, was having trouble handling his duffle bag.  As we were going down the center isle of the plane, he dropped something and reached over to pick it up. At this time a stewardess who was standing nearby inquired, ‘Can I help you?’

Gordon Quick wears his ball cap with his 588th unit emblem, 168th unit emblem, and airborne pin as he looks at a map of Vietnam before him on the table. Sun Photo by Don Moore

“She bent down to pick up something from the floor at the same time as the guy with the rifle slung over his shoulder. The butt of the rifle came up and hit her square under her chin and knocked her out. The stewardess was not seen the rest of the trip. She was our first casualty of war.

“When we were about to board ship and leave for Vietnam, our battalion commander got all the officers together and told us, ‘I don’t want to see any 588th unit emblems on any enlisted soldier’s cap when we get over there. Secondly, all beards and mustaches must go. This applies to all officers and enlisted. The enlisted men threw all of their 588th unit emblem pins overboard as they went under the Golden Gate Bridge on the way out.’

“We got to Vietnam and we were met on the ship by a full bird colonel who commanded the 18th Engineer Brigade. He told our battalion commander, ‘None of your enlisted men have their 588th unit emblems on their baseball caps. Aren’t you proud of your outfit?”

Quick added, “To make matters worse, the full bird colonel was wearing a long waxed handle bar mustache. It wasn’t long before our troops grew mustaches too,” he chuckled.

“Our first real job in Vietnam as combat engineers to impress the 1st Division Headquarters at Di An was to improve the drainage ditches along the roads in the Di An compound. Unfortunately, while installing a drainage ditch using a grader, we cut the main communication cable between the outside world including Saigon MACV headquarters,” Quick said. “There must have been 10,000 wires in this cable. It took several days for experts to repair it.”

The 588th B Company’s crowning achievement in Vietnam during the year he served with the battalion was refurbishing the dirt airstrip at Phuoc Vinh for the Big Red 1.

“We rebuilt the airstrip the best we could using a grader on loan from the 362nd Engineers, a CAT D-8 dozer, a pay loader, and five-ton dump trucks that we owned. We heard the airstrip had been built by the Japanese during World War II. We reduced a swale in the runway, added runway turnarounds needed for the big C-130s and C-123s that used it, and created the access roads on both sides of the runway. No fixed wing aircraft stayed overnight, in fact they never turned their engines off,” he said.

“In July 1966, our 588th Combat Engineer Battalion was placed under command control of the 25th Infantry Division. Logistics prevented B Company from being relocated. A paper change was made and we became C Company, 168th Combat Engineer Battalion. The 588th and 168th served with recognized distinction while in Vietnam.”

When Quick returned to the U.S. he spent his remaining service time as the battalion operations officer, 2nd Battalion, 4th Engineer Specialist Training Brigade at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. He returned to civilian life and worked for Pratt & Whitney (P&W), manufacturer of flight and land power generating jet engines. Quick, who held a degree in metallurgical engineering from the Colorado School of Mines (’65), worked in P&W’s materials development laboratory for 37 years until he retired.

He and his wife, Linda, moved into their present home in 2004 right after Hurricane Charley devastated the area.

Quick’s File

Name: Gordon Quick
D.O.B: October 13, 1942
Hometown: Denver, Colorado
Current: Punta Gorda,  Florida
Entered Service: May 8, 1965
Discharged: December 31, 1970
Rank: 1st Lieutenant
Unit: 588 Combat Engineers, C Company, 168th Combat Engineer Battalion

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Thursday, June 3, 2010 and is republished with permission.

All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be republished without permission. Links are encouraged.

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  1. Note to Gordon Quick: I was with the 1st Engr. Bn. during its initial year in VN. Is there a way I can get in touch with you? I am working an article regarding our 1st few 2-3 months in Nam. I am also a graduate of Mines.
    Don Ott
    GP ’63

  2. 588th Combat engineer Co. C . July 1966 to july 1967. Sp.4 squad leader. Built first 20 buildings for 12th evac. Hospital. Cu chi. Other areas tay ninh. Dau tieng. Built buildings for troops, roads, helicopter pads, cleared mine fields, ambush patrols, listening posts.

  3. I am writing on behalf of a client who would like to make contact with anyone who served with him during 1969 to 71. His name is Larry Cooper and he is currently living in the family home in Middleport, New York. He does not have access to a computer and lost a good deal of his vision during his service. He was looking for any kind of reunion news for Combat Engineers from 588. Thanks for any help you can give.

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