Tom Butt
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  50 Years Ago - October 1969
October 6, 2019

The following is excerpted from Before and After Vietnam 1969-70Military Experiences of Thomas K. (Tom) Butt.

I last left this story on August of 1969 (31 Days of August 1969, July 31, 2019). September and October must have been busy because I either did not write, or my parents did not save a single letter home.

There was plenty going on, however. A major project of the 34th Engineer battalion (under the 159th Engineer Group) was the construction of Main Supply Route (MSR) Zinc from Ben Cat to the Song Be River south of Phouc Vinh Base Camp, home of the 1st Air Cavalry Division).

From Operational Report Lessons Learned , 34th Engineer battalion (Construction), Period Ending October 1969, RCS CSFOR-65 (r2):

“The entire effort of this battalion was committed to MSR Zinc during the critical period 20 September 1969 to 12 October 1969. During this period all other projects were suspended. From the initiation of the MSR Zinc operational support maintenance mission on 6 August 1969 until the end of this reporting period, this battalion hauled and placed 17,880 CY of rock, constructed ad emplaced 500 meters of corduroy road utilizing 1,500 creosoted telephone poles, and expended 72,680 man hours. The corduroy road constructed of 12 to 18 inch diameter telephone poles and ½” cable is the first of its type to be built in RVN, and has shown excellent durability.”

A “corduroy road” is an ancient technique of using tree trunks lined up side by side to provide support for a roadway on muddy soil. I visited the project and shot the video Construction of Corduroy Road, MSR Zinc, Vietnam 1969.

Figure 1 - MSR Zinc under construction

Bad News

On October 19, 1969, I was contacted by the Red Cross to tell me that my younger brother, Martin (See Martin Andrew Butt – 1947 -1969)  had been killed in an automobile accident. I was informed that arrangements had been made for me to take emergency leave and return home. My cousin, Joe Butt, who was working nearby as the executive officer for a helicopter transportation battalion, picked me up in a jeep and gave me a lift to the airstrip.

It was a long ride home. I remember stopping in Pago Pago, one of the most isolated spots on earth. I spent a night in San Francisco with some of my home town buddies who were living there at that time, then I flew on to Fayetteville. It turned out that Martin, his wife Nancy, a friend, Bobby Ferrell, and Bobby’s date were returning from an evening in Eureka Springs, a resort about 45 miles northeast of Fayetteville. In Rogers, about 25 miles south of Eureka Springs, Martin apparently fell asleep, and the car collided with a semi-trailer truck. Martin and Bobby Ferrell’s date were killed instantly.

Figure 2 - The last time I saw my brother Martin was at his wedding on December 20 1968 at his wedding.

Martin was the first one in our immediate family to die, and because of his recent service in Vietnam, we made arrangements to bury him in the Fayetteville National Cemetery. It was a full military funeral, the same that my father would have 31 years later.

Figure 3 - Martin Butt served as a Marine in Vietnam in 1967-68 at Da Nang, known as "Rocket City" because it was attacked so often

I was only in Fayetteville a couple of days, and I had to head back to Vietnam. I stayed over another night with my friends in San Francisco, and still in somewhat of fog due to jet lag, grief and weariness, I was back in the war.

Apparently, it was over a month before I got around to writing home again.

24 November 1969, Long Binh

Dear Folks,

I didn’t realize until I did a little arithmetic that I had not written for so long. I’ve been so busy since I got back that the time has slipped away.

In a strange sort of way, I almost fear to communicate or receive communication these days. I think I know what is meant by “no news is good news.”

It was almost a week and a half ago that Joe went home on emergency leave, and the only thing his C.O. [commanding officer] knew is that uncle Joe was critically ill. I didn’t get a chance to talk to Joe before he left, so I don’t know what the outcome of that crisis is.

It seems like Vietnam is the safest place around these days, even our company dogs are growing old gracefully but are being threatened by a new order from the commanding general, USARV: “Only one dog allowed per company.” I don’t think that will be enforced, however.

I didn’t go on R&R this month. They had already cancelled it when I got back, but I rescheduled it for the Christmas – New Year’s week, which should promise god things. It will be the height of summer there then, all the schools will be out, etc.

I talked to Doug Cummings a few days ago. I’m going to try to get up there sometime. He said he could line me up a ride with one of the IFFV generals who come to Long Binh and Saigon every weekend. Doug says he is sitting pretty good – compared to his former job – has his own quarters in the general’s villa, own telephone, all that good stuff.

Things have warmed up a little here in the last month out in the boondocks, but still quiet here and downtown. My faith in the potential success of the Saigon government is reaching new lows with the revelation of new corruption involving public figures. The black market and currency manipulation that is being investigated still flourishes openly and is a primary source of income for most Vietnamese in positions of authority and power. I learned recently that a wealthy Vietnamese can buy exemption from the draft for about 100,000 piasters (about $7,000). I don’t know if the protection extends into another administration or not should the one under which it was purchased be deposed by coup or something.

All eyes on the Razorbacks for the big game at Fayetteville – with Ohio State upset – I guess it will really be the game of the year. We’ll probably get it live on radio here – and see the films a few days later. I sure hope Arkansas doesn’t miss this one chance to finally be No. 1.

In about two weeks, I’ll be the oldest officer in the company as far as time in country goes. Nobody here now except one guy who was here when I came in March. I turned over all my reports to another lieutenant who works for me, and I am working on cleaning up the old completion reports – plus day-to-day business. A sgt [sergeant] and I are going to Vung Tau for about a week in early December to close out all the jobs down there. Should be able to get in some real good beach time.

I just finished 8 pages of working drawings for our officer club renovation. The 46th Engineer Battalion was a reluctant “low bidder” on the project and is now hard at work to meet a 20 Dec. Deadline set by the group commander for his Christmas party. It seems awfully fancy for this grubby place, but if that’s what he wants – okay.

I’ve got to take a work break now. I’ll try to write again sooner.

Love, Tom

Figure 4 - Construction of QL-2A, 34th Engineer Battalion, November 1969