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War Stories

Digging the New Well - 68

Tom Fleming

The story of how D Troop got its new well when we moved across the runway at Cu Chi in January 1968


D Troop physically moved in early January 1968 from the Troop's original Cu Chi home on the Northwest side of the Cu Chi runway to a new location on the Southeast corner of the runway, closer to the rest of the Squadron, in an area formerly used as the South Refuel/Rearm area and the location of a Heavy Equipment Maintenance Company. The site was selected and laid out starting in mid 1967 to overcome the lack of helicopter second echelon maintenance facilities, and bring D Troop closer to its parent unit.

The Squadron Executive Officer, Major David Hertford, and the D Troop Service Platoon Leader, Captain Tom Fleming, negotiated for the area and facilities to be built for the troop. The buildings and helicopter parking areas were laid out and construction started in the fall of 1967 by construction companies and D Troop labor. When the troop physically moved lock, stock and barrel to the new area there were a few necessities that were not provided for in the construction plan. One of those was a well for shower water.

When the troop first occupied the old area in 1966 it had troop labor dig a well and it proved a successful method for providing shower water so it was planned that the troop would dig a new well in this area. The mission fell upon the Aero Rifle Platoon. The selected spot for the well had been in the center of the former tenants parking area for the heavy equipment that it was repairing (bulldozers, cranes, tanks, etc.). The surface of the ground was packed laterite; a clay like substance that, when rolled and packed, had the consistency of concrete.

First attempts at penetrating the laterite with pick and shovel were futile. A squad of riflemen hammered away at it for a several days with pick axes and couldn’t penetrate the laterite. The progress was frustratingly slow and it was becoming evident that ‘pick and shovel’ was not going to accomplish the task.

One of the enterprising riflemen saw a Signal Corps truck with a drill on it for drilling holes for telephone poles. The Signal Corps troops were talked into coming with the riflemen to the new D Troop area and drilling through the laterite. They agreed to do it even though Cu Chi was not their home station. They had to try several drill bits before they could penetrate the laterite. They tried a large bit size first only to burn it out. Using a smaller bit and drilling tangential holes around the existing hole in the ground they finally penetrated the four feet of laterite. After several days of drilling they found water at ten feet down, the furthest their drill could go, so they pulled their drilling gear out of the hole and went on their way.

The Aero Rifles put a Trooper down in the hole with a shovel and a bucket on a rope. He dug and the others hauled up the dirt. It didn’t take long for the water to start turning the earth into slurry of mud. This complicated the process and progress ground to a halt. The hole was now four feet in diameter and ten to twelve feet deep with about two feet of muddy slop at the bottom. Everyone was frustrated at this point.

The Platoon Sergeant approached the Troop Commander and told him that what was needed was to use explosives to deepen the well. The Troop Commander was not too keen on the idea but the Platoon Sergeant assured him that he was an expert with explosives and the Commander should not be too concerned. The Troop Commanders final words were, "You better be sure you know what you are doing." The area nearby was cleared, charge was set, and the call "Fire in the Hole" given. The explosion was enormous. It sent mud and water up in the air at least fifty feet and it rained down mud, rocks and earth over a wide area. Surrounding units thought they were under rocket attack, sounded the sirens and headed for their bunkers. Third Squadron Operations called and wanted to know what was going on. A lot of explaining was done and a lot of apologies were given to surrounding units. Examination of the well head revealed a twelve foot wide crater about six feet deep and filled with mud. The Platoon Sergeant was told to "Get that well back to the condition it was in before he blew it up." along with several threats regarding his fate if it wasn’t done by the next day.

An enterprising Trooper remembered that he had seen a crane with a drag line bucket working on the other end of the runway. A rifle squad ran down the perimeter road and coerced the crane operator with threats and pleas to follow them back to the Troop area. The crane moved slowly down the perimeter road with riflemen climbing telephone poles and cutting wires blocking its way and then reconnecting the wires after it passed on its way to the troop area. Thankfully, there were not too many complaints from the units that had their power and communications disrupted. Most didn’t even know their wires had been cut and reconnected.

When the frustrated crane operator arrived he was immediately put to work and commenced to scoop out the slop in the bottom of the hole. In no time the operator had cleaned out the new well head and deepened the hole to well below it's depth before the explosive attempt was undertaken. The deep hole had water rushing in from all sides indicating a very productive aquifer. The riflemen who had shanghaied the crane operator treated him to the best food and beer the Troop could offer and he left happy.

The Platoon Sergeant was vindicated. However, we now had a massive hole in the ground filled with water. The enterprising Troopers scrounged up big sections of conduit pipe. When assembled they were about six feet in diameter and long enough to reach the bottom of the wellhead and come nearly flush with the ground. Holes were made in the pipe below the water line to let the water flow into the wellhead. The space outside the well wall was back filled by hand. The next good idea was to bring in several loads of stone and put it down the interior of the well to cover the muddy bottom. This also proved successful and at this point we had a well with great capacity for all of D Troop’s water needs. All we needed now were showers constructed for the Officers and Troops. Captain Buxton and others even managed to put heaters in the new shower tank so that cold showers became a thing of the past.

Faced with a difficult problem the Cavalry Troopers responded with initiative (and overwhelming firepower) resulting in another successful mission.

That’s the way the Cav does it!