Initial information provided by Jim (Bill) Woodward of 339th (62 - 63).
SECTION III – History Section
Early Aviation Unit-339th Transportation
By Gary E. Earls, Phoenix 30/36 and Roadrunner 5
My father-in-law, Major Robert Allwine, was the Commander of the 339th Transportation Company when it left Fort Riley, Kansas to go to Viet Nam. I did this interview with him several years ago when Ralph Young was researching early aviation units. Here is the story on how they deployed and arrived in RVN.
On the afternoon of December 31, 1961, the Fort Riley MP's tracked down then CPT. Robert Allwine, the commander of the 339th Transportation Company (Aircraft Maintenance) and delivered him to the quarters of the Commanding General of Fort Riley, Kansas. CPT Allwine had been working with his horses at the post stable. He wasn't allowed to go to his quarters and clean up so he walked into the General's quarters with his work clothes and boots on. The General informed CPT. Allwine that his unit would be sent to Okinawa, as originally planned, or to the Republic of the Philippines, or to the Republic of South Viet Nam. CPT. Allwine replied, "Where, Sir"? The 339th had to be enroute to its new destination within two weeks.
CPT. Allwine summoned his company officers to his quarters to make plans while his wife kept the two youngest children occupied. The oldest daughter, Becky, was instructed to make sandwiches and to keep the coffee coming since planning for this move was going to take some time.. The 339th had twice its normal number of assigned personnel so the officers could select who was going with them to RVN. The 18th Transportation Company (Otter) commanded by a Captain Felix would be going to Viet Nam at the same time as the 339th.
The 339th was shipped to port with the destination listed as "unknown" and were to travel under secret orders. CPT Allwine and an operations sergeant flew ahead of the company to make arrival arrangements. Before they landed at Clark, AFB, the co-pilot came back to CPT Allwine and stated, "Stay on the aircraft and they will tell you where you are going". CPT Allwine and the sergeant were issued passports at Clark, AFB. The higher command couldn't decide whether to leave a maintenance platoon at Clark and the rest of the company go on to RVN or have a platoon size element go to Viet Nam while the rest of the company stayed at Clark. CPT. Allwine told them to make up their minds since they hadn't planned to separate anything from the rest of the company. Finally the decision was made to send the entire unit to Viet Nam.
The rest of the company were issued passports while enroute to Viet Nam. On February 7, 1962 when the ship docked at Cam Ranh Bay, a General Officer had both units assemble on the deck so he could welcome them to Viet Nam. The news media were living in a hotel that overlooked where the ship had docked. A few days later the New York Times carried a story about the arrival of the two units, so much for operational security.
The 339th off loaded its equipment from the USS Core, an aircraft carrier to LST's for the trip to Nha Trang since CPT. Allwine was told that the roads were unsafe to travel from Cam Ranh Bay to Nha Trang. Nha Trang was selected as their "new home" by higher headquarters. The arrival of the 339th increased the number of Americans in Viet Nam to over one thousand.
The 339th had an U-1 Otter and a CH-21 as organic aircraft. They were to provide aviation maintenance support for all four Corps of Viet Nam. The CH-21 was modified with a .30 caliber machine gun on the nose gear and .50 caliber machine guns in the doors. One time they had to recover a U-1 Otter that had made an emergency landing in a field. A local ARVN unit was to provide security until they recovered the aircraft. At 4:30 in the afternoon the ARVN lieutenant informed Major Allwine that it was time for his unit to leave even though the recovery work wasn't finished. Major Allwine took some of his maintenance personnel to form a defensive perimeter while the rest of the recovery team worked on the aircraft.
Major Allwine, promoted while in RVN was shot at once while flying the Otter when they were going into an airfield. Another time he was flying the CH-21 when they were hit in the gas tank by arrows shot from crossbows.
One of the difficulties they encountered were obtaining aircraft repair parts. Once they patched holes in an aircraft using beer cans as patch material.
For recreation, the company used a boat that was loaned to them by the local advisor's headquarters and the beach near Nha Trang. Because there wasn't a local Army ration breakdown, the mess sergeant was authorized to purchase vegetables, meat, and fish from the local economy. The company began living in tents and later moved to villas in Nha Trang.