From the Stars and Stripes archives

GIs comb billet wreckage

Rescue efforts continue at the Metropole five hours after the truck bomb explosion.


By BOB CUTTS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 6, 1965

SAIGON — American servicemen, some dazed and covered with cuts and bandages, began combing the wreckage of the Metropole Hotel early Saturday in the wake of a pre-dawn terrorist bombing that ripped the bachelor enlisted men's quarters, and made a shambles of an entire block in downtown Saigon.

U.S. Navy Seabees of Hq. Support Activities, Saigon, many of whom were themselves thrown from bed and injured by the blast, helped clear the wreckage.

Other enlisted men of all services quietly watched, waiting for personal effects to be dragged out or for someone to tell them where to go. Many were dressed only in fatigue trousers and T-shirts. Some were covered with cuts and scratches from flying glass.

The Seabee units were on the scene a half hour after the blast and began clearing debris as soon as rescue workers were sure all injured were out of the building.

The bomb, an estimated 250 pounds of plastique explosive driven in a truck to a spot within 20 feet of the hotel doorway, ripped out the front walls of the first two floors and tore down balconies facing the street. Nearly all windows in the hotel were shattered.

A U.S. Marine, a New Zealand soldier, and eight Vietnamese died.

More than 175 persons were injured, including 72 Americans and 3 New Zealanders. Sixty-two Vietnamese were still hospitalized late Saturday.

The terrorists used small arms fire to attract hotel dwellers to the windows and balconies where flying glass would cut them.

The bomb disintegrated the truck, described by one witness as a "grey Chevrolet quarter-ton panel truck, just like a Navy vehicle," and wreaked havoc with civilian buildings and a smaller American BEQ across the street.

A three-foot crater, 13 feet long and 12 feet wide, marked the spot where the truck was parked.

Cordons of civil and military police closed off the area as patrolmen helped civilians with personal effects and guarded against looting of shops and bars.

Hospitalman 3C Brent Elliot, a corpsman at the Navy hospital across the street from the Metropole, heard the explosion at his quarters, the Vinh Thanh BEQ, seven blocks away, and ran outside with other corpsmen, where they commandeered a jeep and raced to the scene.

"When we got here," Elliot said. "things were surprisingly well organized."

Elliot, dressed in bloodstained hospital whites, said "everybody was out in 20 or 30 minutes. The ambulance from the 3d Field Hospital at Tan Son Nhut AB (two miles away) came in and started taking out those ready to be moved."

Air Force SSgt. Vincent Barrett was in room 18, on the first floor of the BEQ, right above the truck. "I ran to the window, but then turned around when I saw that truck. I remember seeing long lines of Vietnamese waiting to board 15 or 20 buses in the street below. They all were lying flat because of the gunfire.

"Just as I turned, I saw a huge mushroom cloud of fire come up, and then the window caved in."

Two Vietnamese children walk outside a Saigon apartment building that was heavily damaged by the truck bomb.

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