Wehr honored for Seabee service in Vietnam

Wehr honored for Seabee service in Vietnam
June 20, 2020.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Francis “Shorty” Wehr’s service was spent building bases and housing for the other troops serving in the Vietnam War. The St. Clairsville American Legion’s Veteran of the Month for June was a member of the U.S. Navy Seabees, construction and combat engineers, from August 1968 through June 1970.

“I enlisted right after high school. I volunteered for the Navy,” he said. “I went through the schooling, training.”

He was assigned to a unit of more than 600, including equipment operators, mechanics, electricians, plumbers, builders, steelworkers and clerical staff.

“We were shipped to Chu Lai, Vietnam (and) 97 of us went up on the hill with the 1st Marines,” he said, referring to nearby Landing Zone Baldy. Their first tasks were erecting living facilities for the troops. “We called them Quonset huts.”

Other projects included runways and observation towers.

“We would prefab a building and go and set it up on a site, and then put tin for roofing, and I was on the tin crew,” he said. “It had already been established as a base by the Marines. Our job was to build up that base with living facilities, water, power.”

His next station was Fire Support Base Ross, 20 miles west of Landing Zone Baldy.

“They use these big guns to fire at the enemy at certain locations,” he said. “We put in gun pads. They had big eight-inch guns, and setting them on the dirt … it wasn’t accurate, so we would put concrete pads for them to sit on, so when they fired the firing was effective.”

It was while he was stationed there that the base came under attack on Jan. 6, 1970.

“An enemy sapper unit overrun our camp,” he said, referring to the North Vietnamese commando units. “The Marines counterattacked, finally came back and knocked most of them down, but there was 17 Marines killed, I think 14 wounded, and in my unit we had seven that was wounded.

“It was the monsoon season so it was muddy. When they blew our hut apart, I didn’t even grab my rifle. I crawled outside, crawled underneath a big truck sitting there and huddled down. One of the enemy threw one of their grenades in the middle bed of the truck and it went off,” he said. “I thought: ‘boy, you’re never going to make it back to Ohio doing stuff like this.'”

He returned to the U.S. in June and concluded his service. He recalls many of the tense moments in Vietnam.

“It was a little hairy at times,” he said. “We had some buildings that got blown up. We had some guys get killed driving trucks.”

Wehr said a common Vietcong tactic was to bury charges under the dirt roadways. He recounted one instance when an explosive destroyed a bus of Vietnamese civilians, killing 30.

“The problem with the locals over there, in the bases where I was at, in the day time they would work on our bases doing menial maintenance stuff … and at nighttime they’d be trying to penetrate our lines because they’ve marked off where the bunkers were around the hill,” he said. “The Marines had a habit of watching them while they was working, seeing if they was marking down where the bunkers were at. That’s how they invaded the (base) where I was at. They knew where everything was at.”

Wehr said he did not experience many of the protests and demonstrations against the war, but on returning home, Wehr joined several veterans groups said there was some tension between World War II and Vietnam veterans, with the World War II veterans feeling the Vietnam troops did not achieve victory in their war.

“I didn’t have no trouble with the people, but there’s some that did,” he said.

Wehr has been a commander of the Flushing American Legion and a post commander at St. Clairsville’s VFW. Originally from the Bethesda area, Wehr lives in Lafferty. He worked as a coal miner, supervisor and a federal mine inspector.

“I’m like a lot of veterans,” he said. “Some seen a lot more than me. Some won’t talk about it because of what they seen or done, but most of us all went over and done what we was told to do, and all we want to do is come home and be left alone.”


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