The story of the Army engineers in Vietnam is a chronicle of ingenuity and selflessly applied energy. To the combat infantryman, facing a treacherous and elusive enemy on successive operations in mud, paddy, swamp, or jungle, the engineer remained evanescent; but even though the infantryman seldom observed him, the engineer's efforts were evident in nearly every phase of military activity. In the path of the advance the engineer had ferreted out and destroyed enemy mines and tunnels. There were the clearings he had made in the jungle for passage and defense; the airfields, roads, and bridges for assembly and movement; and the base camps to return to, never as comfortable as desired yet somehow each one better than the last. There were supplies, the wherewithal to endure, to sustain strength, and to tangle with any enemy with confidence in machines, weapons, and support. All were made possible through the successful struggles of the engineer soldier and his officers against hostile forces of man and nature.
To write a monograph which does justice to the thousands of officers and enlisted men who forged the history of the U.S. Army engineers in Vietnam would be a life's work. I have sought here to provide a broad summary of the engineer's activities and contributions to the cause of independence and self-determination in the Republic of Vietnam. Of necessity, this study is concerned only with the years before 1970. Those achievements following the US phase-down will constitute another story. There is also a need to chronicle the many thousand individual "war stories" that have emerged from the conflict. I urge each officer and soldier who feels himself or his organization in any sense slighted to move promptly to record those events which will clarify, correct, or extend this summary monograph. Every engineer commander and staff officer who felt pride in his organization or his work should give others an opportunity to share in that pride by writing articles of historical significance for the library of the Engineer School at Fort Belvoir, for the Engineer magazine, or for one of the several professional engineer publications.
I must confess that a great deal of the material contained herein reflects, albeit unintentionally, my personal attitudes, ideas, and
concepts. Also, because of my personal involvement as engineer commander from September 1965 to August 1967, the events of those days perhaps receive undue emphasis and importance. The contributions of my successors speak for themselves, and whereas I am inclined to feel that no subject addressed after my departure had not been addressed previously, I recognize equally that the deeds of my successors merit far more notice than this text affords.
My duties as commanding officer of the US Army Engineer Center and Fort Belvoir,
Virginia, during the time this study was prepared naturally precluded the devotion
of my undivided attention to the development of this history. I should, therefore,
like to acknowledge the efforts of three enlisted members of my command whose
research and editorial assistance were invaluable during the preparation of
the manuscript: Specialists Five Terence S. Cooke and Richard K. May and Specialist
Four Lawrence D. Cress. To the scores of individuals who offered their advice
and suggestions during the research, and to Mrs. Doreen E. Marciniec, who found
her way through all the confusion associated with typing the final draft, I
extend my special appreciation.
One final comment is necessary. I personally have supported the United States'
involvement in South Vietnam, as a soldier and also as an American. I believe
unreservedly that the US participation was right, timely, and well conducted
by my military superiors and by most of my peers and subordinates. I have come
to admire those South Vietnamese with whom I had contact, both as individuals
and as a nationality. To those unthinking Americans who affect to view the South
Vietnamese deprecatingly or who somehow consider a human being 12,000 miles
away as less a human than his fellow American, I say try wearing his shoes for
a while; the world is too small for any form of superciliousness.
ROBERT R. PLOGER
Major General, US Army
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