FEDERICO (FRED) REY
Patriot, Chapter 1919
Federico Rey was born in
state) in 1947, the son of Jesus and Aurora Rey.
citizen who had first come to
in 1942 for work as an auto mechanic, but then was drafted the next year.
as an Anti Aircraft Artilleryman at
Camp San Luis Obispo,
when discharged from the Army in August 1945 after WWII, he returned to
where he worked for Continental Trailways as a diesel engine mechanic for
mother brought him to
when he was a year old and he grew up and went through public schools there;
Coronado Elementary, Washington Junior High, and
He also spent a lot of time
around his father’s shop and learned a lot about diesel engines.
After graduation from
Albuquerque High with the Class of 1965, he enrolled for some night classes
in the University
But, being a part time student
did not make him eligible for deferment and that next year he received
greetings from the draft board. Rather than accept the two-year draft, he
signed up for a three-year enlistment in order to secure training of his
choice as a Wheel & Track Vehicle Mechanic.
He was inducted in the Army
on October 6, 1966 and reported for Basic Training at
proceeded from there to Fort Leonard Wood,
and began training as a Wheel & Track Vehicle Mechanic.
when half way through the course, in late January 1967 he was placed on
leave and issued a set of orders to Vietnam,
“at the convenience of the government.” He was not credited with completion
of the course, nor was he awarded the MOS (military occupational specialty)
that he was seeking.
arrived in Vietnam
on February 28, 1967 and was sent to the 9th Infantry Division at Bear Cat.
At in-processing his MOS was
changed from Vehicle Mechanic to Engineer and he was shipped out the next
day to Company D, 15th Combat Engineer Battalion at Dong Tam in the Mekong
Dong Tam was a small
installation at the time, only a few blocks square, but it was being built
up, intended as the future home of the division and eventually would be a
prepared base camp of about a mile square.
D, the only engineer unit there, was working hard to make that happen, and
they were secured by Companies A and B of 3-47th Infantry and a battery of
105mm artillery of 1-84th FA.
“My first job was security of the dredge.
A huge dredge was in the river
dredging up sand being pumped over to build up the base for the camp.
dredge had been attacked by the Viet Cong so we had a boat with a 60 hp
engine, a “Boston
Whaler,” endlessly circling the dredge and every 15 minutes we would drop a
1-lb dynamite charge off one of the corners of the dredge as our little boat
made its rounds.
I did that for my first two
weeks in country.
In mid-March the Company
Commander, Captain Corbett, called me in and asked me what I knew about
explosives (half-trained mechanics with no engineer qualification receive no
He assigned me to fifteen days
on-the-job training, learning about explosives from a Sergeant that was
about to rotate home.
I went out on operations with
him and watched as he blew up bunkers, but he wouldn’t let me touch
By April 1st, I had seen enough
and was declared to be one of D Company’s eight explosives men.”
Meanwhile, the 3-60th
Infantry had arrived at Dong Tam and were conducting Search and Destroy
missions around the base.
Each of the patrols had a
two-man explosives team attached from the engineers of Company D.
Fred Rey went out on a number
of missions with 3-60th Infantry, mostly uneventful, but some resulted in
big fire fights and losses of men he was with.
An unfortunate incident
occurred about two months after Fred had been going out on these missions
that has had lasting effect on him emotionally.
He was scheduled to go out on a
patrol, but; when he became acutely ill his tent mate and best friend in
Company D stepped up and volunteered to go in Fred’s place.
Hours later word came back that
his friend was dead, accidentally killed while out on that mission, and Fred
has had unresolved issues because of it that he has been dealing with ever
At the end of April 1968, the
Mobile Riverine Force became operational on the Mekong Delta waterways. Fred
and the Army troops at Dong Tam became part of it and their routine changed.
Fred says, “We
started rotations where we would be on the USS Benewah for three weeks, and
then would be back at Dong Tam Base for two weeks.
That rotation continued until
September when more engineers came in (Company B arrived) and they began to
take some of the missions.
The Benewah had about a
thousand Army troops and a Navy crew of a couple of hundred.
It carried the Army ground
combat part of the Riverine Force that had the capability to move up and
down the delta waterways and quickly hit any place in force at any time. The
Navy served great food on the Benewah and I liked taking those turns of
being on the ship.”
About the middle of November
1967, Fred went back on the Benewah and this time stayed until about
December 18th or 20th when they returned to Dong Tam and Company D “stood
down” for Christmas.
was home based at Dong Tam for his entire one-year tour in
Almost every day that he was on the base it was hit with enemy mortar fire,
mostly 60mm, sometimes only two or three rounds all day, but sometimes as
many as 50 rounds at random within 24 hours.
Fred says, “One
of the men in my tent, Don Wilson, had an unusual gift of hearing and he was
our early warning system.
He could discern when a mortar
shell had been fired as soon as the sound of the round leaving the tube
carried to him. Although the projectile would only be seconds from impact by
the time the sound of it being launched reached him (and none of the rest of
us could hear it at all), he would yell out a warning and we could jump into
a bunker with time to spare before it hit.
Very seldom would a shell
actually strike anywhere near where we were, and as the base continued to
grow in size the chances of any one spot being hit became less and less.
But all that notwithstanding,
we would take cover every time our human early warning system alerted us.
Fred was wounded on December
He remembers that a container
of beer had just been brought in for the holidays.
But, the party started as soon
as the beer arrived. Later, about 2AM, with everyone sleeping soundly, a
60mm mortar shell hit the tent Fred was in, killing one and wounding four.
Fred sustained multiple wounds.
A mortar shell fragment
protruded from his forehead, his right kneecap was shattered and the tip of
a finger of his right hand was defleshed. He had lesser fragmentation wounds
in his right arm, left kneecap, groin, and the tip of an ear lobe was
cleanly clipped off.
The hospital was overfull at
that time, but “dustoff” helicopters stationed at Dong Tam were immediately
So, these four newly wounded
from Fred’s tent were quickly taken out on a 15 minute flight to Vung Tau
Fred was operated on in the
34th Evac Hospital.
The shell fragment was removed
from his forehead, his right kneecap was repaired and flesh was grafted to
restore the damaged finger of his right hand.
He was quickly up on crutches
so he was returned to Dong Tam the day after Christmas.
Company D put him on light duty
for two weeks.
As soon as he was able to walk
a little better he was summoned for an interview and asked if he had diesel
attested to his skills acquired in his father’s shop in Albuquerque.
The Navy yard on the corner of the base had two LST’s (landing ship, tank)
with inoperable engines and there were not enough trained Navy personnel to
do the repairs.
So, Fred was loaned out to the
Navy for several weeks in January 1968 and helped overhaul the two ships’
He lived on the ships while
working on them and enjoyed the Navy food and amenities.
By the end of January, Fred
was back with Company D, and then TET-68 happened.
Dong Tam was under siege day
and night for several days.
During that time everyone
stayed underground in bunkers except when manning the perimeter defensive
positions on the berm.
After about five days an Air
Force C-130 SPECTRE gunship,
“Puff the magic dragon,” flew a
mission for Dong Tam and as soon as it went into action the enemy pressure
quickly melted away and things soon were back to normal.
Six weeks later Fred’s tour
was up, and on March 14, 1968 he flew for home from Bien Hoa Air Base.
30-days home leave, but still having 18 months remaining on his enlistment,
he was transferred inter-theatre to
He was assigned to Battery A,
3rd Battalion, 37th Artillery in
as a wheel and track vehicle mechanic.
After only three weeks in the
command, as a newly promoted E-5 he led his battery to a successful Command
Maintenance Inspection with the highest score attained in the 37th Artillery
That attracted very favorable
attention within the command and after that he was called on to assist all
the other units in the group in preparing for inspections.
result, he traveled extensively from caserne to caserne for the remainder of
his time in
The work was hard but, almost
like a tourist, he got to see a lot of the sights while doing it and he
really enjoyed the experience.
received additional skill training in hydraulic and electrical systems
repair that proved valuable to him later in civilian life. He rotated back
to the United States
on September 16, 1969, was discharged at
Jersey two days
later, and returned home to
Fred immediately found
employment as a transmission mechanic.
Also, the day after he arrived
back home his sister introduced him to one of her friends,
Elaine was the daughter of a
retired Army NCO.
She had grown up as a “barracks
brat” and was proud of it.
two of them shared a lot of experiences in common, especially from their
Two years later, in December
1971, Fred and Elaine were married.
Meanwhile Fred had become the
manager of the GMC Truck Shop where he was working.
Then in 1975 he went into
business for himself, in partnership with his father, opening a diesel
engine repair shop.
In 1982 he
took a job with a company in
assigned as their maintenance manager in
(and he and Elaine have lived here ever since).
In 1986 he went to work as shop
manager for Capitol Equipment in Oak Hill, and in 1989 took a job with Texas
Construction Services as shop foreman.
In 1991 he
opened his own business, AUSTEX Transmissions in
After several years operating
his own company, Fred decided, almost as an afterthought, that he should
apply for medical care with the VA.
Totally unexpectedly, the
examining doctor detected a highly virulent, fast-growing cancer, which was
promptly and successfully treated. Fred had been unaware of any symptoms and
gratefully credits the VA medical care system for having saved his life.
He sold his company and
retired in 2002, and became active in the Military Order of the Purple Heart
in a big way.
He uses his membership as a way
of payback, doing volunteer work assisting other veterans and veterans’
He has served multiple terms as
our Chapter Commander and is currently Commander, Department of Texas.
Elaine has supported him in doing that work, and has likewise served in the
Ladies Auxiliary as our Unit President, and as President, Department of
She is the
currently serving President of Region V (the seven state region of
This month, Chapter 1919’s
proudly salutes Patriot Federico Rey.