Blocking Viet Nam Troop Trains

Picture above is protestors blocking a troop train.

Over 40 million men and women served in W.W.II and almost every one of them rode a Troop Train during that war. In the latter part of the war on any given day over one million servicemen were riding a Troop Train. The US was averaging 2500 Troop Trains a month.

We continued to use trains to transport soldiers during the Korean War. Large numbers of military units in the eastern half of the US rode trains to the West Coast to ship out to Japan, and then Korea.

The last major troop train to be used was in 1965 when 15,000 men and their equipment from the 1st Infantry Division (the Big Red One) rode the rails from Ft. Riley, Kansas, to Oakland, California on their way to Vietnam. I never realized at the time I “rode” in it that it was the last major one. Makes sense though. By 1965, passenger was passé. It was probably tough to find all the equipment. What we had was a bunch of “rainbow” trains.

During W.W.I and W.W.II railway bridges and tunnels were guarded to prevent sabotage from disrupting the critical flow of troops and supplies. When the 1st Infantry Division deployed to Vietnam many of the same bridges were guarded against American war protesters trying to stop the Army from sending solders to another foreign battle ground. Times had changed since the Pearl Harbor generation rode the rails to war.

My one and only involvement with troop trains was to go from Junction City, Kansas to Oakland, California in September, 1965. I never made a written record of this trip (who expected to be writing about it 25 years later and besides I had other things on my mind). I was part of a large movement of several trains but not in a position to know how many trains were required, what type of equipment was required, or the routes. Both men and equipment went West and not all trains took the same route.

The 1st Infantry Division consisted of 15,000 men and tons upon tons of equipment. As much as possible, our equipment was packed in containers which we trucked to rail sidings. Vehicles were driven on flat cars and then tied down. Fortunately, Fort Riley, Kansas had ample sidings at several spots. It was on the Union Pacific. Junction City was not a big rail center; it was named for the junction of two rivers, not the junction of two railroads (although a Katy branch once ran there and a Union Pacific branch to Concordia was intact but out of service). The Rock Island ran on the other side of the fort (a 104-mile branch between Belleville on the Colorado line and McFarland on the Tucumcari line), but was not used at all for this troop movement.

The trip began early in the morning (doesn’t everything in the Army?). I rode in a Union Pacific sleeper consisting of 4 double bedrooms, 4 compartments and 2 drawing rooms. I was approximately fifteen cars back but every once in a while I could spot at least three cab units pulling us. Our diner was also Union Pacific and had real china, glasses and tablecloths. While I was an officer, I understand that everybody in the division had comparable transportation. A 1940-era draftee would have felt out of place.

1965 was near the end of good intercity rail transportation. My understanding was that Pullman was contractor to the military to assemble the equipment. They pulled equipment from railroads all over the country. The resulting trains looked like the “rainbow trains” in the first years of Amtrak.

We ran day and night, but held up several times for as long as two hours. We went west to Denver, then through Wyoming to Utah. At Ogden, we ended up on the Southern Pacific “Overland Route” through Reno and Sacramento to Oakland. The trip was almost 1900 miles and not as interesting as trains in the East. Remember Reno in the middle of the night: not very sophisticated looking place! The only real excitement was as we neared Oakland and each grade crossing was protected by National Guardsmen (the first train had delays because of war protestors). At Oakland, we pulled onto a siding that ran right on to the dock. This gave us only a short walk to the transport that sailed us across the Pacific.

 

Find other great stories on the military

https://penneyandkc.wordpress.com/troop-trains/

 

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