J.N. "Tiny" Boyce and the Alaska Barge and Transport Company in Vietnam
The following information was gathered from various sources including but not limited to: Towboats of the Orient, 1970, Robert S. Mansfield and William L. Worden, and personal interviews in March of 2001, March of 2002 and January of 2003, with friends and associates who worked with Tiny for the AB&T between 1966 and 1967.
The Alaska Barge and Transport Companies role in Vietnam
To help alleviate the shortage of lighterage and coastal shipping capability, Commander U. S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, recommended that a contract be negotiated with Alaska Barge and Transport Company. The concept of utilizing civilian contractors was approved by the Secretary of Defense in November 1965 and he directed the Military Sea Transportation Service to negotiate the contract. By 8 December the contract was signed and operations began in early 1966. This intra-coastal augmentation included a barge-tug fleet among which were two stripped down LST hulls for use as barges. Because only one major port, Cam Ranh Bay, had a deep draft pier for the discharge of ammunition, a large number of the available barges were used to support the ammunition discharge program. The ammunition discharge in the Saigon-Cat Lai (Nha Be) complex, for example, was in effect a combination stream discharge and inland waterway distribution system and placed a heavy requirement on the available barge assets. In each major port complex, contractor-furnished lighterage augmented the limited military capability that was available.
John Nathan Boyce, or "Tiny" as he was nicknamed at the time, began an 18th month contract with the AB&T sometime in early 1966. So how did he learn about the jobs offered by AB&T? According to Art Hull. "We heard about Alaska Barge and Transportation from a friend of Dave Johnson when Tiny was working for Ralph Nelson Heavy Equipment Company of Portland Oregon, as a salesman. It seems that Dave came in to buy some equipment and that a friend of his came in and told Dave about AB&T looking to hire some managers and workers. They were offering $14.00 an hour, which at that time was about double what either He or Tiny could make, with time and a half for over time for the workers. Tiny decided to go and talked Me into going." Ron Riley, an employee of the AB&T in Vancouver Washington, was assigned to shop for cranes, fork lifts, trucks and bulldozers, and who also filled his moments with interviewing personnel for terminal operations. Ron may have been this "friend" of Dave Johnson's, who had told Dave of the job opportunities in Southeast Asia. Art also relayed one important note that Tiny had a hernia, and had had it for most of his life. Art asked him, "How are you ever going to pass the physical?" Tiny simply replied, "You are going to take the physical assuming my name." Art did, and when called in the following day for his physical, the doctor hadn't remembered Art coming in and he passed the physical for the second time!
Art Hull had left for Vietnam a couple of day's following some business that he had taken care of dated June 27, 1966. Art remembers that Tiny had left for Vietnam sometime earlier than he did. The earliest record that we have verifying when Tiny was in Vietnam, comes from the book titled: Towboats of the Orient. According to the book sometime near March 31, 1966, the first flotilla of company equipment began to arrive. There was heavy action up the coast at Tuy Hoa and at Vung Ro Bay and the equipment couldn't have arrived none to soon. At the time, supplies were urgently needed and only small army amphibious launches (LARCs) were shuttling to cargo vessels off shore, but their capacity was very limited and their offloading had to be done by hand. At Nha Trang the first AB&T barge was run to the beach, carrying the only available crane left in the Nha Trang consignment.
Independence of Action
Gordan Hizey was in the terminal crew that day. He saw Harry Holmes step up into the crane's cab and start the engine, eager, despite the punishing heat, to start the job of unloading the first barge. "He reefed on her," Hizey said, and it was a little ahead of time. . . we hadn't cut the boom loose in the middle yet. She buckled right up. That brought tears to everybody's eyes. We couldn't borrow, bad off as we were when we first got here, everybody else was worse off." The crane was needed to offload the barge, and now with it out of commission, there were little to no options left for the men. According to Hizey, "The only thing to do was to push or pull the cargo ashore." That's when Tiny, according to Art Hull, got the idea to run one of the bulldozers strait off the end of the barge and build a makeshift ramp with it. One of the the younger men climbed on to one of the bulldozers with a large blade, started it then put in high gear full throttle, and let her rip, jumping the large cat off of the barge and onto the sandy bank. The cat came over the side hit the soft sand and dug in some. Tiny then jumped on the cat, took the controls, and started moving and bunching the sand with the cat and built a temporary ramp so they could drive the rest of the equipment straight off. The other men were quite impressed with this and told him so. His response was " if I were a little younger I would have rode that cat down myself."
By the third day at Nha Trang, the basis for Alaska Barge and Transport reputation with services in Vietnam was firmly established. There were to be times when criticism of the operation's ill-defined management procedures, its lack of record keeping, it's occasionally and startling independence of action was forthcoming and deserved, but on one point, all agreed: When they called on the company for help, they got it willingly and fast.
Dangerous Working Conditions
The fighting at Tuy Hoa had been fierce and supplies were running low. The Army asked "Can you get a barge in there?" "The first flat barge that we unloaded there ar Nha Trang, " Gordon Hizey recalled, "we immediately back-loaded with supplies, C-rations, ammo of all kinds, and then we also loaded a two-man house trailer and a small crane and fork lift aboard this barge and had our tug Michael tow her up to Tuy Hoa. We sent two men. . . Tiny Boyce and Mel Falla. . . along with it, and they were gone 23 days, living in the trailer on the barge. They beached and they lightered, and the tug stayed with them. They used that barge to lighter material off ships lying off the beach. . . a shuttle, a kind of supply line there until they got back to normal operations in Tuy Hoa. From then on, we were in the cargo business and we kept working cargo at the same time we were setting up our camp. . . it wasn't really set up for several weeks. We were too busy.
Pictured above, tug Michael at Vung Tau Vietnam ca. 1966.
Dean Hicks, a working associate of Tiny, was the only driver that could back a truck and trailer down a narrow ballasted road and into the LST hulls in one try. When Dean was the project manager at Vung Tau, he drove his pickup truck down the beach under rocket attack to cast off lines of two loaded ammunition barges as tugs came in to tow them out of the line of fire. Next day Hicks posted a notice: "In rocket attacks, crawl, don't try to run to duty." So why had he driven to the barges? "Somebody had to," he said. "I spoke to Dean Hicks in January of 2003, " said Michael Boyce, Tiny's son, and he relayed that working conditions were in fact less than favorable. He remembered Tiny, and shared that he had been working closely with Dave Johnson, project manager who eventually was working out of the Saigon office. Hicks remembered "Tiny was in charge of finding much needed repair parts for the equipment from the PDOs or property disposal offices which might less elegantly have been known as junk yards."
Rough Living Conditions
Conditions at Vung Tau were less hospitable than at Nha Trang. The "beach" was a swamp, the heat intense. Bullock, jumping down from a beached barge went waist deep mud. The army had ballasted a narrow road to the LST landing site. . . it could scarcely be called a ramp. . . and although there was space for five, possibly six LSTs to discharge at one time, it could not be utilized until the beach was stabilized. No quarters were available for the terminal crew at Vung Tau. the got the house trailers ashore, lightering them in from the LST barges anchored in the outer harbor. Forrest Sanders recalled that the first night he was sleeping on a layer of cardboard under one of the trailers to keep out of the rain. "I was pretty tired," he said. "I guess I was snoring, with my mouth open, and some bug crawled right in and bit me on the tongue."
Round the Clock Work Schedules
They were all tired. Dave Johnson, project manager, leveled with them. "This is going to be tough. Well work 12 hour shifts around the clock. Anybody wants to work overtime can do it as much as he wants, but he's got to be able to work his regular shift the next day. It figures we wont have it easy. Any questions?" There was one: "If a guy wants to go home now, will the company pay his way?" They all stayed. Dean Hicks, the truck driver mentioned earlier, remembers working a number of 32 hour day's. "A lot of us did."
Apparently, there was a problem that would rise regarding overtime pay however. According to Art Hull's wife Marie, "Art was only over there for, I think 3 months. I don't think that it was 4. I had to get an attorney here to force them to pay his way home. They had a really tight contract, all in their favor, except for a clause about breaking the contract. They had meant for it to be used if some of the guys broke the contract, but I was able to use it against them so they would send Art home, when they broke their own contract. Whoever was running that operation was a real wheeler dealer. He had the guys sign their contracts, didn't give them a copy to leave with their wives, tried to get them to sign papers so that their paycheck would be held by the company until they came home so their wives couldn't spend all the money before they got home, and sealed all the paper work in a large envelope for them to take with them with instructions not to open it. Needless to say I steamed it open and made copies of everything."
The following are photos of the operations of the Alaska Barge and Transport Company in Vietnam.
Color photo's courtesy of Art and Marie Hull
Black and white photo's courtesy of "Towboats of the Orient, 1970, Robert S. Mansfield and William L.Worden."
The "Tiger Harley"
of Vung Tau
A Smaller Tugboat
at Barge ca. 1966
AB&T housing During the
First Days in Vietnam
Mooring Buoy Being Placed
at Vung Tau
A Miki-Miki Tugboat
Used for Towing Barges
Ro-Ro Barge with
Tower Under Construction
at Nha Trang
Tower, Pier and Cranes
at Nha Trang
Personal Recollections from Art Hull, while working with J.N. "Tiny" Boyce in Vietnam
Special thanks to Pat Darland, for providing the bulk of this information from an interview with Art Hull in March of 2001.
The Boat Ride
Late one evening a sailor showed up and asks Tiny if he could give him a ride out to the ship for he was to go on watch and was due back by 2am. Tiny saw that this sailor was quite drunk and told him that the sea is stormy and rough as hell right now, and that it would make him so sick to try and get out there. The sailor retorted that he'd been out to sea for years and had never been seasick. He and Art said ok, and off they went. The swells were so large out on the South China sea that the tug once it crested a wave would descend so hard that it dove into the next wave and sort of submarined its way back up in time to crest the next wave. "Good thing those tugs were sealed." Well, they approached the ship on the left side to let the sailor off, (who by the way lost his lunch during the ride back to his ship) and he was so sick, and the sea so rough, that it took him three attempts before he could get to the ladder to acend the ship.
Tiny had purchased a Corvette in Saigon and he and Art and a Filipino nick named Jeronimo, who had been a Colonel in the Vietnamese army for 17 years and who was at that time working for AB&T, went to Saigon to get it. They had to hurry and get back to their camp before dark for there was curfew in place, and it was dangerous needless to say to be out after dark. On the way back they came to a bridge that had been badly damaged by some bombing, and had just started onto the bridge when a Vietnamese bus approached from the other side. The bus had stopped too close to the end of the bridge for Tiny to get by. Tiny squeezed to the side all he could but there was no room for the bus to get through. Jeronimo told the bus driver to back up so they could get by. The bus driver said "No" that he would push them off the bridge. Jeronimo took out his gun and fired over the bus. Tiny said, "what the Hell were you thinking?" The bus driver backed up and they went on their way. They had made it back before dark that night.
Chicken for Lunch?
They had stopped at a road side stand to get something to drink and Tiny said look Art, fried chicken, come on, lets get some. Art declined and said he'd only care for a soda pop. Tiny bought his chicken and Art got his soda pop and off they drove. Tiny was eating on the chicken and raving about how good it tasted. At another roadside stand along the way, Tiny thought He'd get another chicken. Meanwhile, Art went around back of the stand to have a long look around. He came back and looked at the chicken that Tiny had bought and asked him: "How many legs does a chicken have?" Tiny answered, "two." "How many legs are in that chicken basket?" 4, "He answered." Art decided to show Tiny what he was eating. He took Tiny around the corner to the back of the stand and showed him the many cages that held this scrumptious snack. . . it was Rat!
The Harley Davidson
Art and Tiny had purchased a Harley Davidson motorcycle, from then chief of police of Vung Tau. It had all the lights on it for an official's motorbike. This motorcycle was just assembled fresh out of the box 3 years after Harley stopped making the gear shift knob beside the gas tank, (foot pedal for a clutch). According to Dean Hicks, it was a 1943 "Knucklehead" with a side shifter. Art Hull said it was a 1946. It was black and had double sets of red lights mounted on the front and back of the bike. The motorcycle came in handy for they could be out after dark and the locals mistook them for officials. Tiny had the Harley painted in Tiger stripes and it was eventually nicknamed "The Tiger Harley of Vung Tau" by all the locals. Art tells a story about riding the motorcycle one day. A Vietnamese on a lumbretta motor scooter mad a left hand turn right in front of him and he ran completely over the man and his scooter. Didn't hurt the motorcycle, but it sure tore the man's lumbretta all to pieces. Art said the man couldn't speak any English, but he swore that the guy said, "Oh sh*t!" as he was getting up. When Art left for home from Vietnam, Tiny bought out Art's half interest in the motorcycle. It is believed that Tiny brought the bike back to the US and kept it for a short while before eventually selling it.
Pictured above right, Art Hull seated on the "Tiger Harley of Vung Tau" in Vietnam, ca. 1966.
Photo courtesy of Art and Marie Hull.
Art and Tiny had taken a jeep and went out to some place. On there way back they ran over something in the road. Art was driving and Tiny told him to stop. He said that there was a piece of fire hose in the road. So Art stopped and Tiny got out and ran back to pick it up and put it in the jeep. Tiny reached down and when he touched it, it moved. It was a huge boa constrictor. Art said he had never seen Tiny move so fast. He said Tiny ran for the jeep and jumped right up over the end and into the jeep. He said they never stopped to pick up anymore hoses.
Precious Gems and Jewelry
It has been a long running family rumor (never confirmed) that Tiny had something to do with some gem stones and jewelry that came from the Premier and Madam Nu estate. Something about that Tiny had to leave in a hurry, before the Viet Cong got there. Allegedly, there were some items acquired at this time. Sometime following this incident, Art was watching a jeweler from the street for a while and decided to go in and see if this jeweler could drill a whole into one of his gem stones. The Jeweler said no, that the stone would crack. Art said that it wouldn't if he kept the gem cool and drilled it slowly at a high rpm. The jeweler was successful and Art had him set a diamond into the drilled gem stone. He went back to base and showed Tiny his finished product and that was it. Tiny wanted to do the same thing to some of the gems he had. He asked Art where he had it done, and Art said: "I can't explain the directions, but if we go in, I'll show you." This Jeweler had completed much of the handy work on several of the jewelry pieces that had "somehow" made its way back into the US.
After returning to the United States, Tiny and Art were "allegedly" offered a job by the CIA when it was discovered that drugs were being smuggled back into the United States from Vietnam. Art recalls that they told CIA officials that the methods used for smuggling included hiding them among the cargo of large freighter boxes; also Tiny told them that they were being smuggled in the body bags of fallen US servicemen. The CIA refused to believe Art and Tiny's claims until they uncovered this fact in an investigation. Tiny and Art were then approached and offered a job to help them "finger" the persons involved, but they both declined knowing that they would be putting their lives at risk.
Art reported that a writer named William J.S. Moorehead contacted Tiny regarding his experiences in Vietnam and what he had witnessed taking place while over there. Mr. Moorehead was asked to testify at a Senate Hearing Committee on behalf of the then book that he was about to publish, which included the details of corruption that he had learned of. According to Art, Mr. Moorhead received quite a sizable amount of money not to publish his book and the whole thing was dropped. A reporter of The Oregonian, a Portland based newspaper, later interviewed Tiny in 1971, and he briefly profiled the corruption that he had witnessed taking place while working for the AB&T in Vietnam.
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