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We Were Reefer Kings

FORT KNOX, Ky. – Veterans Day, a day we as a nation stop to honor those who have served. No matter if it’s one week in basic training or if the ultimate sacrifice has been paid, American veterans are owed a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.

In 1965, the 1st Logistical Command, the precursor of what is now known as the 1st Theater Sustainment Command, began sending troops to Vietnam. The mission of the 1st Log was to act as the logistics headquarters for all units in the theater. In Vietnam, the command parented the U.S. Army Support Command, Da Nang, U.S. Army Support Command, Qui Nhon, U.S. Army Support Command, Cam Ranh Bay, and U.S. Army Support Command, Saigon, as well as other smaller commands.

In 1968-69, several Soldiers from the 1st Log spent a year rotation in Vietnam. They trained to be ‘reefers’ or refrigeration mechanics. This is their story:

Roger Ashworth, a lifelong resident of Bakersfield, CA joined at the age of 18 when he noticed his entire neighborhood became empty. Thinking he would receive draft orders soon, he went to find out his draft status.

“I went down to the draft board and they said, you’ll be drafted in three months,” Ashworth said.

After learning the news, Ashworth decided to not wait and worry. Instead, he went to his local Army recruiting station and signed up to be refrigeration mechanic.

Ashworth asked himself, “When was the last time you heard of a reefer getting killed in Vietnam?”

Upon arriving to Vietnam, Ashworth was assigned to the 1st Log, 379th Transportation Company. He reported to the reefer shop to learn how to build air conditioners.

“We were known as the ‘Reefer Kings’,” Ashworth said. “We called our patch the Orient Express. It was a red dragon sitting on top of a tire wheel. The reason for the name, one, our location and two because we were always moving conveys of food or ammo.”

Ashworth said the trucks driven in Vietnam were the minesweepers. They were a reefer trailer outfit, and food was the top priority.

“The grunts could not operate with an empty belly,” Ashworth said.

Once Ashworth adjusted to life in the jungle, he volunteered for “Shotgun Duty” three to four times a week on convoy missions. This consisted of carrying the M60 machine gun, a 23-pound weapon of destruction that can fire 500-600 rounds per minute. Even though this was consistently a dangerous undertaking, Ashworth said he loved the feeling of adrenaline it gave him.

“There is something about being on shotgun duty, protecting the convoy that I looked forward to,” Ashworth said. “It gave me a sense of purpose and sure as hell beat shining shoes at the motorpool.”

Ashworth displayed his love for unity early on, something he continues to this day.

“I had a transistor radio,” Ashworth said. “I got the guys together one night in the motorpool and we are listened to the landing on the moon.”

Another Soldier in the 379th Transportation Company, John Evans, a native of Flint, Mich volunteered for the Army at the age of 18. Evans considers himself a “John Wayne Man,” a true patriot who loves his country. Like Ashworth, he also signed up to be a refrigeration mechanic. Evans also volunteered to be on shotgun duty several days a week.

“While in Vietnam, I hauled food, ammo and did mine sweeping in addition to working on five-ton diesels,” said Evans. “I was known as the man who got the job done.”

Ashworth agreed Evans definitely got the job done, and noted one other attribute about Evans.

“Evans was the company clown,” said Ashworth. “He was very mischievous, and always getting in trouble with the company commander.”

Paul Hubbard, a Wyoming native, joined the Army after learning he would be drafted. He went to a recruiting station and signed up to be a mechanic. Hubbard had already graduated from mechanic school and wanted to put his skills to good use. Hubbard was 19 when he left his house to get his military physical and didn’t come home that night.

“I went to get my physical, and they sent me straight to basic training, Hubbard said.” “I never went home that day, and said goodbye to my loved ones on the phone a few weeks later.”

Hubbard deployed to Vietnam, joining the 379th right before Thanksgiving of 1968. He became a truck driver and volunteered for shotgun duty a few times in his year rotation.

Being a truck driver, Hubbard was always in harms’ way. His convoy would travel back and forth to Saigon two to four times a night. One particular night in May of 1969 was a night Hubbard still vividly recalls.

“It was May second and 14 trucks were destroyed in an ambush,” Hubbard said. “I was the lead truck behind a mechanized convoy. The enemy blew out my brakes. They hit my fuel tank and the left door as well. I drove straight towards the enemy, running them over, and I bent the frame as my truck slammed into a ditch. I was trying to get out of the kill zone.”

With the truck damaged, Hubbard exited the vehicle and fought against the ambush on the back of a tank. Afterwards, Hubbard completed the trip to Saigon and returned to the motorpool that night, without any working brakes.

Don Minney, a Massachusetts native, volunteered for the Army at 19. He chose to be a mechanic and joined his fellow brethren in the 379th. He worked as a mechanic and a salvage wrecker operator. Like his fellow troops, he too volunteered for shotgun duty.

Minney recalled his time in Vietnam as his rotation was ending and mentioned working on damaged vehicles from the May second ambush. He repaired the truck Paul Hubbard drove and observed the carnage.

“When Paul brought in his truck, I was really surprised it was still running,” Minney said. “You can easily see what happened to his vehicle. I was surprised he was still alive.”

Minney stays in touch with his brothers, spending time with them. He and Evans ride their Harley Davidson motorcycles together.

“Evans is still a good friend to me to this day,” Minney said. “John is the kind of guy that would give you the shirt off his back. I drove to see him at his home in Florida a couple of years ago, and we have plans to see each other again next year.”

Minney talked about what life was like upon return to the United States and how the ‘Reefer Kings’ banded together.

“We were spat on when we came home, but that doesn’t matter,” Minney said. “We fought this war together, and we are all brothers, no matter the race, we hug each other and we are proud of each other.”

Danny Stover, born in Pennsylvania but reared in Louisiana, volunteered for the Army at 19. He trained for the armor division but was reassigned as a truck driver after arriving in Vietnam. Stover shared several anecdotes about his fellow ‘Reefer Kings.’

“Don [Minney] was known as the ‘Dust Picker Up.’” Stover said. “He was always at the tail-end of the convoy and at the end of the day, he didn’t even know what he looked like.”

Stover started laughing when he asked if Evans was indeed the company clown.

“John set off a flare that went straight through the NCO hooch!” Stover exclaimed. “The NCOs were so mad, and they never did find out it was him that did it.”

Stover recalled the ambush of May 2 and reflected on Hubbards emotions that night.

“Paul was scared to death,” Stover said. “He had to drive his truck over those guys shooting at him just to get away.”

Minney and Ashworth communicate frequently. They last saw each other in 2017 in Knoxville, Tenn when Roger was driving to Fort Bragg, N.C. to see his daughter.

“We’re still close,” Minney said. “We were there (Vietnam) together and the bonds of war are what brought us together.”

Everett Dean, a West Virginia native, drafted into the Army and drove the reefer trucks for the 379th while in Vietnam. His heavily armored truck served as the minesweeper, and Dean rode ahead of the line. Ashworth joined him on occasion for shotgun duty, bonding their friendship.

“I miss seeing those guys,” Dean said. “I can’t clearly recall most of them, other than Roger, but I would love to be able to see him and the others again one day. He’s my life-long brother”

Ashworth summed up his ‘Reefer Kings’ by saying, “When you are there, you depend of them. We always took care of each other. We kept each other out of trouble. We are brothers for life.”

After Vietnam, the brothers went their separate ways. Most stayed in the mechanic field and worked that profession until they retired. However, they did not forget each other. Ashworth went on Facebook in 2010 looking for his brothers.

“I started posting photos of my time in the 379th on my Facebook page,” Ashworth said. “I started looking up guys I served with, looking at their pages to see if it was really them, and then sending them messages.”

It’s been 50 years since the ‘Reefer Kings’ deployed to Vietnam. Some are still alive and others have passed on. All are veterans who served and answered the call for duty, honor, and country. We remember these brave 1st Log Soldiers and keep their stories alive for future generations to come.

DISCLAIMER: This article was originally published at the Defense Video Imagery Distribution System Hub (www.didvshub.net). The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.

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