Bill Patterson was confused when his girlfriend asked him what unit he was part of.
It was early 1968, and Patterson had been a member of the 319th Transportation Co. with the Army Reserves.
“She told me I’d been called to active duty,” said Patterson, who wrote a book about his experiences during the Vietnam War called “Vietnam Convoy Trucker.”
His girlfriend had heard it on the TV news, and while she was correct, it would take time before he learned of it through official channels.
Patterson’s commitment had been to spend six years in the Reserves. He initially started out in the infantry in July 1964, but when the 319th Transportation Co. moved to Augusta Dec. 31, 1965, Patterson’s new assignment was as a truck driver.
He remembered being handed a truck license and taking the truck around the parking lot a few times and that being his training.
The company was ordered into service in May 1968 and in June, its members were headed to Fort Lee, Va. for training. They arrived in Vietnam in September 1968. Their base camp was at Long Binh about 15 miles north of Saigon.
Driving a truck in a convoy made for long hours. It was a seven day a week job with 16 to 20 hours a day and little time off. The trucks went between 15 and 20 miles per hour. During his tour, Patterson logged 15,000 miles.
“We hauled cargo, mostly ammunition,” he said.
When they were initially called up, he didn’t know what the commitment would be.
“Nobody told us how long we’d be there,” he said.
He recalled writing a letter home one night while listening to the Armed Forces Vietnam Network. The announcer said that President Richard Nixon had stated that units in Vietnam would be allowed to return six weeks early. He stopped writing as he listened to the announcer list the military units, and the 319th was the last one mentioned.
And the group returned home exactly six weeks early.
Members made it back to Augusta in August 1969. About 3,000 people were waiting at Bush Field for their return. According to Patterson, Fort Gordon’s commanding general spoke and the band played during the homecoming event.
Over the years, members of the 319th have kept in touch. Since they were all from the same town, they had a common bond outside of their military service. In most years, the men have held reunions to mark the return date. With COVID-19, however, last year’s reunion was cancelled, and it doesn’t look like there will be one this year either.
About 50 of the group’s members still live in the area.
Patterson said he wrote his book as therapy.
“Anyone who has been in a warzone has PTSD,” he said. “I had a mild case, and writing helped.”
Patterson’s book is available at Amazon.