Chu Lai

Once a quiet, beautiful and secluded beach, Chu Lai today is the site of the Chu Lai International Airport. One of many medium sized airports around the country, serving both domestic and international passengers.

Fifty years ago this was one of the largest U.S. bases in the country, covering the southern I Corps and northern II Corps with air support as well as having large medical facilities to receive wounded for advanced treatments. Over the years the base hosted large units from the U.S. Marine Corps, ARVN units and Army units from the Americal Division.

It all started in the early summer of 1965 when ”Seabees” from the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion arrived to start construct a small runway and a base to establish the first presence in the area. Over time, they added to the facilities with both a full size runway, a large helicopter pad as well as a helicopter base.


Please click on pictures for slide show

Thousands of troops from most kinds of available units were stationed here making it not only a fully functional combat base, but a small city.

The base covered a huge area, several kilometers from north to south and about two kilometers wide. Over the years, Bob Hope with guests such as Connie Stevens and Ann-Margaret came to entertain the troops on several occassions through USO arranged shows. We were happy to find the USO area at our visit where these shows took place, very little remains but the foundations of some of the bleachers are still around.

We have also found the helicopter pad with the white ”H” still painted on the ground as well as the medevac helicopters’ red cross. As a passenger arriving at or taking off from the airport one will also see the old hangars.

Visiting the base isn’t done entirely without problems. The People’s Army has facilities all around the area and it is an international airport, making access limited. However, it is possible to get around from the south and up on the east side without trespassing, making it possible to visit parts of the old base. It is also possible to enter from the main road QL1 north of the base towards the Ky ha peninsula.

Overall, this is a well worth visit for the history traveler. Large parts of the base, perhaps half, is outside the army and airport areas making it possible to move around relatively freely discovering the base.

Caution should be exercised though as live ordnance is still found around the base area. As always, our recommendation is to stick to well traveled trails and roads.

JT

 

How to get there

Chu Lai is located along the main road QL1 around 110 kilometers south of Da Nang and less than 80 kilometers south of Hoi an. It makes for a nice day trip in combination with visiting other war sites or Cham temples along the road.

 

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73 thoughts on “Chu Lai Combat Base”

  1. I was there 1970-71 at LZ Dotti. Due to agent orange, sI had 4 different types of cancers including prostate and bladder cancer.

  2. My husband was stationed here in 1970-71. He was a medic with lthe 5/46. 198th . He was in charge of the Aid Station. His name was John Boggs. He served with Stan Russell, Mike McKinley Brad Jackson, Ed Westfall, Mike Mohr & Mike Colligan. I know there were more but their names escape me
    I would like to hear from these guys. I lost Johnny to cancer 24 years ago

  3. My brother Lance Corporal Donald Gagne of the Marine Corp died from drowning in the South China Sea in November of 1966. Anyone remember him?
    Thank you.
    7/17/22

  4. I was USMC and at Chu Lai in 65-66. My unit was VMA-214 (Black Sheep Squadron). My MOS was 6511 Ordnance. We were attacked by VC Suicide Squads in the early morning hours of 28 October, 1965. Being on duty as part of the night Ordnance crew, it got “up close and personal” with the VC. We survived and they didn’t. As the years have passed, Agent Orange affected me with cancer and ischemic heart disease. Even though my VA disability rating is 100%, I consider myself one of the lucky ones, because so many have died due to Agent Orange. I selected a unique “personalized” Disabled Veteran License Plate for my car (“DIOXIN”). It’s the poison in Agent Orange and it’s still killing us. In a subtle way, people who see my license plate will get the message…
    Semper Fidelis – Semper Paratus

    1. James M. Walker, rank Sp5, Company Clerk of HHC Americal Division January 1968 until January 1969

      1. We overlapped. I was with 23rd Admin Co. Nov. 67 to June 68. A Co. 8th SPT 196 LIB before Americal was formed.

  5. I was I was in Chulai from Feb 67 to Feb 68 with the 196 Inf spent time on hill 445 and want to take a tour visit.

    1. I am curious. Were there any Viet Cong tunnels at Chu Lai? I ask because I was at Cu Chi where we had lots of tunnels. The reason I ask is because a person stated that her husband went to Ch Lai for three years and was a 0321 Tunnel rat. I was an 11C4L FO/interpreter back then in Cu Chi.

    2. What Unit? I was in A 8th Spt 196 LIB June 67 until absorbed by Americal in Nov 67. 23rd Admin until June 68.

  6. My husband, SP/4 John William Swift, there in 1968. With the ‘Hell on Wheels’. He passed at 41 of cancer.

  7. I was in Chu Lai in 67 with MCB-6 in 66 I was in Da Nang the Seabees were my foundation to a great career,I became a general Superintendent for two different Companies.Wagner Construction and Condon/ Johnson.Once a Seabee,always a Seabee…….Can Do.

  8. Was there 1965 & 66. Worked on construction of Camp Ely, for third Marine Div. With 7th Engineers out of Da Nang area.

  9. My father LCPL George Emerick was a tank commander who also secured the area while seabees built the airbase in 1965. Proud of all of you and welcome home. He inspired me to make a career in the military. Go Army!

  10. I was at Chu Lai twice in one day. I was flying along with one of our C-130B Hercules out of Tan Son Nhut AB. We were moving the 1st Calvary from Ane Khe up to Chu Lai. We made two trips. On the last trip into Chu Lai, after we landed and unloaded everything, we were taking a small break drinking a soda. It was almost sundown, and we were just about to leave when there was an alert going off. We raced to our plane and quickly fired it up and took off. As we got airborne, we were up at 14,000 when we heard a radio transmission telling us to quickly climb up another 2000 ft. Artillery fire was coming up at us from somebody and if we hadn’t climbed, we would have been shot down. I remember that flight home very well. I was sitting up in the cockpit area just behind where the flight engineer would be. I had a headset on and could hear everything. I was talking to the flight crew and watching the giant thunderhead dark cloud banks we were avoiding. Those things were massive. Over fifty years ago but I can still see them in my mind. I was a turboprop mechanic and I had worked on all of our airplanes, so it was really nice to see them in action. On another trip later that month we went into Duc Pho army base and upon leaving got the whole back end of the vertical stabilizer all shot up. We were really fortunate that no hydraulic lines were hit. When we landed at Cam Rhun Bay. we saw hundreds of bullet holes in it. We all just stood there staring at it for the longest time. No one said a word and then we all just walked away. I think everybody knew just how lucky we were to be alive. I lost a cousin and a high school friend over there. I was there 67-68. My trips north all happened in September of 1967.

  11. I was there as a Bn. Scout with 1st Bn. 7th Marines in 65/66. While scouts were rotated quite frequently I spent a lot of time across the river with Charlie Co.

  12. Was a corpsman at Chu Lai 68-69 next to chapel flew dust off and took med caps on swift boats. If any one has a photo of the Chapel please send it to me family destroyed all my photos.

    1. I was also there 68-69 with Marine Air Wing, Squadron VMFA-314.
      I have a picture in my collection of a Chapel I would be happy to send to you.
      Contact me at my email address and I’ll forward the picture.

      Mike McCormick

        1. Sorry Doc, I said I’d send that picture but I never got back on this site until now.
          If you are still interested in that Chu Lai chapel, I don’t know if it’s the one you are expecting but I can still send the one I have.
          I’m reachable at the listed email address

        1. I was in Metal shop but was assigned to Check Crew most of the time.
          I checked my VMFA-314 yearbook but you aren’t listed in the ordinance section.

  13. Looking for any information pertaining to Sgt. Richard Craig Bram of Mag 12, VMA 225. Chu Lai July of 1965.

  14. I just googled your site and what it is about. Really enjoying the memories. I was Navy HM3/Mar 8404 “Doc” arriving in Nov 66 and assigned to 1st Hosp Co and outlying medical groups. It was just getting started with mostly tents and some Quonset reinforced huts for surgery. Had Marine units supporting us and Seabees working on permanent structures and huts. An Army Hosp. was across the hills/valley on the beach, along with Seabees and Swift boat group. Went on alot of MedCap travels along with supply trips to outlying Marine Aide Stations and ferrying wounded out to Hospital Ship. Would like to connect with any former troops from this area(Nov66-Dec67. Watched Seabees construct huge Amphitheater next to us with good shows late in 67. Don Durflinger

  15. I was with Company B 26th Combat Engineers, just off Hwy 1 across from the Marine airbase from Sept 1 1968 to Nov 3 1969 (extended 2 months for early out). Took awhile to get used to the Jets taking off and landing through the nights..

  16. Was there with H&S Btry, 2nd LAAM Bn. sept ’65 (debarked from LST 824, Henry County) Left in Sept 66. Was one of the life guards at the beach for several months. They built us a nice lifeguard tower but somehow I wasn’t too confident that a Marine in a tower with binoculars would be considered harmless to Charlie. Stood at the bottom.

  17. I have many photos from this area. They were taken by my father, Lt. David G. Butterfield in 1965-66, including some great ones of Bob Hope, etc. in the USO Show and of Robert Mitchum’s visit and a few of those stationed there at that time. Also, some of the local people and landscape. Are you interested in posting them here? I’d like to have them posted somewhere so I can share the link with others. These are photos that were never seen previously.

    1. James M. Walker, rank Sp5, Company Clerk of HHC Americal Division January 8,1968 until January 7,1969.

    1. Attached to 1st. Mar Div 1FSR H&S Co. utilities platoon Camp Pendleton Ca. Arrived Okinawa 8/65, aboard USS Henrico APA 45. Arrived Chu Lai 1/66-9/66. Served with FLSG-B. Attached to maintenance unit. On arrival, attached to perimeter security for 30 days. Then volunteered for another 30 days. Finished my tour working maintenance, rebuilding, repairing small engines. What an experience.

  18. John Harris says:
    Drafted out of High School. After Ft.Jackson basic, I graduated from the Corps of Engineers school at Ft. Belvoir, Va. and sent to Ft. Carson and attached to a Ordinance staging company for assignment to USAPAC (VN) and then to the Bien Hoa ammo dump. This was not good. I did convoy work hauling artillery shells in a 5 ton dragon wagon and night guard at the ammo dump among other jobs.. but I wanted to do heavy Engineer work for which I was trained.
    After 5 months of trying not to die I volunteered for my MOS as a heavy equipment engineer job in Chu Lai and graced with a brand new Allis Chalmer HD 16 dozer. The Marines loved it to. They had very poor equipment.
    Thank God. I liked Chu Lai and was grateful for my assignment and the men I worked with. When my 12 months were over I was approached by my superior with orders to Ft. Dix and at that point I was also offered to extend for 38 more days at Chu Lai and would receive a 90 day ‘early out’. What a deal. I stayed in Chu Lai.

  19. I WAS THERE IN 71 WITH B CO. 123RD AVIATION BN, 23RD INF DIV…..HOT MISERABLE AND NOTHING BUT SAND…

  20. Was in Chu Lai 65 -66 USMC . WE WERE THE FIRST ONES IN AND COVERED FOR THE CB’s. What a great bunch of guy’s

    1. My father LCPL George Emerick was a tank commander who also secured the area while seabees built the airbase in 1965. Proud of all of you and welcome home. He inspired me to make a career in the military. Go Army!

  21. Army, Chu Lai 1967 – 1968, 588 Maint. Co. Good friends were- Billy Merrill, Jimmy Clark, Jeff Butterworth, and can’t forget “Snag” Thompson! Hope you are all well!

    1. I was with 588th 68-69. I remember Butterworth and Snag. I was the dispatcher in the motor pool. I’m not good with names but I remember Bill Smith.

  22. I was at Chu Lai 68-69 MAG 12 MABS 12 MOS 3371. I went by “Dallas” back then. I mailed a box home that has letters and stuff and my photo album. It never made it. It always makes me sick, knowing it’s gone after all of these years.

      1. Then you probably came to our mess hall. We saw several Sea Bees and soldiers from the Americal Division in our mess hall. So I guess we were doing something right. Welcome Home Brother.

    1. What section. I was with strength and accounting section Nov 67 to June 68. Boyd Mchaffy, Jeff Kenney and Kenny Hatfield were also in my section. My houch was the one hit by the 122MM in early 68. I was on guard duty in the bunker on the beach when it was hit.

  23. My dad was there from 67-69 with the Marines. I got his zippo dated 1967 and a nice engraving. He passed from agent orange exposure caused parkinsons in 2010. I have been trying to 10 years to find anyone who remembers him. He never talkad about Nam so we have very little info other than pictures and a couple lockers full of stuff he brought home. I have his uniform. He was a Sgt. My mom said he used to wake up fighting and screaming from nightmares. This went on for years till they divorced in 75. My dad was always distant but Ive learned why. My heart goes out to all Vietnam vets and the Hell they were put thru.

    1. I was in Chu Lai sep 68 – 69. Worked at Ke Ha tower and Admin pad. Hundreds maybe thousands came to admin pad for transportation to surrounding LZ’s Quin Yon, Duc pho, Danang..Bob Hope show came in in Dec 68 with Ann Margaret.

  24. I was in the USN assigned to “Operation Market Time” aboard Swift Boats in Chu Lai from September to December 1968. Great Base and plenty of action in the patrol areas. PCF-12 and PCF-75.

    1. I was in several different Marine Corps Cap units outside of Chu Lai (68-69). Got Ischemic heart disease from agent orange. I didn’t know agent orange caused it until 2019. Thanks to the VA, I’m being compensated for it. You Vietnam Vets out there having any problems check with the VA

      1. The VA just added two new illness with presumed agent orange exposure. One of them is High Blood Pressure. Also Type 2 Diabetes is presumed to be from agent orange. If you have either file with VA for Disability benefits ASAP. It may not be but a couple of Hundred bucks, but we earned it. Many others conditions are also elegible. Go to VA site.

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