Doug Served Our Nation In Vietnam Now He Needs Your Help
DOUG’S NCIS VIETNAM CASE FILES — NAVY FRAGGINGS COME TO THE VIETNAM WAR
Although fraggings – killing or maiming fellow servicemen with fragmentation grenades – was pervasive in Marine Corps ranks until the final 1st Marine Division withdrawal from Vietnam in 1971, it rarely if ever occurred within Navy commands. Unexpectedly, as the Marines re-deployed from I Corps – the northernmost region of the Republic of Vietnam – there were two near-fatal fraggings involving US Navy personnel which occurred at a logistic support base south of Saigon, and within the city of Saigon itself.
M-26 Fragmentation Grenade.
LSB Ben Luc Fragging
Logistic Support Base Ben Luc was situated on the banks of the Vam Co Dong River adjacent to Highway 4 about 35km south of Saigon. The substantial riverfront area was devoted to boat repair and maintenance facilities to keep flotillas of PBR patrol boats operational, behind which were offices and barracks – typically simple plywood structures designed to cope with the tropical climate. Watch towers were cited at strategic points, overlooking substantial barbed wire barriers designed to deter encroachment by the enemy. Sentries were on duty at all times as Ben Luc was in a heavily populated area and Viet Cong forces were active in the area.
Special Agent Clayton Spradley and I were summoned one morning at the NISO Vietnam office in Cholon, Saigon, and advised that mysterious, unexplained grenade attacks had occurred within the Ben Luc perimeter. Because the base was then converting to Vietnamese Navy control as a part of President Nixon’s Vietnamization program, a substantial number of VNN personnel and dependents were aboard; in fact NISO Vietnam’s counterpart organization, the Vietnamese Naval Security Bloc, reported to VNN Chief of Staff that they believed US Navy personnel were responsible for the attacks. Commander, US Naval Forces Vietnam, requested immediate assistance from our office.
Clay and I gathered our equipment and were soon on the road south in a Navy pickup. On arrival, we were briefed about what little was known about the early morning explosions: there had been no serious injuries, though a fragmentation grenade had detonated against a SEA hut clad only in plywood. We were puzzled. There seemed to be no way that even a very strong man could have thrown the device over the perimeter wall or from the water. Because most base personnel were asleep at the time of the incident, we focused on identifying roaming and the stationary sentries posted in watch towers. Our initial interviews did not develop actionable leads; but we both suspected that we weren’t being told everything either. On the way back to Saigon that afternoon Clay and I discussed our impressions of those we had interviewed, eventually deciding that one sentry deserved closer scrutiny and should be re-interviewed.
Fortunately for the sleeping occupants of this Ben Luc SEA hut, the M26 grenade landed on sand, but fragments still penetrated plywood siding causing injuries.
The following morning, we were back at Ben Luc, first conducting trial grenade throws in an attempt to determine an approximate throwing radius. These we overlaid with the watchtowers and distances from them to the blast site. This re-focused our attention on the young junior sailor we had decided to re-interview. He had recently been transferred from the United States. Learning that he had a wife and new child back home, Clay (himself a family man) began developing a rapport with the watchtower sentry, while I questioned him about his observations on the night in question. After more than an hour, he began to waver from his original denial of knowledge about the origins of the attack; but then began opening up to Clay, indicating that he was frightened and worried that he might not survive a year in-country. Some of his comments appeared to be delusional. Then, he finally said that on the night in question, he had been particularly anxious, had seen things in the dark and believed he had to protect his fellow sailors. Clay then said simply, “So you threw the grenade?” “Yes” was the response.
Throwing tests of a deactivated M-26 grenade provided a probable radius for the attack point of origin. Clay Spradley uses a tape measure to record throw distance.
NIS Special Agent Clayton Spradley, right, provides instruction to an assisting US Navy sailor at Logistic Support Base Ben Luc. Note sentry tower and sand-bagged bunker facing the perimeter fence and river front.
We were both convinced that the man was experiencing a serious mental breakdown, and in fact the base medical staff sedated and hospitalized him following our interview. Clay and I characterized it as a severe case of John Wayne Syndrome. It had been an interesting case. We both later received letters of commendation from Commander, US Naval Forces Vietnam and the VNN Chief of Naval Operations.
Le Lai BEQ Fragging
One evening not long after the Ben Luc incident, agents were gathered at the infamous Room Four watering hole located at the Five Oceans BOQ, where all Saigon-based Special Agents and officers were billeted. A call came through advising that Army military police were then securing a fragging crime scene at the Le Lai Bachelor Enlisted Quarters in downtown Saigon. I was advised Navy personnel were victims. Two senior enlisted sailors were badly injured when a fragmentation grenade was thrown into their room by a person unknown; they were rushed to the Army 3rd Field Hospital in Saigon.
The fragmentation grenade rolled to the corner of the BEQ room, detonating against the back wall and showering the room with shrapnel. Note fragmentation strikes above point of detonation. Both victims were struck multiple times, but survived.
With several available agents, I drove to the Le Lai. An MP junior officer had secured the BEQ, a modest former Vietnamese hotel, in an effort to identify a potential suspect, but this proved fruitless. No witnesses came forward and our subsequent interviews produced no tangible leads. There was little to be done at the crime scene; the grenade had detonated in a corner of the room, spraying shrapnel up the wall and around the room. Both victims had been struck by dozens of shrapnel shards. Clay Spradley that night observed corpsmen and doctors removing fragments from them, but neither could offer useful information about their assailant.
We continued the investigation early the next morning and were able to piece together more details of the incident. The victims were both boiler tenders. They had been drinking in their room with a third petty officer, whom they reportedly beat up after an argument. The investigation then focused on the identity of that sailor, later identified as a SeaBee resident of the BEQ.
Special Agent Douglass Hubbard interviews an Army MP officer at the entry door to the crime scene.
Command sent the suspect to our Cholon offices where Clay and I interrogated him after an appropriate warning. He admitted drinking with the two victims and acknowledged that there had been a disagreement – but told us he knew nothing about the grenade attack. I focused on the evidence which suggested that he knew more than he was telling us. Clay, mean time, established a rapport with his friendly North Florida manner – and eventually the man admitted that he’d been humiliated by the attack and sought revenge for the beating the two boiler tenders rendered. Recently returned from the bush, he had fragmentation grenades in his field gear, one of which he retrieved and rolled into the room where the victims were seen to be laughing about his assault. The explosion was strong enough to blow glass out of the room windows. It was sweet revenge and he wrote it down in a statement which eventually resulted in his dishonorable discharge from the Navy.
During the three years Douglass Hubbard served as a civilian Special Agent with the US Navy’s NCIS in Vietnam, he was unknowingly regularly exposed to the toxic defoliant known as Agent Orange. His assignment required him to travel and work through all four of Vietnam’s Tactical Zones, working alongside Marines and Sailors fighting the war at their forward military operating bases. Because of Agent Orange, he developed Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. Late in 2016 he was in the advanced stages of this untreatable terminal disease, his one hope a full lung transplant.
Doug received a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminology from Fresno State and was then recruited by NIS, (today’s NCIS), as a Special Agent in 1968. After he completing training, he volunteered for Vietnam service and was transferred to Da Nang. Most of Doug’s early work in Vietnam was as a field agent in support of Marine Corps combat elements and included a single-agent assignment to Quang Tri Combat Base. He later served in the Mekong Delta in support of the Brownwater Navy. Doug was both the youngest Special Agent assigned to Vietnam and was also the longest-serving. He received a personal commendation from the Commander of US Naval Forces in Vietnam in recognition of many successful sensitive investigations which often exposed him to enemy fire.
Doug has led a productive life with a focus on the world’s developing nations; Africa in particular. But his progressing illness has brought a halt to his work and income. Understandably he is anxious to return to work with the many of the people he has assisted over the years. Only a transplant could make that possible.
The good news is that he has now been successfully transplanted and has begun the long road to recovery with “new lungs”. Moreover, in November following a rare successful petition, the surviving 57 Vietnam NCIS agents were granted full veteran status by the US Defense Department more than 50 years after most had served in the war zone. All are 75 years old more. The upshot is that now, as veterans, they may apply to the US Veterans Administration for compensation and medical support. Doug has done both; but because idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is not on the VA list of conditions presumed to be caused by Agent Orange exposure, he must resort to a formal claim to prove that the IPF is service related. This can be expected to take many months for consideration, review and possible appeal.
Doug needs your help! He has not only faced the enormous cost of a transplant, (which was performed at University of California San Francisco), but weeks of treatment in San Francisco after the surgery. The cost of critical medications, local housing costs, care and transportation have compounded his loss of income. These things are not covered by Medicare. Convalescence, including work and travel restrictions has now cost more than $100,000.
Doug is counting his blessings at the achievement of his three-year post-operative anniversary, but can expect a prolonged wait for VA disability support as he strives to return to work. Please consider a generous gift to help Doug through the difficult and challenging months that he has ahead of him.
Time is of the essence: Please donate now and pass this request for help onto other like-minded people. Support a good man in his time of need.
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NCIS History: Special Agent, Vietnam: A reprint of the original 2006 Potomac Press edition with more than 140 historic images inserted to illustrate incidents being described. This book is widely offered on the web.