Land Clearing 101

From the initial start-up of Land Clearing operations in South Vietnam back in the Spring of 1967, when the 3 original Land Clearing Platoons of the 27th, the 86th, and the 35th Engineers came onto the scene in South Vietnam, tactics and logistics were still a formative aspect of the process. But, with roughly 100 men assigned to each of these units, they learned and jelled in fairly short order. It is not to say that mistakes were not made along the way, as accidents did occur from time to time, even as the Platoons evolved to become ‘Teams,’ and to later become formal ‘Companies’ within their respective Battalions and areas of operation. In fact, several of our noted KIAs over the 5year existence of these unique and innovative Army engineer units had come not from enemy action, but from unfortunate errors that led to costly accidents where lives were lost, while severe injuries had also occurred as a result.

But, as time and new methods developed, accidents were minimized, and tactics were heightened to bring production levels up, in reflecting on the average acreage cleared in
a day. The daily work involved with each unit's field operation had become a coordinated 'team' effort, with all working unit members performing their assigned tasks, to not only make it happen, but in maintaining things on a regular basis. Like cogs or spokes on a wheel, each member of a Land Clearing unit represented a single supporting element in determining and realizing the success of each assigned mission. It is to say that no single element (or man) was more important than any other in this process, in relating to the overall make-up of each of these LC units. From the Supply personnel, to Cooks and company Mess, to various Mechanics and Plow Operators, to Lowboy and Fuel Truck drivers, along with Platoon Leaders and Sergeants, and to Clerks and the Company Commander, all of these positions and several more were designed to collectively support and serve the needs and direction of Land Clearing operations in Vietnam.

Because of the unique system and personnel make-up involved with Land Clearing and its specific methods of operation, all of the LC units in Vietnam over the course of time were of little difference. Essentially, one Land Clearing unit was largely the same in its overall make-up as any other. The only notable difference probably involved the terrain in which they worked and the type of vegetation that had to be removed. But, for a unit to depart on a 45 day field operation, with logistics in place for convoy travel, and with the coordinated supply of food, fuel and other essentials brought in by air, while set up in a circular berm encampment called a Night Defensive Position, or NDP, and while also having mechanized security elements from various Infantry Divisions positioned with their tanks and Armored Personnel Carriers set up all around the NDP's perimeter berm at night, while also serving to secure the activities of the plows by day, this was all standard operational procedure for a Land Clearing unit on any given mission.

But, the main point here, which lends itself to the team aspect of things, is that it took each and every one of us to form the very nucleus of what ultimately resulted in our respective Land Clearing unit's overall success. And, make no mistake about that...tactical Land Clearing in South Vietnam was a complete success.
So, never let it be said that your involvement in this historic endeavor didn't really make much of a difference; because it did, as it was your dedicated efforts that helped to save countless lives while clearing the way for others in South Vietnam.


Terry T. Brown
86th Land Clearing Team – 86th Engineer Battalion - 1968
501st Land Clearing Company – 62nd Engineer Battalion – 1969

We Cleared the Way

We Cleared the Way
By Terry T. Brown

Drifting back in time to yesterday
where war and fate had changed our way
with hardened memories of lessons learned
while the rumble of Rome Plows had tactics turned

The Engineers were in the woods and along the roads
in South Vietnam where 'Charlie' lay for convoys and their loads
having his way with them for far too long
until Land Clearing methods deterred the Viet Cong

The plows charged in, they cut and slashed at will
against heavy jungle, as if to kill
to clear along the roadways true
and keep all safe who rolled on through

Cutting down trees and churning clay
the dozers pressed the work each day
leveling acre after acre of jungle lair
while changing and reshaping the landscape there

Enduring humidity, dust, high heat and long monsoon
while spacemen landed on the moon
the plows continued on the move
from cut to cut with much to prove

While also feeling Charlie's wrath
with land mines laid along our path
by night with mortar and rocket fire
to shake us up and draw our ire

Sadly, we lost some brothers along the way
and more over time who could not stay
to be sent off with our eternal thanks
for a job well done while in our ranks

Through it all, for each beleaguered day
we toiled, we bled, but did not break
we had our tasks and more at stake
to clear safe passage along roadways there
and know the lives that it would spare

Now, we recall that they are us and we were they
much younger men than seen today
brash and bold and full of dare
they drove the plows or worked repair
or cooked the meals that kept us there
while others did their part as well
to make our efforts truly jell

While called 'elite' we did not boast
‘though we accomplished more than most
and for all of that, the best that we can say
for how we earned our combat pay...

"We cleared the way"