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Amtracs Camp Pendleton and Amgrunts Vietnam, United States Marine Corps, 1967 - 1969

These paintings of United States Marine Corps Amphibious Tractors (Amtracs) at Camp Pendleton and in Vietnam from 1967 - 1969 are part of a series recently commissioned by Robert L. Spence who was at that time a 1Lt Amtrac Grunt, or "Amgrunt." One of those years was spent at "Ocean View", the eastern most of the "McNamara Line" outposts on the DMZ, and other locations in that area, with the 1st Amphibious Tractor Battalion attached to the 3rd Marine Division.

Vietnam ribbon

After much thought he felt that paintings like these, done from photographs he and friends took, are the best way to tell his story to others and to remember and share the memories, bonds and the experiences of these Marines. These paintings illustrate as art where they were and what they did and serve as conversation starters for those who were there or those who find them interesting.

Ocean View in Vietnam was the easternmost outpost of the McNamara Line along the DMZ. A wooden observation tower stood above bunkers on a sand dune in the center of a marshes surrounded by concertina wire fences. To ensure visibility and an unobstructed perimeter the entire area had been cleared using airborne bombs and other high explosives and agent orange; the only remaining vegetation were mostly broken denuded trees and low grasses.

The area was manned by an amtrac platoon of 10 LVTP5 vehicles along with, two M-48 tanks and an Army attachment of two "Dusters": tracked Patton tank frames mounted with twin 40 mm anti aircraft "pom-pom" guns for defense in the event of enemy attack. Platoons would rotate weekly. There was also a Navy gunfire team to call in rounds from ships off of Yankee Station

Launch - MCB Camp Pendleton
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Launch - MCB Camp Pendleton
Paul Gavin, Pen & watercolor 2012

Amtracs launch off Southern California on a training exercise. Crashing into the surf is an exciting and sometimes dangerous moment for an amtrac and its crew. The platoon commander is responsible for his crews and equipment. On the previous day while the landing fleet that had come up from San Diego waited offshore to load the amtracs for a landing exercise, Lt. Robert L. Spence, USMC platoon commander of these amtracs was concerned about worsening conditions that would make it dangerous for his crews and amtracs. If the interval between waves was 3 seconds or less you did not launch and he saw the wave intervals were indeed less than 3 seconds. Over the boisterous queries of the senior Navy officers on the ships ("What is going on with that stupid ass lieutenant?") Bob decided it was too dangerous to launch. His concern was his Marines. The next day, seeing that the weather and seas had stabilized, he gave the order and this is that launch. MCP Camp Pendleton, 1967 - 1968.

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Tower - Ocean View
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Tower - Ocean View
Paul Gavin, Pen & watercolor 2012

The wooden observation tower at Ocean View, the eastern most outpost of the "McNamara Line" along the DMZ; Recon Marines and "AmGrunts" work and live in the bunkers at its base. 1968 - 1969

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Coming Home
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Coming Home
Paul Gavin, Pen & watercolor 2012

Two LVTP5 Amtracs accompanied by an M48 tank return to Ocean View on the DMZ with supplies from the Company Command Post, C4, about 2 kilometers to the south. Two platoons would rotate into and out of Ocean View weekly. Note the crews sit on top of the vehicles vs. inside in case of mines. 1968 - 1969

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Amgrunts
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Amgrunts
Paul Gavin, Pen & watercolor 2012

Amtrac Marines just outside the wire at Ocean View head towards DMZ to spot rounds to allow for quick artillery response to NVA rocket fire on the U.S. Navy Base and Camp Kistler at the mouth of the Cua Viet River to the south or NVA incursions into "Ocean View." The mission of the Ocean View Marines was to protect the TAOR (Tactical Area of Responsibility) from the Northeast corner of South Vietnam west to the point where Hwy 1 crossed into North Vietnam above Gio Lin at the DMZ on the Ben Hai River and south down to what the Marines called "Jones Creek" at the village of Dai Do on the Cua Viet River. (The Ben Hai River was the southern boundary of North Vietnam along the DMZ.) Then platoon CO 1Lt Robert Spence who commissioned these paintings is the second figure from the left (in the expanded view). 1968 - 1969.

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Spotting Rounds
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Spotting Rounds
Paul Gavin, Pen & watercolor 2012

The Amgrunt patrol has reached their observation point and has begun spotting rounds. 1Lt, far left, is coordinating the process with the artillery battery as a white phosphorous round explodes with its easily visible signature plume in the distance. 1968 - 1969

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A related painting:
CH46 at MCAS Tustin
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CH46 at MCAS Tustin
Paul Gavin, Pen & watercolor Started 1986, completed 2011

A veteran CH 46 of the legendary HMM-163 "Ridge Runners" with the "Evil Eyes" on its nose sits on the ramp at MCAS Tustin around 1986 with the legendary "Blimp Hangars" in the background. During Vietnam the turbine powered CH46 Sea Knight "Phrog" replaced the radial piston powered CH34 Choctaw. Still in service, (and many of these from the Vietnam era), the CH 46s are now being replaced by the MV22 Osprey.

Half the USMC helicopter pilots trained at what was then the Marine Corps Air Facility at Tustin, California, also know as "LTA" for "Lighter Than Air" the former Navy Blimp base with its legendary Blimp Hangars.

As a child in the late 1950's artist Paul Gavin started drawing the helicopters and jets that flew over his house daily from MCAS's Tustin and El Toro. Folding almost 100 papers per day for his delivery route in the 1960's Paul saw the same daily front page photos of Vietnam, over and over again, many with the helicopter types he watched flying over his house as he worked.

Fast forward to the late 1970's when he graduated with an Art Degree from the University of California at Irvine where the Tustin Blimp Hangars and the resident helicopters were visible every day from the art studios from them he would do distant sketches. Along with painting landscapes of the whole area, in the early 1980's he began doing work for individual Marines, then the Tustin Open House and then in 1989 he was asked to create art for the MCAS El Toro Air Show.

The rest is history as since then he and his wife Kimberleigh have probably done more military event images than any artists and have raised many, many dollars in support of the Armed Forces and their families.

This is a painting from MCAS Tustin that was done just over 10 years after the Vietnam War ended.

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