Bob Vlasics was a member of the 159th Terminal Battalion, or “Sunder’s Wunders,” commanded by Lt. Col. Charles Sunder, which was named the Army’s transportation unit of the year in 1968 and received a Meritorious Unit Commendation.
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Bob Vlasics was a member of the 159th Terminal Battalion, or “Sunder’s Wunders,” commanded by Lt. Col. Charles Sunder, which was named the Army’s transportation unit of the year in 1968 and received a Meritorious Unit Commendation. (Photo Credit: Skip Vaughn) VIEW ORIGINAL
Huntsville resident Bob Vlasics served two tours in Vietnam.
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Huntsville resident Bob Vlasics served two tours in Vietnam. (Photo Credit: Skip Vaughn) VIEW ORIGINAL

When Bob Vlasics was a new second lieutenant out of ROTC from the University of Toledo in 1965, a captain gave him advice that stayed with him throughout his career.

The captain, a World War II veteran, told him the importance of knowing his Soldiers. The captain took Vlasics under his wing at the air defense officers basic course at Fort Bliss, Texas.

“You’ve got to know Soldiers in order to be successful in the Army,” Vlasics said.

He took that advice with him through two tours in Vietnam, 21 years in the Army and a successful career in the defense industry.

“Now I’ve had many people work for me. Several become generals. And a lot of them excel with dealing with Soldiers. Some never understood,” he said.

Vlasics retired in 1986 as a lieutenant colonel and then worked six years with Textron Lycoming, an engine manufacturer. He ran his own company, Aerospace Dynamics, for 29 years until he retired in February 2021.

After the four-week transportation orientation course at Fort Eustis, Virginia, he became a transportation corps officer and he went to Vietnam on April 10, 1967. He spent a year with Barge Amphibious Resupply Cargo, or BARC, Company in Qui Nhon. The company had 16 60-ton amphibious boats used for transporting cargo over unimproved beaches. Each boat had four 9-foot tires and was designed to carry an M60 tank.

Vlasics, then a 24-year-old first lieutenant, was the unit’s maintenance officer. They transported food, ammo, fuel and troops when necessary. “It was an interesting job,” Vlasics said.

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Vietnam revisited

Part 371 in series

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The mission gained intensity with the onset of the Tet Offensive, Jan. 28, 1968.

“Tet surprised everybody and it awakened us to the fact that these guys could interdict anywhere,” Vlasics said.

The Military Assistance Command-Vietnam wanted to do something to counter the North Vietnamese offensive. They decided to move a large force up to the DMZ while the Marines were surrounded at Khe Sanh. Vlasics’ company was under the 159th Terminal Battalion, commanded by Lt. Col. Charles Sunder, which was called “Sunder’s Wunders.”

“Out of my four platoons of BARCs, I took three platoons (12 boats) up there to set up a beach head right by the DMZ with the mission of resupplying two divisions that were going into this area to rescue the Marines, and supply two divisions and that was the 101st and the 1st Cav Division.”

The ships left Qui Nhon, arrived at the wooded undeveloped area and established the beach head. The Soldiers were mortared every night and lived underground. This became the largest Logistics Over The Shore operation during the Vietnam War. Originally named Utah Beach, it soon earned the name Wunder Beach. The battalion was named the Army’s transportation unit of the year in 1968 and received a Meritorious Unit Commendation.

“You get up here and you see the real utility of our equipment and how it was to be used,” Vlasics said. “This was an unimproved area of operation. And that was the definition of Logistics Over The Shore.”

After his first Vietnam tour, he attended the transportation officers advanced course at Fort Eustis, Virginia, followed by flight school at Fort Stewart, Georgia, and Fort Rucker. The 28-year-old captain returned to Vietnam in June 1971 for his second yearlong tour. He was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division, 5th Transportation Battalion at Camp Eagle north of Hue. As the division aviation supply officer, he flew support missions in UH-1 Huey helicopters. He flew recovery missions and mainly to get spare parts.

“I was on the battalion staff,” he said. “Drugs were rampant (throughout Vietnam).”

He became the headquarters company commander. One of his initial duties was prosecuting a Soldier who was a suspected drug supplier for three charges of attempted murder. The Soldier was convicted by court-martial and sentenced to 32 years.

For his Vietnam service, Vlasics received the Bronze Star, two Air Medals and the Meritorious Unit Commendation.

“The worse part, I was in the same area both tours and nothing had gotten any better,” he said. “The thing I (most) remember was only these great Soldiers that were over there who really believed in what they were doing.”

Vlasics, from Bethlethem, Pennsylvania, was the distinguished military graduate in 1965 from the University of Toledo where he received a bachelor’s in business with specialization in statistics. He received a master’s in logistics management from Florida Institute of Technology in 1976. In the Army he worked for Joe Cribbins, the senior Army logistician, at the Pentagon from 1979-81; and he commanded four companies – two in Vietnam, one in Germany and one in Savannah, Georgia – and he led a battalion in Korea. He medically retired after serving as the division G-4 (logistics) officer at the 3rd Infantry Division in Germany from 1984-86.

He was a member of the Army Aviation Association of America for 54 years and he started the Quad A bass tournament which was named after him, the Bob Vlasics Classic. He enjoys gardening and fishing. He and his wife, Jeanne, reside in Huntsville.

Vlasics, 79, shared his thoughts on the nation’s commemoration of 50 years since the Vietnam War.

“It concerns me that many of the people that were involved, their stories are being lost,” he said. “We’re losing all of these great people and many of them will never be recognized for what their contributions were.”

Editor’s note: This is the 371st in a series of articles about Vietnam veterans as the United States commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.