Federico Rey was born in Parral, Mexico (Chihuahua state) in 1947, the son of Jesus and Aurora Rey. Jesus was a naturalized U.S. citizen who had first come to Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1942 for work as an auto mechanic, but then was drafted the next year. He served as an Anti Aircraft Artilleryman at Camp San Luis Obispo, California and, when discharged from the Army in August 1945 after WWII, he returned to Albuquerque where he worked for Continental Trailways as a diesel engine mechanic for many years.

Fred’s mother brought him to Albuquerque when he was a year old and he grew up and went through public schools there; Coronado Elementary, Washington Junior High, and Albuquerque High School. He also spent a lot of time around his father’s shop and learned a lot about diesel engines. After graduation from Albuquerque High with the Class of 1965, he enrolled for some night classes in the University of New Mexico. But, being a part time student did not make him eligible for deferment and that next year he received greetings from the draft board. Rather than accept the two-year draft, he signed up for a three-year enlistment in order to secure training of his choice as a Wheel & Track Vehicle Mechanic.

He was inducted in the Army on October 6, 1966 and reported for Basic Training at Fort Bliss, Texas. He proceeded from there to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri and began training as a Wheel & Track Vehicle Mechanic. However, when half way through the course, in late January 1967 he was placed on leave and issued a set of orders to Vietnam, “at the convenience of the government.” He was not credited with completion of the course, nor was he awarded the MOS (military occupational specialty) that he was seeking.

He arrived in Vietnam on February 28, 1967 and was sent to the 9th Infantry Division at Bear Cat. At in-processing his MOS was changed from Vehicle Mechanic to Engineer and he was shipped out the next day to Company D, 15th Combat Engineer Battalion at Dong Tam in the Mekong Delta.

Dong Tam was a small installation at the time, only a few blocks square, but it was being built up, intended as the future home of the division and eventually would be a prepared base camp of about a mile square. Company D, the only engineer unit there, was working hard to make that happen, and they were secured by Companies A and B of 3-47th Infantry and a battery of 105mm artillery of 1-84th FA.

Fred says, “My first job was security of the dredge. A huge dredge was in the river dredging up sand being pumped over to build up the base for the camp. An earlier dredge had been attacked by the Viet Cong so we had a boat with a 60 hp engine, a “Boston Whaler,” endlessly circling the dredge and every 15 minutes we would drop a 1-lb dynamite charge off one of the corners of the dredge as our little boat made its rounds. I did that for my first two weeks in country. In mid-March the Company Commander, Captain Corbett, called me in and asked me what I knew about explosives (half-trained mechanics with no engineer qualification receive no such training). He assigned me to fifteen days on-the-job training, learning about explosives from a Sergeant that was about to rotate home. I went out on operations with him and watched as he blew up bunkers, but he wouldn’t let me touch anything. By April 1st, I had seen enough and was declared to be one of D Company’s eight explosives men.”

Meanwhile, the 3-60th Infantry had arrived at Dong Tam and were conducting Search and Destroy missions around the base. Each of the patrols had a two-man explosives team attached from the engineers of Company D. Fred Rey went out on a number of missions with 3-60th Infantry, mostly uneventful, but some resulted in big fire fights and losses of men he was with. An unfortunate incident occurred about two months after Fred had been going out on these missions that has had lasting effect on him emotionally. He was scheduled to go out on a patrol, but; when he became acutely ill his tent mate and best friend in Company D stepped up and volunteered to go in Fred’s place. Hours later word came back that his friend was dead, accidentally killed while out on that mission, and Fred has had unresolved issues because of it that he has been dealing with ever since.

At the end of April 1968, the Mobile Riverine Force became operational on the Mekong Delta waterways. Fred and the Army troops at Dong Tam became part of it and their routine changed. Fred says, “We started rotations where we would be on the USS Benewah for three weeks, and then would be back at Dong Tam Base for two weeks. That rotation continued until September when more engineers came in (Company B arrived) and they began to take some of the missions. The Benewah had about a thousand Army troops and a Navy crew of a couple of hundred. It carried the Army ground combat part of the Riverine Force that had the capability to move up and down the delta waterways and quickly hit any place in force at any time. The Navy served great food on the Benewah and I liked taking those turns of being on the ship.”

About the middle of November 1967, Fred went back on the Benewah and this time stayed until about December 18th or 20th when they returned to Dong Tam and Company D “stood down” for Christmas.

Fred Rey was home based at Dong Tam for his entire one-year tour in Vietnam. Almost every day that he was on the base it was hit with enemy mortar fire, mostly 60mm, sometimes only two or three rounds all day, but sometimes as many as 50 rounds at random within 24 hours. Fred says, “One of the men in my tent, Don Wilson, had an unusual gift of hearing and he was our early warning system. He could discern when a mortar shell had been fired as soon as the sound of the round leaving the tube carried to him. Although the projectile would only be seconds from impact by the time the sound of it being launched reached him (and none of the rest of us could hear it at all), he would yell out a warning and we could jump into a bunker with time to spare before it hit. Very seldom would a shell actually strike anywhere near where we were, and as the base continued to grow in size the chances of any one spot being hit became less and less. But all that notwithstanding, we would take cover every time our human early warning system alerted us.

Fred was wounded on December 22, 1967. He remembers that a container of beer had just been brought in for the holidays. But, the party started as soon as the beer arrived. Later, about 2AM, with everyone sleeping soundly, a 60mm mortar shell hit the tent Fred was in, killing one and wounding four. Fred sustained multiple wounds. A mortar shell fragment protruded from his forehead, his right kneecap was shattered and the tip of a finger of his right hand was defleshed. He had lesser fragmentation wounds in his right arm, left kneecap, groin, and the tip of an ear lobe was cleanly clipped off.

The hospital was overfull at that time, but “dustoff” helicopters stationed at Dong Tam were immediately available. So, these four newly wounded from Fred’s tent were quickly taken out on a 15 minute flight to Vung Tau where Fred was operated on in the 34th Evac Hospital. The shell fragment was removed from his forehead, his right kneecap was repaired and flesh was grafted to restore the damaged finger of his right hand.

He was quickly up on crutches so he was returned to Dong Tam the day after Christmas. Company D put him on light duty for two weeks. As soon as he was able to walk a little better he was summoned for an interview and asked if he had diesel engine experience. Fred attested to his skills acquired in his father’s shop in Albuquerque. The Navy yard on the corner of the base had two LST’s (landing ship, tank) with inoperable engines and there were not enough trained Navy personnel to do the repairs. So, Fred was loaned out to the Navy for several weeks in January 1968 and helped overhaul the two ships’ diesel engines. He lived on the ships while working on them and enjoyed the Navy food and amenities.

By the end of January, Fred was back with Company D, and then TET-68 happened. Dong Tam was under siege day and night for several days. During that time everyone stayed underground in bunkers except when manning the perimeter defensive positions on the berm. After about five days an Air Force C-130 SPECTRE gunship, “Puff the magic dragon,” flew a mission for Dong Tam and as soon as it went into action the enemy pressure quickly melted away and things soon were back to normal.

Six weeks later Fred’s tour was up, and on March 14, 1968 he flew for home from Bien Hoa Air Base. Then after 30-days home leave, but still having 18 months remaining on his enlistment, he was transferred inter-theatre to Europe.

He was assigned to Battery A, 3rd Battalion, 37th Artillery in Munich, Germany as a wheel and track vehicle mechanic. After only three weeks in the command, as a newly promoted E-5 he led his battery to a successful Command Maintenance Inspection with the highest score attained in the 37th Artillery Group. That attracted very favorable attention within the command and after that he was called on to assist all the other units in the group in preparing for inspections. As a result, he traveled extensively from caserne to caserne for the remainder of his time in Europe. The work was hard but, almost like a tourist, he got to see a lot of the sights while doing it and he really enjoyed the experience. He also received additional skill training in hydraulic and electrical systems repair that proved valuable to him later in civilian life. He rotated back to the United States on September 16, 1969, was discharged at Fort Dix, New Jersey two days later, and returned home to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Fred immediately found employment as a transmission mechanic. Also, the day after he arrived back home his sister introduced him to one of her friends, Elaine Carriaga. Elaine was the daughter of a retired Army NCO. She had grown up as a “barracks brat” and was proud of it. So, the two of them shared a lot of experiences in common, especially from their time in Germany. Two years later, in December 1971, Fred and Elaine were married.

Meanwhile Fred had become the manager of the GMC Truck Shop where he was working. Then in 1975 he went into business for himself, in partnership with his father, opening a diesel engine repair shop. In 1982 he took a job with a company in El Paso, assigned as their maintenance manager in Austin, Texas (and he and Elaine have lived here ever since). In 1986 he went to work as shop manager for Capitol Equipment in Oak Hill, and in 1989 took a job with Texas Construction Services as shop foreman. In 1991 he opened his own business, AUSTEX Transmissions in Austin.

After several years operating his own company, Fred decided, almost as an afterthought, that he should apply for medical care with the VA. Totally unexpectedly, the examining doctor detected a highly virulent, fast-growing cancer, which was promptly and successfully treated. Fred had been unaware of any symptoms and gratefully credits the VA medical care system for having saved his life.

He sold his company and retired in 2002, and became active in the Military Order of the Purple Heart in a big way. He uses his membership as a way of payback, doing volunteer work assisting other veterans and veterans’ families. He has served multiple terms as our Chapter Commander and is currently Commander, Department of Texas. Elaine has supported him in doing that work, and has likewise served in the Ladies Auxiliary as our Unit President, and as President, Department of Texas. She is the currently serving President of Region V (the seven state region of Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arkansas, Kansas and Colorado).

This month, Chapter 1919’s PATRIOT BULLETIN proudly salutes Patriot Federico Rey.