Thomas D. Renolds – Vietnam War Veteran – Canyon Country Resident

Thomas D. Renolds and his M-14. Courtesy photo

What happened to “y”

I recently met Tom Renolds and his delightful wife Alice at our new Veterans Center at 23222 Lyons Boulevard in Newhall and we had a nice long chat about his U.S. Navy Sea Bee service and his two tours of duty in Vietnam and much, much more. Tom’s dropping of the “y” in his last name proved too complicated to explain here.

Ranch Hand

Thomas D. Renolds was born December 10, 1946, in Santa Barbara, California, where he lived with his family for three years until they moved to Reseda and then to Sylmar where he grew up. Tom graduated from Sylmar High School June 18, 1965. During high school Tom learned his work ethic working at a horse ranch where he learned to drive and operate ranch equipment. Tom’s father and mother served in the U.S. Navy during WWII, so it was their service and watching numerous WWII movies that inspired Tom to enlist in the Navy October 7, 1965. Tom was interested in construction so he pursued the Sea Bees and taking metal, wood and automobile shops in high school worked to his advantage.

Sea Bee Training

Tom took Boot Camp at San Diego and afterwards he was the only sailor in his battalion selected for Mobile Construction Battalion 5 (MCB5) at Port Hueneme for six months of equipment operator training. His training included one month of rigorous combat training by Marine Corps drill sergeants at Camp Pendleton. Following a leave of absence with his family, Tom deployed to Danang, South Vietnam, via Naval Station Point Mugu, Wake Island and the Philippines. Tom recalls how miserably cold his 24 hour journey began at Point Mugu and how stinking hot and humid it was landing in Danang, plus their C141 cargo plane was ill equipped for passenger comfort.

Monkey Mountain and Đông Hà

Once in country, Tom and 25 fellow Sea Bees volunteered for a 3 ½ month detachment to the 3rd Marine Division at the base of nearby Monkey Mountain. They operated bull dozers, cranes and rock crushers to create concrete aggregate for constructing building foundations, roads and air strips for the entire I Corps area of operations. Tom’s second detachment sent him to the Quảng Trị Province capitol Đông Hà to construct a Med-Evac hospital, a runway, 175 Howitzer gun emplacements, and numerous eighty foot tall machine gun watch towers. While traveling to Đông Hà aboard a Navy LST delivering bull dozers and tractors, Tom’s ship was hit by a horrendous typhoon that turned their 10 hour voyage into a 36 hour nightmare. When they attempted to escape by going ashore, they received NVA RPG fire and artillery shelling so they had to tough it out at sea.

3rd Marine Division

Learning that their 150 man Sea Bee unit was based outside their neighboring 3rd Marine Division combat base perimeter was a grave concern for Tom and his buddies. Meanwhile, they worked their tails off building their facilities including perimeter bunkers, fox holes and bunkers adjacent to their tents. Đông Hà’s surrounding areas were crawling with North Vietnamese troops and Viet Cong guerilla fighters. They were clearly based in a combat zone. Tom and his unit delivered and installed a number of machine gun watch towers for the Army at Camp Carroll near the Rock Pile and Demilitarized Zone. To Tom’s knowledge every tower installed was ultimately destroyed by the NVA and while at Camp Carroll, Tom and his mates slept under their bull dozers.

Tom and his brother, Ken.

Hundred Gallons of Blood

Đông Hà was a primary target for NVA artillery and mortar men who constantly shelled the Sea Bee’s and Marine bases. Their runway and living quarters including their chow hall were constantly hit. On one occasion, Tom’s bunker took a direct hit sending a large fragment chunk into his bunk, but fortunately he and his buddies had sought cover in their bunker. Tom said, “We had so many wounded Sea Bees and Marines that I must have contributed a hundred gallons of blood during my eight months at Đông Hà”. Tom’s tour of duty ended in December 1967 and he reported back to Port Hueneme.

Three American Patriots

Tom’s brother Ken enlisted with the U.S. Navy soon after Tom enlisted and he also served in Vietnam but in the Mekong Delta with the Brown Water Navy on a Patrol Boat River (PBR). On one mission Ken’s boat took a direct hit killing all but Ken and his captain. After his tour of duty, Ken became a Navy Seal and then a Marine. Tom’s cousin Charlie served with the 101st Airborne at Khe Sahn. Fortunately, the three were able to have one gathering together.

Ammo Dump all  Blown Up

In March 1968, Tom received orders for his 2nd deployment to Danang where he reported for duty once again at the base of Monkey Mountain. Coincidentally, the extensive 1968 Tet Offensive was launched six weeks earlier by NVA and Viet Cong forces. Not a good time to arrive in South Vietnam. However, the 3rd Marines secured and closed the base camp so things there remained fairly uneventful, though their airfield was repeatedly hit by NVA artillery. Plus, one friendly fire night time flare inadvertently landed in their ammunition dump blowing it to smithereens. Tom said it was bigger than any 4th of July fireworks show he had ever seen. Tom and his buddies went about their duties as before creating concrete aggregate.

Honorable Discharge

Tom’s tour ended November 14, 1968, and on an “early-out” he was Honorably Discharged so he returned to his family’s Sylmar home as he pursued a normalcy again. First, Tom worked for a plumbing company and then for Las Virgenes Water Municipal District for 12 years. Afterwards, Tom took classes at College of the Canyons and he worked for the L.A. Department of Water and Power retiring 30 years later in 2011. In the summer of 1970, Tom and Alice Smith met at a wild party in Sylmar but they had seen each other at an earlier party, which prompted Alice to make the first move on Tom. Alice’s classic line was, “Um, haven’t I seen you before?” Clearly, Alice liked what she saw. Being an astute young man, Tom seized the moment and asked her to talk in his 1958 Corvette which led them to seeing each other regularly. Tom and Alice were married July 21, 1973, at San Fernando’s First United Methodist Church.

Every 15 Minutes

Tom and Alice soon had three sons. Asking about their children, I was jolted to my core as Alice carefully explained that their two youngest boys were tragically killed in a horrific high speed automobile accident on Soledad Canyon Road18 years ago. Her gut wrenching account of Timothy and Daniel, ages 15 and 18, left me and Tom speechless. To their great credit, Tom and Alice are devoted to their loving memories of their boys and to educating high school students on the danger of drinking and driving via their informative and blunt “Every 15 Minutes” two day programs. Every 15 Minutes is a two-day program focused on high school juniors and seniors, which challenges them to think about drinking, driving, personal safety, and the responsibility of making mature decisions. Along with alcohol-related crashes, it focuses on the impact that their decisions have on family and friends. Along with this noble project, Tom and Alice are devoted to their son Scott, his wife and two wonderful granddaughters. Tom loves cooking, watching as many TV cooking programs as possible and surprising Alice with his experiments. Plus they enjoy traveling, home remodeling and their large garden. Thank you for your outstanding service and patriotism to our country, Tom. And huge kudos to you and Alice for your priceless community work.

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