It was 2 a.m., in Saigon.
E4 Second Class Petty Officer Morris Waid was sleeping on a roll of concertina wire when he was quickly awakened.
“A guy from the 101st Airborne woke me up and told me to get into the bunker, because it was really getting bad out and the fireflies were out,” he said.
“Fireflies” was the descriptive term for tracer bullets and they were flying during what would become known as the Tet Offensive, one of the largest military campaigns of the Vietnam War.
Waid got into the bunker.
“That’s when everything just broke loose all over the place,” he said.
More than 51 years later, Waid and his wife, Donna, were standing in the Walmart Supercenter parking lot in Fremont. The two were among about 110 people from across the country, who were part of the Military Vehicle Preservation Association’s Motor Convoy.
Lt. Dan McCluskey of Simi Valley, Calif., is leading the MVPA 2019 Transcontinental Motor Convoy, which came into Fremont on Tuesday morning.
The convoy of military vehicles left Washington, D.C., on Aug. 11 for a 37-day trek across the nation with plans to arrive in San Francisco on Sept. 14. The group is following the original Lincoln Highway route as closely as possible.
“We are retracing the steps that the U.S. Army did 100 years ago,” McCluskey said. “In 1919, they made the first transcontinental convoy.”
They had two main missions.
“One was to promote good roads, because the army understood how important it was to be able to move in machinery across the United States quickly,” McCluskey said. “At that time, the only good roads were in towns. Once you got out of the city limits, the roads turned into mud.”
The second mission was to understand the logistics of moving motor vehicles, which had just recently been introduced.
That early-day convoy left from Washington, D.C., and traveled 3,000 miles to San Francisco.
“It took them 63 days. They had 93 vehicles, ranging from a Dodge staff car (which looks like a Model T) all the way up to 3 ½-ton and 5-ton trucks,” McCluskey said.
The first convoy averaged approximately 6 miles per hour, traveling about 60 miles per day, compared to its modern-day counterpart, which is rolling along at 35 mph and covering between 100 and 160 miles per day.
McCluskey said the convoy left Gretna with 42 vehicles on Tuesday. The vehicles range from the Dodge staff car to one-quarter-ton Jeeps, three-quarter-ton cargo trucks, ambulances, 2 ½-ton and 5-ton trucks.
The convoy traveled up Old Highway 275 onto Bell Street and east on 16th Street, eventually making its way to the Walmart parking lot.
One of the popular vehicles was a British Ferret, a small, armored scout car with a Rolls Royce engine.
Fremonter Jon Wiseman brought his young son, Cody, to see the vehicles. Cody climbed into the Ferret.
“It’s pretty darn cool,” Jon Wiseman said, adding, “He’s a big fan of the old army stuff.”
McCluskey said convoy participants have been as young as his 6-year-old grandson, Benjamin Peterson of Newbury Park, Calif.
Benjamin got to participate during the first nine days of the convoy.
“Then he had to go to school,” McCluskey said.
The eldest member will be a 91-year-old man, who will join the convoy at Laramie, Wyo.
McCluskey said the convoy has had an incredible reception.
“There have been towns that we’ve rolled into with 1,500 people and they’ve had 3,000 people out on the streets, waving flags and cheering for us—out in the middle of nowhere,” he said. “We’ve been on country roads, following the original Lincoln Highway, and we’ll be out there with 3,000- or 10,000-acre farms and here’s somebody at the end of their driveway. They’ve got 10 or 20 people out there. Some of them have been waiting two hours.”
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McCluskey has enjoyed meeting people along the route.
“We have people who bring out pictures of their family members with their vehicles and they share their stories with us and we share our stories with them. That’s what’s really rewarding about this trip,” McCluskey said.
Fremonter Dale Milligan came to look at the vehicles. Milligan was a U.S. Army gunner during the Battle of the Bulge in Europe in World War II and is also a Korean War veteran.
In a 2017 Fremont Tribune article, Milligan talked about being in the bitter cold of St. Vith in Belgium during WWII and later guarding the Rhine River Bridge in Germany.
Milligan quietly looked at the military vehicles.
“It kind of brings back old memories,” he said.
Milligan agreed with U.S. Air Force veteran Henry Underwood of Mount Vernon, Ohio, who served from 1962-1966.
Both said they believe the general public needs to know more about the military. Underwood has been driving a 1993 Air Force flight line truck in the convoy. This is his fifth convoy.
“We’re doing this to honor the veterans and to make the public more aware of the cost of freedom,” Underwood said.
Waid, who is from Panacea, Fla., is well-acquainted with that cost. He went overseas in 1966 and came back in 1968.
A combat veteran, the U.S. Navy Seabee was in Vietnam with the Marines in the I Corps, north of Danang. He retrained with the U.S. Army and went into the Mekong Delta with the Army’s 5th Special Forces.
He was in the 1968 Tet Offensive in Saigon (now called Ho Chi Minh City).
History would record that although Tet, the Vietnamese New Year, traditionally was a holiday and a time of an informal truce, North Vietnamese forces launched attacks in the early morning hours of Jan. 30.
Waid was sleeping when he was awakened and told to get into a bunker.
On Tuesday morning in Fremont, he talked about fireflies and machine gun fire.
“Every fifth round is a tracer and it looks like a firefly—flying at night—so they call them fireflies,” he said.
He stopped his story of the Tet Offensive.
“It was just bad,” he concluded.
The Waids have been members of the MVPA for many years.
“We used to do World War II re-enactment and then we got into the convoy,” said Waid, who drives an M38A1 Jeep.
Why leave warm, sunny Florida?
“It’s a lot warmer in Florida,” Waid noted. “It’s 85 degrees down there, but it’s the thrill of supporting our military across the United States.”
Waid said he’s enjoyed the camaraderie with other people in the convoy.
“We’ve had tremendous support from all the little cities we’ve gone through,” Donna Waid said. “They’re very patriotic.”
Waid said the convoy led one parade in a little town.
“We were really impressed with the number of little kids,” he said. “Flags were flying. Little kids were hollering. It was great.”