*See attached audio
After flying half way around the world and being dropped in an environment that seemed to embrace chaos; we were bused to the 90 Replacement Battalion located at Bien Hoa which was part of Long Binh logistical support area located 33 km east of Saigon and a first stop for newly arrived U.S. Army personnel.
Long Binh Post was reported to have dental clinics, large restaurants, snack bars, special services crafts shops, Post Exchanges, an Olympic size swimming pool, pools, basketball & tennis courts, a golf driving range, University of Maryland extension classes, bowling alleys, nightclubs with live music , laundry services, and a massage parlor.
Since we were newbies we saw none of this.
For those of us who already had orders assigning us to a permanent unit in Vietnam
this was just a short layover.
After a few days to complete in processing those of us with orders to the 101st ABN Division boarded a C-130. We flew up country to Camp Eagle located in I Corps 7 km southeast of the city of Huế and 9 km west of Phu Bai combat base.
I reported into the 320th Artillery Battalion and was issued a weapon, ammunition and field gear. I was then told to be ready at 7 am to accompany the Battalion Commander for the next few days on an inspection tour of the Battalion which was spread throughout I Corps.
The next morning I met up with the Battalion Commander and we drove to the helipad. Sitting on the pad was a Hughes Loach, which was a single-engine light helicopter with a four-bladed main rotor used for transporting up to five people plus pilot. It was also used for escort, attack missions, and observation.
Since I was a pilot, flying didn’t bother me like some newbies. We flew over villages, rice patties, mountains, plains, rivers, bays and inlets of the South China Sea. You could glimpse sometimes the grandeur and beauty of a past Vietnam. For the most part you saw the devastation and destruction that war had inflicted on this land and its people. There were white dead areas that have been treated with Agent Orange, everywhere there we bomb and artillery craters most of them full of water. There were abandoned buildings and villages which had seen the ravages of war. The only area that seemed to be pristine was the beaches and the South China Sea. I guess it’s hard to screw up water and sand.
We went to every unit in the Battalion and at the end of third day I was told to be ready to deploy the following day.
The next day I was literally dropped into an ARVN (Army of the Republic of Viet Nam) mechanized unit.
It was just me, an American military advisor, an Australian military advisor and whole bunch of Vietnamese troops. I had been in country a little over ten days and this was now my reality check and wake up call.
That first night I curled up next to one of the tracked vehicles and had been asleep about an hour when I woke up to most god awful noise that I couldn’t immediately identify, my first thought we were under attack.
I finally got my head around what was going on; it turned out that one the Vietnamese sentries decided he was bored and tuned on a radio with Vietnamese music, so much for noise discipline.
This music was loud, twangy and when you added vocals it sounded like someone was killing a cat. Nobody seemed upset by this so I went back to sleep as best I could.
I spent the next eighteen days learning about Vietnamese, music, culture, food and their military.
I had my first Vietnamese food which was fish and noodles and quickly learned to be careful because the fish had metal particles in it. The reason for this was the way they fished. Their field expedient method for fishing was to use a hand grenade; then scooped up the fish as they floated to the surface.
The only normal things were the sunrises and sunsets which were absolutely beautiful.
During those eighteen days Christmas and New Year’s 1968 came and went. Those two days were very hard on me as I was really homesick and very lonely.
The one thing I will never forget was how beautiful the night skies were. Because there was no light pollution the night was aglow with stars the Milky Way and galaxies from horizon to horizon.
On the eighteenth day the Battalion commander swoop in, in his Loach, policed my ass up and dropped me in Delta Company 2nd of the 502 Inf.
This was to my home and family for the next seven and a half months.