|My Journey to Loc Ninh|
On September 25, 1970, I boarded a Braniff charter flight at Travis Air Force
Base in Northern California. A stop in Honolulu introduced me to a bartender,
who had more drinks set up than I have ever seen. This set up enabled him to
merely ring up the drinks and collect from the passengers on the flight. I
stumbled back to my seat and fell asleep for an indeterminate period of time.
Our next refueling stop was in Guam. We arrived in total darkness due to the fact that there were no lights on anywhere on the field. We were then put into a bus with the windows painted black, this seemed strange. What was even stranger was the fact that we were put into a waiting room with blackened windows? This of course was the world's most active B-52 base. I guess the air Force saw no reason to trust us.
The next stop was Clark Field in the Philippines. It was here that I discovered that Filipino beer was unfit for use as sheep dip.
After some time the pilot announced that we were about to land at Tan Son Nhut. The plane touched down and began to taxi to the terminal. This seemed like a standard procedure until I looked out of the windows and discovered that the plane was being escorted by gun jeeps. If this was happening in Saigon, I wondered if we would be under fire leaving the plane.
Once inside the terminal, we were loaded on to buses, whose windows were covered with heavy duty wire mesh. We were told that this was to keep hand grenades from being thrown through the windows. To say that I was apprehensive would be an understatement. The buses then pulled out for the 90th Replacement Battalion at Bien Hoa. A few minutes into our trip an E-6 who was on his second tour left his seat and bent over and said something to the driver who nodded and then pulled the bus over to the side. Obviously, I was worried. The Sergeant left the bus and relieved himself. I relaxed on the theory that he knew what he was doing and if he wasn't worried there was no reason for me to sweat it.
Anyway after arrival at the 90th Replacement we were issued uniforms and given a dream sheet. We were asked to list five units to witch we would prefer to be assigned. Being a devout coward, I listed the three Corps Artillery Commands on the basis that there was no normal call for Forward Observers. For pick four I chose the 11th ACR, because if I were to be an F. O., a tank seemed a good way to travel. Pick five was the 1st Air Cavalry, on the theory that riding in a UH1 was preferable to walking.
We were then sent to barracks for the night, with the instruction that if we were mortared or rocketed that night, we were to lay on the floor and pull our mattresses over us. I thought that this was much the same as my childhood habit of pulling the covers over my head so that "they" couldn't get you.
The next day I was told that I was going to some place named Plantation to be assigned by II Field Force Artillery Headquarters. Here I met with the G-1 who asked if I would like to go to a 155 SP unit since I had been with one at Ft. Hood. I replied that I would like to go to a heavy unit. He said OK your going to the 6/27th.
I then continued my in-processing while my orders were being cut. Two questions asked of me during my in-processing remain with me to this day. The first came during the psychological portion of my medical review. I was asked by a Sp4 only one question. "Are you going to make this your career?" to which I replied "No, I'm going to do my two years and get out." He replied "You seem sane to me," and thus ended my psych exam.
I was also asked at another station if I wanted my next of kin notified in the event that I was slightly wounded. I asked him what constitutes being slightly wounded? He looked at me and said that was a good question but he had never been asked it before and he had no idea. I signed the paper and moved on.
Only one more task remained at Plantation. I was to meet the II Field Force Arty Commander. The commander at this time was Col. Gudgel. Currently he was the next name on the BG list and was holding a BG slot. He had only to wait for the next general to retire to be given his star. The next morning I reported to his office and waited to report so that he could say that he had met every officer under his command. I sat in his office for several hours until his clerk told me that he had left in his helicopter to make his rounds. I was to report back after dinner for my appointment. After dinner I returned to his office, where I again sat for at least two hours before being sent into his private office to report. I entered, walked up between two chairs across his desk. I saluted and had my salute returned. I expected to be told to have a seat. WRONG. I was put at parade rest while he spoke to me. I was then dismissed. I of course snapped to, saluted, did an about face and left.
The next day I was put on the daily message truck to Phu Loi. I arrived at HHB at lunch time and the duty clerk sent me to the Mess Hall. I walked through the door and was greeted by a loud hello from Maj. Valponi, the Battalion Exec. He told me to get something to eat. I started for the chow line, but he stopped me and told me to sit-down. I was confused but I was not about to question a Major. A Vietnamese woman then brought me my food. I thought that maybe that Vietnam would not be so bad after all.
I was told that before reporting to a battery, I would be sent to a school for rules of engagement. I hung around Phu Loi for a couple of days, where I discovered hooch maids. Each day my boots were shined, my uniforms cleaned and pressed and my bed was made. This seemed like a good way to fight a war.
I was sent to the school at Camp Frenzel Jones with Mike Rivers located somewhere around Bien Hoa. Mike and I were given private rooms in the building with two Majors. I felt that these accommodations were acceptable. Our first night there we were ushered into the Officer's Club for before-dinner drinks. This was quite the elaborate club for Viet Nam since Camp Frenzell Jones had been the base for the 199th LIB before it stood down. That night we were introduced to the oriental custom of hot towels before dinner. I was becoming more convinced that this was a good way to fight a war.
Eventually all good things come to an end. I returned to Phu Loi and was told that I was going to Alpha Battery. I would be going there by road. I was told that the road that I was taking was QL 13, and that it was infamous as “Thunder Road”. The sound of this trip did not appeal to me. I was loaded in a jeep with Capt. Schaeffer and his driver in the front and Mike Rivers and I in the back.Once loaded in the jeep one thing became clear to me. Since I had not yet been to the battery, I was the only one who did not have a weapon.
The trip was uneventful until we passed Lai Khe. At this point there were ARVN APC's along the road at some intervals. They were there for road security which was fine with me. We soon passed a V100 which had hit an antitank mine. To me it looked like a watermelon that had been hit with a sledge hammer. At some point during this trip an ARVN APC let go with a burst of .50 Caliber fire. Capt. Schaeffer turned around and told me that they were just testing their guns and firing into the tree lines to keep unwanted visitors from approaching the road. This soothed my nerves for a few minutes until additional APC’s fired off bursts. I just sat back in that seat eyeing the driver's M-16. There was no doubt in my FNG mind that if anything should happen, the driver's rifle was mine.
Anyway, we did arrive at FSB Wade without incident and I had my first look at a real life at a Fire Support Base. The first thing that I did was to draw an M-16. I later had my first meal with my new battery. I must say it was disappointing since not only was there no pre-dinner cocktails at the Officer's Club, there was no Officer's Club. If this was not enough of an indignity, I soon discovered there were no waitresses or hot towels to be had. Could it be that there was a double standard between field troops and Headquarters units?
|Tom Hynes Then and Now|