|Traveling In-Country Unattached|
My Orders finally came early October of 1969. These Orders stated that I was to
report to Camp Alpha at Tan Son Nhut AFB near Saigon later that month. I would
then be assigned transportation to Honolulu, Hawaii for purposes of R&R. The
trip was going to be a grand experience, yet at the same time, I did not have
the faintest idea of how to travel in-country to Camp Alpha.
Until this time I had spent the vast majority of my time assigned to the Alpha Battery Fire Direction Center at Quan Loi. Most of my traveling had been confined to an occasional trip to the Quan Loi PX. The few times in which I had traveled in-country had always been in a military convoy. The bottom line was that I had yet to travel in-country by myself.
Being resourceful, I asked some of my fellow comrades, who had been on R&R, the best way to get to Camp Alpha. I proceeded to get a variety of stories. Each person seemed to have had a different experience. After further research; the most consistently reliable route seemed to be air transportation from Quan Loi to Bien Hoa AFB and then finding ground transportation to Camp Alpha, which had the general connotation of hitchhiking. This was a task with which I was not very familiar; nor did I have the desire to further learn the technique.
The day of my departure from Quan Loi finally came. I was able to get a ride to the QL Airstrip Terminal and in less than an hour, I was on a Caribou to Bien Hoa AFB. As the aircraft landed, I was, to say the least, apprehensive concerning the remainder of my journey to Camp Alpha.
When I walked into the Terminal at Bien Hoa; one of the first things that I noticed was a sign that said “INFORMATION”. I thought to myself, “What the Hell,” and walked to this desk. An Airman was sitting at a desk, so I asked him, “What is the best way to get to Camp Alpha?” He replied, “On a Caribou which leaves in fifteen minutes; then you catch the shuttle from the Terminal to Camp Alpha.” I was put on the aircraft passenger manifest and an hour later I arrived at the R&R Center to begin processing. I absolutely could not believe my good fortune.
I returned to Tan Son Nhut AFB from R&R late in the afternoon and I suspected that finding any transportation back to Quan Loi that day would probably not be possible. The result of this situation was that I would have to find someplace to spend the night.
I inquired at Camp Alpha and was told the Center did not have accommodations for Personnel returning from R&R. I was further told by personnel at the Center that persons, such as myself who were in transit, generally went to their Battalion’s rear echelon unit in order to bunk overnight. Moreover, the only rear echelon unit which I was aware was the 6/27th Artillery’s Service Battery which was located in Long Binh.
LONG BINH! I knew that Long Binh was in close proximity to Bien Hoa which was on the other side of Saigon from Tan Son Nhut AFB. Getting there seemed to me, at the time, to be an almost impossible task. I thought to myself, “Oh shit, I feel a nightmare coming.”
I then asked the people at Camp Alpha as to the best way to get to Long Binh. I was told that probably my best chance of traveling to the base that afternoon was to take the military shuttle bus to MACV Headquarters located at Cholon, near Saigon. From that location, I could take another military shuttle bus to Long Binh, where I could then find my rear echelon unit.
I then began my return journey to Quan Loi with my baggage and souvenirs in hand. I was also accompanied by the Granddaddy of all hangovers.
The first leg of the trip went fine. I found the military shuttle to MACV Headquarters and along with other troops; I made the trip in about forty-five minutes. I got off the bus and found the Stop that was marked “Long Binh”. When the military shuttle arrived at the Stop, I proceeded to get on board and find my usual seat at the rear of the bus. Then the trouble began.
The fact of the matter was that I had arrived at MACV Headquarters at the same time as the REMF’s who worked at MACV and had quarters in Long Binh were getting off duty and trying make the return commute. It seemed that about a hundred REMF’s were trying to get on that little 32 passenger bus at the same time. The reason for this crowding, I was to learn later, was the next shuttle to Long Binh would not leave until an hour later.
As I was waiting for the bus to leave, I happened to look forward and see an Officer tell an NCO, “Sergeant, give me your seat.” The NCO’s reply was rapid in coming, “Fuck You!” This altercation proceeded to escalate into a fistfight; which further escalated into a brawl which spread into the street.
The MP’s arrived in short order and broke-up the brawl and ordered everyone off the bus. As I was walking away with my baggage in hand, this huge MP Platoon Sergeant looked at me and said, “Soldier, you want to go to Long Binh.” In my best Ft. Leonard Wood Basic Training voice, I shouted, “Yes Sergeant!” The MP Sergeant then said, “Then get your ass on that God Damned bus.” Needless to say I did not give him a chance to change his mind.
When I arrived in Long Binh, I got off the bus at the Stop near the Main Entrance to the Base. I went to the MP Guard Post and asked an MP if he knew the location of Service Battery, 6/27th Artillery. After some checking, I was told the Unit was not actually located at Long Binh. Instead, it was located in the II Field Force Compound a few kilometers from the Base. I asked the Guard if there was a military shuttle to the compound. He said that he did not know of any; however, he thought that he could find me a ride. I then thanked him for his help.
I had waited about five minutes, when a Jeep with a General as passenger drove to the gate and stopped. I saw my MP friend lean over and talk to the General. The MP then motioned to me and said, “The General says he will give you a ride to II Field Force.” I thought to myself, “Oh shit.”
As I got in the Jeep, the driver said that he knew the location of Service Battery. The General surmised that I was returning from R&R and inquired if I had a good time. I replied that indeed I had, except for one little incident on Waikiki Beach, which I explained. Both the driver and the General got a chuckle out of it and in about ten minutes, we were at Service Battery’s location.
As the General’s Jeep turned into Service Battery, several troops were standing around. When they saw the identification on the vehicle, they scattered like a covey of Quail. Afterwards, I was asked what I was doing riding with a General? I related what had happened; but no one believed me.
I went to the Service Battery Orderly Room; told them who I was and asked if I could spend the night. The CQ proceeded to assign me a bunk and told me where to eat chow. I was also told where the best places to have a beer were located.
The next morning, Service Battery arranged transportation for me to Bien Hoa AFB. A short time later, I was on a C-130 en route to Quan Loi. The next time I traveled by myself in-country was to get on a Freedom Bird and return to the World and I was much more experienced in how to perform the task.