|A Trilogy of Travel|
|During my time in Vietnam with 6th Battalion 27th Artillery, I got to do quite a bit of traveling "unattached.” I thank Gary Graham for reminding of this through his story. I am sure that everyone that was there has a story or two they could tell about traveling that way. Here are three short one that I would like to share with you on that subject.|
|Saigon Taxi Ride|
After being in country for nine months, it was
time to take R&R. I weighed my options, and decided on Sidney,
Australia. I thought it would be a good place to go, and I wouldn't need
an interpreter. I was scheduled to leave in November of 1969, and I was
more than ready to leave “the land of the little people” behind for a
while. Ahhh, yes, seven days of living it up with no cares to bog me
At age 19, I was a little naive when it came to traveling in country "unattached." I had assumed I would take a direct flight from Quan Loi to Tan Son Nhut. Sure had that wrong. As it turned out, I caught a convoy from Quan Loi to Service Battery located at Plantation, which was near Long Binh. When I arrived there, I thought they would provide me with transportation to Tan Son Nhut. Wrong again, however, I was able to hitch a ride to the edge of Saigon; then I was on my own. So, here I am with only a suitcase I had bought for this trip at the PX, and no idea where I am going or how to get there. I thought it might be a good idea to flag a taxi down, at least he might know where Tan Son Nhut was located, so that's what I did. As I got in the cab, I told the driver where to take me. He said "Okay," and we were off.
I began to notice that we were taking some strange side streets, and started to get a little concerned. After a bit, the driver pulled over to the side of the street and a friend of his hopped in the front seat. They started talking “gibberish” and my concern turned to worry. Finally the one that got in turned to me and motioned he wanted to trade all my M.P.C. for Dong or Piasters, or whatever they had. Now I realize what's going on, and I don't like it. If I say no, they may kill me and take everything I have anyway. By this time my mind is racing. I have no weapons and there are no Americans in site. The only thing I could think to do was lie. I told them that I only had a few dollars, and that my money was to be wired to me when I got to where I was going. They bought it! I couldn't believe they actually bought it. I was expecting to die right there, but I was determined that I would take at least one with me. I’m glad it didn't come to that.
The would-be money trader looked a little pissed, but he got out to the cab and we were on our way again. When we pulled up to the main gate at Tan Son Nhut I breathed a sigh of relief. I paid the driver, though I really didn't want to, and walked through the gate. I thought I needed to check myself after that ordeal. It was unnerving to say the least.
I did several stints on Nui Ba Rah over the course of five months, and each time
I would come down it was a new experience in traveling in-country. I was on my
extension of duty tour so I had gotten used to moving around "unattached” after
my return. One trip sticks out a little more than most, because it involves a
Lambreta. For those
that don't recall or know what that is, it's a three wheeled mo-ped used as a
taxi of sorts. Now do you remember? Thought you might.
I was to report to Phu Loi, for what reason escapes me now, but I remember I had to find my own way there. I had hooked up with another person, whose name I don't recall, from our Battery at Song Be. We caught a flight to Bien Hoa and then the fun began, trying to get a ride on to Phu Loi. After a while there was a papasan that said he would take us. I asked him several times to be sure he understood what we wanted. His reply was "Yes I take you Phu Loi". He was very adamant about it, so I took him at his word.
A Lambreta isn't the most comfortable thing to ride in, and with two G.I.'s in the back it doesn't move very fast, but away we went - heading for Phu Loi. The road took us past Long Binh and towards Saigon. About halfway between the two is the turn-off to Highway 13 that goes past Phu Loi. When we reached that turn-off he stopped. We looked at him as if to say” come on, lets go," but he wasn't going any farther. He stuck out his hand waiting to be paid. I told him "no Phu Loi, no pay" He started getting more vocal so I told the other guy to lock and load. We did that and he couldn't leave fast enough. I wasn't opposed to paying him; I just wanted him to fulfill his part of the bargain.
Well here we are now with six or seven miles to go and it looks like we'll be walking it. About ten minutes into our hike a Jeep full of ARVN soldiers pulls up. One of them asks where we were going. We told them and they motioned for us to climb on, so we did. We got crammed in there good and tight and away we went. ARVN don't drive so good; they only know one speed, FAST! There were about three people too many in Jeep as some were hanging out the sides. I just knew we were going to crash and die. Even with that crazy ARVN at the wheel we made it. I can't prove it, but I think those ARVN were sent by papasan to get us back for stiffing him, and to this day I have never been with anyone else that drove that bad.
|The Last Trip|
In mid August of 1970, I was coming off Nui Ba Rah for the last time before
going home. I was tired of making multiple stops and trying to figure out how to
get to Phu Loi. I was sick of hitching from firebase to firebase looking for a
ride. This time, I thought, I wasn't going to do that unless I absolutely had
to. When I left the top of the mountain, I had me a plan. Normally after getting
to the bottom I would go to the airstrip and catch a plane to Bien Hoa, and try
to get to Phu Loi from there. Not this time, oh no, I was going to ask every
chopper if they were going to Phu Loi from Song Be.
After about an hour I found my target, a Chinook. Never rode in one, but I didn't care. I was going to make my last trip a quick one. I did a little calculating and figured it would only take about 45 minutes to an hour and I would be getting a well deserved shower.
I boarded the Chinook and took a last look at the mountain from the ground. I settled in to the seat and was ready to go. As we lifted off the ground, I noticed we were hovering and the crew chief was sending down the wench cable. Ok, I thought, one stop to drop off supplies and then we will be on our way.
That one stop turned into several stops, and that hour turned into five hours. I didn't have a problem with any of that until it was time to get off the chopper. I could no longer hear, or walk in a strait line. The noise from the engines and routers had done a job on my ears. Screwed up my equilibrium as well as made me deaf for a while.
I think it was worth the few hours not hearing, to catch the somewhat indirect flight to Phu Loi. Besides, I was going home in a few weeks and nothing else mattered.