Memories of the Voyage to Vietnam


John W. Anderson

Battery 6th Battalion 27th Artillery

 Radio Teletype Specialist 4 Class

In 1964 I entered the US Army and eventually was assigned to an artillery battalion as a radio-teletype operator. Fort Bliss Texas near El Paso was home of the 8th Artillery and its eight inch “towed” artillery battalion. Soon after the old tow behind a truck guns were replaced with self propelled guns. When the war in Vietnam heated up and President Johnson began sending combat troops all of the guys in the 8th were transferred to the 27th Artillery if they had 6 months of time left in the Army. I had 7 months left to serve on my two year hitch at the time The 27th Artillery was outfitted with new self-propelled 8 inch howitzers and a collection of old equipment to make it fully functional. The outfit was located in Logan Heights at Fort Bliss.

We were never told we were being sent to Vietnam. In fact we were not told after we left San Francisco even though there was nobody to leak information to but our buddies. We were “officially” told we were going to land in Vietnam when we reached the mouth of the Saigon River and began off-loading troops.

In October 1965 we went through a complete departure exercise a month before we left for Vietnam. After putting everything away after the exercise we were told to pack up again and this time we got on a train and headed for San Francisco. I remember sitting in a box car guarding the company safe as we went across the Mohave Desert to San Francisco Bay. We actually had little state-rooms with fold down beds when off-duty just like real people. We boarded the troop ship USS General Gordon as part of 5000 army troops head for Vietnam. We were among some of the first contingents sent and no protesters or anyone else took any notice of us. 

The voyage was unbelievably boring and extremely long. Our outfit was on the ship for 30 days. Our voyage was blessed with crowed quarters, poor food, and lack of water for washing clothes and greasy decks that kept us pretty grubby. The military sea transport food was so poor that when my battery was put on KP we stole everything that looked like it could be eaten. During our first day in the galley I saw lines of men tossing hams out of the cooler along with canned fruit, loaves of fresh bread and bricks of butter. It all went back to the squad bays to share. After two days they removed our battery from KP, put a guard on the galley, and assigned a new outfit to KP. We were 5 decks down and our bunks were 5 tiers high. There was just enough space between bunks to slide in with our duffle bags, helmets and rifles. Once the guy above got in his bunk it was nearly impossible to roll over. The bunks were made of steel pipe frames with canvas laced to them. 

We finally stopped in Okinawa after 18 days at sea where we had a party at White Beach. Some party it turned out to be. We couldn’t leave the ship unless we “donated” a dollar to cover the party supplies. An Okinawan girl’s band played on a stage for the GI’s while they milled around, ate hot dogs, and drank beer or soda. Beer was in unlimited supply and by evening order had disintegrated into many drunks staggering around or trying to get back to the ship that was about a mile away. The racial violence began with a number of people being stabbed after black and white soldiers with too much to drink got into fights. A number of individuals were left in the hospital I was told when we sailed. Three individuals were thrown in the ships brig. One of these individuals set fire to the mattresses in the brig and before they could be rescued the one who set the fire and one other died of smoke inhalation. I know this was true because I was the one who typed up the death notices at the direction of my 1st Sergeant. I was one of the few sober people available in my unit to handle the job. 

Eating was and experience. We stood at elevated tables and ate as fast as possible so more guys could be fed. Feeding 5000 guys took forever. It seemed like we would no more than leave the mess hall than we would be standing in chow line again for the next meal. One of my more memorable experiences was a rough sea when our trays of food were sliding back and forth on the table as we tried to eat. A big ship's roll occurred and all the trays slid by and I found myself looking at someone’s dinner topped with puke. A moment latter the next roll sent it back down the table to its owner and I got mine back. 

We first stopped in Qui Nhon harbor such as it was. There were no docks and we dropped anchor about a mile off-shore. A huge landing craft came alongside and we off-loaded about a 1000 or more troops. The bay was crammed with WWII vintage Liberty ships that were trying to land military supplies. The lack of docks appeared to be a big problem. We then moved down the coast to Cam Ran Bay where we landed more troops. It was a beautiful harbor. Being from Coos Bay, Oregon I had a pretty good appreciation for ports. The old French villas along the bay were impressive. The ridges around the harbor went up at a steep angle several thousand feet and were covered by dark green vegetation. That night the Army was firing parachute flares around the bay all night long and it reminded me of the scenes from “Apocalypse Now”. It was eerie and surreal. 

Our last stop was the mouth of the Saigon River near Vung Tau. At this point they told our outfit we were landing in Vietnam so guys who were hoping for Thailand had to face reality. I was given 5 rounds for my M-14 rifle to protect the company safe as we went ashore in a landing craft. No one was given any ammunition and I wondered who or what I was protecting the safe from. As we neared the beach a flight of A-6 Sky Raiders pealed off and began bombing the jungle behind the shoreline. At that point I had a surreal feeling like I was part of an old WWII John Wayne movie. As it turned out there was an airfield between us and the bombing area. 

We sat on the beach until everyone got landed and then they herded us up to waiting C-130’s. As is normal we waited and waited to load behind the planes while they blew furnace hot blasts of exhaust over us. The air temperature alone was probably over 100 degrees F. Then some bright officer passed down the order for us to roll up our sleeves so we could become “acclimatized.” The white guys like me had been inside a ship for 30 days and were pale as sheets. After several hours of exposure we finally loaded and took off. The pilot did a quick maneuver skyward and announced we were being shot-at but nothing happened. The next day all of us light complexioned guys had huge sunburns with hanging sacks of lymph on our arms. We could barely work for the pain and it took 3 weeks to get over the burns. Very little was available in the way of medication as there was no field hospital and our medics had only a little cream lotion. We were finally in Vietnam sitting in young rubber tree plantation near Bien Hoa Air Base by some place called the Widows Village.

In my mind the sea voyage was worse than being in Vietnam and I was greatly relieved when I found out we would fly home at the end of our tour of duty. It took my wife 30 years to convince me that going on a cruise would be fun. We have been on five cruises so I did get over my phobia.

John Anderson   Then  and  Now
A Btry 6/27th Artillery
Nov 65 to May 66


1965 TO 1966

Click Photo to See Gallery











             PART 5

Leaving Ft. Bliss


Leave San Francisco




Qui Nhon


      First Camps VN

8 Photos


27 Photos


20 Photos


13 Photos


32 Photos

PART 6   PART 7   PART 8   PART 9    


2nd Camp VN   Operation Hump   Bear Cat   Field Operations     Bien Hoa
27 Photos   17 Photos   8 Photos   69 Photos     14 Photos
PART 11   PART 12   PART 13   PART 14   PART 15
Helicopters   Saigon   Bob Hope Show   Ann-Margret Show   Aircraft
 34 Photos   11 Photos          13 Photos    11 Photos   10 Photos
PART 16   PART 17   PART 18   PART 19
Convoys    Scenery   People & Places    Going Home
10 Photos   18 Photos   17 Photos   9 Photos



John Anderson the Artist


John Anderson was born and raised on the Coast at North Bend, Oregon. He attended Oregon State University and graduated with a degree in fish and wildlife and was drafted. After Vietnam he returned to OSU to pick up more fisheries courses and met his wife Susan. He spent 7 field seasons doing salmon research in Alaska working for Alaska Fish and Game and the University of Washington, and 30 years doing stream habitat work for the Bureau of Land Management and the US Forest Service. During that time they had a boy and a girl and built two houses from scratch. After retiring from government he had a stream habitat consulting business that allowed him to work in B.C. Canada, Idaho, CA, OR, and WA teaching stream assessment and restoration.

He now lives with his wife, Susan, and their cat in Baker City, OR when he's not visiting his two kids and four grandkids.

He is a Stream Biologist by training and a closet artist at heart. As you probably gathered from his Vietnam photos he was interested in photography and passed his spare time in the Army taking pictures and painting when he could. He actually ruined a 35 mm camera taking pictures of a Huey taking off from his base when a flying rock chipped the lens.

John has been dabbling at painting all of his life but he has only been taking watercolor lessons for about 4 years from a local professional artist. While at Ft Bliss one of the guys was a commercial artist before being drafted. He gave John some tips on oil painting but John's formal training is pretty limited.

John's wife, Susan, suggested he convert to watercolor from oil so they didn’t have to put up with the smell of turpentine. That was a great idea, according to John. He now has over 30 different watercolor paintings on cards available locally and at his sisters shop the Doubletree Gallery in Sisseton, SD. John's  art teacher talked him into making cards from his paintings.

The last 3 years John has donated a waterfowl painting to the local Baker County Chapter of Ducks Unlimited. This years painting was also made into cards that were used at the annual banquet. He donated the right to make as many as DU wanted as long as they used his local printer.

John's paintings have a relatively wide range of subjects - Waterfowl, scenery, boats, wildlife, flowers, cowboys, and other stuff from life experience and his photos.



A Battery 6/27, 8 inch Artillery
Vietnam 1966

Click Here to See Some of John's Work


John Anderson   Then  and  Now
A Btry 6/27th Artillery
Nov 65 to May 66


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