Friday, August 8, 2014

A boy goes to war, Part 4

If you have not been following this blog start at part 1

I bonded with the captain’s driver, a guy named Chuck. He was of polish decent and from a small town in Pennsylvania. Chuck had a long last name that ended in ski, so I ended up calling him Ski. My duties in the office were easily handled leaving me a lot of free time so I would ride with Ski. He drove all over the area between Long Binh, Bien Hoa and Saigon. He always had someplace to go and something to pick up for the captain or the company. We talked about places we would like to go after we got out of the army and things we wanted to do. I saw a lot of places and things riding with Ski, some good and some bad.

This is a picture of my friend Chuck (Ski) and his truck. I road with him everywhere and saw a lot of Vietnam.


On several occasions we were near the helipads when med evacuation choppers landed and injured soldiers were unloaded. Once seen those pictures stay with you forever. I got a chance to visit with soldiers from all types of units and hear their stories. I became acquainted with the best ‘recreational houses’ in and around Saigon. We would park Ski’s truck and watch choppers (helicopters) napalm fields and wooded areas where VC (Viet Cong) were suspected of hiding.

I had many great conversations with Ski and I enjoyed being with him. Time seemed to pass quickly for a while. I never kept in touch with Ski after I left Vietnam, nor did he try to keep in touch with me. This seems to happens so often in life.

One day in 1973 five years later, I was working in the meat shop at a small country store and I looked up and saw him standing there to be waited on. He had moved nearby and opened a restaurant and pizzeria. We were both married by then and had some great visits.


 Helicopters took off constantly from Long Binh on missions around the area.


The war was going on all around me. News of the battles and atrocities of war were shared by word of mouth from the people who witnessed them. The sounds and smells of war were everywhere. Helicopter gunships like the Cobra would be firing machine guns, rockets, auto-cannons, and missiles constantly in an attempt to keep the area secure around us and Saigon. Yet for months, I never had reason to fire my M-16, it was like I was in a bubble passing through a combat zone.

A picture of me with a mama-san and a young woman who worked at our company in Long Binh. I wore my watch though a button hole as the humidity and heat often caused rashes under the band from sweat.

A picture of a boat in the Mekong Delta near Saigon.

A blurry picture of a street on the outskirts of Saigon.

About eight months into my tour I was scheduled for R&R (Rest and Recuperation) leave. This comprised of 5 days of vacation outside Vietnam. The choices were: Hawaii, Honk Kong, Singapore, Tokyo, Bangkok, Taipei and Sydney. Hawaii was usually reserved for married men so they could meet their wife there. You would turn in your gear and exchange your piasters (funny money used by soldiers in Vietnam) for American Dollars, then depart from; Tan Son Nhut, Cam Rahn Bay or Danang airports aboard a chartered commercial airliner.

Once your flight had cleared customs, you were bused to the R&R center at your destination. There you would attend about a two hour series of lectures as to what you could, or could not do. You also again exchanged your dollars for whatever the local currency was.
You were required to rent civilian clothing from a local service (and leave a hefty deposit, which you got back when you left.) You also were required to rent either a hotel room or an approved transient apartment before you were allowed to leave the R&R center. You were also given a list of contact numbers. Then a bus dropped you off at your residence quarters and you paid for your room in advance when you checked in. Then you were on your own until your flight back.

Bangkok was the most popular choice for single men for two reasons: it was the cheapest place to go and there was rental female companionship. You selected a girl from a bar, and she was yours (legal contract and all) as a guide and companion during your visit. The contract was legally enforceable and the girls spoke English. Any problems with her and you could go to the police. (You were technically her employer.)

I chose Singapore and had a wonderful time. I will leave out the details. I did say “wonderful time”, right?

This picture is another view of my company area at Long Binh. The sand bagged bunkers were our home during rocket attacks. 

A rite of passage in Vietnam was the “short timers’ calendar. It was a piece of paper with a naked girl or cartoon on it and a calendar. Usually people used a three month calendar ending at the day you got to leave. These were displayed prominently on footlockers or folded neatly and carried in pockets to show others. Short timers were respected for they were winding down their tour and going home, something the new arrivals could look forward to. When a short timer got killed, everyone talked about what a bitch it was and how f**k'n unfair.

I got my short timers calendar near the end of January. I was scheduled to leave on May 7, 1968. I put it in my footlocker and looked forward to starting it in a few days.

Then the Tet Offensive took place.

This description by Wikipedia sums it up nicely.

The Tet Offensive was one of the largest military campaigns of the Vietnam War, launched on January 30, 1968 by forces of the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army against the forces of South Vietnam, the United States, and their allies. It was a campaign of surprise attacks against military and civilian commands and control centers throughout South Vietnam.

This is a picture of a young Vietnamese boy that helped out at our base.

To be continued with part 5 when I next blog…..

You can click NEWER posts at the bottom of this page to go to the next each time in a series.

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