Posted by: philipfontana | June 19, 2014

My Vietnam, 1970

My Vietnam

January 24-December 11, 1970

 

 

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                                            Note the location of Cam Ranh Bay peninsula where I was stationed.

 

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            A typical late 1960’s scene (1967)of US Army barracks on Cam Ranh Bay just before I arrived in early 1970.

 

     

     Excuse us for living, but not all of us who were drafted and sent to the Vietnam War were in the “boonies,” the jungle, fighting as combat soldiers. – -“South Vietnam” and the “Vietnam Conflict,” to be precise. For every combat soldier, there were 11 of us serving as support troops. At the height of our troop strength, there were 550,000 of us. You can do the math as to the numbers involved in actual combat. “Occupying” territory turned out to be our main mission and biggest contribution. To make the point, upon our exit in 1973, the government and country of South Vietnam fell to Communist North Vietnam by 1975 with the fall of Saigon.

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     This photo captures the core of my daily existence in Vietnam, an air conditioned desk job as a Military Policeman, US Army. That’s me on the left at my desk. Don’t recall the name of that familiar faced visitor sitting desk right. Tebout! That’s it! You can almost read his name on his right pocket! Can’t make out his rank in the photo.

 

     

     I was part of those support troops assigned to Battalion Headquarters Company of the 97th MP Battalion, Cam Ranh Bay, South Vietnam. We were under the command of the 18th Military Police Brigade. I was head clerk in the S-4 Section. We were in charge of &/or accountable for equipment for the supply rooms, motor pools, arms rooms, communications shacks, and the mess halls for our Headquarters Company and the four MP companies under our charge. I arrived at a rank of PFC and left a Specialist Fourth Class. (I passed up the chance to be promoted to Sergeant but that’s a story in itself.) In between I became a “one man show” compiling reports on the number and status of all Battalion radios, vehicles, weapons, and ammunition, among other responsibilities. In the S-4 Office there was a Captain in charge, a Staff Sergeant, a typist clerk, and “Fontana.” The typist clerk saved me, for I had lied my way into the job saying, “Yes, I DID type my college term papers.” No one asked how proficient nor tested my skills! But the best way to convey my status around the S-4 Office would be to quote the Group command office, between our office & Brigade Headquarters, when they called to ask a question. It was one of those rare occasions when I was off duty. The Officer shouted over the telephone, “Doesn’t anyone there know anything except Fontana?” I did OK, I guess, receiving a Bronze Star for “meritorious service.”

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     Cam Ranh is a peninsula across the Bay from the mainland, characterized by low lying sand hills & sand galore as far as the eye can see, with sparse vegetation/plant life and trees. This is THE MAIN INTERSECTION of all Cam Ranh, aptly named “Times Square” with street sign to prove it & two traffic signals! One quarter mile up the hill to the right was the 97th MP Battalion.

 

    

     Cam Ranh Bay was our duty station, a supply depot for the most part. I called it America’s “Fifty-First State”! The US Army occupied most of Cam Ranh Bay. Both the US Navy and the US Air Force had their respective isolated installations on opposite ends of the peninsula. Cam Ranh is 17 miles long and 2 miles wide, connected to the mainland by a bridge. It had the feel of an island. I never did find that land bridge making it a peninsula!

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         This was our Battalion Headquarters. I marked the photo with the designated names of buildings. Thus, with this photo in their hands, I could refer to places in letters to the folks back home. (In one letter I included a small handful of sand for authenticity!….not appreciated I suspected!)

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             Place this photo to the left of the photo above & it completes the picture. You can see the “repeated buildings” photo center right. This was the “studio lot” for my Vietnam escapades & anecdotes that were more like a “M*A*S*H TV series experience for me!

 

    

      When I arrived in late January 1970, we worked 7 days a week at our office jobs, 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM. After 6 months, we were given 1 day off every 2 weeks! The one exception was time off to attend religious services on weekends! This gave new meaning to the phrase, “He got religion!” But the idea was that if you were working, there was less time to get in trouble. We cannot compare our modest contributions to those of the 58,300 troops who gave their lives and the 153,303 maimed and injured fighting in the jungles of Vietnam. We had it relatively good and we knew it! – -Set office hours, evenings off, a different outdoor movie every night, a TV and reading room, and an “Enlisted Men’s Club” or bar with live bands in the Headquarters area.

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         There was the occasional BBQ with steaks & beer in the Headquarters area or on the beach at the South China Sea. Pictured here with raised beer in hand is the always warm & friendly Staff Sergeant Harrison West of Indiana & to his left, back the equally congenial Specialist Fourth Class Edward Parlier of California. They were assigned to get the steaks going on the grills at a celebration at the South China Sea. We had just passed with commendations a big “Inspection” of the entire Battalion operation by a real General & his staff.

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       There was even a freshwater lake for time-off with sailboats, catamarans, canoes, rowboats, & even a motor boat for water skiing! Yep, that’s me at “Tiger Lake,” where I learned to sail! (We were always leery that a Viet Cong sniper might be lurking in the treed hillside & take a pot-shot at us. It never happened.)

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        That’s me, second from the left. – -Can’t recall the others by name. On at least 5 or 6 missions, we were called upon to pull regular MP duty away from our Battalion Headquarters desks. Packing .45 calibre pistols, we pulled duty in Cam Ranh, on the mainland, & helicoptered to remote MP Company locations.

 

   

 

     To get a more balanced picture of my Vietnam service, it wasn’t all peaches and cream. We had Viet Cong “sappers” or guerrilla fighters or snipers who, in dark of night, swam or crawled across the waters from the mainland to Cam Ranh and blew up a docked ammo ship and a giant oil tank and the ammo depot. And then there were the occasional rocket attacks. You would hear a blast, near or far, and off went the sirens. – -Maybe 6 or 7 rocket attacks over my 12 months there.

     Be it guerrilla attacks or rocket attacks, we followed the usual SOP, Standard Operating Procedure, putting on steel helmet, flak jacket (bullet proof vest), reporting to the arms room to be issued an M-16 rifle and ammo. You then either reported to your duty station or to a bunker according to your preordained orders. This was considered a “Red Alert” and would last for a few hours to as long as through the night toward dawn until the “all clear” siren. Surprisingly, we felt relatively safe from day to day around these attacks which usually occurred in the evening. In fact, we Enlisted Men saw great humor in our Officers’ barracks being hit by a rocket one night, since no one was in the building at the time. The worst thought, probably unjustified, was lying on your bunk at night imagining a Viet Cong guerrilla fighter crawling on the floor into our barracks. – “Never happen!” We were on the second floor of the barracks! Ha!

     And so, this sets the scene for my Vietnam experience which more closely resembled an episode from “M*A*S*H” and the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, the 1970 movie & the TV series from 1972 to 1983! Take another look above at the two accompanying photos of the 97th MP Battalion Headquarters area. That’s where many a laugh and high jinx took place. It is not the popular thing to admit with the great loss of life there, but this too was a part of the Vietnam story in Cam Ranh and, I am certain, elsewhere. This was my Vietnam, 1970.

     “Excuse Us For Living” will from time to time tell you about “More Vietnam” and just maybe you will laugh along with me.

      Comments: Please!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Responses

  1. “Fontana” I bet you kept Order and a powerful foundation so life could be liveable. What an intense memory.

    • Bernadette, Is that what came through???????? YOU ARE RIGHT!!!! If I get to tell enough anecdotes, you will see how right you are! I made life liveable & never thought of it that way until you said it!!! –Very introspective you are!!! Thanks for such a good comment in so few words! Hope you are doing well. Phil

      • Hi, I was in the 155th Trans.Co. In Cam Ranh the whole year of 70. We did have good duty as you mentioned but I will always remember those rocket attacks & the POL jetty taking a direct hit. A rocket came through the roof of our hooch that night and didn’t blow up. I was right near the ship when a sapper set a charge off. there were 15,000 lb. bombs on that ship. Many racial incidents while i was there. The army was no exception to that problem. Thanks for your service. Rich Goguen namvet1970@gmail.com

  2. I really enjoyed reading this Phil and I agree with Bernadette. They had a real asset in you and they knew it!

    • Jean, Many thanks! A long time ago but vivid still today…..hard work & played hard!!! You are so kind. Thanks for reading & commenting!!! Phil

  3. Phil, your memoir is quite educational. I read it aloud to Scott and we both enjoyed it. Certainly does sound MASHish.
    How well I remember your years of service, the family’s concern for you and even some surprises that were sent to you lest you forgot the craziness of those on the home front. 🙂

    • Viv, Thanks for the nice comment about this being educational & Scott hearing all about it! It WAS like MASH!!!!!!!! Hope I get to relate some of the gems of anecdotes. Yes, I sure DO remember the home support, the center of which was that tape recording I still have done at a Memorial Day picnic at your parents house 1970!!! EVERYONE present recorded a message & SANG!!!!!!!!! –The high point was a poem read by your Dad about “on becoming an uncle” upon my return…because Donnie Doolittle was born Feb 7 while I was away! –a scream of a laugh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I can almost recite it!!! You bring back lots of good memories despite the war! Many thanks again! Phil

  4. Now how did I miss your telling us that you were in Cam Ranh Bay? Or is it just my addled brain? I was there from June 1969 to December 1969. I never went to Tiger Lake because there really was a guy on Tiger Mountain who was taking pot shots at the GI’s there. Instead we went to the beach on the South China Sea. I was there when the sappers attacked the hospital. OK, we’ll have to compare notes later.

    • Chip, Many thanks for the comment. We may have talked about our mutual service because I know you were in Vietnam & were an Officer. So there WERE snipers at Tiger Lake!!! Attack on the hospital! We never had to contend with that! Yes, we will have to explore our mutual stays on Cam Ranh!!!!!!!!!!! –a unique coincidence for two RU Glee Clubbers! Phil

  5. Wow! I still think you’re lucky to have survived. Anything could have happened out there and no matter what your station was, you’re still heroes. Many refer to it as the war you lost… a meaningless war. The war you should never have fought. You should share your thoughts on that sometime if you’re up for it. 🙂

    • Kev, Many thanks for the comments!!! Agreed! I always say that my first reaction when I looked at all the names of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC, was that MY NAME WAS NOT ON IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And you are right, there are serious considerations to be addressed. I did a little of that when I said the most important thing we did was occupy South Vietnam & when we left it fell. Good reflections & again my thanks! Phil

      • I thoroughly enjoyed this post Phil. It’s one of those things I know so little about but wins my admiration all the same. I do love my American friends.

  6. A great read from you once again Phil!
    That must have been a very intense time for you.
    And still you managed to bring it like a education rather than a memory.
    Very awesome.
    Lots of love ❤

    • Patty, Thanks, Patty! Intense is a good word for the entire experience….great highs & strength to counter what would be the lows like rockets exploding in your area! And you are right, it WAS an education/an experience & nice that it came through! THANKS, Patty, always for your support & encouragement. Phil

  7. Welcome home my brother! Welcome home.

    • Sachem, Many thanks!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 44 years ago & finally telling MY story!!!! Thanks! Phil

  8. This strikes me as extremely honest and highly educational for those who were never in SE Asia and have Hollywood and TV-created notions of what Vietnam was like for Americans. I’m British, spent a year in Sarawak in 1964-65 during the height of Konfrontasi; I was teaching at a school deep in the Ulu (two day boat ride to get to it), and saw plenty of military and police field force when traveling. Also met refugees from the Indon side of the border in one long house. But I never heard a shot fired in anger and my scariest experience was when the MPs in Kuching had a hard time accepting that I and my few friends were civilians and not squaddies breaking curfew. My memories are almost wholly positive, although there were former students of my UK school who were killed during Konfrontasi. If you were not among those trudging through the ulu, it was not a bad time.

    Incidentally, I’ve been in Cam Ranh and never knew it was a peninsular!

    • Jim, Great to hear another story not fighting in a war zone. Your year in Sarawak in 1964-65 during the height of Konfrontasi is all new to me! Fascinating! Glad your experience was good as mine but with similar losses of life nevertheless present going on!!! Plus you were in Cam Ranh & though it was an island too! Great comments!!! Phil

  9. Phil, enjoyed your blog as usual. What a surprise to find a picture of me I didn’t know existed in your BBQ section. We have similar memories of our “forced labor.” Looking back, it is difficult to complain about our assignments, considering how some of our comrades spent their Vietnam assignments. Mostly I remember surviving the time and meeting new friends with common interests in a far away place. Your remembrance sparked old memories and I enjoyed revisiting our compound through your pictures and words. Thanks again for being the caretaker of the joint memory. Don’t be surprised if Donna and I show up on your doorstep some time. Cheers, Ed

    • Ed & Donna too! How wonderful!!! I guess yours is the Comment I was waiting for in my busyness responding to others since this post. –You & Doug Schultz ….haven’t heard from him yet. I think you are in another BBQ photo I have as well! All you say is why I had to do this post if I want to share some of the humorous anecdotes in the future. I appreciate all you said!!! While I have some photos that will accompany anecdotes, I naturally don’t have a photo of some of the “prime players.” But I work around that! Thanks again! Yes, Geri & I have assumed that at some point in all our travels & busy schedules that the Parliers & Fontanas would find time to ge together. It will happen! Phil

  10. Great post, Phil. We need more stories like these. Thanks.

  11. pg, Thanks! Hope you like the humor idea! Phil

  12. Phil, I enjoyed your blog once again and thanks for the map detailing the separate Corps areas. I’ve always wondered but never knew how the country was divided.

    I missed ‘Nam since I was mustered out before it heated up. I dropped out of college and enlisted in Jan ’59. I wanted to be in the Special Forces. After I got through Basic and Second eight weeks learning FDC, I requested the Special Forces training. I was told I would have to go through jump school first so off I went to the 101st Airborne. After jump school they told me I had to have 18 months active duty to qualify. After 18 months, they told me I needed to have 36 months left which would have meant extending my commitment so I said, “Forget it.” For the final year of my 3 year enlistment I was rotated to Scwabish Gmund, Germany. (While I was in Germany Pres Kennedy had the Special Forces requirements dramatically shortened. They wanted as many men as possible trained, and as you well know, were among the first into ‘Nam.)

    Unfortunately, like most GIs, I wasted my year in Germany. Saw very little of the country and learned very little German although every GI knows within a week of getting there how to call for a taxi, order a beer or a schnapps, a wiener schnitzel, and ask a girl to sleep with him. The life essentials are covered.

    I was assigned to an 8 inch self-propelled howitzer (modified to fire small nuclear warheads) battalion as the lead surveyor for B Battery. Our job was to establish exact firing points and azimuths for the guns. Most of the time it was same old, same old, boring days and training. There were times when things got livened up and those are the memories you spoke of.

    We had an alert once a month. No one knew when it would happen but it always started with a siren that was so loud it woke up the entire city. They generally started around midnight and we would get into combat gear, pack all our military gear, load it into our 3/4 ton truck and wait for marching orders. Usually it would mean driving for a couple of hours in convoy, setting up camp, having a hot breakfast, sometimes an inspection, then go back to the kasern and another normal day.

    In August of’61, instead of sounding the siren, the CQs quietly woke each person, told them to get packed and ready to go. They also told us to lock and clearly label our foot and wall lockers. We even drew live ammo. Then we waited and waited. The work finally came down the next day that the East German’s were building a wall around Berlin. Everyone, on both sides were scared to death that if a single shot was fired the situation would instantly blow up into WWIII. It took more than a week for us to get back to normal activities. Everyone’s commitment was automatically extended. Spooky times.

    My Commanding Officer, Capt Bolgar (?), talked to me a couple of time about going to OCS. He also told me he could promote me to SP/6 and guarantee my assignment for three years if I would re-enlist. At the time, there was no way I wanted any more of the army. However, there are times when I wonder how different my life would have been if i had gone to OCS or even just re-enlisted and became a “lifer.” I have come to realize that the secret to getting by in the military without going stir crazy is to just accept it and do what is expected of you.

    But then the ugly reality changes and way too many troops are put into harm’s way time and time again. I am always amazed at how they can handle it and, of course, fully commit themselves.

    Jym

  13. Jim, You have a wonderful story to tell of your own military experience! First the try for Special Forces & the duty in Germany. Your alerts were quite something…worse than the real, live rocket attacks we had in Vietnam that I described. Loved your explanation of mastering the basics in Germany right down to making it with the girls. But you were part of history being there during the Berlin Wall crisis…must have been quite something! Yes, OCS would have taken you down the road of the lifer, the best way to do it instead of being a lifer as a Non-Commissioned Officer. But then you would have had to put in your 20 years for that military pension. Flip of the coin of life, right???!!! Great comments. Jim! Thanks! Phil

  14. hey Phil-log.finally got to read this one… Interestingingly Jim’s dad did the same job as you did…but only during WW11-thank you for your service!
    marg

    • Marg, Glad you read this one! Ain’t that a kick in the head that Jim’s Dad had a similar duty post during WWII!!!! Thanks for the nice comment! Phil

  15. Dear Phil – Thank you so much for an very interesting insight in your personal history, well written and we just love the old pictures together with the marker. You have done it again, shown that quantity dosn´t matter, it is the quality in the post which should be the core. And you still is a good looking guy – keep it up… We hope everything is well in New Jersey – Right now we are hanging out in Bangkok.

    All our best – Jeppe / Katja.

    • Jeppe & Katja, There you are!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I was waiting for another TP post from you two! Bangkok! Ah, gathering material for the next post! Thanks for all the kind comments about “My Vietnam” & the quality & not quantity….so kind. And thanks but I was 24 in Vietnam & I sure don’t look as viral!!! Great comments! Phil

  16. 🙂

  17. Jixi! Glad you liked this one!!!!!!!!! One of my favorites! Phil

  18. I almost went career army like many of my college frat brothers and as a sophomore in ROTC in ’68 I was one of 600 nation wide awarded full college scholarship and then on to OCS. After deep contemplation I turned it down and I became a teacher instead for 33 years in minority high schools. 7 fellows from the North Miami Senior High class of ’67 did not return. Thank you for your service.

    One of the best kept VA benefit secrets is that all WW 2 vets are entitled to up to $1,700 a month pension depending on income. Those who know about it have 20 forms to fill out and must have original discharge papers and takes at least 2 years if you are lucky but many aged vets die before that. We filed for father in 2012 and at the time he was 88 and took only 8 months. He get $1,500 a month as he has some income for social security and a pension. It is disgraceful – every WW 2 should have received a notification.

    • Carl, Quite a story & decision re ROTC & OCS!!! Sounds like you were 3 years behind me. I graduated from Rutgers in 1968. I too wanted to teach. But my father sent me off to law school from which I was drafted after one year!!! You did the right thing!!!
      And also quite a story re WWII benefits & your Dad!!!!!!!!!!! How could this be kept a secret with all the Veterans’ organizations like the VFW & American Legion, etc.? And I’ll bet their spouses would get something upon their demise! All I got for my widowed Mom was money to defray medical costs from VA.
      Thanks for the thoughtful comments! Phil

  19. Thanks Phil–those were very strange days–where reality wasn’t always real. I’m glad I decided to clean my email house today–I found your gem lurking amidst all the stuff that had to go. It’s fitting–I’ve been thinking about returning to my “long and winding road”–just not sure what part of the road will appear next. Thanks for the reminder…Ray

  20. Impressive! Thank you so much for informative post.Hope to read more about your story in Vietnam. Best wishes..

    • Indah, Many thanks, Indah, for reading my Vietnam post & for the “Like” & the “Follow.” Yes, I have written my next post already on “More Vietnam #2” & await time to post it & photos!!! It is a pleasure to know you & I must thank Mino for that!!! You do excellent work of you website posts! Phil

      • My pleasure Phil! I am looking forward to read your second post 😉 I am thanking Mihran too 😀 cheers!!

  21. I’m glad you returned home safe and sound but all I want to say is vietnam was a war or conflict as they referred to that usa should have never fought!! What did we get out of it? My life was never same for me after my husband served in vietnam!! Btw , he was at can rahn bay in 1970.As you can tell I’m still bitter after all thse years.

    • Gail, Many thanks for one of the few REALLY meaningful comments on my Vietnam post!!! WOW! Your husband was in Can Ranh Bay 1970 just like me!!! You are right! And if JFK lived, I promise you all this never would have happened!!! He was too, too smart to let 58,000 of us get killed!!! He knew what battle was like from his Navy experiences in WWII. LBJ did not!!!! Same for Nixon!!! Thanks! Phil

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  24. My husband was in Cam Ranh Bay 1970 , he was a truck driver , his name Fred Tolzman ! He was Army !

  25. More on Fred Tolzman, He was in 592nd Transport company

    • Mrs. Fred Tolzman, Many thanks for taking the time!!! 592nd Transport! I remember their Company location behind ours up the road!!! I knew a guy in his company named Marchese, my cousins husband!!! Thanks! Phil

  26. I was thier feb. 1970—feb1971
    Was assighned to 128th signal bat comp c . But worked for classified project called operation duffle bag.
    Before that it was. Igloo.

    We made and packed the first ever sensing devices. Place them out beyond your lines look at your device and when you saw lines of vibration called in airstrikes hit the whole area

    Trying to find any info or people that i worked with
    Thanks Bill

    • Dear Bill, I am a historian writing on the operations in which you participated. I am curious if you would be willing to speak with me. I can be reached at the following email: [first name] underscore [last name] @ mac [dot] com

  27. Bill Hines! Our months in Vietnam were close to coinciding…mine Jan -Dec 1970! Sounds like your duty was quite unique even among classified assigned duties with those sensing devices. To locate others from your unit, I see notices like that in my VFW magazine. Good luck with that. One guy in our unit has taken it upon himself to trace down people using their name & original hometown address. He had successfully brought together about 10 of us. Best wishes for success with that. Phil

  28. Phil, I knew about your experience when we first met but your writing allows me to “see” into your world away from home. Thanks for sharing.

    Roland

    • Roland!!!!!! Thanks for exploring my website!!! Amazing that you recalled my Vietnam service! True, nothing like reading about it!!! Thanks again for your interest! And great phone call we had!!! Phil

  29. Do you recall the Murder of CID Agent Leroy Halbert in Su Chin, Newyears eve 1970. I was one of the CID Agents involved. I think I remember you from when I would interact with Major Charles Weeks at the 97th.

  30. Hi Phil,
    I was the pharmacist at 349th Medical Dispensary at Cam Ranh from Aug 1970 to Aug 1971. SP5 Tom Sullivan. 349th was located next door to the PX and we were the only medical facility on the army base for appx 10,000 GI’s. I was drafted right after finishing pharmacy school in Boston. I chose going the draft route of 2 yrs vs officer route of min 3 yrs. I received an Army Commendation medal for my service there. I am 69 yrs old now and over the past 15 yrs I have had several Agent Orange related medical issues, heart Attack, prostate cancer and Type II diabetes as well as many other issues. I still feel pretty good and function well enough and try to stay upbeat about the health issues but would do it all over again in a heart beat! I would love to hear from anyone who was treated there or worked there. Incidentally, all MP’s received front of the line help from us because you guys were great and we helped each other many times in different ways. You all made it possible for us medics to go off-base many times to treat the kids at the orphanage about 10 miles away. It was all unauthorized, and probably very stupid since we were unarmed and no one on the base knew where we were but we did it anyway. Best wishes to you all!

    • Tom!!!!!!! WOW! What a comment!!! I recently wondered what med facility we had….I guess I was healthy & never heard of guys going on sick call from our unit, Headquarters Company for the 97th MP Battalion, Cam Ranh Bay.So I never knew about you guys of the 349th MD! But right next to the PX!!! Yep, I was drafted too! Our overlap time there was Aug 1970 to Dec 1970 when I returned to the USA. I am 69 as well. Sounds like you are getting VA care due to Agent Orange for you health issues. I have hypoglycemia which is not the same as diabetes but in the related area of illnesses. I’ve never gone the VA route since I did not think they would cover me for this. You sound good despite your ailments. And your spirit to “do it again” is admirable. I came home with a Bronze Star for meritorious service. Great to hear of the good rapport between the MPs & your Med unit especially going off base to treat kids at the orphanage!!! I live in New Jersey. My email is fontana14@optonline.net Thank you for finding me here & hope you read my other two pieces on Vietnam….You can find them in the right margin near the bottom by clicking on Vietnam. Great hearing from you, Tom, & best wishes to you! Phil

  31. I was in the 128th Signal Co. from 68-69. I was put on the “Quick Reaction Team” and given a 3.5 Rocket Launcher. I was new and I guess they figured I would do o.k. with it. I was sent to the Korean White Horse Infantry Div. over at Ba Noi to “practice” with the 3.5. The thing I remember the most is that they had a Duece and 1/2 with three 50 cal. machine guns mounted in it. When I asked wasn’t this an anti-aircraft weapon, they just smiled at me.

    • Raymond Fleming, Ray!!! Many thanks for commenting! –The 128th Signal Co., ’68-’69. Doesn’t sound like the “cake walk” I had with your 3.5 Rocket Launcher! We practiced with rocket launchers in MP school but I doubt if ours were as big as 3.5. Then the Korean White Horse Division, Ba Noi, for you to practice. And a 2 1/2 ton with three 50 caliber !!!! Your were equipped for action all around! Glad you made it home OK I hope! I was fine. See my other two Vietnam articles for some laughs like M*A*S*H !!! Thanks for looking at this & commenting, Ray. Merry Christmas! Phil

  32. Merry Christmas to you, too Phil. I’m glad you made it back, too.

    • Raymond Fleming, Ray, Thanks all around for holiday wishes & our mutual safe return home from Vietnam. My honest first reaction to the Vietnam Wall in DC was that I was glad my name was not on it…Then my thoughts went to honor all the guys that didn’t make it home. Please look at my two other Vietnam articles & how we worked hard at MP Headquarters but laughed hard too! Just go to the top of this page & scroll down & in the right margin at the bottom are topics…Click on “Vietnam” & up pops the three articles. Thanks for coming back to comment! Phil from New Jersey

  33. Hi Phil

    I was assigned to the 1 Logistical Command at the Cam Ranh Army Depot from May 1969 to April 1970. I was a Sgt E-5 and was Assistant Platoon Sgt and Squad Leader at Delta Yard Non Perishable Substance where I ran the shipping and receiving office. You many remember our rather unique GI self built office building at the entrance to our yard as we labeled it “The Delta Supermarket” “Open 25 Hours a Day”. It was painted bright Air Force Blue as that was the only paint we could scrounge on the base. We lived in barracks that were close to the PX, NCO club, and Church in the downtown depot area and drove to work at the yard.

    I addition to my assigned military duties I was also the coordinator for the 30 or so Local Nationals who worked at both our open and warehouse storage yards. We kept them segregated by sex with the woman working in indoor warehouse and the men working in outdoor yard. The woman were more trainable and some filled orders and learned to drive fork lifts. But they were smart. I had two of them that were pregnant show up for work on the day they were giving birth and ended up having take them to medical facility at the Air Force base.

    Like some of the others at the Depot my Platoon tended to stay away from Tiger Lake and went to the China Sea beaches. Do our association with the cold storage yard we could always come up with a case of steaks. One time our alert fork lift driver snagged a pallet of beer off a semi destined for the beer and soda yard. 48 cases of beer we drank for a month.

    In general the biggest fear those of us at the Army Depot had were rocket attacks at night as we never knew when they were coming. Our yard got hit one night by a 122. It hit right in the middle of rows of canned tomatoes it made quite mess to clean up. But more disturbing was the one time we found a satchel charge planted in one of our warehouses it was found to be a dud but that was an area where the Local National woman worked. We really never trusted the LN’s. About the only task that bothered me was having to assign the guys in my Platoon the various guard duties at the Depot we had to perform. I never liked having to send any of my guys to a night at the ammo dump or the petroleum yard.

    I know for many Vietnam was a unpopular war. But for most of us we just did our time marking of days on our short timer calendar. Thankful we were at Cam Ranh rather than beating the bush our goal was to make it home to the world alive. I was a recent college graduate in Business Administration who decided to just allow myself to be drafted and passed on becoming an officer. I did my first year at Fort Knox as a Supply Sgt at the Reception Station putting new recruits to bed, and my second year at the Cam Ranh Army Depot. President Richard Nixon was nice enough to send me home a month early. I have to admit that looking back on my life my Army experience was very positive thing in my life. The Army gave me a lot of leadership responsibility not often found in civilian life. I met and had to work, lead and more importantly got to know fellow Americans from all backgrounds and all areas of our country as well as Vietnamese people of a different culture.

    • SGT Bill Wonsik!!! TOTALLY ENJOYED YOUR EVERY WORD ABOUT YOUR DUTY at 1st Logistical Command at the Cam Ranh Army Depot from May 1969 to April 1970. I can identify with all you said re locations & experiences. I guess that was your outpost where I went “shopping” once a month for supplies as chief clerk for Headquarters Company 97th MP Battalion. Since we didn’t have enough allotted budget for our needs, we used to “deposit”/steal items & put them in our jeep before we checked out our purchases. We frequented both Tiger Lake & the South China Sea. As MPs we had no shortage of steaks or beer. Yes, those rocket attacks! –Hit our officers’ barracks during the day without injuries. We had limited Vietnamese hires…..mess hall & 2 carpenters, but they were a piece of work. So many stories, Home you read my 3 Vietnam posts here https://excuseusforliving.com/category/vietnam/ I feel the same way….my Vietnam experience was a good one as I say here in this post! And we came home in one piece despite the great loss of over 58,000 guys. Thanks, Bill, for this!!!!!!!!!!! Phil in New Jersey!

  34. Hi Phil

    Thanks for your response. Perhaps our paths did cross at some during our tours. In addition to supplying II Corps in the Central Highlands. We had frequent customers both official and unofficial at Delta Yard. The Navy, Air Force bases as well as the Koreans across the bay. As you know Coffee and C-rations, LIRPS, and Sundry packs which were in our yard and could buy you just about anything you needed in the Depot. The wood, tin roof, and paint needed to enlarge our office were traded for within the base. I had a buddy from Fort Knox that worked at the vehicle salvage yard I traded dog for their collection of dogs for a worn Duce and a half that we used for a beach vehicle.

    Many of the Local National Male who worked for us in the yard were also carpenters. Some of them were very skilled they could take a wooden pallet and turn it into a cabinet or other furniture with basic hand tools. I remember one time our Hooch Maid offered to make us a special lunch. We round up her shopping list expecting a home cooked Vietnamese meal
    What we got was a pretty good clone of Col. Sanders Kentucky Fried Chicken.

    Here is something that has been haunting me for a long time. Perhaps as being an MP you might also know about the race riot that occurred during my tour of duty. May 1969 to April 1970. I cannot remember the month but I think it was in the first few months. One night I was walking back to my hooch after taking a shower and all off a sudden a M-60 or a number of M-60 machine guns with tracers started hitting all around me and our company area. I hit the nearest bunker on my hands and knees and stayed there until I felt safe. As word got out a number of blacks in the transportation company up the hill from us broke into their arms room sensed a number small arms. It was said that some base Coronal had talked the rioters down and offered to have a gripe session with them the next afternoon. In stead of that happening the rioters were arrested during the lunch break. NCO’s like myself were assigned to act as a stand by force to make sure the arrests were made smoothly and nothing escalated to our company. The rioters were arrested by a three or more man team and transported to a bus and left the base. We never heard anything more about the incident and you cannot find any documentation as to ever occurring. I would assume that some sort of a gag order was imposed but MP’s had to be involved with that action. We had contact with others in the Transportation company and none of them ever had any contact with the rioters of ever learned of their fate. That was the only small arms fire I received during my tour.

    I enjoyed your pictures of Cam Ranh, as I purchased a Minolta SLR from the PX and have many clones of your photos. Its sad for me that most of the photos I took were slides which did not hold up well through the years. When I tried to do a digital scan and transfer most of them darkened to much for them to turn well. I still use my Seko PX watch from time to time as a dress watch. The Sanyo PX refrigerator I had in my hooch now sits in my basement it still works fine and I use it to brew beer.

    • Bill, I was at Cam Ranh from July 1969 to December 1969. I was a platoon leader and then ops officer for the Security Guard Company responsible for all the ammo dumps and other sensitive areas. Most of the company officers were MP’s. I was a Military Intelligence Officer. Our company area was right next to the hooches where the race riot occurred. As I remember it, a couple of officers (Col? LTC?) were taken hostage by a group of black soldiers. My company suited up in full battle array and surrounded the hooches involved. We were almost shoulder to shoulder in a ring around them. But before that, the rounds from the shooting from that area also landed in our company area and we also had to take cover. The stand-off lasted for about a day, three shift changes I remember, and ended peacefully. We never heard what happened to the rioters. I also remember that my platoon didn’t like the duty we had, subduing American GI’s. You probably remember as well, that there was serious unrest among the US troops, blacks and whites, and usually stupid reactions from the brass. i never felt safe as a platoon leader and officer, not from my company but from the others that got attached to us. One night I was told by a senior NCO not to inspect the bunker line. He said I wouldn’t come back alive, and it would just be chalked up to an “accident.” The guys gunning for our officers were from a transportation company. Not a good time, from my point of view.

      • Bill Wonsik, Boy, can I identify with the “trading” that you speak of. We had an E-7 SGT Starling who was like a SGT Bilko on the old TV show!!! Maybe you traded with him! His SOP was if you had something he wanted, he would say, “What do you want for it?” And no matter what you wanted for it, he said, “You got it!” Then he would go & acquire what YOU wanted in the same manner & so on!!! What a wheeler & dealer he was!!! I had two good Vietnamese carpenters under our S-4 office. The mess hall was under S-4 too but no stories like your Col. Sanders Kentucky Fried Chicken. Some story of the Black rioters from Transportation shooting up you & your Company area. I too would be amazed if the MPs were not called in & your Colonel(?) handled it singlehandedly & shipped them out. We had an MP unit of our own out in the boonies with too many Black Power MPs. They got out of hand & we sent in a force to to take over & straighten them out. Can’t believe you shipped the refrig home!!! I loved your description of the PX area, USO, the Catholic church, all so familiar!!! And what an amazing story by my friend from Rutgers, Chip Noon, above! Sounds like he was in on the rioting you describe! Here I was an MP but you two saw all the police action & not me!!!! Great discussion, Bill & Chip! Many thanks! Phil

      • Chip, Boy, Sounds like Bill Wonsik was in on the rioting you describe! Here I was an MP but you two saw all the police action & not me!!!! Great discussion, Bill & Chip! Many thanks! Phil

  35. Chipnoon and Phil. Thanks for your responses. While race tensions are not a pleasant topic and I suppose one that the Military Brass would like to bury they were a fact of life in Vietnam as well as the rest of the United States at that time. I lived in the Detroit area, and my own initial Selective Service physical exam was delayed due to the Detroit race riot in 1967, and my induction into the Army delayed again due to the ML King murder in the spring of 1968. In addition to the black white divide we had other sub group divides of Hispanics, as well as Yankees and Rebels who tended to stick together socially after hours. Of course their was that other great social divide the Drinkers Vs The Smokers. Thanks for filling me in on a few more of the details of the riot. I remember there was a stand off but never knew that some officers were taken hostage. The only gunfire I remember was that one night. Yes it was a strange situation as I remember the next day or it may have been the following day the NCO’s in our company where told to stand by and watch for possible trouble in our own company when the rioters were being rounded up. My E-7 and I were wondering what in the heck we were supposed to do if something went wrong except to run to the orderly room. I don’t know if our structure at the Depot was similar to yours but we were sort of serving two masters. We lived in a Company area and had organizational duties there with Company Officers telling us what to do. There I was a Squad Leader and Asst Platoon Sgt and we had a E-7 Platoon Sgt. When we went to our job in the depot my squad handled all of the shipping and receiving office functions. The E-7 was the NCO in charge of our yard and we had a 1st Lt. who was our Platoon Leader, but only at the Depot. We never saw him any other time. In fact we were never quite sure what he did all day as he had a Jeep and was seldom seen. While Cam Ranh tended to be one of the more safe areas of Vietnam few of us had any contacts with anyone outside of our Company or work area. I have two friends who are Vietnam vets. One was in the Navy Reserve and ended up as a twin 50 cal gunner on a Patrol Boat River, and the other was a door gunner on a Huey.

    Chip your feelings about being alone as an Officer ring true. I was solicited to become an officer in the reception station and everyone and their brother advised me to turn it down for the reasons you stated. I get the feeling that Navy Swift Boat Capt. Lt John Kerry was sent home early because brass feared for his life.

    Another problem at the Cam Ranh Base was the use of hard drugs by some. We lost a guy in another Platoon to a drug overdose. I was on CQ that night and he was found unresponsive in his bunk.

    Phil when it came to horse trading at the depot most of it was left to the senior NCO’s. It was one of the duties that lifers claimed bragging rights on. It was all done in secret to the rest of it, but items just changed hands and life got better. Wood and metal roof shows up to enlarge our office we find state side beds in our hooch. The only deal I made was to trade dog food for a soon to be retired Duce and a half truck. My E-7 said not bad for a rookie, but next time let me in on the deal. The guys we never dealt with where those Sea Land contractors. We never trusted them. You do know than Lady Bird Johnson was a major share holder in Sea Land Corporation. Those guys made big money driving around in air conditioned Jeeps.

    • Bill & Chip, My experiences at the 97th MP BN HHD S-4 were so limited compared to all you describe! You & Chip put me to shame! And to make matters worse, I came home with a Bronze Star for running the “S-4 shop” single-handedly while a Cpt, an E-7, & a Private clerk sat around & did nothing….except the clerk typing my reports to Group Headquarters on radios, vehicles, ammo, & weapons. Sea Land! YES!!! I remember them around! And at the pier I remember crates coming off ships stamped “Lady Bird Johnston” or something like that for her company making millions on the war! And Chip, those crooked contractors reminds me of two guys I met with a similar position to mine. But while I had “the keys to the kingdom,” knowing how to do the paperwork to requisition supplies the guys & Headquarters Company needed, these two guys SOLD the supplies to the tune of $3000-4000 per month!!! War is crazy!!! Thank you, Bill & Chip!!! Phil

  36. Yeah, we never trusted the contractors either. They all looked pretty sketchy to me and one of them bragged about sending a jeep home part by part. A bunch of thieves all around.

    • Bill & Chip, My experiences at the 97th MP BN HHD S-4 were so limited compared to all you describe! You & Chip put me to shame! And to make matters worse, I came home with a Bronze Star for running the “S-4 shop” single-handedly while a Cpt, an E-7, & a Private clerk sat around & did nothing….except the clerk typing my reports to Group Headquarters on radios, vehicles, ammo, & weapons. Sea Land! YES!!! I remember them around! And at the pier I remember crates coming off ships stamped “Lady Bird Johnston” or something like that for her company making millions on the war! And Chip, those crooked contractors reminds me of two guys I met with a similar position to mine. But while I had “the keys to the kingdom,” knowing how to do the paperwork to requisition supplies the guys & Headquarters Company needed, these two guys SOLD the supplies to the tune of $3000-4000 per month!!! War is crazy!!! Thank you, Bill & Chip!!! Phil


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