Posted by: philipfontana | January 28, 2016

More Vietnam, No.3

More Vietnam, No. 3

Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam

 

Chick Plummer & The Local 116

by

Philip Fontana

 

 

     Excuse us for living, but I’ve been “itching” to tell this anecdote from Vietnam for a long time. It’s one of my top two favorites because it’s all about “the guys.” It tells about the camaraderie which kept our sanity. And, as is often the case, it tells about that one person who made it all happen, who made the difference for us during a difficult chapter in all our lives.

As background, you might want to see my first two articles on Vietnam. You can find them in the right margin here, way down at the bottom, last, by clicking on “Vietnam.” There I give my apology for relating humorous stories that I experienced in Cam Ranh Bay, South Vietnam, when so many thousands of G.I.s gave their lives or were severely wounded. And there I describe the sandy Headquarters Company area of the 97th Military Police Battalion as if it were a M*A*S*H TV stage set for my Vietnam episodes.

AA Size 97thMPBn

       These side-by-side photos give a “panoramic view” of our 97 Military Police Battalion Headquarters. The photos are marked with the designated names of buildings to refer to in letters that I sent home. Of importance to this article are the following designations: top right photo, “Bn Offices: S-1, S-2. S-3,” middle left photo, “New S-4,” middle left photo, “HHD Barracks,” left photo center, “981st” & “630th MP Co.” This was the “studio lot” of my Vietnam anecdotes that were more like a M*A*S*H TV series experience for me!

B Size HHD Offices

       Here is a photo of the location of the catalyst for our story, the 97th Military Police Battalion Headquarters Offices. S-4, Supply Administration, is where I worked. S-1, S-2, & S-3 were the main administrative offices from the Commanding Officer to Personnel. You can find all these office locations on the above panoramic photo. This office complex was just a short walk “across the sand” from our Headquarters Company Barracks, marked “HHD Barracks,” where we lived.

BB Size MeBarracks

     And here is where our story takes place, our Headquarters Company Barracks, up the flight of steps, top floor… That’s me in the jeep parked in front of the barracks.

 

 

     Our story begins with an all-American past-time, a pickup basketball game, an innocent activity for a bunch of G.I.s off hours from the grind of the work day. It was during that window of time after “chow” in the mess hall when light was turning to dusk. They were playing under the lights by then according to our protagonist-in-chief in this episode, Specialist Fourth Class Chick Plummer, S-2 Personnel, then & to this very day, from Rochester, New York. Chick describes the scene as a friendly basketball game between members of his Battalion Headquarters Company offices – – S-1, S-2, S-3 on the panoramic photo above – – and personnel from one of the military police companies under our command. It had to be the 981st MP Company or maybe the 630th…if you can make out the small blue print on that panoramic photo. The game was played on the makeshift basketball court in that company area…pretty nice since the MPs were good at “procuring” any necessary materials & supplies. And as such sporting events often go, the game became quite competitive, too competitive, more combative, and broke into what Chick characterized as “an alcohol induced fight.” Who were you going to call in to “break it up,” the MPs?

Fast forward to Battalion Headquarters Company the next morning. Any disciplinary matter of such minor importance was beneath the attention of the Commanding Officer, CO, a full-bird Colonel (just under being a Brigadier General), or even the XO, next in command, a Major. This disciplinary action fell on the plate of our Command Sergeant Major (who shall go nameless out of respect) – – That’s “Command Sergeant Major,” CSM, with an arm patch of three “rockers (V) each, top and bottom, with a star and cluster in the middle. – – A “big deal” in the U.S. Army, unofficially outranking everybody up to and including a Captain. Our CSM was straining to be “still going strong,” more like a crazed old Army “Lifer” as they were called. He served in WWII through the Korean War to the Vietnam War. He had actually “landed” on this very spot of the 97th MP Bn in Cam Ranh Bay in 1965 and established the MP presence there, only to return now in 1970 and harass us with the task of leveling the sand to the way he leveled it in 1965! – – Had to have a few loose screws on that sand thing! You had to keep in mind that our Command Sergeant Major was fueled day and night by good southern bourbon due to his South Carolina roots. In standard Army fashion, the CSM met with his office managing lackey, SGT MacDonald, also from South Carolina, to mete out their agreed upon punishment.

The “culprits” in the melee from our Battalion Offices were determined to be three clerks; Chick Plummer, from S-2 Personnel, Greg Butler, the Commanding Officer’s S-1 clerk and also my bunk-mate, and Dave Barker, whose duty assignment seems to have faded from our collective memory. SGT MacDonald’s task in delving out any punishment for their pugilistic fist-a-cuffs was made all the more difficult by the attitudes of the accused which were unanimously “unrepentant,” to use Chick’s diplomatic word. – – The sentence, (hardly approaching Courts Martial status!): three nights of after-office hours/after dinner painting of the Headquarters Office complex. The drudgery of painting the offices as a punishment was not taken lightly as an extra duty assignment. But that’s where the burden ended. The three-some, led by their fearless leader Chick Plummer, taking charge by the gravity of his persona, approached their sentence with the air of the Three Stooges!!!

And so the hi-jinks began. Over the next three days, what was at first mundane evenings for the paint crew turned into a self-proclaimed labor union of painters, “the Local 116” (the chosen number for the “Local” a mystery to this day). And the joke did not stop there. Chick, the leader of the crew, became “Stew,” short for “Shop Steward.” Greg Butler, as I said, my bunk-mate, was dubbed, “Tuna” (he was a bit “chunky”), and Dave Barker, well, became “Zeke” (trust me, Zeke fit him perfectly).

At first they would return to the barracks each night and joke about their union, the Local 116, and banter their nicknames about. And before we knew it, somewhere along the way, they were “calling to order” faux union meetings of the Local 116. The shop Steward took charge, the Honorable Chick “Stew” Plummer, leading the assemblage of all of three members seated at a table. Stew would formally call the meeting of the Local 116 to order seemingly using the properly adapted “lingo,” and then addressing “the esteemed brotherhood,” and so on with any trumped up matters of business on the agenda. The guys in the barracks crowded ‘round to enjoy the charade.

At some point in one of these early gatherings in the barracks, I brought out contributions of Italian foodstuffs from my care packages from home, from an entire “ball” of “provolone on a string” (more like a rope) to Genoa salami and Progresso’s “caponata” and more. – – Needless-to-say, some drinking of alcoholic beverages – – wine – – was associated with these “union meetings” of the Local 116!!! As a formal order of business, Chick “Stew” Plummer had me nominated as an honorary member of the Local 116 for my “generous contributions to the cause in the form of needed sustenance to the brotherhood.” I was immediately assigned the appropriate nickname of “Ratso” (the Dustin Hoffman character in the 1969 movie, “Midnight Cowboy”). It will come as no surprise that meetings of the Local 116 continued in revelry long after the painting had been completed. – – LONG AFTER!!!

C Size Grand Mtg

           One of the first grand photos of a Local 116 “meeting.” That’s me, “Ratso,” on the right, bare-chested, followed by my bunkmate, Greg Butler, “Tuna,” with the gold striped shirt & knife in hand. Center picture is John Imperatore, “Tex,” blue shirt with raised provolone cheese & bottle of wine. Then comes the master-mind of the whole operation, “Stew” himself, Chick Plummer, broad smiling, yellow shirted, wine bottle in hand. And last on the far left is Dave Barker, “Zeke,” bare-chested with raised bottle to his mouth.

D Other Mtgs

           More Local 116 meeting photos & always plenty of food. I recall on more than one occasion frying up “chicken Italian style.” Left photo, that’s “Ratso,” me, on the left & Dave “Zeke” Barker on the right. Right photo, that’s John “Tex” Imperatore on the right in green, high bunk looks like “Zeke” again, center soldier not identified, & left is Greg “Tuna” Butler.

 

 

     Over the months guys would come and go serving their year in Vietnam. For example, I was there from January to December 1970 in S-4 Supply Administration. Chick Plummer served May 1970 to April 1971 in S-2 Personnel. So others joined the ranks of Chick’s Local 116 with nicknames the likes of Brian “Mailman” Marquis, Danny “Turkey” Reagan, John “Maja” Rodgers, Ray “Ears” Flynn, Mark “Tater Chip” Miller, and I am sure others as well. But this is what our Vietnam was about. We were a bunch of guys “pulling together” to get the job done like a family. We had a camaraderie to help us get through this thing they called a “war.” And a person the likes of Chick “Stew” Plummer led us through, what would otherwise have been gloomier times, with his Local 116.

E Size Chick&Kirkeby

         And here’s a great photo of the man, Chick Plummer, of Rochester, New York, on the left in the gold shirt. He is talking to another great guy, Mic Kirkeby, on the right, of Clarksfield, Minnesota. We were having a Headquarters Company barbeque at the beach on the South China Sea.

 

 

     Excuse us for living would like to salute on this 45th anniversary of our Vietnam service together, one hell of a guy, Chick Plummer. – – U.S. Army/Personnel/97th MP Battalion Headquarters/Vietnam, Kodak Liaison/Manufacturing and Marketing, Montessori School/Business Administrator, now retired.

Comments: Please!

 

 

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Responses

  1. There is no stronger bond than people in uniform. Those faces pass by your mind quite often, don’t they?!

    • GP Cox, Coming from you, those comments are especially appreciated!!!!!!! You know what it is all about….the bond of going to war together knows no end. As I readied to post this, my guilt set in not “visiting” websites, mainly YOURS!!! Speaking of uniform & war, you have made such a lasting impression on me. Thank you. Phil

      • And I sincerely thank you for those compliments you bestowed on me! You live life as you see fit, Phil, you don’t concern yourself with me. But I must say I’m very happy to hear I made that impression on you!

  2. Great example of how your friends get you through in the forces. I enjoyed reading it.
    My father didn’t talk much about his war(s) until he was very old, but my mother ( now 99) loves recounting stories of her gang of friends when she was in the A.T. S. and went through invasion scares, the Blitz and the day to day stuff of forces life.

    • Helen, So true about good friends “getting us through” when in the military. Thank you for this nice comment. The WWII generation like my father too rarely talked about the war. Great that your Mom tells of stories about the ATS, invasion scares, THE BLITZ (!), & life in the military. Your comments are very special to me! Phil

  3. Hi Phil-
    very funny story, but I especially liked how you fella formed such good friendships! You had to to survive that war…i wonder if Chick or any of the others in your photos are still alive-if so, have you ever had a reunion of sorts?
    Jim’s dad had reunions of his army buddies from WW!!

    • Marg!!! Thanks, Margaret! Glad you found it funny! It was funny to me living through it. Yes, it was the camaraderie that got us through this chapter of our lives. You are right…We were working to survive a war we knew was not worth dying for. Nice that Jim’s Dad had army reunions. My father did too…Army Air Corps. We haven’t had a reunion. However, one fellow, mentioned in one of my other Vietnam posts here, got to researching two years ago & reconnected about ten of us. As a result, over the last year, Chick Plummer & I have emailed & this past December just before Christmas I telephoned him in Rochester, New York. He was all choked up. It was great talking. I told him this story post was in the making…..so I asked a few questions & this is the result!!!!!!!!!!! Phil

  4. Phil, I was not involved in this historic game of basketball but kind of remember Local 116. This story and especially the one about “Turkey” Reagan bring back many memories of our days at the 97th MP. The pictures especially show all the area that we lived and worked during our time in Vietnam. Thank you once again for bringing back the memories of friends and the way we passed time in Vietnam.

    • Rich, I was hoping you would read this!!! Thanks! Glad you have some vague memory of the Local 116! The two stories of Turkey & the Local 116 have to be my best two ideas for 97th stories. I have a list of them but photos to go with only a few. Yes, the photos of the 97th area are memorable. Thanks for the great comment from one of the few readers of this that had a front row seat to all of it!!!!!!! Phil

  5. Hey Phil
    Great to hear that chick is still with us- you made him come alive with your story of him and the fellas
    And I bet it was fun talking to him!

    • Marg! Yes, Chick is a great guy! He DOES have health problems. I think it was1987 he had heart by-pass surgery & has a pace-maker!!!To say he’s like Bud Abbott would be an exaggeration but he reminds me of him; short, stocky, & jovial personality. Yes, great to be in touch with him. He’s a slow one to read his email & I’m still awaiting his reaction to this story/post!!!!!!!!!!!!! Can’t wait to hear from him! Hope he liked it! Thanks again, Margaret! Hi to everyone there! Some story for Erin & Andy & James getting out of NJ! That car service really blew it! Phil

  6. This is such great,informative and valuable experience you are sharing with us…

    Just beautiful – please follow and like my new piano page, I appreciate it https://mihranpiano.wordpress.com

    • Mihrank, Mino! Many thanks for your kind remarks! Yes, I will check it out immediately! –A piano page!!! Great idea! It’s been too long since I have visited websites!!! Phil

  7. Another great story by you my friend! 🙂
    I always enjoy reading about your adventures.
    Lots of Love ❤

    • Patty, Thanks for the nice comment. I confess…..Each post I make, as few as 6 a year (!) now, is not complete until I hear from YOU! Upwards of 200 viewers over the first 5 days…..but now I am happiest. Thank you. Phil

  8. How I missed this post – have you consider to write a book about your previous adventures on the field? They are awesome posts!

    • Indah!!!!!!!!!!!!! How is America????????? Thanks for the nice compliment. No, I have never wanted to write a book about my humorous experiences & other experiences in Vietnam, though I realize that is a possibility many people suggest. It would be easy….just a series of “posts” as small chapters & using what photos I have……not having photos for every story. I must check if you have been posting since in the USA!!!! Love to you! Phil

      • Hi Phil, gosh, what a cold winter here 🙂 so far so good, but I can’t wait for spring!

  9. Great job , great memories or at least most of them. My birthday was March 16th. Smiles!

    • annetbell, A 70 year old Baby Boomer, the first of the lot! Happy Birthday!!!!! Thanks for the nice comment on my latest post, “70.” Hope you liked this one too on Vietnam!!! Phil

      • Thanks for sharing those memories that are etched forever in your memory!

  10. Phil, I too enjoyed reading the stories from ‘Nam. It allowed me to see a person I know in one context with a different perspective. A positive view I must add. I have a friend I worked with in the NJSP. I just spoke to him Wednesday. He was a grunt in the 9th ID in the Delta. At the end of his tour, he was not quite finished yet, the Colors of the 9th and most of the short timers were redeployed to the world. Even though he was getting short, it was not enough. He was reassigned to another outfit further north and not identified as a short timer as was warranted. Getting ready to go out on patrol, he told the CO that he had weeks left in his year. He was immediately yanked and sent to the rear. In the end, he said the barracks for those ready for DEROS were complete garbage. I could be more descriptive. Art told me that a large group of grunts went out to the beach and slept. It may have been CR Bay. It was in ’70 sometime.

    I just finished a book he recommended to me. He said it was the most accurate description a grunt’s experience during the one year journey. “A life in a Year” by James R Ebert.

    I hope to connect next time in NJ.

  11. Roland!!! Great to receive your comments! This sure WAS a different perspective on me, not only in Vietnam, but at “play” in Vietnam. We also worked hard there….as seen in my first story on Vietnam called, “My Vietnam, 1970,” also available here by clicking in the right margin at the bottom on “Vietnam.” Interesting experience of your NJSP friend Art in the 9th ID in the Delta & then reassigned while the unit came home & he stayed because he wasn’t short enough sounds really lousy! I left in Dec 1970 to be home for Christmas. And since I had 8 months left, I was reassigned to Fort Dix. Had I “extended” until March 1971 in Vietnam, I would have come home to be discharged 5 months earlier than my full 2 year draft commitment. If Art was hanging out for DEROS in Cam Ranh Bay, he would have had the beautiful South China Sea to “play in.” Thanks for the book title from Art on the grunt experience in Vietnam!!! Roland, and thanks again for the great comments & looking at my website! Se you in NJ! Phil

  12. Better than McHale’s navy Ratso!! Thoroughly enjoyed your post! LOL!!!

  13. “America”!!! Ratso! Hah! I don’t hear that much at all since Vietnam….except in emails from Chick Plummer, the main character above, to this very day! Better than McHales’s Nav! Thank you! If this made you laugh, have you read my, “More Vietnam, No. 2”? THAT’S THE FUNNIEST! –All about “Turkey Reagan”!!!!! What’s really amazing is that my first post on Vietnam called, “My Vietnam, 1970,” has had, perhaps, 2000 views out of the 18,000 views of all posts on many different topics since 2012 when I started. It’s because the first photo mentions Cam Ranh Bay where I was stationed in Vietnam. And when people Google Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, up pops my post sometimes maybe in fourth place to the top! Thanks for your nice comment & interest! Got to look at your website again! Phil

  14. The Vietnam War was during my very formative teenage years. Even though I lived in the Deep South, a very patriotic place, I was part of the anti-war protestors in my high school, notwithstanding the fact that my dad was in the Air Force from 1950-1954.

    I was a senior in 1973. Although we didn’t know it then, the last conscriptions was in December 1972 with those men reporting for duty in June 1973. I was all prepared to make Canada my new home, but when the draft numbers were revealed in March 1973, I got a great birthday present–my draft number was 337, which pretty much ensured that I was not going to war or to Canada.

    As an aside, my dad didn’t get out of the Air Force until December 30, 1954. I was born on March 11, 1955. I only found out about my dad’s service a few years ago and only got the dates a couple of months ago. Now I’m wondering if I’m my father’s son, especially since my dad committed suicide on January 15, 1961, after finding out that my mom had been cheating on him.

    I’m so thankful that I’m estranged from all my Mormon and Catholic relatives.

    • Russel Ray, Amazing that you had anti-war protest in the South during your high school years! Even in 1973 as a senior in high school still contending with the draft!!! Surprising to me since we singed the “peace treaty” in 1973 & got out! But I guess they had to continue the draft at that point! Good your number was high to keep you from leaving for Canada. I thought about Canada but always said let’s see what happens re orders for Vietnam & then what station & job in Vietnam….so as not to “mess up my life.” –That’s a difficult life story about losing your Dad & about your Mom & Dad’s relationship. You could probably resolve any doubt re fatherhood through a DNA test…..some particle of clothing from Dad or something. But you might need the help of some of those estranged relatives!!! Phil

  15. It is with great disdain that I reminisce my Vietnam with many others who served in luxury, I, not having been a grunt, but a Huey crewchief, felt miserable both of my tours, but experiemced brief moments of glee, and able to enjoy my flights in atmospheric air condition comfort at 4000 feet. Of course, the other side of the coin included those trips which with trepidation, took away any glee I would feel until we landed back at base. In I Corp for two tours with the 101st Aviation Battalion from March of 68 to November of 1969, it was the most crude, uninviting location south of Hue and west of Phui Bai. Tension mounted daily with either rocket attacks, or mortars, and flights to fire support bases and the field in support of ground troops. But again, with exception of the Typhoon Bess that hit our camp and sarurated our tents, life could’nt be more miserable under any circumstance, So with respect to those who had it worse, and came back worse, and those who never saw the destruction, death and loss that I did, I salute you for leaving that god awful 3rd world shithole with the ability to further your civilian lives with great education and careers. To those in the safety of big city headquarter companies in air conditioned accommodations watching the war on TV, you missed the importance of what I can only look back at as an extraordinary experience, and grateful for coming back alive. I did not protest the war, I missed the hippy movement, make love not war mantra. But I never felt there were anyone that respected the sacrifices we all made by being there. Welcome home and thank you for your service 48 years later rings hollow. It will never replace the innocence we lost.

    • Dennis, Thank you for accepting the humor of this in stride. I have tried to give reverence to the great sacrifices like yours at the start of my Vietnam articles. I hope you saw my first one, “My Vietnam, 1970,” where I think I spelled out the hard work we did at the 97th MP Bn Headquarters, despite our cushy digs in Cam Ranh Bay!!! I read with great interest your experiences as a Huey crew-chief & especially in I Corp, two tours, with the 101st Aviation Battalion, March ’68 to November ’69, south of Hue and west of Phui Bai. Our service cannot compare with what you experienced. We DID have an appreciation for what you did, however, when we were under rocket attack. We called them “gunships,” cheering the helicopters shooting back at the Viet Cong across the Bay on the mainland. Every so many rounds we could see the red tracer rounds!!! It made war hawks out of all of us college men who got drafted!!! So here’s to us, Dennis! We made it back to build & live our lives!!! Thanks for ALL you did in Vietnam!!!!!!!!!!!! Phil


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