Posted by: philipfontana | August 2, 2017

More Vietnam, No. 4

 

 

More Vietnam, No. 4

Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam

Dogs, Movies, & Carpenters!

by

Philip Fontana

 

 

     Excuse us for living, but having already told my top favorite anecdotes from my military service in Vietnam (in “More Vietnam, No. 2 & 3,” found in the bottom right margin here), does not mean there are not more “gems” humorous and worthy to share. These are shorter vignettes and so I’ll combine a few here that are loosely connected.

As with my posts relating humorous stories that I experienced in Cam Ranh Bay, South Vietnam in 1970, I feel I must give my apology for writing humorously about Vietnam. So Many thousands of G.I.s gave their lives or were severely wounded. (See “My Vietnam, 1970,” for the tragic numbers, also bottom right margin here.)

A HHD

     These side-by-side photos give a “panoramic view” of our 97th Military Police Battalion Headquarters in Cam Ranh Bay, South Vietnam. The photos are marked with designated names of buildings. Of importance to the anecdotes about to be told here are: top right, “Bn Offices: S-1, S-2, S-3,” center “New S-4,” left “HHD Barracks,” and right of center, “Bn Movie and “Mess Hall.” This was the “studio lot” of my Vietnam anecdotes that were more like a M*A*S*H TV series experience for me! 

 

“They Shoot Dogs, Don’t They?”

B Offices

     It was 1969 when Sydney Pollack adapted the 1935 novel, “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” into a film starring Jane Fonda. – -The story of a dance marathon during the Great Depression. So in 1970 Vietnam when the order was given by the Commanding Officer, the CO, a full bird Colonel, to put together a shotgun squad to shoot packs of wild dogs running around Cam Ranh, it was natural for us to adopt the phrase, “They shoot dogs, don’t they?” Army companies had adopted dogs as mascots and when the puppies became too many, they were abandoned and formed packs roaming the sand dunes of Cam Ranh. Any danger these packs of dogs posed was never mentioned. The CO’s Office was located in S-1 in the above photo. And we, the Headquarters Company MP clerks, worked in the various offices pictured here in S-1, S-2, S-3, and S-4, everything from personnel to supply. That’s me sitting on that platform in front of the offices. The shotgun squad, under the direction of a not too bright and not too respected S-2 Sergeant, was made up of clerks pulled temporarily, from time to time, from our office desk jobs, over a period of several weeks, to do this dirty duty. Needless-to-say, we were horrified! Somehow, I was not assigned “dog duty”…at first. In between this duty the Sergeant was subjected to surreptitious “barks” from we the “underground” as he walked about the Battalion area. – -So much so, that the order came down from the CO, “There shall be no more barking in the Headquarters area.”

C Greg Butler

     Pictured here is my “bunk-mate,” Greg Butler from Toledo, Ohio. Greg was the Commanding Officer’s chief clerk in S-1, a position which did carry a good bit of weight and influence. “Bunk-mates” meant we shared a living area or “hooch” with bunk-beds, fan, lockers, refrigerator, frying pan, coffee pot, etc. Pictured here, Greg is standing next to a desk and liquor cabinet we built together out of shipping pallets. In these close quarters, we knew everything there was to know about one-another Through discussions we shared attitudes and viewpoints, including how we felt about shotgun squads shooting dogs. None of us liked what was going on and, as you might guess, I was very vocal about my opposition…in the barracks!

D XO

       Look at this seemingly innocent beach photo at the South China Sea for a Battalion Headquarters Company BBQ. – -Two great guys in the foreground, Chick Plummer, left (I actually spoke to him on the telephone just yesterday!), and Mick Kirkeby, right. But if you look closely, you will see, center back, the dude in the Army fatigues and cap. That’s the XO or Executive Officer, second in command to the CO. He was a Major and charged with overseeing the dog shooting detail. He assigned our S-2 Sergeant to go out in the sand dunes and direct our shotgun squad.

E Outside S-4

     That’s me during off-hours in “civvies” outside our S-4 Office. S-4 was in charge of the supply rooms of the Battalion’s five MP Companies and our Headquarters Company needs. Notice that it was a mere 3-4 steps from the BN S-4 door to the rounded green “Quonset hut” on the right. That’s very important…because that Quonset hut led directly to the CO’s Office, the XO’s Office, and my bunkmate Greg Butler’s desk! After a number of safaris killing dogs with shotguns and continued “barking” at our Sergeant, the XO marched up to Butler’s desk and asked, “Butler, do you know if anybody would refuse to shoot dogs if ordered to do so?” Without losing a beat, Butler replied, “Yes, Sir! Specialist Fontana!” – -Now that’s a real buddy for you! – -Butler’s idea of a practical joke!

F Me Polaroid 

     That’s me at my S-4 desk. It’s a “photo of a photo” because this Polaroid photo scans in poorly. But it is so reminiscent of my job and days in Vietnam that 1970 year. The outer door right in front of my desk swung open with a bang. In walked the XO who said to me, “Fontana, I hear that if I order you to shoot dogs, you would refuse.” “No, Sir!” I replied. “I’m not shotgun qualified. And according to USCMJ number [such and such], you must be Army qualified on the shooting range.” – -I was referring to the encyclopedia size set of books across the way in my S-4 Office, the United States Code of Military Justice, that I just happened to read up on doing a little research. “Carry on, Fontana,” said the XO. “Yes, Sir!” said I with a salute.

 

“Roll Camera, Action!”

 

G Movie    

     Look closely at this photo. You can’t miss the roof marked “Mess” for mess hall. And if you look very closely to the right you see labelled, “Movie Screen” and “Bleachers & Projection Booth.” We had a new movie EVERY NIGHT, seven days a week! It was a great morale booster and located right across the Headquarters Company area from our HHD Barracks. The problem was that you needed projectionists. And everyone lived in fear of being asked to serve as one due to the “jeers” and “boos” when something went wrong in the middle of a movie like the film breaking!

H Projection

      That’s me in my civvies again sitting on the movie bleacher seats to the right of the projection booth. You can see the blocked front opening window for the projector. Well, as if my luck had run out, my S-4 Office Captain informed me, “Fontana, you’re going to be a projectionist!” “I can’t, Sir,” I responded. “According to USCMJ number [such and such], you must be Army trained and qualified as a projectionist.” – -I was getting pretty good at playing this Army game! The Captain found a training school for projectionists right on Cam Ranh. And so after a long delay with the scheduled classes that took weeks, I was put on the Projectionist Roster…after one more ploy/excuse, to get my laminated projectionist license card! – The guys never forgot that first night I showed a movie. I arrived early and spliced together with Scotch tape all the film cuttings on the projectionist booth floor from films past that had broken off. – -I can still hear all the “boos”! It was great!

 

 

Lee and Ho Chi

 

I Lee Ho Chi

     Ah, Lee and Ho Chi! – -They were our Vietnamese carpenters working out of my S-4 Office for Headquarters Company. – -Lee on the left and Ho Chi to the right. – -Again, a “photo of a photo” due to the Polaroid picture with not enough pixels to scan in well. You can see in the photo from my scrapbook memorabilia including my “dog tags.” Lee was 34 at the time, the Vietnamese looking older than their years. Ho Chi, a grandfather, usually wearing a traditional Vietnamese hat, looked ancient! The G.I.s nicknamed him “Ho Chi” after North Vietnam Chairman Ho Chi Minh. They worked under the supervision of a great guy, SGT Jerry Word from Start, Louisiana. His southern drawl had no effect on Lee and Ho Chi’s English. They managed to speak to us in simple English phrases. But prominent in their speech, as with all Vietnamese working for the military, was military slang like “ti ti” for “small/little” and “beaucoup” for “large/a lot” (from French occupation ending in 1954). And then “number one” for “very good” and “number ten” for “no good.” Of course foul language was a prerequisite for Vietnamese dealing with G.I.s; “God damn” and “huck”! (You can translate that last one!)

     With that backdrop and that photo above showing the white movie screen and bleacher seats next to the mess hall, the stage is set for Lee and Ho Chi. The movie screen was plywood mounted on telephone poles, at least 20 ft. by 8 ft., painted white. – -Just like an old drive-in movie screen. Lee and Ho Chi were assigned to repaint the movie screen a fresh coat of white. Apparently, the division of labor, Vietnamese style, was Ho Chi on the ladder with gallon paint can and brush in hand and Lee on the ground holding the ladder. From the top of the ladder, Ho Chi dropped the gallon of paint which landed on Lee’s big toe. The two of them came directly into our S-4 Office. – -Lee hobbling and shouting, “Ho Chi number ten huckin’ no good!” – – We got the message. Lee’s toe was “chop meat” and he was immediately off to the dispensary. Lee survived with bandaged foot, hobbling around for weeks, struggling to do his carpentry work, mumbling, “Ho Chi number 10 no good!”

J Lee Village       

      A fitting ending to these anecdotes is this photo of our trip to Lee’s village and house. SGT Jerry Word, Lee’s boss, took me there. It was a half hour or more ride from Cam Ranh Bay across the bridge to the mainland and down the main road. It was a Catholic village. And as you see, children came out in droves…so sweet. Some of the children were Lee’s. That’s Lee’s house behind us with Lee in the white shirt, Jerry Word kneeling, and me at Lee’s shoulder. This was very special for us and Lee too, proud and honored.

  

 

     Excuse us for living hopes you got some enjoyment reading and “seeing” these anecdotes from my Vietnam experiences. We worked hard there too at our assigned jobs, ten hours a day. And we knew we had it good with air conditioned office jobs, but for the occasional rocket attacks. But we also saw the humor during our time there and maybe that helped us get through it all and come home.

Comments: Please!

Sources: memories, scrapbook photos, & a little Wikipedia!

 

 

 

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Responses

  1. I did enjoy. Hope to meet you and Geri again at our 50th Reunion events.

    • RUSTY!!! Glad you laughed! We plan to be there at the 50th! AND, we continue to pray for you by name EVERY DAY at our dinner grace! Thanks for looking at this! Phil

  2. Air conditioning! When I was in Cam Ranh Bay, the AC consisted of the breeze off the ocean…until the monsoon season, of course. I wish I could remember the lighter moments as you do, Phil.

    • Chip, I empathize, I really do, from the air conditioning to the lighter moments. We knew we had it good there at the 97th MP Bn Headquarters. But we had our moments from the rocket attacks & all of us were witness to the Viet Cong sappers blowing up an ammo ship along with an oil depot tank & an ammo bunker in the ammo depot in the course of the year 1970. These incidents light up all Cam Ranh Bay!!! I think our biggest fear was, naturally, a direct rocket hit to our barracks or offices. Also, we never talked about it, but when we were lying on our bunks at night we wondered if a sapper might come crawling in. But the humor, the camaraderie, was the stuff that brought us through & returned us home! Thanks, Chip, to someone, YOU, who had to do it the hard way in Vietnam. Phil

      • Phil, I didn’t have it as bad as the infantry, but still, our life was as uncertain as yours was. The closest I came to death was a direct hit on my jeep when I was 30 seconds out of it walking to 1st Logistical Command HQ. The first thing I thought when I saw it was, “Oh, you poor jeep!” At that age, I was too callous to imagine myself in the seat. But I do keep remembering the poor guys who were not clever enough to avoid getting drafted. Some of them couldn’t tie their shoes because McNamara and those other criminals lowered the IQ requirements so they wouldn’t have to take college kids. What a colossal FUBAR that was! I love reading your reflections. Makes me wish I had been more self-aware at the time.

    • Chip Noon, That’s quite a story of your close call with the jeep! I would love to hear more about all your duty assignments, commands, locations in Vietnam, & dates of service there. –You have shared some of your service experiences in comments in the past. So true about the changes in draft requirements to meet troop strength needs. In my day, Aug 1969 to Aug 1971, the biggest changes were drafting married men & then married men with children!!! And, in 1969 they drafted my entire class at law school at Wayne State University, Detroit!!! We were notified this was coming upon “Accepted” being stamped across our physical in Detroit. It was at that time, February 1969, that I left law school, already into second semester, to teach back home in Newark….only to be drafted anyway that Aug 1969. The rest of the guys in my law school class were drafted that summer of 1969. As I look back I only now realize how emotion packed those times were for us. But we were so engaged in living through those times & just went from one development to the next. We can’t expect people to really understand it all. Phil

      • Hi Phil, I videoed my experiences for a Library of Congress project that my US Representative was working on. Dudley Dudley (yes, that is her name) came to my house and set up her equipment and then gave me a copy Not sure where that copy is. But…I should write down all my experiences before Alzheimer’s really kicks in! I have such mixed feelings about the whole year, some good, some horrible. This might be a good catharsis for me. I still find myself thinking about the whole mess. Some of us “never came home” as they say. Part of me is still there.

    • Chip, How great that you participated in this video history of yours!!! You must find it & start writing!!! YOU WILL COME HOME!!! Phil

  3. The lighter moments are all you should think about – plus – they’re great to read about!! Good going, Phil!

    • GP, Many thanks for taking a look at this!!! You know better…. I can hear…that we DID have our moments; numerous rocket attacks & zapper explosions of an ammo ship, an oil depot tank, & an ammo depot ammo bunker. But the humor & camaraderie got us through & brought us home. Thanks, GP!!! Phil

      • My pleasure and I salute you!!

  4. What a great read phil…and so funny! I dare say that Erin would not like reading about dogs being shot-it kinda got to me too.
    Thanks for the laughs tonight…
    Marg

    • Marg, Thanks for reading this! I realized the dog shooting was such a sensitive topic for people. But that’s what this was all about, i.e., we draftees were against this!!! I hope it came through alright. Glad you had a laugh. Phil

  5. Reblogged this on Padre Tatro's Desk and commented:
    Phil it is a great honor that you show the humor of what was to say the least difficult times. As always your tales from your service touch me and I’ve shared it with the rest of the class.

    • Padre Tatro, Many thanks for reblogging my latest post on Vietnam. I am humbled that you did so. As you indicate, seeing the humor in our experiences got us through & brought us home! Again, many thanks! Phil

  6. Phil, thanks for an informative and amusing tour of your worksite in Vietnam. While the ever-present danger is not lost, the “dog shooting” and daily movies, as well as the introduction to Ho Chi and Lee make your experience a bit more real to us. Thanks for an interesting read.

    • Viv, What a great comment re these anecdotes making my tour of duty in Vietnam more real to you!!! I really appreciate your comments because I don’t even know if any other cousins take a look at any of these posts. Maybe Tony once said he did because he said how he loves history. Did you see that towering fire in that skyscraper in Dubai? My first thought was, “I hope Tony didn’t fireproof that one!” Well, Viv, we must have a strong system of government, contrary to present day babble, for we are. so far, surviving the presence of dimwit in office. Thanks again….so nice. May you & Scott & the whole family be well! Phil

  7. Great post, I felt immersed within your personal story. Even in the midst of wartime it’s good to know and see that people maintain their humanity in their own unique ways, leaving behind an array of memories and experiences, like the ones you’ve shared here.

    • Russel Ray, What a wonderful, insightful comment. I was an “older” draftee turning 24 while in Vietnam &, thus, DID maintain who & what I was as a person. It is rewarding to me that you were able to get into these anecdotes & get a real feeling for the stories told. Kind words, i.e., “great post.” Great comment. Thanks, Russel! Phil

  8. Phil .. I have found these posts very enlightening and moving. First hand history!

    Regards Thom.

    • Thom, So nice of you to look at this! Many of as Military Police clerks in the Battalion Headquarters were college men who got drafted. So “enlightening & moving” & “first hand history,” but not the combat sacrifice. –Thus the perspective of levity!!! Thanks again! Phil

      • Looking out for more Phil.

    • Thom, Many thanks for the encouragement! Phil

  9. What a recollection. It’s so cool that you have kept all images in good shape with great stories attached to them! Have you printed them into a story book?

    • Indah!!! How nice of you to take a look & comment! Yes, I always go through my scrapbook to see what photos I have before I write a Vietnam story. And while the photos are not ideal, on this one what I came up with was to tell my three anecdotes ALL through captions under related photos! A book? No, but thank you for thinking so & encouraging me. I DO HAVE all my letters home to my parents from Vietnam, ONE LETTER FOR EACH DAY I WAS THERE!!! A book could be done just by editing the letters! ….But no plans to do so. –Keep up the great work on your website! I still don’t know how much time you have left in the USA or if you have returned to Rotterdam to stay & live. Thanks, Indah! Phil


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