Let’s start off with me emphasizing that I am no hero and I am not claiming any glory from on-the-ground combat experience. I did log 300-some hours of combat flying time, but there are many in my field who flew far more combat missions in Vietnam than I did. Nonetheless, there are some things about having spent time there during the war that might be of interest.
I was there as part of an aerial reconnaissance crew, yet the authorities decided that, despite our missions being rated critically important, we were not approved for air-conditioned quarters. The thinking must have been that we were some kind of dip-stick cargo monkeys. Air conditioning would have made for better pre-flight crew rest and thus more alertness during missions, but oh well.
So, we were quartered in the original Tent City area of Danang Air Base, South Vietnam, and although it had a chow hall with a full kitchen, at least once a week we got C-rations. Despite a name change from “C-rations” to “Meals-Combat-Individual,” the product remained the same. And despite what Wikipedia claims, a small packet of cigarettes – usually unfiltered – was included at the time. The food was so bad that when we deployed, many of us brought foot lockers of boxed and canned goods from our home base at Yokota, Japan, to replace the “food” at Danang.
Another example of shining brass thinking was the base commander declaring that the sand around our tents had to be freshly raked like a Zen garden by 9 AM every damned day. It did not matter that this violated Air Force regulations about pre- and post-flight crew rest, the sand had to look nice for morning inspections. Besides, it gave tent residents “something to do” in the war zone!
In one part of this canvas-clad City was a large tent that – after normal duty hours – served as a beer garden. Forgetting the ridiculousness of “normal duty hours” in a war zone, selling beer to guys with loaded weapons is a very bad idea at any time of day. I know of one occasion in which a drunk GI got off a few rounds from his M-16 before being gang-tackled and led away. Another time, there was quite a commotion when a krait, a very poisonous snake indigenous to the area, was spotted slithering around.
There were tense times when the enemy would fire salvos of unguided rockets at the base from across the rice paddies. They aimed at the flight line to destroy aircraft, but during one such attack, one barracks of our sister unit there took a direct hit, causing many fatalities. My boss was there for that attack and took a photo showing the result after the debris had been cleared. After that barrage, no one assumed that rockets would always land on the flight-line and we all dashed for a bunker.
The problem was that our closest latrine had malfunctioned, but rather than fix it, authorities just closed it off. People were expected to trek a quarter-mile to the next latrine. Some people could not (“insistent” diarrhea was common, probably due to unsanitary chow hall conditions), and others simply refused. Instead, they did their business in those bunkers. Imagine what it was like to dive into a bunker seeking safety from rocket attacks, only to find – well, you can figure out that it was UGLY!
If this seems bad, consider those out in the field who had it much worse. These memories are not of great importance. However, the guys who served in ‘Nam are. This is a week after Memorial Day 2017 and too early for Veterans Day, but please give those veterans some thought.