A Nug during the Monsoon Season
It rained every afternoon when I first got to Viet Nam. My first assignment was at Whitebirch, identifying ditters, which lasted a couple of weeks, or so, if I recall. The guys who had been there a while amused themselves telling me and the rest of the nugs ("new guys") stories of how, when they had first come in country, they spent a month pulling details like riding shotgun on school buses, because VC on the street would come up and try to hang hand grenades on the wire mesh which covered the windows, which had been installed to keep VC from throwing grenades into the buses when the kids were riding to and from school.
Ken Gill and Political Region Six (PR6)
After Whitebirch I went to the Hangar, to replace a fellow named Ken Gill (many thanks for the name, Jack Waer), who had a spectacular red moustache. His part of the problem was PR6, the Delta, and Ken had done such a great job he had everything broken out, all I had to do was maintain what he did. Interestingly, he re-enlisted and came back and ended up being my replacement. Sometimes still I wonder whether I left Ken with as good a turnover as the one he gave me. Salute, Ken.
Jim Copley and I do a great job NSA already did
I got in arguments all the time with Bill Saffa about the problem. Since my part was so clean, I suspected that everyone else's was also. Jim Copley and I (Jim had preceded me to the Hangar) worked night and day for a couple of weeks and ended up getting his region (PR5) as clean as Ken Gill had gotten PR6, while Saffa constantly criticized us, saying it would never work. SSG John Moore was impressed though, and we finally had rotas for a 95% complete SOI, of which we proudly informed NSA. The only problem was that they wrote us back and said that they had sent much the same technical information to the 3rd RRU a couple of months before, before Copley and I had gotten there. Lord that was embarrassing. But the message had just been filed and the information never worked, because everyone thought NSA was full of it. Too bad Copley and I hadn't been clever enough to search the literature before spending all that time. At least, though, we were able to publish the information where it would do some good.
The 173d Airborne Brigade
When the 173rd Airborne Brigade came in country they hadn't made a jump in a while and they were all going to lose their jump pay, so their CO decided to have a practice jump right there in Viet Nam. He had a wonderful drop zone all picked out right there about 40 miles northwest of Saigon..yessir it sure looked swell on the map. The guys working the problem in that area plotted the exact coordinates when the amazing news got to us, and we debated what to do since the fellow was going to be jumping into a dangerous area, and it was going to be a combat drop, whether he thought so or not. In those days it actually might have been that they would have dropped without ammo. The guys who had the responsibility for that part of the problem told John Moore about it and showed him on the map. They didn't jump and a couple of days later Viet Nam was declared a combat zone, so we all got combat pay, and we got a refund on our income tax to that date. Man oh man...I took R&R to Hong Kong, what a great trip. I don't know if he deserves it, or even his name, but, because of that great R&R, a respectful salute to the CG of the 173rd Airborne Brigade.
I'm Coup Qualified
The Vietnamese kept on having coup d'etats and we used to joke about being "coup qualified" and wondering if we were going to get medals, etc.. Well, Uncle Sam got enough of it, and when Nguyen Cao Ky decided it was his turn to be Grand High Phooba of Viet Nam and contest Ming The Merciless for control of the Universe, we were there, right on the airfield. I had been in the Field Artillery before ASA, and so I guess that's why they sent me and three others with a deuce and a half, a fifty caliber machine gun, a couple of boxes of ammunition and told us to go out on the runway at Tan Son Nhut and keep any Vietnamese planes from landing! Ky was the Supreme Air Marshall, or something. Imagine our surprise at our orders, four ASA guys, one machine gun, one runway. It was easy for us to imagine getting strafed, though we were fairly sure there would be no shooting, it was still certainly an interesting ride from Davis out onto the runway. When we got there, I grabbed the machine gun, just like John Wayne, and jumped off the back of the deuce and a half onto the concrete and....couldn't straighten up. In excruciating pain, I'd done something to my back (it still bothers me, from time to time, today) and couldn't move, so one of the fellows had to drive me back to the hospital, laying on the bed of the truck, flopping around in agony because I couldn't get into the seat in the cab. The muscle relaxers and pain pills were a lot better than I thought dope would be. I was in bed a week. Ah, to be so agile and young again that I could actual do something athletic to injure myself so severely, or, as an alternative, to be given such good dope again. We left the two fellows there with the machine gun, and I don't think they even knew how to set the head space on it..oh well, they didn't have to shoot at any planes...
Clayton D. Strand, Combat Pilot
For a while we were allowed to ride along on ARDF missions, just for fun, with our M-14s at the ready. I did this, the last time, with a 19 year old Warrant Officer named, if I recall, Mr. Martin. Well, that day he had a terrible hang-over and, after we had taken off, he asked me if I had ever flown a plane. I said no, but while in High School I had been in the Christian Service Brigade and had taken the "Airman" track, so had read about it (I could have chosen to be a "mariner" or a "woodsman"). He said, "great", explained how the pedals worked; how the stick worked; showed me the altimeter, told me to keep it at the altitude; showed me the compass, and told me to keep to the bearing; and told me to wake him up in half an hour or so; then went to sleep. Whoa, what a rush, before I knew what a rush was... But I did it, white-knuckles holding the steering wheel...er, "stick", leg muscles locked on the pedals without moving them, eyes desperately focusing from the altimeter, to the compass, and back, for thirty minutes or so (maybe a lot less), with the morse DF operator in the back of the L-19 (?) chattering away at me as I took the plane up and down and side to side, flying. Then Mr. Martin woke up, and took over. So it is my contention I have flown an aircraft on a combat mission, and I don't know why they didn't give me an air medal and wings. I wonder if it would be too much to show up at a reunion or some similar event wearing a leather helmet with goggles and a long, long white silk scarf? As it is, I have a suspicious lack of ribbons, medals and badges.
After we had finished our mission we were flying back to Tan Son Nhut when we saw tracers--some guy was firing at us from the ground. Well there had been bad weather north of us that day and a huge flight of planes were coming back with all of their ordinance, and Mr. Martin called in the location of the target and we hung around (way, way, up and away) and watched as plane after plane dropped all sorts of things on the patch of trees where the fire had come from. They strafed it, they bombed it, they set it on fire, what a show. I remember being startled as the explosive energy blew out in waves through the leaves at the top of the trees. I've often wondered if the poor fellow who took the shots thought that he had fired at Westmoreland or something. If he did, though, he was wrong. It was just me, Clayton D. Strand, Radio Traffic Analyst, with Combat Pilot for a secondary MOS, and friends.
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