UNIT: 134th AHC
SITUATION: Arriving in Country
LOCATION: Cam Rahn Bay, Vietnam.
TIME: 5 May, 1969
The Vietnam bound personnel and I boarded a transport plane, and if I remember correctly, we flew to Japan. The flight crew changed there, and with a new flight crew, we flew on to Guam. The flight crew treated us well. I think we were on the ground in Japan about four or five hours. I think the same arrangement took place when we landed in Guam. At each place we deplaned, they clean the cabin, restock the drinks and food, and we boarded the plane. The flight time from one place to the other was about 11 or 12 hours both segments of the trip.
We took off from Guam, and when we landed in Cam Rahn Bay, my first impression was, “Oh my gosh, this is a sauna bath!”
On 5 May, 1969, I arrived in country, Cam Rahn Bay, Vietnam. Hot-swampy-relentless Vietnam, and I spent about seven days doing in processing paperwork and learning about my posting in Vietnam. Hot-swampy-relentless! That had been Cam Rahn Bay. Hot-swampy-relentless was now Phu Hiep. Even though it was 200 meters from the ocean the only relief for those of us stationed at Phu Hiep got from hot-swampy-relentless was when we went into the ocean for a pastime and searched for flounder. That was relief of a sort.
We were in Cam Rahn Bay about eight or nine days. We were filling out paperwork and receiving our fatigues, boot, and other equipment. The weather was such that I really didn’t want any more uniforms. Because it was so much like a sauna, I would have been comfortable walking around and swimming trunks.
Personal data was not on computers in Vietnam. We fill out papers that would have been better feel about with data from computer, but they didn’t have that thing in Vietnam. We were full of questions, and we asked every question imaginable. The one answer that held our attention most was the reply to a question I didn’t hear, but the answer was a new helicopter pilot life expectancy in combat was about 10 seconds. I thought, “Oh crap, after spending $250,000 training us to be helicopter pilots, you’re telling me that the life expectancy of a helicopter pilot is 10 seconds? Oh hell!”
Anyway, they started calling names. They called my name and a couple others and said get on this cut helicopter, you’re going to the 268th Battalion.
I asked, “Where is that?”
They said, “don’t worry about! You’ll find out when you get there!”
Several other pilots and I were put on an Army helicopter, and we were flown to our destinations. At my duty assignment, we were ordered to attend and in–processing briefing. We were now part of the first aviation group, 278 aviation brigade, 17th group, 134 AHC Battalion. We met our commanding officer. Our Battalion commander, Major Teeter. He met me and another FNG who rode in with me. The term, FNG represented F-ing new guy. You can guess what the F represented. Vietnam caused the creation of a lot of new expressions.
Major Teeter’s main order to us, and the one he spent much time following up on, was that we were to write home at least once a week. It wasn’t long before I ran afoul Major’s orders. But good grief, when you don’t have much to say what are you going to do? According to the Major, YOU WILL find something to write about, even if you have to make up something. I spent time recycling things I had said in previous letters. When I thought that was monotonous, I grabbed a reel to reel tape recorder and I rambled a lot.
I also met our company commander. He was a Captain who I later learned was only 20 years old. I was a warrant officer one, WO1, and I was only 21 myself. New, incoming, personnel were not allowed to fly during the first month in country. We spent a bit of time filling out paperwork and becoming accustomed to the climate in Vietnam.
My first night in Phu Hiep was a doozy. I made a slight error in judgment. Yep, it was hot-swampy-relentless, and I lay on my bunk trying to sleep. I did drift off to sleep finally. Then, about midnight, I heard explosions going off. I thought that my roommate was getting a little squirrelly about it because he kept saying, “We got to get out of here and get to a sandbag shelter. I kept trying to tell him that it was just a simulation as in training. He got in my face and told me to, “Shut up! This ain’t no training exercise. This is real, and Charlie is firing mortars at us! Haul your butt out of that bunk, and follow me!”
Oh hell! The Viet Cong were firing mortars, and I was treating like it was a simulation. I jumped out of bed, didn’t even grab any clothing, jammed my toe on the bunk bed leg, and ran in my skivvies with my buddy to the shelter. Yeah, I ran with a limp, but I did run. That was the last time that I thought any explosion was like a training exercise.
I was very careful about what I did in Vietnam after that. I learned that I needed to be careful in regard to the helicopter I was to fly. I met my maintenance crew chief. I asked him, “Where is my bird? Which one will I fly?” I think his name was SPC Spoon.
Without hesitating, he was forceful and direct. He gave me the best answer he had. He said, “All of these birds are mine. And you will not fly or touch any of my birds until I tell you they are ready to fly. And when you fly one of my birds, you had better bring my bird back without any of the parts missing!”
Well, yes, I was new to Vietnam, an FNG, and I could see that like the Viet Cong firing mortars in the middle of the night that Spoon was one person that I needed to be nice to. I could run from the Viet Cong mortars, but I had to be able to deal with Spoon. I nodde...