Thursday, July 26, 2012

Nhat Ky

In a letter dated September 24, 1964, I wrote:

I am presently at Hon Quan, relieving the regular radio operator who has gone to Saigon for four days to get his teeth fixed. There are only ten or eleven Americans here, but the town of Hon Quan is much bigger than Phuoc Vinh and much nicer. This seems to have been a relatively prosperous area -- lots of rubber plantations -- before the VC moved in. I was amazed to see 2 gas stations here (Phuoc Vinh has none) many large houses, a paved road, and even street signs. (In Phuoc Vinh there are only 3 or 4 streets, so they don't need any signs.)

I came up here last Friday on a K-19, a very small one-engine plane sort of like a Piper Cub. It only holds two people, the pilot and one passenger. This was my first time in a light plane, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I now understand why some people go crazy over small planes, take flying lessons, buy their own planes, etc.

We have an Air Force lieutenant at Phuoc Vinh who is that way; they recently gave him an L-19 of his own to fly, and he is up in it every day from dawn to dusk under any conceivable pretext. As one of the sergeants said: "Christmas sure came early for him this year, didn't it?"

Hon Quan, also known as An Loc, is located at 11° 39′ 10″ North, 106° 36′ 34″ East. At that time it was the capital of Binh Long Province. Seven years later, in 1972, it was the site of a 66-day battle that was actually won by the South Vietnamese army with the help of massive American air strikes.

After a few days in Hon Quan I returned to Phuoc Vinh for three weeks and was then sent to Tân Ba in the middle of October, 1964. This was also supposed to be a short assignment, just for a few days, but as it turned out I was kept there for four and a half months, until March 2, 1965.

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One day towards the end of May 1965 we heard some shooting from the direction of Phuoc Vinh town at about one in the afternoon. Those of us who were not on duty and had no particular assignment got into the sandbag emplacements to "await further orders".

Gradually the shooting got more intense, and after a while there were mortar rounds flying over our heads. We were perplexed by all this. Who was shooting at whom? Which ones were the Viet Cong and which the ARVN?

From our colleagues who were on duty in the commo shop we eventually learned that there were no Viet Cong involved at all. A fight had started in town between members of two different ARVN units (some said between South Vietnamese soldiers and Cambodian mercenaries), who began shooting at each other first with hand weapons and later with mortars.

After a while a small ARVN helicopter with a huge loudspeaker started circling the area, perilously low, with a strident message in Vietnamese blaring out of the loudspeaker. This was supposed to be telling everybody to stop shooting at each other, but one of the translators later confided to me that someone had put the wrong cassette into the cassette recorder, so the actual message was: "Farmers! Rally to the side of the government of the Republic of Vietnam and we will give you pigs and bricks to build pigstys! "

I don't know if there were any casualties from all this shooting, but after about two hours the shooting stopped, and all was quiet again.

A few days later, on May 31, 1965, I left Phuoc Vinh with all my gear on an HU-1D helicopter, which was newer and bigger than the HU-1B machines we had been using up to then. On the same day, American combat troops were brought in to Phouc Vinh and started digging in around the perimeter.

For my remaining few weeks in Vietnam I was stationed in a place called Xuan Loc, where a new division headquarters was being set up.

In a letter from Xuan Loc, dated June 19, 1965, I wrote:

The whole situation is getting quite gruesome, especially in what used to be PBT Special Zone. There are now almost one thousand Americans in Phuoc Vinh -- when I got there last July there were only thirty-five.

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