saigon holiday, 1971 part 3

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this is the final chapter of the saigon trip.  i hope you enjoy it as much as the other two chapters.  i want to thank all of you for reading.  i appreciate it very much.

saigon holiday, 1971  part 3

we had to get a cab to the nearest boq.  way too hung over, plus too hot and humid to walk.  after an overly zealous breakfast and along with the cab fare we were broke again.  two more days in saigon and no money give us an idea of sorts.  finally.  grab a cab to air america.  catch a flight and just go back to ham tan.   this means stiffing the cabbie at the gate but we are too broke to care.  we caught a cab and it deposited us at the air base entrance.  we bolt and run like rabbits.  the cabbie to old to catch us and he’s unarmed.

main entrance, tan son nhut air base.

feeling better about things we hit the air america terminal and ask about a flight back to ham tan.  we are told nothing is available for the next two days.  the only flight we can get is the one we had already booked two days down the road.  sleeping on the floor of the cia owned and operated airline for two nights is not allowed.  probably not even for five minutes.  the cia doesn’t run flop houses.

there’s a soldier in the air america terminal who hears of our plight.  he tells us to go to the chopper pad about half a mile away and see if we can hitch a chopper ride back to ham tan.  this lifts our spirits as it’s still early morning.  however, by noon we are beginning to realize we were stuck.  no chopper rides today.

the heli-port at tan son nhut.

we seem doomed to some sort of living nightmare.  when out of the blue this vietnamese army guy with a jeep walks up and says, you guys want a ride?  yes.  where to?  ham tan.  no way, way to dangerous.  so bill comes up with a plan.  i’ll give you this watch if you take us to bien hoa.  we figure we can stay in our company area and go unnoticed for a few days and somehow manage to get back to saigon for our flight back to ham tan.  the guy says, let me see the watch.  of course he doesn’t want it as it’s total junk and had already stopped running.  so no ride.  the viet then says, hey you guys got ration cards?  yeah, we have ration cards.  virgin ones.

you see with ham tan being out in the nowhere boonies the army gave you smokes for free and there was booze on the compound.  you didn’t need to use the ration cards.  so they stayed virgin.  this changed later but at the time it was so.

with that information the viet’s eyes light up.  he says, ok, i give you money.  then we go to the px(post exchange) and you buy all the cigarettes and beer on the cards for this month.  then i’ll take you to bien hoa.

this was actually a mother load for the viet.  the black market value for all the smokes and beer was a nice hefty amount of coin in any man’s language.  having learned a lot in the past day or so we say, nah, for all that you take us to ham tan.  once again, no way, too dangerous.  ok.  we counter with, xuan loc, which is about half way to ham tan.  we know a few guys there and we figure we can spend the night and worry about tomorrow later.  ok, deal, says the viet.  with that it’s off to px we go.

after wards we load the guy up with the smokes and beer.  he then says, ok now we go to bien hoa, driving to xuan loc is too dangerous.   we counter with, ok.  we’ll throw in the junk watch and you don’t get shot right here and right now.  and we go to xuan loc.  the viet takes the watch and drives us the forty miles or so to xuan loc.

an aerial view of xuan loc.

it was late afternoon by the time we got to xuan loc.  the viet guy bitching the whole way.  he dropped us off at another macv advisory team compound and went off to find a place to spend the night.  we ate some dinner, watched a movie, then slept in guy’s bunks that were working the overnight shift in the commo(communication) bunker.

there aren’t many mosquitoes in ham tan.  the beach and all.  too dry or something for mosquitoes even in the monsoon season.  however, in xuan loc they were thick and nasty.  the smell of fresh meat drove them particularly insane that night.  even with mosquito netting they were relentless.  waking up in the morning we found that our sheets were spotted with blood.  our blood.  spotted from rolling over in our semi sleep and squashing the little sated bastards into the sheets.   the guys came in looked at their now blood spotted sheets and were not happy.  xin loi, sorry about that.  it was time for breakfast and planning.  something.  anything.

someone at breakfast suggested we hit the chopper pad and talk to the
air traffic controller.  we say that didn’t work in saigon.  we are told not to worry.  so off we go to the chopper pad.  a very busy place.  even busier than saigon.  you see, in xuan loc there is a war going on.  the air traffic controller tells us ham tan is no sweat.  unless the chopper is on a medivac or a mission, he’ll have them come in and pick us up, for he is the lord of this air space.

a portion of xuan loc international airport.

not long after that a chopper lands and we are pointed to it and told to hop right in.  well, of course the chopper is already full and i have to sit with one leg out in space while i hang on to the door frame.  all this while trying not to get in the door gunner’s way.  my first chopper ride and when it was over i would never want another.  we didn’t know if the pilot was unhappy about being made to pick us up or if he was trying to avoid shit on the ground.  we never found out.  none the less, it was an even worse ride than the flight to saigon on air america.  hard to believe but true.

ham tan in sight.  finally home again.  that’s how it felt.  it always did.  we get back to the compound and everyone is surprised to see  us back so early.  before we can explain why in walks our company commander with the executive officer and first sargent in tow.  we of course are counting our blessings.  thanking everyone from god and buddha to swami vishnu the air controller didn’t flag down their helicopter.  finally some good luck or so it would seem.

this is indeed a rare visit as the company commander never came out to ham tan.  it was too dangerous for him.  he always sent the executive officer out on pay days or for whatever.  but today he’s in ham tan and feeling fine.  noticing bill he says, hold on there lad.  we were trying to get out of the bunker.  is that a .38 special you have there?   first sargent, write him up for that unauthorized weapon, and that boonie hat as well.  yes, sir.  for you see, macv didn’t care what kind of weapon you carried as long as it worked and you could shoot it.  the rest of the military were locked solid into the bullshit.  hats were the same with macv as well.  some other units too but not our signal unit.  as bill was getting reamed i sidled out of the bunker before someone decided to go off on me.  off to the hootch, my bunk, and home for some much needed sleep.

fini

the photos in the story were just taken from various places on the net.  googled, in other words.  i want to thank whoever for having them on the net for me to find and use.  i’m not making any money on this deal so i suppose it might be ok.  any the ways, thanks again to whoever, the photos added to the story.

i used to have photos taken in nam.  even a few from saigon.  those i lost long ago.  moving frenzies being what they are.  frantic.  i also had some photos of ham tan and the advisory team.  those are now being cataloged at texas tech university and their vietnam center and archive.  at some point you will be able to be view them on line in the archive.  you should visit that site: http://www.vietnam.ttu.edu/ i think it’s the best vietnam archive in the country.

yeah, i know the ending is sorta anti-climatic.  it was what it was.  all in all, i think it’s a good story.  thanks for reading.

this story/idea is registered with the writers guild of america, west.

jmh

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One thought on “saigon holiday, 1971 part 3

    […] i used to have photos taken in nam. even a few from saigon. those i lost long ago. moving frenzies being what they are. frantic. i also had some photos of ham tan and the advisory team. those are now being cataloged at texas tech …[Continue Reading] […]

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