Arrival in Vietnam
Late in the afternoon on January 17th 1968 I arrived in Camron Bay, South Vietnam. SF guys didn’t arrive in A-teams, but as individuals, just like everyone else. I Gotta tell you that trepidation followed me off the plane. The heat and humidity hit me right in the face as soon as I hit the door of the aircraft. Although I wasn’t going to experience my 21st birthday for a few months, I thought, if I live to see that day, this was a heck of a place to experience my 21st year of life.
After my paperwork was reviewed and I had a meal I was taken to S.F. headquarters in Nha Trang. A thickness lingered in the air that never left, partly from the heat and humidity, and partly from the smell. For those of you who have not traveled outside of the U.S. your nostrils might be overwhelmed with strange, pungent, but not necessarily fragrant odors. That smell lingers with me, sort of like the lingering smell of either from an appendectomy I had as a child.
The next morning, over breakfast I heard some of the guys talking about an SF commo man who was found 1 click outside the wire. He was found sitting in a chair, facing the camp, with his head and his hands in his lap. I vaguely remember the guy from Bragg, he was a commo instructor. The reason I remembered the crusty S.O.B was because of his tattoos. He had a dotted line tattooed around his neck, and around his wrists, with the words, “cut along dotted line”, and that is where the V.C. sliced off these parts that were found lying in his lap.
Later that day I was flown up the coast to Da Nang, the I-Corp SFOB. Since I was a new medic, I was temporarily assigned to the C-Team hospital until I got orders for a more permanent assignment.
The first few days at C-Team were somewhat uneventful. I worked in the CIDG hospital functioning as a nurse. The ward in the hospital was a large room, with row after row of beds filled with men surviving or dieing from wounds suffered in combat or some local disease. There were no private rooms, for you Paris Hilton kinda folks. On my first day at the hospital one of the other medics, who had been there for a while, asked me if I could give him a hand, and I said certainly, what do you need? He responded, by asking if I could help him get a catheter out of a patient, because he had been tugging for quite some time and couldn’t get it out. I asked him if had let the air out of the bubble, and he ran off. Well maybe he didn’t need my help after all.
I made rounds every day with a doctor. I was working with him on one patient that had a severe burn running along his left forearm from a willie peter round (White phosphorus). As we were checking this patient one day, the doctor asked the man if he had been circumcised. The man said that he had not been and wanted to know why. The doctor had an idea of circumcising the young Vietnamese CIDG soldier and grafting the foreskin onto his arm. The CIDG asked the doctor if there were going to be any negative side effects, and I responded by saying (and gesturing at the same time) that his arm would get hard every time he saw a pretty woman. I guess he could live with that because we did the circumcision. At first it didn’t look like it would take (it remained purple for a couple of days) and then it seemed to be coming along.
After a few days I got my first “real fun” assignment, I was to accompany another SF guy to the “Citadel” to pick up a couple of interpreters. It was going to be a quick in and out job, no worries. I don’t remember how long it took us to fly there, however I do remember my first response to taking off in a chopper. As the chopper lifted off the ground it banked to the right, which is the side I sat on. As soon as the chopper banked I grabbed for one of the support beams, since it had no doors. Another older guy, smoking a cigar, just looked at me and asked “new in country”? Unfortunately by the time the other soldier and I got to the location to pick up the two interpreters we were too late. The two interpreters had been turned in by their families and hung by the local VC.
Roughly around the first of February I was assigned to A-101 at Lang Vei. I was briefed by “Doc”, the senior medic who sort of “ran” the CIDG hospital. He told me that I was going to Lang Vei as the senior medic to take care of the 400+ Laotians soldiers and a couple of thousand refugees who recently fled from Laos. When the briefing was finished I was asked if I had any questions, and I said yes, just 1. I asked, "what are the E&E routes", because you failed to bring them up in my briefing. Doc responded with, “there are 2, UP or DOWN”.
The next thing I know I was on another chopper on my way to the DMZ. As we flew along the DMZ I could actually see the DMZ (sorta) because the ground was pock marked with bomb craters and there were more craters on the northern side of the DMZ than on the southern side of the border.