Wednesday, February 16, 2005

#3 Letter from Vietnam

Binh Thuy, 5 December 1969

Dear Mom,

Early morning and I have a bit of time so thought I'd catch you up on things. Only one bird grounded for parts this morning. A rare and good feeling. Only 6 percent of our 313 vehicles are inoperative - also an improvement and getting steadily better. Just signed a new contract with Esso for delivery of more jet fuel more often, which will keep us from running so dangerously, low. In the midst of this we are preparing a large unit for an in country move which will have to be completed before the end of the month. This will reduce our strength considerably and provide room and impetus for more Vietnamese expansion. We plan to move them by a combination air, sea and land convoy arrangement so that they can close at their new destination in a timely manner without excessive and costly pile up of men and material. Bill Nall is working out the details with the unit and Sgt. Baker, my underpaid and under-ranked transportation wonder is working out the details and making arrangements for transportation, even though he is due to leave for the states in three days. Fortunately we were able to get a replacement reassigned in here from Phan Rang. He reported in last night and will be in a panic trying to pick up where Baker leaves off. Just another example of a Personnel goof-up by not getting people where they belong in a timely manner.
Tomorrow a large entourage of Vietnamization "experts" from the Pentagon arrives here for a breeze through, their announced purpose being to check up on VNAF supply support capabilities. A General and several GS umpteens are on board. That should completely foul up tomorrow, but thank goodness the Advisory Group will have to brief them.
The enclosed photos show a night firefight off the perimeter which I made with my pocket camera. There was a sapper squad sighted out there and as you can see it has become a very unhealthy place for a sapper to be. Those tracers outlining the crossfire are coming from M-60 machine guns and M-16 automatic rifles. The illumination is made by hand, mortar and aircraft launched parachute flares. If Charlie had gotten through that he would have had to contend with four lines of barbed wire and claymore mines before getting on the base perimeter. The next morning we found abandoned fox holes, mortar tubes and paths where bodies had been dragged away. On of my Sergeants was getting ready to record a letter tape to his wife when this started - his barracks was located about 75 feet from where this action took place and he got the whole thing on audio tape. I made a copy for my old age. We had no casualties. This place is pretty easy to defend because we have so much mobility. There are about 5 miles of perimeter to the base and we use armored cars with M-60s mounted on them and armored personnel carriers which can race to any point within minutes. There are lookout towers every several hundred yards outfitted with starlight scopes through which the guards have a capability of scanning the paddies. Through the starlight scope the night landscape takes on a bright green illumination and movement can be easily detected. If the guard sights anything moving he radios Central Security Control and instant firepower arrives on the scene. We also use sentry dogs and the Vietnamese Forces post sniper squads out in the boondocks each night. If Charley tries a standoff rocket, mortar or pack howitzer attack, the guards hit a switch at the first sound of incoming - a siren is activated and we bunker up. Standoff mortar and rocket attacks are very inaccurate because the terrain is so flat and with high growth coming out of the marshland, they can't observe where their artillery lands and make corrections. It is a well known maxim that if the first one doesn't get you, you've got it made because there are bunkers all over the base and you are never more than a quick sprint away from one.
There has been increased activity in IV Corps but it is mostly small terrorist activities against the cities and against the small outposts along the Cambodian border. A few night ago a VC hurled a satchel charge at one of our vehicle in Can Tho but it exploded without hurting anyone and we captured the bugger.
My EOD team has been busy choppering around the countryside disarming booby traps that are discovered and called in to us. Usually a charge is placed in an unattended vehicle or under it, so that it explodes when moved or started. A particularly devious trick is to wrap a couple of strips of scotch tape around a hand grenade, withdraw the pin and drop in the gas tank. The gas eats through the tape, releasing the handle and the vehicle disintegrates. One winding of tape takes less than 10 minutes, 2 windings about 40 minutes. Charles also picks up our empty beer cans, cuts the end out, fits a grenade inside (it just fits) pulls the pin, attaches a trip wire and stretches across the road at night. The unsuspecting trips the wire, which pulls the grenade out of the can and kerplow.
Well, I didn't mean to get started on that. This base will probably be the first one to be turned over to the Vietnamese in toto. We will be turning over all flying operations to them within the next month or so. We will probably experience a cut in about 2 months of about 50% of the Air force strength here. This is all calculated to make the VNAF pick up the ball as we reduce. As you can imagine, they are not anxious for us to leave and are dragging their feet about taking on some of the support roles that we are filling now. Since most all of the support functions on the base are under my command, you can imagine what I will be faced with for the remainder of my tour. Our guys are reluctant to turn over some jobs to the VNAF, especially such things as base security. Al Zuber will be losing about 200 of his combat security force and this may bring cause for a few sleepless nights. I have plans made up for turning over fuels, explosive ordnance disposal, munitions, supply and maintenance as soon as possible.
I just got a call from Col. Fox, the Advisory Group Commander here, that he would appreciate it if I would be on hand when the visitors arrive, so I guess I better start checking up on a few statistics to have handy when they ask their big questions. Will close now and get this on its way. Much love to all, Dave


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