Wednesday, June 15, 2011

June 16 - June 22

14th day, June 16

Our sergeant I thought was so great got drunk last night. Well, actually, he gets drunk every night, but last night was worth mentioning. Fortunately he was in the other hutch. He woke me up yelling at the people in the hutch to go to bed, get up, run around the building, sounded like Tarzan, and a few other things I’d better not mention, although this is supposed to be an accurate account. I doubt it they would have done everything he said, but he was holding a loaded M-16 on them. Finally the noise they were making attract the sergeant major and he came over and broke it up. I don’t know what happened after that. Apparently not much – he’s still a sergeant.

As a matter of fact, he’s also an airborne ranger, Green Beret, jungle expert, and combat infantryman. They call him “Rock”.

The rain stopped yesterday, but made up for the lack today. Now it’s 15 out of 16 days since I left it has rained, if only slightly, during the 24 hour period. It was really hot today until the rain came. When it did come, I was right by the ammunition bunker so I ducked in there to keep from drowning. In doing so I made a great discovery – the only cool place in Vietnam is the ammunition bunker. It’s mostly all sand bags on the sides and top, about 3 deep and the heat simply does not get inside; it was like air conditioning.

They did put me to work today - I went to the motor pool to help change tires on our jeeps. With no tire changers, you can imagine how pleasant a morning I had. It was too hot to work with our shirt on, so I took mine off. In just an hour (from 9-10 am ) I had a beautiful sunburn. I can hardly stand to wear my shirt, let alone lie down.

Another one of the colored boys has been running around here and occasionally spitting up blood. He went to the doctor t find the trouble and hasn’t gone back to see him since. The doc told him he might have ulcers, but to find out he’d have to run a tube through his nose into his stomach to draw out some fluid to find out. Just while he was telling me about it his eyes got big and his voice rose – he was scared to death. He said he’d just as soon have ulcers than to let some crazy doctor man run a tube clean through my body.” He shakes ever time you mention it to him.

I’ve got two more complaints about this place:

1) The PX is well stocked in some areas but in other it falls apart. They sell shelves of shaving gear – after shave, shaving brushes, shaving cream, but no blades or razors. You can buy flashlights by the barrel full, but try to buy any batteries. And the thing that got me started on this in the first place is the great amount of beautiful drawing paper and artist pads, but no pencils or ink or even felt tip pens. Also, cameras at cellar-low prices, and no film except for Brownie cameras  - which they don’t sell. I’ve seen tape recorders and no tape and records but no record players. Maybe the gooks think that the records will play on the tape recorders.

2) The other is the food ( I suppose you expected that). It’s not that it’s so bad, it’s just that you only get enough to taste and that’s it. The main thing is what there is to drink. The milk (and ice cream) is all powdered and tastes like it’s sour when you drink it. Some say you get used to it, but I never will. The only other thing they serve is ice (?) tea and coffee. The coffee is awful and the ice in the ice tea melts within 5 minutes, then it becomes warm and diluted. At dinner they serve water, but it’s the same as the ice tea only the melted ice doesn’t dilute it. When you’re not in the mass hall, it’s impossible to get a drink of water or anything until 12:00 noon. At 12:00 the main club opens, but by the time you walk the ½ mile up there, you’re dead and by the time you walk back, you’re thirsty again. At 5:00 our club opens, and if you can still breathe and move you can crawl up there and get a Coke or beer. About the only thing I get to drink is a glass of water at each meal and a couple of Cokes at night. This doesn’t seem to bother anybody else, they say to take 4-6 salt tablets a day and you won’t get as thirsty. I think they seem to make things worse.

I was looking at the Sports Car Graphic I bought before I left the world. Some guy came up and saw a picture of a Camero. 
“Hey, is that a Camero?”

“Yes, what does it look like, a Firebird?”
“What’s a Firebird?”

I didn’t realize that this cat had been over here since July of last year, and had never seen a Camero or heard of a Firebird. That got me thinking about how far behind a year over here can get you. A year is really a long time. I wonder how much I’ll miss during the next year. (besides the Trans-Am Sedan race, S.C.C.A. nationals, U.S.R.R.C. and the Regional Team Races). I will be home for next year’s June race provided they have it either the second weekend or thereafter.

I figure I should be getting some mail either today or this weekend (“weekend” is only a figure of speech over here) if my letters have reached the world and if yours have reached here. I guess it takes about 4 days each way, airmail. Believe me, it will be nice to know that the world is still out there.

Would you believe I just looked out the window to see if the movie has started yet and out on one of the bigger stagnate mud holes in the compound I see about 12 or so little yellow ducklings. The silly things were out there last night but I didn’t figure they’d be back. I don’t know where they come from – there aren’t any bigger ducks around; maybe the Easter Bunny! Such a peaceful sight in a place like this. Happy Easter, Bob

PS: 2:30 am, June 17
The artillery has kept me awake all (boom) night. Not only the artillery, but off in the all too near distance I hear mortars, machine guns, and rifle fire. Now I know they’re not having target practice at 2:30 am. It doesn’t seem to bother anybody though. I guess it must be out on the perimeter defense line, but everyone’s asleep so I guess that the perimeter guards can take care of it. I was awake so I thought I’d add this (I had to ruin an envelope to do it).

15 day, June 17

Peace, The time drags on. Everybody’s gone now, out to the field again for 3 days.

Last night several guys got drunk including the sergeant (again). Actually it was disgusting. One guy could hardly talk, let alone walk; another ran out of the hutch every five minutes to vomit and then would come back and have another beer! I lay there in bed trying to sleep until about 1 o’clock while they were running around playing the radio, saying things that made no sense, laughing at things that weren’t a bit funny, vomiting and generally making fools of themselves. It wasn’t as though they were having a good time or that the beer, etc. had made them happy, it was more like they were in a state of depression and were trying to force themselves to laugh. It was pathetic. Yelling and shouting at each other one minute and then laughing, almost more like crying, the next.

The more I see of this kind of behavior the more I say that will never be me. Just seeing how ridiculous they look and act, I just can’t see myself making such a fool of myself. I do that enough when I’m sober. And there’s no reason for it – just getting drunk just to be getting drunk. I’ve never seen anybody who liked to make them selves sick like that.

If/when I get back to the world, I’m going go to school and find out why people are so stupid, why they reduce themselves to such a low status on 3.2 beer, why they fight stupid little wars. . . .

That’s the sermon friends, now if you’ll rise and turn to page 105 in the hymnal . . . . .

16th day, June 18

Is this place getting me down? Is the Pope Catholic? Did Errol Flynn like girls? I’ve had a lot to do today. I went to church – very nice. I figured out that by way of the Philippines and Hawaii, I’m 11,213 miles from my home back in the world. If I went by Tokyo and Alaska, it’s only 9,337 miles. We’re twelve hours ahead of you, while you’re on daylight savings, and 11 hours ahead the rest of the time. If I was to dig a hole directly through the center of the earth, I would wind up about 300 miles east of Lima, Peru. If I was facing north and angled . . . let’s say it this way: I have to angle into the ground 28 degrees if I was facing east, and then turning north aimed 82 degrees east, I would come out in Columbus. I don’t know how long it would take but I bet if I had to, I could do it in a week.

I also decided if a frog had wings, it would bump his tail when he jumped.

I’ve been in the army 159 days, with 571 left. That’s almost 23 weeks and 81 weeks or a little over 9 months with a little less than 14 left. I’ve been in Vietnam 16 days with 349 left, or about 2 weeks, 50 left, ½ month, 11 ½ left.  On Jan. 19, 1968, I’ll have my first year in the army done. On June 2nd, that same year, I’ll have a year in Vietnam done. That comes out to 2 years, so I figure they ought to let me out then, instead of keeping me another 6 months. (If I wanted to get out permanently when I leave here, I would have to extend my tour here 4 months, to bring within 90 days of my scheduled discharge date. If I did that, they’d drop the 90 days and I’d be out for good.)

I have a few more startling facts. $1.00 is worth 118 p (piastres). One piastre is worth .84745762110161 cents. Over here, “Do You Believe in Magic” by the Lovin’ Spoonful is number one on the Saigon Survey. And it hasn’t rained for 2 days now.

Well they just brought in a block of ice to make some Kool-aid. We use a 5 gallon water can, break up the ice, add water and about 5 packs of Kool-aid (presweetened).  We’ve only got 3 of orange and 2 of black cherry, so they’re mixing it; wonder how that will taste?

17th day, June 19

Everybody was still out in the field last night, so the lights went out about 10 o’clock. Probably a half an hour later I heard a strange sound; “cheep, cheep; pitter-patter, cheep, cheep.” I got up, loaded my M-16 and turned on the lights. There, all over the hutch, were those silly little ducklings, running around the floor like chickens with their heads off (that doesn’t sound right). Little Vietnamese ducks, slanted eyes and all; they didn’t seem to be bothering anything, so I went back to sleep. They were gone this morning.

I did something today! Painted some of the officer’s hutches, have to finish. The paint was about the texture and consistency of cottage cheese. Now that the First Sergeant knows I’m here, I have an idea that I’ll be doing more little jobs around here until I get ambush school.

I’ve got bunker guard tonight. Out on the first defense line around the base camp. I guess this is the closest I get to the action until my school. I’d rather paint. More about bunker guard tomorrow, fans.

18 days, June 20

About a half a mile away from our area, there is a line of sandbag/bunkers which completely surrounds the whole Cu Chi Base Camp. They look like mounds of dirt from a distance, but are made of sandbags covered with dirt and camouflage net. The opening leads underground where there are two cots and shelves of ammunition. It’s a little room down there but no place to be if you’re scared of caves.

The bunkers are spaced about 100 meters apart with five rows of rolled barbed wire spaced 30 meters apart, stretched out in front. The area in front is cleared for about 1000 meters to where the wood line and jungle begins. Just a few shrubs, weeds, and trip flares and land mine for 1000 meters, then the barbed wire, then the claymore mines in front of the bunker, then the bunker with  4 M-16s and on M-60 machine gun. Behind the bunkers are the mortars and artillery that I keep talking about.

I got there about 7:00 when it was still light but looking like rain. The rain clouds in Vietnam are towering thunderheads, larger I think than any I’ve seen back in the world. One was shaped like a gigantic gorilla head; it was a perfect silhouette, with forehead, eyes, jaws, and teeth, all perfect. I was waiting for lightning to come out of his mouth and his eyes to light up, but it never happened and the wind soon blew him into some undetermined form. This is “gorilla” warfare?

There was a magnificent display of lightning also; bolts were leaping clear across the sky in all directions. What was really sharp was the way the whole clouds would light up and just glow like a huge Japanese lantern.

It got dark and the clouds went away and the moon and stars came out. I lay there on the roof of the bunker and for some reason began thinking how strange it was that the moon was the same here, and the stars still had the big and little dippers, north star, and all the other familiar stars in the same places, as they are back in the world.

I don’t know, I guess I just thought it all should be different over here. I even saw two satellites moving across the sky and one shooting star.

Suddenly over the tree line, there was a shower of mortar tracers. They were so far away that the sound couldn’t be heard. It looked like a Fourth of July celebration which lasted about 5 minutes with hundreds of red tracer coming from somewhere, going somewhere else, luckily in the opposite direction from me. If they were shooting at “Charlie – poor Charlie”.

Shortly, afterward, the artillery started shooting out to our front. I found out then that what they shoot most is aerial flares. There was one of our ambush patrols out to our front. When they spotted something suspicious whey called the flares in. I guess the advantage over using flare guns is the flares from the artillery were brighter and longer and didn’t give the patrol’s position away. Also if the suspected position is out of reach of the flare guns, the artillery can reach it. After about 3 flares, I guess they saw something and I heard a l50 caliber and saw the tracers out in the woods. After that, quiet.

My shift was over, so I crawled under my mosquito net and got two hours sleep; then it was my turn again. Everything was quiet except for the mosquitoes for these two hours. The guy that was up with me asked me if it was true about all the girls wearing mini-skirts. I told him the only mini-skirts I saw were at the High School and not at the colleges or anything.

I slept for two more hours during which the artillery was busy again. This time the guns were closer and when they sent off, I swear they lifted me right off the air mattress. They were shooting so far away I couldn’t see the flash when they hit (they weren’t flares).

That was it. No action, luckily, just a lot of noise and bugs. This morning when I got back to the hutch, I slept till 11:30 to catch up on my sleep. This afternoon I stayed inside and watched the rain and now I’m looking out at the stars and wishing I was on one of them instead of here, and also wondering what you’re doing right now; it’s 9:30 p.m. Tuesday here and 9:30 a.m. Tuesday there.
Good night, Bob

19th day, June 21
Greetings from Vietnam -- yech!

20th day, June 22

Wiped out a V.C. regiment today with a fiberglass slingshot and a pair of surgical tweezers. Would you believe I accidentally dropped a hand grenade and scared the Hell out of an 80 year old farmer being ridden by a water buffalo?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

June 10 thru June 15, 1967

8th day, June 10

I got my PFC stripes at the PX today, also my division patch and unit badge. The badge and patch are pretty sharp. I’ll draw them for you when I have time (in color).

Today was my 150th in the army and the fist in my first permanent unit; the 27th Infantry Wolfhounds – sounds like a military academy’s football team. I’m still at Cu Chi only a different area. Of course I’m in the recon platoon in the Headquarter Company (HHC). I’ve only met the platoon sergeant and one member of the platoon – the rest are in the field. The sarge is a colored guy but real nice. – no spit and polish or formalities – it’s the first time I shook hands with one of my platoon sergeants. He reminds me of the one I had in basic.

This other guy says that all they’ve done so far as long as he’s been here is run security for convoys but soon they might be on ambush patrols (groan). He said that they haven’t lost anybody yet and that the sarge really knows what he’s doing. I hope so. Most of our work is in jeeps so we won’t walk a lot anyway.

I got my equipment and rifle today and start replacement training tomorrow for 7 days, then . . . who knows? I’m going to talk to the sarge tonight about the eye problem. He’s a real square guy and he ought to help.

The accommodations here are the same. Tropical huts, cots, outdoor cold showered, EM club, PX, etc. My building number is 13.

Nothing special happened today. My Vietnam orders were lost. During processing they asked me if I had a copy of my orders sending me from Ft. Knox to Vietnam. I had them at Ben Hoa, but they took my records there and somehow the orders were lost in the shuffle. I assured them that I wouldn’t be here unless I had been ordered to come and that settled that. Also I lost my key to the lock on my duffel bag and the sarge shot it off. Other than that, big deal. I’m in a unit now, and it feels good to have a home of some kind, but I wish I could have another job. Vietnam isn’t a very nice place to visit, but I do want to live here.

9th day, June 11

Dull day today. I suppose I’ll be praying for days like today before long.

I started to go to a replacement school and orientation. It’s a 7 day training course geared to this area. There weren’t enough people there so I have to wait until there are before they’ll start a class.

So I had the day off. I went to the PX and bought a $40 Bulova self-wind calendar watch. It’s really beautiful; I hope I don’t break it before I get home. I don’t really know why I bought it; I guess just to have something to do. I figured it might be my last chance to have one so . . .

All the guys are back from the field now. They don’t seem to act like it is any big deal to be out fighting Charlie for 3 months. “After you’re here for a while you’ll like recon,” they say.

We’re on some kind of alert now, waiting for a call on the radio to go out again. There’s a 24 hour radio watch for the next 6-10 days, then it will be over. After that I don’t know what we’ll do. I hope I don’t have to go anywhere until my school is over, if then. The sarge is going to wee about my vision trouble. He says it might keep me out of the field.

I’ve noticed one peculiar thing over here. When I first got here they asked me where I was from in the world. I didn’t think much of that, but then I noticed everybody asks me the same thing, which isn’t unusual, but they all said “in the world” not states at home. When somebody leaves for home they say, “He’s going back to the world.” I was looking at a map of the world to see where I would like to go for R&R when somebody came over and said, “Hey there’s the world! Look, guys, here’s a picture of the world!” They each one came over and pointed out his “world”. New York, California, New Mexico, Florida, Puerto Rico, Florida again, and of course Ohio (my world).

Finally I asked the guy from Puerto Rico, “If this is the world, where are we?” He was very serious when he said, “Don’t you know, man? We’re in Hell.”

One thing else. Have you seen the “Grand Prix” yet. If not, DO. I just thought I’d remind you in case you forgot.

10th day (anniversary), June 12

It wasn’t worth the effort to get up today. We didn’t do anything at all but it was too hot to go to sleep, and too hot to stay awake and too hot to go anywhere. When it did cool off it was raining too hard to go anywhere.

All the guys are gone again somewhere and left me behind (good). I think they’re escorting a convoy or something.

I must be writing more than I thought, a whole new box of stationary is gone already. I hope you’re saving all these; I’d like to know what I did over here. I’m on drugs right now so I’ll forget everything.

Some guys saw Marlynn’s picture today. I hope she’s ready to entertain 5 war-weary GIs who haven’t seen a girl with round eyes for a year. On second thought you’d better send her away for a while.

11th day, June 13

It bothers me to see the guys go out all this time and I have to stay behind because I haven’t had my school yet. No, I don’t want to go, in fact I hope they never have that 7 day school; but they come back tired, dirty, and sometimes wet and there I am sitting on my cot listening to radio.

I finally got my jungle fatigues and jungle boots. They’re really comfortable compared to the regular ones. The fatigues fit more loosely and are made of a much thinner material. The necks are open; they have short sleeves, and they have huge pockets. The boots are made of canvas except for the toe and heels, and feel almost like tennis shoes. They have ventilation holes along the side, ripple-type soles, and steel plates in the tow and sole.

They had a USO show today with some people I never heard of before, including some girl singer with more looks (oh, yea! Round eyes and blonde hair, just like the ones back in the world) than talent. The main star, however, was great as he usually is – Jonathan Winters!

I’ve included a few goodies in this issue; a couple of sketches I did while the boys were out on a convoy, and an honest to goodness safe conduct pass dropped over North Vietnam for the VC to come to the south. I tried to use it to get to the world, but it didn’t work. So you can have it. Maybe Marlynn can use it for next year’s football games or something.

I found out something today you probably already know. A new draft law might be passed allowing deferments to college students, part time, full time, good grades, or bad. I wish they had that a few months ago. I could have gone part time. Jere, if you’ve got any sense (cents?) at all you’d better get in at least part time. Believe me this is no life for any one, not even Dave, especially over here.

I found a guy that has a TR-4 back in Wisconsin. He is a real sports car man – attends every race at Elkhart Lake – and has his “Car and Driver” mailed over here. We stayed up all night (until 12:30) trying to find out who won Le Mans on the radio. Finally heard it was Gurney and Foyt in a Ford. Also heard on that same newscast that Titus won the Mid-Ohio Trans-Am Sedan race.

Some reporter from New England tried to interview me and a couple of other guys today, but some young lieutenant stopped him because he didn’t have the proper papers to be in the area. Too bad; he represented about 25-30 radio stations. The taped interview would be played on a special program in a few weeks and the stations would have notified the parents to listen in. I don’t know maybe he was a phony because he didn’t have some stupid piece of paper, probably a Communist spy – Thrush or something.

The letter ain’t too long but the pictures take up room, so I’ll cut it off here. See you again tomorrow.

Keeping my head down,

PS. Send your letters air mail or they’ll take a month to get here (too late?) I’ll pay the 3 cents when I get back.

12th day, June 14

To Whom It May Concern,
Did nothing today that’s worth writing about.

13th day, June 15

Do you realize that this is not the hot season yet? Right now it’s so hot I get dizzy just walking to the mess hall. I can’t wait until the hot season comes.

I’ll be here too. I guess all they do about my eyes is make me go out in the field, but if my glasses get broken they will evacuate me in a “dust off” chopper or send me back to the base camp until I get a new pair; about a month. I figure on going through about 12 pairs of glasses. I’ll smash each pair with my foot or something every time I go out.

Right now everything is so lonely and uncomfortable, I’m losing my mind. Nothing to do and if there was, it would be too hot to do it. There is a movie every night and about once a week they have a good one. Also after 5 o’clock every night you can go to the EM club and get a coke and watch American shows on TV. Some of the guys have record players, but every time that artillery goes off the needle jumps, not to mention the hutch.

One of the colored boys came back from a pass to the city of Cu Chi today, with some good old Vietnamese pornography. They make “Playboy” look like a first grade reading class. They had to tell me what it was – then I refused to look.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

June 2 thru June 8 1967

143 days, 2 June

I really don’t believe it. More rain, still three formations a day for an average of two hours each – in the rain (ah-choo!) while they called names. They even pull us out of KP for each one in case our name is called for shipment. They called mine today; twice.

They call out different groups for shipment. My name was called and two of us answered. The other guy got to the formation first so I went up to the speaker’s stand to find out which one was supposed to go. Of course that was stupid because in the Army you simply don’t ask questions because they’re either in too much of a hurry or because you’re stupid – besides the Army never makes mistakes. Needless to say, I barely approached the clown when I was rudely informed that he couldn’t answer questions now because he had to read 500 more names and to get the hell out of the way – besides if I had paid attention I wouldn’t have any mistakes. So I went back.

Then they called Robert Hughes again – only I answered. I fell into the group and tried to sign in but it was Robert P. Hughes – sorry about that.

Of course I got cussed out pretty well because I didn’t know what I was doing, but I found out where I was to got to find my group.

I leave tomorrow at 9:50 am to Travis Air Force Base in Frisco, then at 12:00 noon leave for Bien Hoa Airport, Vietnam, by way of Seattle, and Tokyo (I dunno, that’s what it says.) I hope it doesn’t rain. We go by a commercial flight on a 707 jet (Northwest Airlines). This place is so ridiculous and depressing that you’re almost glad you’re going to Nam just to get out and away from it.

The only reply I can get about my physical is “Sorry about that; maybe you ought to get a couple extra pair of glasses.”

144 days, 3 June

Finally saw a little bit of Frisco today (sun!!) Wouldn’t you know it, the day I leave the sun comes out? We got a bus ride to Travis AFB over a freeway system about 4 times as big and complex as ours in Columbus; double-decker jobs with roofs, even the first layer is raised and there is parking space underneath all along the freeway.

The countryside is beautiful along the coast – rolling, and in the distance mountainous. I was looking for some kind of wild car, surfers, or topless go-go girls on the exit ramp, but all I really saw that assured me I was in California was an oil refinery with about 80 oil tanks, like at the Sinclair place, only painted in pastel pinks, blues, yellow, greens, and purples – crazy man!

We boarded our plane - no big thing, I guess flying’s beginning to get routine. There was one Japanese stewardess that . . .  well, maybe Vietnam won’t be so bad after all. We flew over the coast and some huge mountains to Seattle. (over the mountains we had some turbulence that got to shaking the plane so bad it looked like a big bird the way the wings were flapping.)

Down and up again in Seattle, farewell USA. Rather a weird feeling, there’s the World’s Fair Space Needle, there’s the ocean – clouds – I bet it’ll rain in Tokyo.

145 days, 4 June

Crossed the international Dateline.

146 days, 5 June

I think I’ll stop counting the days. I lose track now.

Tokyo was cool and cloudy. We stopped at an air base instead of an airport so I didn’t get to see much. Naturally, just as we were ready to board it began to pour. So we had an extra wait while the crew fitted a pair of Goodyear Rain-tires so the plane could get better traction on the runway.

We stopped again in Okinawa. What a change! I stepped out the door and sweat began to roll. You wouldn’t believe the humidity, I thought it was raining for a while. It was only about 70-75 degrees, but by the time I got to the terminal I was worn out and soaked and had a headache.  The terminal was air-conditioned, but only if you were lucky enough to find a vent where the air was coming out. Anywhere farther away than 5 feet and the heat took over. I saw one guy wearing an aqua-lung; I tried to read a magazine but the pages were damp and stuck together; they had goldfish in cages instead of bowls.

It began to actually rain so they called us out to the plane. You know – when a Japanese stewardess asks you if you want coffee, tea, or milk, you really feel silly if you don’t say tea. You also get a dirty look, a few choice words (hand-written Japanese characters) and a well placed karate blow, after which you’re not in much shape to drink anything.

I got a little more sleep in, I had no idea what time it really was, but for the first time since we left Travis (about 19 hours) it was dark, so . . . I woke up when we started over Nam. We got below the clouds and could see the land below (where else) off in the distance on the horizon every once in a while you could see the flash of artillery; other than that the only light was that of the airplane and the only sound, the sound of the jets (707’s that is). Talk about butterflies! One was so large it attacked our airplane.

Surprisingly it wasn’t raining and it was cooler than Okinawa and less humid. I hate coming into a place when it’s dark and you can’t see where you are (especially here). There went another of those damn butterflies.

They piled us onto buses with armor plating and screened windows and gave us two armed and plated jeeps as escorts and sent us down the road. Everything seemed gloomy and mysterious until we passed through a small village. The place was really weird! Nothing but little shacks lined along the road almost looking like they were all in one, they were so close. Dirty, drab and with a smell that’s indescribable; the whole place smells like it – you even notice it when you get off the plane. It’s sort of like the way these little straw trinkets you get at parties that are made in Hong Kong or something, only stronger and worse in some areas.

Almost every house had a sign in front of it selling something. (Didn’t see any red lights). One house might have a photography store, then about 10 others right next to each other would have the same thing. Another might have ice for sale (guaranteed safe to eat) or a restaurant or car washes and always every house for about three blocks would have the same thing. It’s like Foo Yung saw Lee Song building a car wash and decided that’s a pretty cool idea and begins one himself. Then about 20 neighbors have the same idea (I didn’t see any cars). All of a sudden one enterprising person figures that there’s too many car washes, so he sells ice and the same thing happens. If somebody was smart they’d start selling cars for all those stupid car washes.

I just killed another butterfly – weighed 18 pounds.

We processed in and exchanged our money and got an hour’s sleep before we had to get up. Our breakfast was exactly the same as at Ft. Knox, and the day has been exactly like those at Oakland except no rain during formations, at least.  Formations for guys shipping out to their units, all this place is is a shipping point, so don’t write me here, as I’ll be moving again soon. Where, I have no Idea (why did I capitalize idea?)

This place is strange, too. The barracks look like the ones at Ft. Knox (old wooden ones) only they’re surrounded by sandbags and are built on mounds of dirt. They have screened walls, or maybe better to say the walls are screen, with the bottom half covered by loosely spaced boards, except at the top where the screens serve as windows.

6 June, 1967

Greetings from Camp L.B.J. [The notorious U.S. Army Vietnam Installation Stockade was known to GIs as the Long Binh Jail--or simply Camp LBJ - a contemptuous reference to President Lyndon Baines Johnson. ]
What started out as a normal day turned into quite an experience today. Twenty of us were loaded on a truck and sent away on our detail – in Saigon. We never got off the truck until we reached one of the Army’s camps just outside of the city, but to get there we had to go thru the middle of town.

The road to Saigon is a four lane paved road, the inside lanes restricted it seems to the Vietnamese and their old beat up trucks, bicycles, Hondas, rickshaws, and strange little three wheeled vehicles called Lambrettas. They look like motor scooters with full windshield and front and a truck bed type compartment in the back over the rear 2 wheel axle. Some of them are open but most are closed completely except for the absence of doors. They look reasonably comfortable for about 3-4 people but they squeeze in the wife and about 8 kids somehow.

The natives drive down the road on whatever they can afford at about 30 miles an hour (that’s the fastest the most expensive thing they can afford goes) and the outside lanes are for the Army trucks and jeeps doing about 60. The problem arises when some farmer tries to pass a Honda with a water buffalo cart using the truck lane; they pull out without warning and when the Honda sees he’s passed by a water buffalo, he speeds up, but the buffalo tries to pass anyway; along comes a 2 ½ ton truck at 60. The result – buffalo steak.

Every ½ mile or so there’s a truck or bike or something broken down and about 25 gooks running around like headless chickens trying to find out what’s wrong. Everything I saw on the road looked like it had been through 3 wars starting with the American Revolution; so did the people in them, for that matter. About like Jere’s Rambler, or the ’34 Chevy down at the body shop – in its present condition.

Saigon itself you wouldn’t believe. All but the main part (about 2 blocks long) was about like the village I described last time, only larger in area. Little shacks with open fronts, made out of all different kinds of material; lumber, tin sheets, plastic, straw, or spider webs – all mixed together in the same shack. Everything is crammed together as usual and all the garbage and trash is thrown out into the “yard” or in the gutter of the street, if there’s no more room in the yard. Actually, there’s no real distinction between gutter, street, or yards – just where the dirt blends into the street unless the street is dirt too.

The downtown section was a little nicer but still confusing. There seems to be no traffic lanes, just bicycles and Lambrettas and anything else from buffaloes to buses darting in and out in any direction not looking where they’re going. It’s worse than the start of last year’s Indy 500. They do have traffic cops, but I’ve never seen anybody look so helpless in my life. I think the streetlights are for decoration.

Everywhere you look there’s a guardhouse made out of sandbags and covered with screen with at least two well-armed guards inside – just so no one forgets where he is.

We went to an R and R processing center and did general hard labor. Picking up trash, painting fences, laying barbed wire to keep little kids out of the compound. That’s right, barbed wire to protect the camp from little kids! After we finished I saw them crawling and playing inside of it.

We also loaded barrels, empty, onto a truck to carry them to a dump somewhere, there must have been about 50 of them. When we were finished with them I asked our sarge what they were. Embalming fluid! Each one was empty, but they contain enough fluid t do 55 bodies. I hope that’s the last time I come in contact with that stuff.

This post, like the one I’m in, had Vietnamese working in the PX, service club, and the mess hall. They serve the food in the chow line and wait tables for the cadre in the mess hall. It’s kind of funny to hear them talk to each other. I just can’t understand how they make any sense out of such mixed up chatter; they do understand some English thought, luckily. They try to please you and it really hurts them if they think they haven’t.

In the service club, for example, I was going to buy a Coke. The guy in front of me ordered an orange drink and the girl misunderstood him and poured a grape drink. (They understand enough to know what a grape drink is or a Coke – ask for a Pepsi and really get confused – but this guy just pointed to the machine and she thought he wanted grape) She was real proud of herself, that she had done the right thing, but when he didn’t take it, her face fell and I thought she might cry. Then she perked up and with a smile poured another two grapes and an orange. As soon as I stepped up, she shoved the grape drinks toward me and said “Glape?” Again I didn’t think and asked for a Coke. She didn’t give up. “Glape?”

“No, a Coke. I want a Coke.”

Again she looked very unhappy and started to reach for a hand grenade. I was relieved when I saw all she had was a Coke, no, wait a minute, it was two Cokes. I guess since I said Coke twice, she thought I wanted 2. She looked up at me with a big cute smile and big persuasive eyes and I couldn’t help myself and I bought both of them.

Most of all the girls I’ve seen so far have been that way. They’re so small they’re really cute. The only thing is they all look dirty. What I mean is, they need some good clothes, and a little bit of soap (a few bad teeth, but not many; most have beautiful teeth).

 I have seen a couple in American clothes with their hair combed, etc. and they really look sharp. I’m getting married in two weeks. Sorry about that, Marlynnn.

7 June, 1967

This morning, partly because my foot hurt and partly because I wanted to get out of morning details, I went on sick call. I have a bruised tendon in the back of my ankle right where my foot bends when I walk, probably caused by wearing my boots just after my leave, The doc bandaged it and now it hurts more than before and the bandage also makes it hotter.

I also talked to a sergeant today who told me that I should get out of being in Reconnaissance over here because of my eyes, if I show my physical to my C.O. when I get to a unit. I wish I had more time at Oakland. Maybe I could have been sent back to Ft. Knox. He said that recon is a rough job over here, even worse, in some cases than infantry (V.N., dirt), so I hope he’s right. I’m not too worried though, there are a lot of guys here going home for good and they say time goes real fast. And come to think of it, they’ve all been in good shape; I have yet to talk to anybody who’s been killed over here. (They’re building a cage for the butterflies.)

Can you imagine what it’s like to stand in a formation during a monsoon? You’re soaked to the bone in about 5 minutes. I got put on a detail today that was improving the heliport here. We were covering the asphalt with large rubber mats; don’t ask me why. The things weighed 1500 pounds apiece, so they said. It took 15 men to carry them. We laid them out and drove large stakes, that looked like three foot thumb tacks, through them to anchor them down. Every once in a while a chopper would try to land and we would wave him off. (Butterflies, too).

We had two anchored down and one laid out completely, but still loose, when another helicopter tried to land. Well, some young lieutenant thought it would be okay to let this one land since two of the mats were anchored. Everybody ran to get off the landing area, but too late. The wind from the chopper caught underneath the first mat – the loose one – and picked it and me and three other guys about 10 feet off the ground. The mat, about 20 by 50 feet, almost wrapped around the ‘copter, but he pulled up in time. Good thing he did; if it had caught in the blades it would have crashed for sure and we would have been on Huntley-Brinkley [NBC news] tomorrow night. The cover blew about a hundred yards across the field like a piece of Kleenex – 1500 lbs. worth.

When it went out from under me, I went in a about a 5 foot arc into some bamboo shoots and scratched my back and bruised my arm (guess I’ll go on sick call again) the other two guys lit in the mud and were covered head to foot. It might have been bad but there was nothing serious. It was like someone pulling a rug out from under you only with a much grated force. I hate helicopters!

Of course we had to pull the thing back and put it down again (“Here we are folks, at Crosley Field [Cincinnati Reds – editor’s note] the game has been called because of rain. The ground crew is putting the tarp over the field now…”) We got it down again, all secure. Of course while we were driving the stakes we had another monsoon. I wonder if they have this trouble at Kennedy International.

Guess what, I leave tomorrow for Cu Chi and the 25th infantry division. Cu Chi is about 20 miles northwest of Saigon; about 40 miles from this place. From what I hear they haven’t had much activity lately. At least it isn’t up north someplace but I hope I can get out of it like the sarge said.  Funny isn’t it,  everybody says, I’ll get out of Nam, then they say I’ll get out of “front line” duty, but here I am going to an infantry division to be a recon scout. I hope somebody’s going to be right soon. I hope it’s not going to be the butterflies.

5th day, June 8

Chao ong. Ong manh khong? Toi manh;

Today I finally got out of Long Binh. I was glad too, because I’d Binh There too Long.

So here I am in Cu Chi (coo chee). Compared to Long Binh (name of compound at Bien Hoa) this place is like Disneyland. Can you imagine such conveniences as electric lights, electric plug-ins, mirrors for shaving, board sidewalks (not to mention bored privates) and cold water in the lister bags [Lyster bags are canvas water bags – editor’s note]. It’s huge; from the air it looked bigger than Ft. Knox. They’ve got basketball courts and volleyball; you can shoot pools in about 4 service clubs. The sidewalks make it like a resort if it weren’t for the artillery firing into the jungle (or wherever it’s firing) and the helicopters. They’ve even got the streets named.

Of course there’s a catch; we won’t be here very long. This is just another shipping station, so still no address and still no unit. My base camp will be here with the 25th infantry, but exactly where I’ll be I still don’t know.

I saw a little bit of the war today. We flew out of Ben Hoa airbase on a military plane. While we waited for takeoff (about an hour) we saw several jets taking off and coming in; to and from bombing raids up north. One came in smoking quite heavily from the mid-section. Also during our flight to Cu Chi we went farther north to drop off a few other people at Loc Ninh and Phu Rien (look it up in your nearest World Atlas). Down below us you could see villages and rice paddies and round water-filled holes – bomb craters. Here at Cu Chi just a few minutes ago a chopper came in and dropped of 6 V.C. prisoners at the airfield just across the street.

Have you been getting my other letters? You should have about 3 from the time I left. They told us to use only our name and service number for a return address while we were in transit; but here they told us not to do that because they keep them in Saigon unless they have a complete return address. If this one seems delayed it’s because I’m waiting for assignment before I send it.

I was going to end today’s letter with the previous paragraph but I just got back from the PX and you wouldn’t believe it. So far I’ve seen no slot car tracks or cars in Vietnam, but at the PX in Cu Chi they sell the good Cox hand controller for $1.98 ($7.98 in the states). If Jere wants to get back into racing I’ll send him one!

6th day, June 9
I thought the butterflies were bad – you ought to see the crickets. When we got up this morning there were 3 inside our building. At least five feet long and - - - no, I’m exaggerating a little bit, but at first I thought they (the lighting is terrible in here; I can’t see what I’m saying) were some kind of scorpion. The ones inside were about 2 ½ inches long from head to wing tip. About the size of our thumb, maybe. You can hear them breathe. They scream when you step on them (we tried spray, but they blew it back at us). When they sing it sounds like The Ray Coniff Singers. Fabulous!

I could send one home and Jere could stuff it; he stuffed my mouse head, and it was smaller than the crickets.

I found out what else this place has – Putt-Putt. The greens had booby traps instead of sand traps so I didn’t play.

Today it rained again. Every day since I left home it has rained. Here it isn’t constant drizzle though. It’s sunny and hot then sudden downpour and then cloudy and hot. I guess I can expect rain for the next four or six months. One thing about the storms though, there is no thunder or lightning. This country is so poor it can’t even afford lightning let alone electricity. I hate the rain. It makes everything muddy because this place hasn’t a blade of grass either, and it makes the crickets grow (how can the people be so small and the crickets so big?)

Now here’s something to make the butterflies grow: tomorrow I go to the 27th infantry for my permanent unit. I’ll still be here at Cu Chi for my base camp at least.

P.F.C. Robert L. Hughes
US – 51877626
HHC 2 Bn 27th Infantry (or Inf.)
25th Infantry Division (or Inf. Div.)
APO SF 96335

And that’s right, it’s PFC now, so you’d better keep straight and return some of this correspondence or I’ll use my ranks and have you destroyed. Yipes! Stripes! (only one).

I was down at the service club again tonight spending my extra $20 a month and came across the TV room. There’s a station in Saigon called AFTV (Armed Forces TV) which show American reruns. I saw Batman, Gunsmoke, Andy Williams, and Johnny Carson all with no commercials and just one news report; ¾ Vietnam and ¼ Israel. The rest was sports and weather. “Today it was 110 at Da Nang and cloudy, raining and 98 at Pleiku, 105 and sunny at Na Trang, and here in Saigon it was only 89 and cloudy with some rain.” She (that’s right – “she”) gave temperatures of the R&R centers and the States also.

So much for today, big day tomorrow.
Chao ong, Toi tich,*

(figure that out yourself)
[He writes this upside down: * “Greeting, I am fine How are you?”]