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Friday, 13 February 2009

Decca Navigator Master Station, Van Kiep, Baria, South Vietnam


Van Kiep, Baria. Phuoc Thuy Province. Memories of Vietnam

Van Kiep was home to Master station. It was principaly an ARVN camp for advanced infantry training and usually housed a few such battalions. These had their advisers who used the US mess but slept with their men. The US had a small team to run their compound including such things as a small detachment of marines as artillery observers. They always had a certain air of being apart. There was also the team of advisers to the provincial headquarters at nearby Baria. The base had two colonels.
Decca had its own compound but messed with the US. The compound had been rather shot up in a mortar attack and our porta camp buildings were riddled with rather impressive holes shortly before I arrived and Decca had decided to house its off duty personnel in Vungtau. We worked a 24 hour shift and had 48 hours off.
Things were fairly quiet when I arrived. If we count two ARVN machine gunners from different battalions in their watchtowers settling their differences over our heads as a friendly fire incident. One night I nearly decapitated myself on some wire whilst running for a bunker during my first alarm.
We had a problem with our station commander who thought he had to command us. My experience had been one was always politely asked to do something. One then always did it. In the Bahamas with three men living on tiny islands (cays) for months at a time one had to always stay calm. We put a stop to that by telling him some equipment was urgently needed in Saigon and gave him a heavy sealed container. He rushed off to the office at Tan Son Nhut with it but when he opened it in the presence of the area manager it was found to contain only a bag of sand.
We got on pretty well with the Americans. It was always useful to drink with the sergeants who seemed to run their army, perhaps all armies. They could supply us with tins of frozen oysters, beef stakes or boxes of ammunition. There was a film most evenings and we barbecued T-stakes on Sundays. I well remember a sergeant M who ran the MP section. The only time I've really liked a military policeman in my life. There was a former South African who was responsible for armaments. There was one hell raiser who invited me to go parachuting with his men the following morning. I don't think I could have been very sober to have agreed, but I reported to the jump field in the cold light of dawn rather like some poor fellow who got challenged to a dual the night before. His captain happened by and put a stop to it; I am not sure if I was relieved or not.
There were two rather beautiful young Vietnamese translators at the camp. Both tall, one was very pale and sad as though she had some enormous tragedy in her life, which she probably did. The other was pretty and happy. Perhaps my emotions were too occupied elsewhere at that time. Or perhaps after forty years one can look back and regret the girls one didn't really get to know. That must be better than regretting having known the women one did get involved with.

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