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Sunday, 19 September 2010

Memories of Vietnam: parts 41,42,43:Private Enterprise,Puff the Magic Dragon,Flight Instructors


Private Enterprise

Some of us went into private enterprise. I imagine it was against company policy and probably contravening local laws. A fellow I knew in the Bahamas on Green Station off Andros had run a rather successful craw fishing business until the boat sank and he lost all his investment and had problems with the local authorities.

I went into the theatre business. Perhaps wanting to know more about local culture. Quite what the Washington office would have thought of me driving our 3/4 ton back from Baria to Vung Tau in the dark after curfew with PB next to me and her rather attractive cousin next to her and some stage hands in the back I don't know.

The station head before John went into a car dealership. Another fellow in Vungtau was involved with a casino. A cartographer in Saigon who rented the house I would eventually stay in, had got involved in some black market deal also involving our secretary. She was saved by her powerful father who had probably got her the job in the first place, but the British Embassy got him out of the country just before the South Vietnamese police got hold of him.

The story I liked the best was at Green Station in Phan Thiet. Green always seemed to have problems. There was one fellow going around the airstrip one day, drunk, with a bottle of 'Mekong Whiskey' in his hand (local gut rot) trying to thumb a lift to Saigon. He had an advanced stomach cancer. Another couldn't go to work because of some social disease.

Anyway the local US commander in Phan Thiet had asked his Vietnamese counterpart to clear the town of brothels because they were having a bad effect on the morale or was it morality, of his troops. The Vietnamese officer duly did so and reported back that he had closed down all the brothels except that run by the US army. Furious the US commander investigated and found out that it was run by one of our Decca men.
I'm not stating it was Decca's fault the war was lost, but we did get some strange types there.


Puff the Magic Dragon

I have a CD of Peter, Paul and Mary. I can't remember if they were the original group who sang the song, 'Puff the Magic Dragon'. It has always been one of my favourites. There was also another song by an Irishman about a Unicorn that I rather liked. Puff was also a Gun Ship. A DC3 armed with three Gatling type six barrelled machine guns each of which could fire six thousand rounds a minute making a total of eighteen thousand rounds. At night with their tracers it gave the impression of a dragon shooting tongues of fire. There was also a lesser known twin tailed C119 version.

It was in this war that the US first introduced the C130 Gunship, armed with a 105mm howitser. There was also a ten thousand pound bomb used to clear landing areas in the jungle and killing everything directly or indirectly in its path. The old Huey choppers were used with all sorts of combinations of armaments.

Napalm seemed to be accepted as a normal means of warfare, perhaps until a certain photograph of a young girl fleeing its destruction was taken. Flying over certain areas of Vietnam one could see a pocked marked country ravaged by the bombs of the B52's and the spoliation of Agent Orange. I have always felt that such photos, even the sights themselves, have much more of an effect on those outside the zone of conflict than those in it. A self protective mechanism has kicked in which switches one's emotions off to preserve one's sanity. Of course there is another slow insidious creep of fear, revulsion and disgust that slowly builds up in one's unconsciousness and takes its toll.


Flight Instructors

This was a rather hazardous job. Spending one's time flying around Vietnam during the war with all the dangers attached was not to everybody's taste. We all had to do it to move from A to B from time to time but not on a daily basis. Some of the younger pilot's, and most seemed very young, were rather wild.

I knew a flight instructor from the Bahamas. His mother had been a racing car driver. He had been sentenced to death in Cuba for gun running, had his sentence commuted to life imprisonment, and then had been released under the Tractor/Bay of Pigs deal with the Americans. I had tried to see him when I was in Cuba, but as he was in the Isle of Pines nobody was very helpful, and I had enough of my own problems at that time.

Jerry Degnan, another flight instructor went missing in 1967. There was an investigation as to where he had gone and nobody had a clue. Flight Instructors led their own program, rarely if ever, informing the office where they were going. If I had done quite a lot of unauthorised travelling by road, they did it officially by air, and nobody the wiser. And I had told my mother if anything happened to me she would know within twenty four hours.

I believe the mystery of his death was only cleared up a few years ago. There had been a mix up of bodies from a helicopter that had been shot down and as with many cases only a determined insistence by his family had resolved the issue. I felt our own HQ in Saigon had been pretty useless.


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