Phan Thiet was on the coast in 2 Corps, in the southern part of Central Vietnam. It was known for it's 'Nuoc Mam', that pungent fish sauce that accompanied almost all Vietnamese cooking. 'Nuoc' is a Vietnamese word that means liquid, the 'mam' is the fermented fish paste that is the base of the sauce. The best is said to come from the island of Phu Quoc. I would agree. I'm quite sure though that the smell of the fermenting fish is of the same quality in both towns. I like it, the sauce that is, and those that do not should not venture to Vietnam.
The Decca station was at the airfield which was on high ground to the south of the town, with a high cliff on one side dropping down to the sea. Between the airfield and the town was an unkempt cemetery with a raised road going down through it. The town itself was cut in two by a river.
The airfield was a base of the 101st Airborne Division when I was there. A very small company sized camp with a battery of South Vietnamese 155s, a field hospital in an old French building covered with lovely tiles, all of which would be blown off during my stay.
No fixed wing aircraft were kept on the airfield although there were some helicopters, but after some damage caused by mortars and rockets these were moved out every night.
We had no problems in any case with them, and their sergeant was a very keen fellow. Messing was difficult for me. My fellow American Decca technician used to wear US army green fatigues and just walked in to the mess on base and was never questioned. With my beard and khaki drills I was not admitted. Officially Decca was attached to the Provincial Advisory Team which was based down town. Actually this pleased me as it gave me an excuse to drive down town three times a day to eat and get about. I had had enough of living on army bases when I was a soldier. Van Kiep had been different as it was largely a Vietnamese base.
At night I remember sitting on a bunker with a cold beer watching a duel between a Viet Cong machine gun and one our Puff the Magic Dragons. The fire power was most impressive with their three six barrelled machine guns firing up to eighteen thousand rounds a minute.
There frankly wasn't enough work for ten men on a station. Two could have handled it perfectly well. We spent a lot of time on the firing range. I never did get to like the M60 machine gun but loved the M79 grenade launcher. A very dangerous weapon though. I remember reading of a GI who accidently fired one in the air in a crowded market. What goes up must come down and it killed and injured many people.
One of our GI's shot a cobra on the path between our living quarters and ops room. I can remember driving slowly down some isolated road in Phuc Thuy province when an enormous cobra suddenly reared up in front of me. Like some idiot I found myself slowing down not to run it over. I can understand the expression to be paralysed with fear. That was to happen to me once when shooting erupted at some Viet Cong. It can happen once. Twice is not wise. It’s funny how one can spend hours on a rifle range and when the moment one has to squeeze a trigger for real one can't. As I said I believe once is allowed.
We didn't have very good relations with the local people nor any chance to develop them. The town had not yet felt the full force of being liberated by the US army, but that was to come. It was at Ben Tre in the Delta that an American general had said the town had had to be destroyed to save it.