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Sunday, 5 December 2010

Memories of Vietnam: The War 1965-1975 parts 68,69,70


The White Mice Roar

The flight back to Phan Thiet left at 5.30 which meant sleeping on the floor of the office overnight. The curfew was being strictly enforced so I couldn't get to the airfield early enough. Also one now needed travel orders to go anywhere. I preferred another night with PB, so decided to take a civilian flight with Air Vietnam. Or 'Air Nuoc Mam' as it was called. They usually flew old DC3's which I have always loved.

I checked in at the down town office. My baggage was searched. On an internal flight leaving Saigon? With great joy they discovered my weapons and gleefully held up my Swedish K and my Smith and Wesson. Where were my papers for them? Of course I didn't have any. I was their ally. I worked for the US Defence Department. The police, with their new found confidence, but with no new found thought process decided I was a menace to the state and arrested me. No handcuffs or anything dramatic thank heavens. They took me to their police post at Tan Son Nhut where one of them typed out the charges. He did this with the blunt end of a pencil on an old typewriter. Doubtless not wishing to damage his finger nails. Having spent ages doing it he discovered he had counted the 9mm ammunition in with the 38 special. I must have had about four hundred rounds all told. The 9mm were hard to get hold of. A CIA fellow in Phan Thiet had let me have some. He began typing it all out again.

I was very irritated as I realised I would miss my flight. Otherwise they were all very decent and offered to go out and buy me a sandwich and a beer. I declined the beer. There are times when it is better to remain stone cold sober. Finally he was finished and they took me back down town to the main police station. There they couldn't find the key to the room they wanted so we had to climb in the window. I was then photographed and finger printed. I thought the whole process utterly ridiculous but managed to keep my good humour. On returning to the airfield I was able to telephone our major who got me out.

He was none too happy. I learnt at the office the police had raided our Saigon house, found what they considered a cache of weapons. More than a dozen anyway, and in the absence of any Decca personnel had arrested the two maids.

The white mice had disappeared and the new police, resplendent in their new blue trousers, soon to fade to a pale shade of grey, were flexing their muscles. Their allies of course were much easier to capture than live Viet Cong.


Odds & Ends from Phan Thiet

I was driving back to the camp when I noticed some activity at the begining of the cemetery.
I stopped and observed the situation with a mixed group of Vietnamese military and police.
Montagnards were slowly advancing from our camp down through the graves towards a building to our left. Huey helicopter gunships started coming in and firing their rockets from behind us, over our heads, and at the building. Viet Cong were holding out inside.

Personally I felt more threat at that moment from our own choppers than I did from the VC. I think they were using 2.75inch rockets fired from pods attached to the choppers. They had a crack that played on my nerves. Every time they fired my knees jerked much to the amusement of a somewhat overweight policeman standing next to me. At one moment everybody in the group seemed to open fire at something or someone. As ever, my reactions were slow and the target had either moved on or been eliminated by the time I understood what was happening. Tiring of this I took my chance and drove at speed back through the cemetery to our camp higher up.
One afternoon a few days later there was the sound of massive firing at our backs. We learnt that the guard posts along the perimeter had seen a boat aproaching the no go zone which stretched out from the bottom of the cliffs for about two hundred yards. Later it transpired that a local fisherman had probably fallen asleep and drifted towards shore. Grievously wounded he was taken to the base hospital. I don't know if he survived.

We were told to start preparing for the installation of the Mark12 station. Life started to return to normal. I was able to obtain an M2 carbine to replace the Swedish K the Saigon police had taken off me. This was a standard arm in Vietnam and actually one I liked due to its lightness.
We tried to get hold of a couple of maids. Long negotiation with the camp security officer, a sergeant major, originally from England. From time to time I met a few English doing there military service with the US army.


The Viet Cong Navy

It was perhaps between nine and ten in the evening. I was standing outside the door of our living quarters. There was a sudden explosion about twenty yards off to my right. Rather stunned I stood immobile. The occupants of our building who had been playing cards at the table all rushed past me and into our bunker about three yards away. I had been the nearest but was the last in. There were now explosions going off all over the place.

No guns, somebody had to go and get them. Decca to the rescue again. Whilst in the building I picked up my new helmet and flak jacket. I had taken to sleeping fully clothed for some weeks now. All but what I called my anti-snake boots. I had bought a pair of short Mexican riding boots whilst on holiday there. They were most practical.
Ten minutes later we heard the somewhat drunken cry of somebody calling out. 'I've got the beer, I've got the beer'. My Decca compatriot had arrived with a case of beer. One can always depend on Decca.

Some damage here and there. A GI had killed himself while jumping out of his truck to take cover. He had grabbed his M16, the trigger had caught on something, and he had filled his chest with a full magazine. I had had a similar case whilst with the Black Watch operating in the Troodos Mountains of Cyprus in the 1950's. A corporal in the Suffolk's, which had a small camp based with us, had put his hand into his tent to get his Sterling sub-machine gun. The trigger had caught in something and he had also emptied the magazine into his own body.

Evidently the Viet Cong had gone out with the local fishing fleet and had fired RPG's at us from the sea. Our lighted window had made a nice target. A pity I no longer had my Union Jack in it as I had at Van Kiep.

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