January 19, 1968
Hot, no rain.
We arrive at Bien Hoa Air Base, South Vietnam on January 17, 1968. Here we hop a bus that will take us to the 90th Replacement Group in Long Binh. As the bus makes its way along a crowded dusty road, we get a brief glimpse of what life will be like in Vietnam. It seems as though all the vegetation has vanished, being replaced with screened hootches surrounded by and covered in a yellow-tan colored dust. I have truly arrived in a Third World nation.
At Long Binh, we begin our in-country processing. KP and CQ (guard duty) will keep us busy while the Army figures out what to do with us. I'm not surprised that they put us right to work, but here we also get one more disgusting chore to do; the shit burning detail! Our latrine is comprised of 55 gallon oil drums cut in half and slid under a wooden plank with evenly spaced holes. This provides our oasis of relief in this dusty place. It falls to the newcomer, the job of burning the human waste deposited in these cans. To singe the twisted sausage, just douse with diesel fuel, set afire and stir. Quite a simple recipe.
My stateside buddy, John Fitzgerald, arrives on the 18th at 0400 hours. He departs for the 1st Infantry Division in the afternoon. Even though he reports late, he is assigned to a new unit almost immediately. I report early, and I'm still unassigned after being here for two days. I will never understand the Army.
Last night, "Charlie" took a potshot at one of our helicopters. The chopper returned fire with a salvo of rockets that fried Charlie’s ass. Later that same night, an artillery base nearby fired a few rounds at the "Cong." I'm sure this was only done to keep me alert, since the Communists were about 5 miles away. It was early morning before we had any peace and quiet.
(My thoughts on my first few days in country . . . "this place seems fairly safe.")
January 22, 1968
Warm days, cool nights
Today we leave Long Binh and fly to Chu Lai for more in-country processing . After landing at Chu Lai Airbase, we're trucked by duce and a half to the 23rd AG Admin. Co. This is still just a replacement center, only farther north. Our location has changed, but our chores have not. We still get the same chicken-shit details to do. Here too, the food is terrible and the water undrinkable. The latrines are smelly and fly infested as are all the rest stops in Vietnam, I fear. We don't even have a water basin in which to wash our face or brush our teeth. The only creature comfort here is a wooden shower enclosure reminiscent of a dilapidated beach house I once knew in New York. This “spa” provides the opportunity to wash off the dust and sand that has caked on our skin from the journey. Surprisingly, we are fortunate enough to be located on a beach. A very beautiful beach, with a view! You can almost block out the war if you stare at it long enough. In the distance you can see what appears to be a couple of islands. I wonder who is over there. However, swimming is strictly forbidden here and the distance to the islands is too great anyway.
The 196th and 198th Light Infantry Brigades are based here too. I'm told that the 196th has killed more VC than any other unit in Vietnam. I have a chance of being assigned to either unit. Command says the Marines hold the area to the north of here so I think in all likelihood I will be assigned to one of them.
I notice that there is more night fighting lately. Tracers accompanied by the report of small arms fire spew from the beach at night and cause just a little anxiety. I just may be getting closer to the action.
BT555035 (Pilot's guide BT537062). Was not a Vietnamese town, as many thought. Named after the Marine general officer Krulak's chinese mandarin pronounciation of his initials. Approval to build Chu Lai was worked out in March-April 1965 by Defense Secretary Mc Namara. June 1, 1965 the first combat missions were flown by VMA-225 (A-4 Skyhawks). Base for B-11 Special Forces.
January 25, 1968
Panoramic View of Reception Center
I am totally disgusted with almost everything up until now. The regimentation around here is as bad as it was in the U.S. I thought that once I was overseas, things would loosen up a bit.
The water is utterly putrid in Vietnam, a taste that is almost unimaginable. The only place to get something drinkable is at the PX which is a six-mile hike from here. It’s worth the hike, but to get permission to go is almost impossible. I suppose they don’t want you to get lost or avoid the glorious details they assign.
On one positive note, I've finally been assigned to a new unit. I will call the 1st of the 1st Armored Calvary my home while here in Vietnam.
For the next week or so, Vietnam training will keep me busy, the last day of which includes a patrol in enemy territory. The most fun so far was when we got a chance to detonate some C-4 explosive on the beach. What fun! It was just like the fourth of July back home, only louder. Do you know we even can use that stuff to heat our C-rations?
Scuttlebutt says that we will go out at night and ambush "Charlie" at the end of training. However, I hope to avoid the outing since I’ve been assigned to a cavalry unit. Rumor is that everyone goes!
January 28, 1968
In six days, after I complete my orientation, I hope to be at my new unit. Alpha Troop is located 25km north of Chu Lai and slightly west of Highway One on Hill 29. I guess the Army occupies territory farther north then previously believed.
I spoke to the assignment officer about my new unit. He says they don’t have a radio-teletype operation, so my MOS is useless. I will probably wind up as a plain-vanilla voice radio operator.
Word is that "Charlie" has hit Alpha Troop quite hard lately. However, the unit is known for it is fighting tenacity. I am relieved to say the least. Alex Phillips, who was assigned to the 57th. Signal Battalion at Fort Hood, Texas with me will also go to A Troop. At least I know that I will have one friend up there.
(I ask my folks to send a CARE package.)
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