Let me introduce Joseph Welsh. He served in Vietnam 1967- 68 and was stationed at The 8th Radio Research Field Station, (Trai Bac Station) located on Highway 1, Phu Bai, Vietnam (Republic Of). They were co-located with HQ 3d MARDIV and across the road from the Hue-Phu Bai Airport.
Joe, in his room sometime during Tet ’68.
Red X: marks where my room was.
(There were 5 – 6 people to a room.)
Blue X: is the Operations Bldg., where I worked (Usually Swings).
Green X: marks Star Bunker 3, my Alert Station.
(I was an ammo bearer. We had the 3.5 in. rocket launcher [Bazooka]
and a whole conex container full of white phospherous rounds for it.
We were supposed to take out the MP’s bunker, next to the main gate,
if it were to be overrun.)
Yellow X: is the Mess Hall (In today’s Milspeak, the “Dining Facility.”)
Shortly after my arrival at the 8th RRFS, Phu Bai
Got my bunk. In fact, got an entire hooch to myself. . . and I was a mere PFC! The 1SG even sent the orderly room clerk (a SP4) over with a jeep to give me a tour of downtown Da Nang. I toured (saw the oldest tree in the country), ate, went to sleep. Next morning, the same clerk woke me and escorted me to breakfast then drove me back to the airfield. I caught a ride on a 123 and was back at the 8th in time for swings. I’ve often wondered just who they thought I was. . . and what shenanigans might’ve been going on inside that First Log compound.
American Icon …
An ice-cold Coke. Funnily enough, when I think of that icon I’m remembering Vietnam.July 1967 …
110 in the noon-day sun …
work detail (repairing the trench line) …
metallic-tasting warm water in the canteens.
The NCO in charge leaving us …
going to the EM Club …
returning with a case of Coke …
a bucket of ice …
sleeve of paper cups.
Sucking down Coke over ice …
guzzling Coke on ice …
cold ‘n wet.
Coke on ice …
on a brutal hot day.A memory carried for more than 40 years. Don’t drink much soda now. Never did drink much to start with. Probably wouldn’t be drinking it nowadays at all… except for that memory of Vietnam. (I’ve become diabetic.) Nothing else has ever tasted quite as good since. Despite what the Docs say … every once in awhile, I just gotta have… a Coke!
A memory surfaces …
me, pulling LN Guard … assigned to watch a couple of local PA&E plumbers do work in the HQ Company latrine. (The old French-style buildings.) The plumbers had dug up a drainage pipe near the entrance. I was standing in the doorway watching. MPs were up and showering, getting ready for swings. House-boys and house-girls were working away, cleaning and doing laundry.
One MP (name unknown) had just exited the shower and was standing at the wash basins, getting ready to shave … in the buff. He was big, 6’3″ maybe, red-haired, lots of freckles. The facilities had been built to accomodate a much shorter folk than we Americans. The red-headed MP’s “equipment” was lying in the sink as he shaved. Moving down the line of basins was a young, pretty house-girl. She was intent on her job of cleaning the sinks and completely ignored the naked men surrounding her. When she reached the sink being “occupied” by our MP, she merely picked up his “equipment”, wiped the sink beneath, then dropped it back in place and, walking around him, continued on with her job, nonplussed. I’d seen what was coming and was watching the MP for his reaction. Thought he’d cut his throat the way he jumped. He’d had no idea she was there. I laughed ’til I almost peed my pants.
Since my truck was now last in line, I had a goodly bit of time to explore. I wandered through the village, taking in all the strangeness and tranquility and poverty. A little girl caught my eye. My guess is that she was about 10 – 12 years old. She waved me over, then offered me a slice of watermelon. It was a brutal hot day. I accepted. I was struck near dumb. Here was this child who had nothing, offering me something . . . for nothing . . . out of compassion. The melon went down smooth. Tried to talk with her but she spoke no English and I was mono-linguistic. I was then called over and ordered to go out with the next Mike Boat to facilitate the transfer of foodstuff. It was getting late. Once aboard the barge we labored long and hard, shifting crates of vegetables (To include a deck cargo of heat-rotted potatoes that the navy insisted we take because they were ours and “sorry, there was no room in the cooler for them, and we know we’re three weeks overdue but regs are regs . . . and there’s a fuckin’ war going on!”) The hardest part was moving the frozen meats up from out of the freezer compartment. I stood on a crate and passed each piece up, through the open hatch, to someone there, waiting for it. This went on for about three-quarters of an hour. It would have been a good workout for a weight lifter in a gym. I was whipped afterwards. Went up on deck and lit a cigarette. Local kids, in round caracle boats, had swarmed the barge and were yelling (begging) to the GIs on board. Somebody had opened a crate of oranges and had begun tossing them into the water to watch the kids fight over the fruit. Some of the fights were downright vicious. Guys were taking bets on which kid would get to the orange first. I found this to be repugnant behavior on the part of well-fed Americans.
Soon, the transfer of foodstuff was complete. We formed convoy on the beach and prepared to drive off. I was, once again, in the back of a truck. This one happened to have a couple crates of oranges on board. As we passed through the village, I spied the little girl who’d offered me the melon slice. I waved at her, then heaved a crate of oranges out towards her and yelled “Thanks.” She waved back . . . that’s the last I saw of her.
I’ve remembered that little girl through the intervening years. Wondered if she survived, grew up, got married, raised a family.
I dearly hope so . . . hope her life was peaceful and uncomplicated.
This cartoon may be from the current conflict but back in Vietnam, at the 8th RRFS, Phu Bai, this actually happened.
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