To be clear, during my first tour, I was not issued an M-16, I did not fire a shot, I was not slogging through the jungle. But the background sound track was a reminder that the war was near, especially at night. C-47s or C119s, would fly a racetrack pattern around the fortified Tan Son Nhut perimeter – the drone of their engines, monotonous, all night. Parachute flares were dropped from these aircraft. These flares burned with a very bright orange-yellow light as they would slowly descend over the base perimeter, easier to spot Viet Cong sappers.
Rumble of outgoing artillery, miles away. Another distinctive sound, more felt than heard, was a rapid thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump…, sounds muffled by a great distance, always in sets of three, each set separated by 15-20 seconds. Arc-Light strikes by cells of three B-52s, dropping their bomb load over the same area, not simultaneously but in separate carpeting barrages.
The Camp Alpha Army Aviation heliport was adjacent to the 1500 area. Hueys, Chinooks, Cobras, Loaches, Bell Jet Rangers. Constant aerial activity. The takeoff pattern usually brought the helicopters to the north and then a sharp turn to the east, right over the north edge of the 1500 area, right over my hootch, #1510.
The lower level enlisted personnel assigned to 7AF and the 12 RITS were housed in the 1500 area, just east and north of the Army’s Camp Alpha Heliport. Tin roof, open rafters, 12 men to a hootch. The sleeping areas were divided by metal lockers set up in three separate areas. There was electricity, everyone had a large Japanese fan to blow on them, there was a refrigerator for each hootch. Separate from the hootches were separate latrine buildings that had showers, sinks, and real flush toilets. When I was issued my in-country gear – flak jacket, helmet, webbed belt – I asked, “a mosquito net?” Sorry, we’re out of those. While I eventually purchased the T-frame for the mosquito net, and the netting on the “black market,” I endured several months of sleeping uncovered in hootch 1510. Nightmares that continued well into my early 50’s included cockroaches, mice, and other critters crawling on me and in my bed.
The destruction of classified material generated by the intell shops at 7th AF HQ invariably fell to the low-echelon enlisted pukes. The paper material was pushed into an industrial shredder that could accommodate document thickness up to one inch. The shredded material was bagged up, driven out to the perimeter and thoroughly burned.
Coming up…7AF Headquarters, 4th floor, Target Materials Shop.