Non-combatant with the combat sound track.


TSN map
The Camp Alpha Heliport is the H, highlighted in yellow, just to the left of Camp Alpha was the 1500 area, my home during my first one-year tour.

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.

TSN flare
C47s or C119s flew a constant racetrack pattern over Tan Son Nhut at night, dropping  parachute flares over the heavily guarded perimeter.

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.

TSN arclight
The telltale bomb crater pattern from B-52 ArcLight strikes.  The 3 aircraft cells, flying in close formation, would drop their loads, separately, over 15-20 second intervals.

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.

TSN 1510
Hootch 1510 – 12 men to a hootch.  Blast walls, open rafters, lots of cockroaches, various insects, mice and rats.  We did have showers and toilets in a separate latrine structure.

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.

TSN Burn pit
Tan Son Nhut perimeter adjacent to the burn pit.
TSN perimeter def pos
Defensive position on the Tan Son Nhut perimeter near burn area.
TSN Mine 15-18
Claymore mine position on the Tan Son Nut perimeter.
LZ Owl, psp surface, somewhere on the Tan Son Nhut perimeter.

Coming up…7AF Headquarters, 4th floor, Target Materials Shop.

California to Vietnam, the long way

O’Hare International Airport in Chicago (ORD) in 1970 was MUCH different than present day travelers are exposed to.  No security – anyone could walk right to a departure gate.  Watch the airplanes, watch the people, bring your children on an outing (like my Dad had done frequently with me and my siblings, and I did with my children).  But on this day in October 1970, my parents were with me at the TWA gate to say good-bye.  A one-year tour in the Republic of Vietnam was less than 36 hours away from Chicago.  Tech school at Lowry had ended and I had been home on leave for 30 days.  But I wanted to get going, to get this next chapter of my life going, get going to Travis AFB, outside of San Francisco, get going to Saigon, and whatever awaited me there.  There were no tears at the TWA departure gate for San Francisco.  I had no idea, no concern, for what my mother and father felt at the moment I boarded the Boeing 707.

A coach bus ride to Travis Air Force Base, about 90 minutes.  Memories of that day bring to mind the process of travel, you have no idea of what is about to occur, but you just continue to move forward in the process, being told what to do and just doing it.  What kind of plane will be transporting me to Vietnam?  A surprise – a United Airlines (stretch) DC-8.  All coach, you board by rank.  Boarding number 163, an E-2 enlisted puke, a nobody.  I do recall walking from the front of the aircraft, passing by all of those who had boarded before me.  Most were returning Vietnam veterans, several rows of ribbons, colonels, majors, senior NCOs.  Of course, by the time the enlisted nobodies boarded, the only seats open were MIDDLE seats.  Middle seats on a full stretch DC-8, a DC-8 that will be flying, the LONG way, across the middle of the Pacific Ocean, around 8,000 miles, 23 hours in the middle seat.  While awaiting my flight at Travis, I purchased a paperback version of Mario Puzo’s, THE GODFATHER.  A smart idea, a very good buy.

An excellent way to develop homesickness for troops on their way to Vietnam was the first fuel stop in Honolulu.  We were allowed to leave the DC-8 during the re-fueling process.  Warm, tropical breezes, palm trees, and those subtle signs of life-stateside that will be passing from view for a year.  Now, things were starting to get a bit depressing.  If you can imagine 23 hours in the middle seat on a trans-Pacific flight, you might be thinking a lot of things – boredom, anxiety, more boredom.  I do not recall a lot of chatter or talk on the plane.  All of us were alone, no families were flying together to Vietnam, and each passenger appeared to be in his own universe.  Service from the flight attendants was exemplary.  Four meals were served, three movies were shown.

Fuel stop #2 was Wake Island.  Fuel stop # 3 was Kadena Air Base.  From Kadena, the DC-8 flew directly into Saigon.  Touchdown at Tan Son Nhut was just before dawn.