Viet Nam Tour Take II

May 2006


Thanks to John Mackel for this narrative.



After Action Report
Mackel's Second Viet Nam Tour


Chapter I - Background

From May 7 to May 21,2006, I with my 24 year old son Luke, and nine other members of a customized tour organized by Military Tours Inc. visited Viet Nam (VN). It had been 37 years and 17 days since my last visit compliments of the US Army. The big difference was that my first trip was for 12 months as a U.S. Army soldier and this one was for two weeks as a friendly tourist. This visit, like the first one, was going to be a trip into the unknown. I don't think anybody except the tour guides knew what to expect, so everyday was a new adventure for me. The tour guides were John Powell and Ed Garr. John Powell AKA JP, Cavalier 22 or Kung Powell, served in VN with our very own Charlie Troop 1/9 Air Cav Squadron, 1st Cavalry Division as a Scout and later a Cobra pilot in 68/69. Ed Garr is a 74 year old crusty but lovable ex-Marine who had two Combat VN tours with the US Marine Corp. (That's right Garr, clutch butt lovable) The tour was specifically tailored by JP to visit the 1st Cav Division Area of Operations (AO) in I, II Corps in the North and the III Corps area in the South around Saigon. To accomplish this we spent the first week in the Military III Corps area and the second week in and around I & II Corps. Tour participants included seven 1st Cavalry veterans or honorary Cav members, three veterans of the US Marine Corp and one US ARMY Artillery type that had two combat tours in VN. Participants were myself ('69-70), Luke, Dave Keel ('68-69, 72), wife Renee, Julie Kink in memory of her Brother David KIA 69, Jeanie Anderson in memory of her father John (KIA '69), and Medal of Honor recipient James (Mike) M. Sprayberry ('67 - '68). Mike served with D Company 5th Battalion 7th Cavalry and the rest of us were with C Troop 1/9. The Marines were Dick Walker, who landed with the Marines in '65 and set up an artillery position west of Da Nang, Tony Homes, who was badly wounded northwest of Da Nang in 69 and Terry Funk who was a communications technician in 67. Last but far from least we had Bob. Bob Weekly was a retired Army Colonel who served two tours in VN as an Artillery Commander. He was in III corps in his first tour (66) and in I & II corps with the 101st Airmobile Division during his second tour (72). This diversity of experience from different in-country periods, fighting units and areas allowed us a wider perspective of what was going on in different places and time. It was something I had not expected but believe it really enhanced the trip.


I had mixed emotions going and leaving Viet Nam on both my tours. In both cases I was ready to come home because I missed my family and friends but I would miss certain aspects of being in VN. My first time was during a dangerous period, but it was interspaced with fun times, interesting times, and some difficult times. I made some good friends, and the memory of that tour is burned into my brain. Leaving VN the first time was a milestone event I was looking forward to experience. The end of a Combat VN tour meant that you had lived through a short period in your life where the chances of dying on any given day during your 365 day SE Asia excursion were very high. My own personal feeling was that I had pushed my luck and it was time for me to leave but I knew I was going to miss the action, the flying and the guys The second time I left was also an emotional time for me but not as traumatic. I made some great friends, the trip was a fabulous experience and I saw VN from a totally new perspective.


In both cases I can say in all honesty that I looked forward to my trip. My first trip I really can't say I was really to go with the same enthusiasm I did the second time but I was still looking forward to a year of flying helicopters. Understandability my anxiety level was petty high, but I wasn't overly worried. For example, with my first trip I wondered where I was going to be send, how bad it really was, how was I going to react when the bullets starting flying, was I up to the task? All the normal concerns that a young man would have before he is put into a position where he might be judged pretty harshly by his new combat buddies and by himself. This time I had different concerns. For example, am I bringing enough underwear, do I need to label all my medicines so that the VN customs folks don't confiscate something thinking it is dope, am I bringing enough cash, do I have enough bug spray or sunscreen, have I packed enough trail mix, will I be able to wash my clothes, should I bring an extra roll of toilet paper? All the things an older traveler worries about, because you don't want to be embarrassed in front of your fellow more seasoned travelers. But in both cases I had a support group I could fall back on. For the first trip I had about 10 guys I went through flight school with who joined up with me in San Francisco and flew over with me. Since we were all facing the same thing we gave each other confidence. Plus I knew some guys that were already in country and they had relayed back their experience. That was a big help and really lowered my anxiety level. This time I had Luke. He is year older than I was the first time I toured VN. But for him the experience was not going to be a combat one, he was going for the fun and enjoyment of visiting a far-away exotic country. He wasn't worried one bit. We both didn't know what to expect but so what, we were going to have a good time!


My goal for my first tour was to get a lot of flying time, keep a low profile, keep out of harm's way as much as possible, not get killed, and of course did I say, get a lot of flying time. In fact, I was a little worried that Nixon was going to live up to his election promises and end the war before I got there therefore denying me the thrill of flying those fantastic whirly-bird machines.


My goal for the second tour was just to revisit the old Area of Operation (AO). I didn't have any other desire but to go back and see what the place that had captured a year of my life looked like after almost forty years. I never had the desire to go back until now because I had been to busy. Now I had the opportunity, the time and the curiosity to see what the old stomping grounds looked like. What had changed or is it the same?



I am not going to go into the flight or the time we had in LA prior to our flight over. I think you have all heard or you can remember how long it takes to get to VN. But, in case you have killed off those brain cells that held that memory, it still takes a long time. The difference is, this time the plane was bigger and except for our tour companions the plane was full of Asians. Also this time around different thoughts bounced around my brain. For example, how can these planes stay in the air so long, after all this sitting will my butt regain feeling, how can Powell sleep like that, how do those Korean stewardesses keep their scarves so straight, is a little Asian guy flying this plane? The first time I just thought about things like: why didn't I bring four bottles of Johnny Walker Red instead of one, will they give me an M-16 as soon as we land so I can protect myself, why are we flying to war in a commercial jet with stewardess's (WOW), and other assorted intelligent things? Anyway, you get the picture; it takes a long time to get to Viet Nam. The good thing however is that like the first time I went over, everything was pre-arranged. The first time by the US Army and this time of course by Military Tours. All in all the to/from parts of both trips were pretty similar; I fly to the west coast, catch a long boring flight to Asia, sit a lot, and sleep.

Chapter 2 - Arrival Saigon

After a short stop and plane change in Seoul we arrive in Saigon or more specifically Ho Chin Min City's Ton San Nhut Airport. As we taxi to the terminal a couple of things are familiar. The big hanger type building that housed the 90th replacement depot is still there along with the semi-circle revetments lining the runway. Most were empty but there was a Huey in one and some assorted Russian Helicopters in others. Memories are starting to come back. The place seems familiar. We hustled through customs and baggage and then were met by Garr and our Vietnamese Tour Guide Thahn (Tang). It was hot and humid but not much different from summertime in Houston. There is still that sweet, stinky aroma in the air that you are exposed to in a tropical location. One big change from my first tour is that now there is air conditioning. The only time I had air conditioning my first tour was in a Cobra and that didn't always work.


I had spent a couple of days in Saigon my first tour with my good friend Ed McDerby. We had taken an unauthorized recon for or a couple of days by thumbing rides on helicopters heading south. We hung around control towers and the guys in the tower bummed rides for us. We stayed at the Presidential Hotel and visited a couple of assorted bars in the Cholon District. Had a fine old time. Caught some crap when we got back but it was worth it. I was wrongfully accused by our CO of influencing a young hard working WOI but I had the good sense to keep my mouth shut and not state that the trip had been McDerby's idea. McDerby had some down time and I was also flight inactive after having an unfortunate engine failure in our only Charlie Model gunship. The streets are still narrow, and the city basically looks the same but now there are more motor scoters and the city is active until 2 or 3 in the morning. I don't know where all these people are going but they are going. Another thing you notice beside the abundance of motor scooters is the multitude of electrical lines. In the US we have maybe four or five lines running from pole to pole. In Saigon there must have been 50 little lines. Pollution is a little more under control than forty years ago. There is still some trash scattered around but the blue smoke from the mo-peds back in 69 is gone. Now the motor scooters are cleaner. Traffic control is also a little better. Scooters, mini-buses and cars are flying thru the street beeping their horn. The message is get out of the way or die. There are some traffic lights and people so stop for them but don't be in the way when the light changes. But compared to my first trip it looked a little less chaotic, a little cleaner, more organized and not as populated. The war had pushed the population of Saigon to a level it couldn't sustain and I think now they have that under control.


The first two nights we stayed at the Hotel Caravel. It is a beautiful Hotel near the Presidential Palace and close to the center of town. It reminded me of a modern Five Star hotel in the States with a Marble entry, fancy pool area and very nice rooms. It was first class plus it had a rooftop bar area that overlooked the city. That was cool. First day we were real tourist. We saw the Presidential Palace and the old US embassy and visited the VN War Museum. At night Powell and Garr took us on a river boat restaurant ride on the Saigon River. It was unique and fun. We also got our first taste of street vendors. Viet Nam might be a Communist country but the people are the most capitalistic folks you will ever see. They are persistent to the maximum degree. Not rude, just selling, selling, selling. They sell baseball caps, T-Shirts, watches, flags, maps, water, whatever. Don't waste your breath with "No Thanks" to a street vendor because they don't accept that answer. Just ignore them and turn away.


My first tour I stayed at the 1st Cav replacement/training facility after my initial check-in and assignment from the 90th Replacement Depot. The 1st Cav replacement center (1stCav RC) was in Bien Hoa and the new replacement officers stayed in an old stucco building. The accommodations were good even with the constant boom boom boom boom of the outgoing artillery. The original ten from my flight class that flew over together were now down to four: Bill Gill, Al Ashcraft, Richard Rowell and yours truly. Four WO1's joined us so now there were eight helicopter pilots and a bunch of enlisted personnel awaiting assignment to a unit in the field. During our stay at the replacement center we were supposed to spend our day re-learning how to fire an M-16, play with grenades, and other assorted military training. My little irresponsible group didn't participate in the training activities. We slept in and then took advantage of the 1st Cav Officers Club and some recreational facilities located close by. Most of my memory for these first few days is kind of fuzzy except for how they assigned us our unit. When we all arrived at the 1st Cav RC the Officer in charge with his senior NCO partner had the eight of us fill out a questionnaire that, in addition to some personal data, allowed us the opportunity to request what unit we wanted to be assigned. The four warrants must have been exposed to a 1/9th veteran that hyped them up about flying LOH's because they all requested the 1/9th. My bunch, me included, requested the 227th Aviation Battalion. I just don't remember being that aware of how the Division was organized plus flying LOH's would violate my goal of not dying so the 1/9th was not my unit of choice. In typical Army fashion my four got assigned to the 1/9th and the warrants got the 227th. Everyone was dismayed and disappointed but we learned the lesson of not asking for what you want in the Army cause you ain't gonna get it! I assume the honcho's at the replacement center had a big laugh.

Chapter 3 - North from Saigon

The third day of our 2006 tour we packed up for our trip North along Hwy 13. Our agenda over the next couple of days were the Cu Chi tunnels, Lai Khe, Quon Loi, Dau Tieng, Tay Ninh, Nui Ba Din, Dong Xai, Song Be, Nui Ba Ra, Phouc Vinh, and LZ's DOT, CAROLINE & RITA. It was to be a 3 day 2 night exclusion with overnight stops in Tay Ninh and Dong Xaoi. In 69 I was send direct to Phoch Vinh by C-7 Caribou so my initial impression of the country was from 2,000 feet plus I really didn't have any contact with the people. This time we went everywhere by mini bus and of course viewed everything at ground level. I flew a few times from Phouc Vinh to Bien Hoa and other area's south but I didn't realize or had forgotten how hilly the area was. It is lush and green but rolling and extremely beautiful. Seeing it from ground level gave a person a more detailed view of what the countryside looked like. We now saw the countryside from a Vietnamese perspective and watched the people go thru their daily lives. The people work hard but are somewhere just above the "poor" level. I tried to imaging the people of Viet Nam back in 1969 going about their daily lives with the presence of a huge foreign army roaming over the countryside and flying all over the sky. Maybe I'm wrong but I feel that the majority of the people were unsure of our intentions and why we were really there. .


One thing you realize traveling by bus is that the distances between locations that we flew around was not that great. My first trip I just didn't comprehend how short the distance was from Saigon to the border. I really spend the majority of my first tour either east of Phouc Vinh or north of Song Be. I can now see how the NVA could, with no skilled defenders in their way, race to Saigon and take over the country in a short time. It didn't take us anytime to get to Lai Khe. Granted it took us longer than it would have if we had flown but it would take you longer to drive from Houston to Waco than drive from Saigon to Tay Ninh. When you visit Lai Kai, or Tay Ninh or stand where firebases were once active battle areas, if you had not been there during the war, it would be hard to imagine what it looked like 40 years ago. Understand that except for parts of the ground where we used to spread that nasty-ass thin asphalt-like stuff which deters any vegetation from growing everything has grown back or been build over. Lai Khe , except for the rubber trees, looked like a serene tropical area. But we did get a taste of America while we were wandering around what was left of Lai Khe. An older Vietnamese man was watching us from the road and finally came over. Turns out he had worked at the base as a kid shining shoes and cleaning up and he had picked up a number of American phases, most of which I can't add to this story because they were very colorful in a perverse sort of way. However I really think he enjoyed seeing Americans and it was a great fun visiting with him. The normal Vietnamese in Saigon didn't give us a second glance but the countryside locals paid us a lot of attention and acted like they enjoyed seeing us. When we left the guy really acted sorry to see us go, and following Mike Sprayberry's lead we all gave the old boy a few bucks just to help him out. I mention this about Sprayberry because even though he was our Medal of Honor recipient and as such as proved his fierceness in battle he was a very compassionate person in his dealing's with the VN people.



I don't want to skip over the Cu Chi tunnels because the history of that area is interesting and fascinating but now it is set up for the tourist and to promote some distorted historical propaganda message. For example we were subject to a lecture on how the heroic villagers of Cu Chi built the tunnels and lived in fear of the imperialistic puppets. Fortunately Powell or Garr cut that presentation short but in all honestly in was interesting to get the perspective of the "other side". There was also a huge temple and other monuments with the names of the 20,000 folks that died defending that area . Historically interesting but more interesting and a surprising aspect of this jaunt north to me was the construction of new highways and new villages. We had a four lane highway with esplanades all the way up to Dau Tieng and from Dong Xoai back to Saigon. Our east/west drives followed narrow roads that I enjoyed more because you saw more of the countryside. A continuous ribbon of houses and shops cluttered the scenery along the four lane highway.


Once in Tay Ninh we got our first real taste of Vietnamese provincial life. The town was busy with trucks and motor scooters everywhere flying down the main road. But there were also a lot of villagers walking down the road stacked up with goods carrying them to market. The Hotel we stayed at was not like the Caravel in Saigon. It was clean and nice but a little more Spartan. For example, the bathroom didn't bother with a tub or shower curtain. There was a shower nozzle in the wall and the water just ran off through a drain in the floor. It did have an in-room AC and TV if you like Vietnamese shows.


I didn't really spend much time in Tay Ninh my first tour so I really can't compare what things are like now to 37 years ago but the street in front of the Hotel used to be the old runway. You would never have known it now; things are changing as I say over and over in this report. Another big change was the huge mountain of Nui Ba Din. During the war it was a good spot for both American and NVA to occupy for strategic reasons but now it was a religious area with a cool bobsled like ride to the bottom. It was a blast flying down on that ride.


The stay in Tay Ninh was fun for me because it was my first real Viet Nam " mingling with the locals" experience. After Luke and I wandered around we ate with our group in a small restaurant on the first floor of our Hotel. There was only one other group in the place and that was of about 8 or 9 Vietnamese of mixed gender that stayed to themselves but were drinking vodka and having a good old time. After dinner we walked around the area just to check out the town.


The next day we loaded up to head east to Song Be and points NE after a side trip to the Cao Dae Temple. Cao Dae is a Buddhist sect that prays to Budda, Confucius, Jesus Christ, Joan of Arc, Victor Hugo, Charlie Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy and a host of other religious, pop culture and historical figures. The Cao Dai icon is the all "Seeing Eye" which they have plastered all over their pagodas. It sounds crazy but it's true. Ngo Van Chieu who established the religion was a movie nut. In the early 50's there were two million members and they had an army of 25,000. It is probably a pretty good concept cause you pray to almost everybody so you cover all the bases.


Before we loaded up JP pulled out a map and gave us an overview of where we were going, what the 1st Cav's mission was when it arrived in III Corps and the firebase hopping strategy. Prepared with this knowledge we were on our way. This little overview might not seem important to most of you but remember we had our marines and non-combatants in our group. In fact the Marines were interested as to how we conducted our combat operations and after fours days of visiting our old sites and discussions they were really impressed as to what we did and how we did it. Anyway, off we went and visited LZ Caroline, Dot, Rita and Bravo's Troop's base at Quon Loi. Tony had a GPS device so we knew where we were even if we didn't always recognize the terrain. Let that be tip #1, if you want to find a specific place in VN take a GPS. You might have been a great "dead reckoner" at one time but things have changed and the maps aren't that good..


On the ride east we traded stories of what was going on in late 68 and 69. Powell and Keel had both been scout pilots and had some interesting experiences. Both of them were with C Troop when it moved down from II Corp and started operating in III Corps. Moving the 1st Cav down to III Corps effectively closed the Ho Chin Minh (HCM) trail from Cambodian into VN. No other division had the maneuverability like the 1st Cav to move fast into an area that needed the leaks plugged. When I joined Charlie Troop in 69 no American unit that I was aware of was covering the area north of Song Be to the border. Therefore getting a perspective of what had been going on before I got there added to my appreciation of what our Airmobile Division was capable of doing. Powell & Keel had seen their share of trouble and were lucky to be alive in my opinion. When I got in country Powell had moved to Guns and Keel was the operations officer.


LZ Dot was north of Tay Ninh and was set up to start covering the HCH trail as one of he first LZ's in a long string toward the border. Now it was in the middle of a small village north of Tay Ninh. Except for the old traces of asphalt you wouldn't even know it was there. But the village was a micro-picture of all the villages in VN. The villages concentrated along main roadways and the building are narrow in the front but long and normally two or three stores high. My understanding is that families lease the land from the government and the building are build per government specs. The first floor was open like a garage and that was usually a business area. For example, one family in the village sold fans, another sold watches, another sold appliances and so etc etc. I'm not sure if the government controls how the business should be set up or if it evolves naturally but everyone in the village has one particular business and I guess they sell to each other. I visited a cell phone business at LZ Dot and I was the only customer. Further down the street is the main food market but it wasn't like the grocery store at home. Without refrigeration animals were not only sold here but slaughtered as well. In the back the stench was nasty. I could see where the bird flu could get out of hand in such conditions.


LZ Rita was a spot in the jungle. No trance of anything U.S. or other wise.


It was the same for the area around Quon Loi. All traces of American presence has been plowed under. I recognized the geography of Quon Loi but it was hard to imagine that thousands of troops were here and it was busy with a lot of helicopter traffic. Now it was a hilly wooded area with some rubber trees but mostly quiet and empty. I had been at Quon Loi a couple of times and I think the area we walked around on this trip was close of where Bravo Troop lived. Sometime early in my first tour I was given the task of investigating a helicopter crash right off the runway. In fact one of the pilots that died was a buddy of Bill Gill, a friend of mine from flight school that was assigned to Bravo Troop. The problem was it wasn't know if the helicopter was shot down as it cleared the runway or had some other problem so I was sent up to do an accident investigation. Turned out it was shot down by a 50 caliber Machine Gun right off the end of the runway. Bravo Troop's campsite was on the downward side of a small hill and in the rubber trees. I remember it was quite scenic. I guess I felt that way because Phoc Vinh was more open and flat. But the highlight of my visit was having a mortar round land about 100 or so feet from me in the middle of day as I was out in the open visiting with Bravo Troops Commanding Officer (CO). Fortunately no one got hurt but the point is, the area I stood in May of 2006 looked a lot like the area I stood at in May 1969. Now it is peaceful, serene and beautiful but back then it was also deadly.


From Quon Loi we traveled to An Loc and had lunch. An Loc was a pretty robust town with a lot of activity and hustle bustle. We ate at a small little outdoor place. Normally our lunch's were somewhere out in the countryside. We had a 7 course meal of real authentic Vietnamese food that was quite good with warm beer or warm soda. "No water, no ice", was Garr's refrain from day one, so that forced me to drink beer, cause I didn't need the sugar in the warm soda's. The food was sort of stir fried cooked on a stove normally right out in the middle of the place and actually was quite good. Imagine eating lunch in a hot garage with open sides, made hotter with the cooking, some fans, warm beer, lounging dogs, little half-naked babies roaming around and picnic tables. That's how it was. Some places were a little better, but it was a great "Cultural Immersion" experience.


From An Loc we drove to a "Peoples Resort" at Dong Xoai between Song be and Phouc Vinh. In 69 there was really nothing at Dong Xoai that I remember but now the four lane highway traveled thru the place and it was quite nice. The people's resort had tennis courts and plenty of Tiger Beer. Some government officials were having a meeting here and their families were with them. They were very interested in us. The kids that accompanied the adults hovered around us and used us to practice their English. The schools must be pretty good because I took Spanish in high school and college and can't speak but a few phrases but they could converse on a basic level with us.


Chapter 4 - Song Be & Phouc Vinh

Next way we packed up and headed for Song Be. This was something I was really anticipating. Back in mid-69 when I made my first visit to Song Be it was a small ex-special forces camp with a runway that was visited by re-supplying C-130's and of course helicopters of various types and owners. I still remember watching a C-130 land on the runway, turn around on a dime, taxi back, drop the cargo door, unload in no time while the props ran and then take off. It was a model of Air Force efficiency. From a small camp it transformed into a Brigade size base camp called LZ buttons with underground bunkers, observation towers interspaced along a defensive wall of dirt with the normal assortment of concertina wire and claymores spread outward and a large refueling area south of the camp. Flying into Song Be from the south or south east, it sat as I remember, on a tiny rise or plateau. The village was to the northwest and Nui Ba Ra Mountain was north-north east. The south of Song Be was thick with bamboo. I remembered when Kuyendall dropped his Light Observation Helicopter (LOH) right down in the bamboo when a smoke grenade went off inside the cabin and he disappeared from sight. I was flying front seat Cobra and one second he was there and the next he was gone. No one was hurt and pretty soon he was on his radio but we knew where he was because he had used his smoke filled LOH to mark his landing area. The point is you were getting into some thick stuff up in this neck of the woods. Soon after we first started operating out of Song Be you couldn't land at the refueling pads from twilight to first light and you couldn't leave a helicopter parked there overnight. Mortar and rocket rounds were a regular visitor after dark. In spite of that it was a pretty little place.


This time driving up from the south it was pretty but you lost that perspective you get from 1500'. The village had expanded and now encircled the western part of the old base camp. We parked the bus on the old refueling area. It was very open because the asphalt had kept the vegetation from covering the area but now it's a trash dump. But even though the area was empty and the ground stripped of any visible signs of American Army occupation it was easier to imagine what and where things were than other military sites we had visited so far. Hiking around the old site brought back a bunch of memories. It was now quiet and the area north of where we had parked the bus where the main camp had been was now overgrown with brush & trees. We used this picturesque place as a staging area to find, fix and kill NVA. I had spent a lot of time in Song Be both as a pilot and Aero Rifle Platoon Leader (Blue), and it felt strange being back in my old stomping ground. I remember being up here one night sleeping or trying to sleep on top of my aircraft outside the wire because we had come into Song Be after dark and the base camp was locked up. Operations advised us it was safer to stay outside and be quiet then try and come in.


I walked around the area north of the old refueling area to what was now some sort of orchard with cows wandering around. When I was Blue we would play football up here to pass the time between missions. Back during the war it was busy and crowded and noisy and now it was a trash dump and orchard. During my short recon I found small pieces of old mosquito netting and an empty M-16 cartridge. The ground was sunk in at a few spots where the old underground bunkers had been and some old timbers stuck out of the ground. As we all re-grouped around the bus a few villagers came over to eyeball us. I think they wondered who the hell we were, especially the little kids. These folks were not used to Americans. But I was glad I had the opportunity to come back to Song Be and next time I want to travel further north.


From the old base camp we drove to the top of Nui Ba Ra. The old concrete pad was still there but now there was a shrine and a couple of buildings. It was jumping off spot for hikers and tourist. As we departed the area I told the story of being ordered to take a few "volunteers" and retrieve a 51 caliber MG (12.7 mm to the NVA reading this) that was reported to be laying outside a bunker inside the tree line of large clearing about a mile north of an ARVN firebase. The area in question was about five miles NNE of Nui Ba Ra. One of our pink teams, (for the benefit of our non-Cav readers: one Cobra from the Red or Gun Platoon teamed with a LOH from the Scout or White Platoon equals a Pink Team) had spooked an NVA regiment early on the morning of 12 December 1969 (maybe plus or minus a couple of days) that had moved down and dug in north of the firebase. The Cobra half of the pink team test fired its weapons unknowingly into the NVA staging area and the NVA's thinking they had been discovered had fired back. This of course started an exchange of fire that evolved into a pretty large battle that lasted days. During the morning of the first day air strikes and artillery pounded the area. The mission came down early in the afternoon of day one to go in fast and light with some volunteers to do the job. I volunteered Sgt. Slye, my RTO Eugene Vanassee and troopers Larry Pruitt and Patrick Cadenhead to accompany me to retrieve the weapon. The plan was to fly in low level, jump out of the Huey, proceed to an area just inside the tree line that was to be marked by smoke from a Light Observation Helicopter (LOH), retrieve the weapon and haul ass back to the Huey that was nervously waiting for us and get the hell out of there. However as with any combat plan the execution was good but the target didn't cooperate. We moved a little further into the bush to the smoke than anticipated. Numerous brand new bunkers framed with green bamboo spread out all along the inside of the tree line but no 51 caliber MG. As we spread around the bunker closest to the smoke Trooper Cadenhead crawled halfway into the bunker. It was occupied and an NVA soldier grabbed his M-16. Cadenhead started yelling for help and opened up with his rifle. At the same time we started taking fire from the other bunkers. It was so noisy we had to yell to each other. Weapons were firing, the Huey was adding to the noise level and the bad guys were not cooperating. Pruitt pulled Cadenhead out and Slye tossed in a grenade. We ducked but when the grenade blew it set off a small secondary that really caused an explosion. Sgt Slye took some shrapnel to the forehead and starting bleeding profusely. Blood was all over his forehead and running down into his eyes. Meanwhile my RTO was yelling that the Huey piloted by 1st Lieutenant Rhett Lewis was coming under small arms fire and had to leave; so get back ASAP. As I took up the rear and covered the guys high tailing it back to the Huey I noticed a small backpack that had blown out of the bunker. I grabbed it and took off firing my weapon to cover our retrograde maneuver. The Huey was up to a hover, the door gunners were firing, I jumped in and we hauled ass. No 51 caliber; nothing to show for mingling with the enemy at close quarters except for the backpack. I was glad we were all alive but disappointed. Back at Song Be I briefed the Brigade S-3 and he took my backpack. Turns out that it contained some papers, a diary of sorts, that contained information about the NVA unit, what they were doing and why they were north of the ARVN firebase. The NVA plan was to overrun the firebase manned by elements of the 1st ARVN Airborne Brigade to demonstrate that Vietnamization was not working. So the mission wasn't a complete failure, we gained some valuable information.


The next day we were back on the ground about 200 yards south of where we had been the day before. Captain Hood piloting a LOH had been shot in the same clearing and we joined a group of ARVN that were moving up from the Firebase to engage the NVA. Captain Hood had taken a hit that in my opinion snuffed out his life in a micro-second. The LOH was still flyable and the observer with his foot almost shot off had taken the controls and landed the LOH. The crew chief pulled him out, and they escaped with their lives as the LOH took some hits, rolled over and burned. I apologize but I can't remember their names. We joined in a little action with the ARVN's and their American advisor, recovered Hood's body and then at the request of the ARVN flew three NVA prisoners back to their firebase. As you could imagine the NVA soldiers had never been in a helicopter before because their eyes showed how frightened they were. Of course, we tried to make them feel at home since they had been so neighborly the day before.


ON 30 December 1969 some miles north of above mentioned area we were back in another large clearing where W01 Edd Hogeboom was shot down after being hit by 51 Caliber MG fire. We think he was hit by the retreating NVA regiment from the prior engagements. Edd was the only one that survived and was subjected to more terror on the ground as he listened to the sounds of the NVA coming for him. He is lucky to be alive. He was rescued by SSG W Williams who jumped out of a LOH to get to his position before the Blues were able to fight to him. We got into our own little firefight right after we were inserted on the opposite end of the clearing and provided covering fire for his LOH and subsequent medivac helicopter. Edd's fellow crewmembers, Thomas Soma and James Dean, were dead before the helicopter hit the ground in my opinion based on the wounds I observed they suffered from the weapons ground fire. I don't know how Edd survived. A lot of large metal foreign objects hit his LOH.


SSG W. Williams and WO1 James Whimore died days later on January 4, 1970 when their LOH went down.


I tell these stories to honor the memory of the men that performed heroically in the face of incredible danger. When we were on the ground my Blues fought bravely and I was very proud to be with them. Charlie Troop gave you the opportunity to participate in very risky dangerous jobs. I saw LOH pilots and Snake pilots fly into harms way with no fear. Lift Pilots as per Rhett's experience were also subjected to high levels of danger. They performed missions such as night extractions, nighthawk missions and ferrying Quick Reaction Forces (QRF) to a firefight to reinforce the Blues just to name a few and it makes you realize a normal C Troop Lift mission was dangerous one. Most American soldiers and this held true for our Charlie Troopers were kids, just barely out of high school, send thousands of miles away from home to fight for another country and very few Americans appreciated their sacrifice or even knew what they were doing. I guess that is why I went back to Viet Nam. I wanted to remember my first visit and dig up those memories. I didn't appreciate my comrades or C Troop 1/9 Air Cav back in 69-70 like I do now. Events like what I described above were what your job was all about. I hate to leave anyone out, but there were times I observed some supreme bravery. I watched Irling Smith fly his Cobra into 50 caliber fire trying to knock it out. I was flying with Ernie Burns in the B Model north of Xuan Loc on 2 June 1969 when Captain Don Porter (Cavalier White) was shot down. We watched his LOH pause and then fall thru the trees, crash and burn. Burns and I were circling his LOH at treetop level and Ernie was almost begging him to get out of the line of fire. Porter had his LOH in a hover above the trees so focused on providing covering fire for some troops on the ground in contact he wasn't listening. Beekman our crew chief ended up killing the NVA on the ground that shot Porter down. Porter was lost with PFC Warren Brown and Sgt Weber. A month later on 14 July 1969 I was headed to the TOC to fly with Troop Commander Major Felton after flying with him almost 12 hours to accompany him south of Phouc Vinh to support the Blues. Ernie Burns had been out over the Blues but his Snake developed inverter problems and came back. Felton grabbed Burns when he landed and they took off. They perished after a mid air collision with a LOH. Gone in an instant were Ernie Burns, Maj. Felton, PFC Butler and Sgt Davis. Davis and Burns were short timers. Maybe between them had about three weeks left in country. The very next day we lost 1st Lieutenant Hansen when he was shot and killed flying a LOH out in the AO. The Troop sustained a tragic loss of five outstanding, extremely brave men in a two day period.


I was also with Felton just east of the Michelin Plantation when Scout Ken Dies was shot down. His Cobra cover had to leave to refuel and Felton and I flew cover for him while he and his crew fought for their lives in a bomb crater. It was my first real conflict and Felton and Beekman's calm soothed my nerves. The bad guys that shot Dies down were trying to get to Ken and his crew to finish them off. We made sure that didn't happen and they were rescued a short time later.


There were times when I called in Cobra fire and I was always amazed at how accurate our Snake pilots could be. During Hogeboom's incident McDerby put rockets on a smoke grenade I had thrown into the enemy position. If any rockets had been short I would have had some serious casualties. We had some outstanding pilots in C Troop and I'm sure A & B Troops had the same expertise. The pride in being in the 1/9th Cav psychologically elevated a Trooper to a higher level.


I'm sorry, I hate to mention some guys and not mention others but I wanted these stories demonstrate the incredible danger that the men of Charlie Troop endured. Most of the guys I've mentioned are no longer with us and therefore can't tell their story so I'm doing it for them.


Getting back to our 2006 story after that trip back down Remembrance Road, after Song Be we headed to Phouc Vinh (PV). We drove south back through Dong Xoai and into PV. Phouc Vinh was Division Headquarters (HQ) and known also as Camp Gorvad. The actual site was really overgrown. It was easy to see where things had been but it was hard to visualize the exact spots of anyplace because it was stripped and reverting back to jungle. The village has expanded and now where Division HQ had been there was a Viet Nam Army base. The runway was intact but the rest to the surrounding area was trees, brush or occasional hooch. We parked the bus on the south side of the runway close to where Charlie Troop had lived. The same conditions of old thin asphalt existed here as we saw at LZ Caroline, Lai Kae, Quon Loi and Song Be . Dave Keel and I wandered around and walked on the sacred ground of the Charlie Troop site. It was so different that it was hard to imagine of what it was like 40 years ago. Now trees blocked the view. Forty years ago there was not a tree around inside the compound. Across the runway where the tower stood was now a house. NE of the runway I remember the artillery area but now it was just empty. We didn't get to hang around because some Vietnamese soldiers, one with an AK-47 drove over to see what we were doing. It made Tang pretty uncomfortable so after some pictures we mounted up and took off. Kung Powell say that as a result of my yelling "God Bless America" and the "greatest military outfit in the world had been here helping the people obtain freedom" during some filming Dick Walker had graciously taken of me on the end of the runway I had attracted the VN Army's attention and they sent some soldiers over to run us off. So after we admired the soldier's AK-47 we got on the bus and drove off. But we didn't let the People's Army of the Communist Republic of Viet Nam scare us off so easy. We drove around to the other end of the runway and roamed around a little more. Actually I felt a little like a part of my personal history had been erased because the commies had stripped every sign of American presence. However with the runway intact and the area open and empty there was more of PV left behind then any other base camp or firebase we visited in VN except for Song Be. It was a little bit disconcerting. I remember this place as another busy bustling base camp and now it is so quiet it is disarming. But I am very glad I returned and visited Phoch Vinh. Things are changing fast over there and in another 5 years PV might be unrecognizable. I spend a memorable year here. I remember more details from April of 69 to April of 70 then any other 365 day period in my life. I'm getting older and reflecting more on my past, because I didn't document past experiences as well as I should. In addition, after my VN and Army years, I married, raised kids, had a career, got involved in community affairs, built a house, and basically lived in the present and planned for the future. I didn't really spend much time thinking about the past. Now all my time is my time. I'm not locked into a fixed schedule and do what I want (or my wife wants me to do). My point is, now I have time and I wanted to see what I did in he past from a different perspective.


Leaving PV we headed south and headed back to Saigon. On the way we stopped at the river just south of VN along the bridge and took some pictures. The bridge we were on was new. The old bridge was down the river about a 100 yards and it had been bombed out in the mid-70's to stop one of the NVA intrusions. After that we stopped at a small "truck stop" for lunch. Don't envision something like an American truck stop cause it wasn't as large or covered with acres of concrete and lines of gas pumps. It was just a small site along the side of the road about the size of a four car garage. Instead of massive "semis" there were mini-trucks like Mercedes and Hyundai. Garr and Tang figured if the truck drivers ate here it must be good and they were right. The food was all cooked right out in the open and in plain sight. Dogs roamed around with little kids and overall it was dirty, smelly and of course hot but that is better than being cold. The local drivers stared at you because they don't see Americans every day but everyone was friendly. The restroom was an outhouse, the food was good, the people courteous but curious, the beer was warm, the conversation was great, the air was hot, life was good. I enjoyed the experience and comradely.


Chapter Five - Back in Saigon

Once back in Saigon or Ho Chi Minh city we stayed at the Majestic Hotel. This place was beautiful. It exemplified the old charm of French Viet Nam. It was built early in the 1900's and reflected the architecture of an earlier colonial era. The elevators were very small but the rooms were large and opulent. Our room opened to a atrium and about 5 stories down there was a pool and courtyard. It was an elegant retreat after the hotels of Tay Ninh and Dong Xoai.


The highlight of this portion of our stay in Saigon was the shopping or more specifically "The Market". First let me say I am not a shopper. At home I go to the mall or store knowing what I want; I buy or not buy and I'm gone. I hate it but there are times like Christmas or such that I am forced to shop. However the experience at the Market was more like a battle. The place was the size of two Wal-Marts; a huge warehouse type place. Clothes and other stuff were stacked to the ceiling. Around the periphery of the building were stalls set up for watches and jewelry. The middle of building was clothes and other merchandise. The rows between the merchandise was barely wide enough for a full sized American human. Women sellers attacked you. You had to fight them off. At first it was intimidating and uncomfortable, but Kung Powell taught me the basics. You had to play their game better than them or at least as well. Here are the rules as per John Powell: Rule #1, negotiate up from a low point. For example they will hold up a Polo Shirt and quote $20. In the US that might be a good price, but you're not in the US. Counter with a low number like $2. From a counter-counter of $15 you go to $3 and so on and so on. Rule #2, make a bigger offer for multiple stuff. For example they are down to $7.50 for a shirt and you counter with $25 for 5 shirts. Now it's high finance. Rule # 3, you tell them you can get it cheaper in Hanoi. That drives them crazy. It's like they think they can out do their sisters in Hanoi without even working at it.


Put everything together and it works like this: Your advance has been stopped and stuff is waved in your face with repetitions of , "20 dollar nice shirt, 20 dollar" . You reply, No that's too much, $2. They say, "no, you crazy, 15 dollar". You say, "I'll pay you $3". They say, "no way, good shirt, what you size, look see how good this look, try it on, here I help you take off your shirt, what color, 10 dollar". You say, "wait that's to much, I like that red, I'll pay $4". They say "no way, 5 dollar, what size? Now you try it on and it fits good and looks just like a real polo and would be great for golf or as a gift so you hit them with the closer. "I can get this in Hanoi for $3 but I will buy 5 for $20." The big money hits home and you close the deal. So in addition to some Polo or La Costa golf shirts, I got a bunch of Beer T-Shirts for $1 apiece and some Rolex knockoff watches for wife and other sons at home and stuff for my granddaughter and daughter in laws. I have to admit though even as I became proficient at the negotiation, Luke was the Master. He bargained them down to where sometimes I thought the salesperson was going to pay him money. He bought watches, luggage, shirts, a camera, suits and gifts for the girls. It sounds like a lot but the cost was nothing compared to what it would have been in the good old USA. Luke was the "Master Bargainer" but Terry Funk, one of our Marines and now an attorney in Tulsa, OK was the "Master Buyer". On one occasion we had vendors following our mini-bus on scooters to stay with Terry. Except for the cheap luggage he purchased the quality of the products was good. Remember the clothes you are wearing right now was probably made somewhere in Asia. The backpack I took to VN that I purchased at Academy was made in Viet Nam.


That night we all got together and had a big dinner at the Majestic and some of us roamed around Saigon for one last time. The enjoyable thing about the Majestic was that it was more of an international hotel with a rich history and diverse clientele.


Second Half of Trip

Chapter Six - North to Da Nang

Early the next morning we headed north to Da Nang. This ended the first half of our trip and now we were headed to an area of VN that I had heard a lot about but had never seen. So far we had been in country six days. Before I describe the next phase of this trip I have to say I need another trip to the old AO and next time I want to travel further north of Song Be. I said this earlier but I didn't get enough time to see all I wanted to see. I spent a year in VN in and around Phouc Vinh and came back for a week. It wasn't enough but it was something I would recommend to all VN vets. I can think of a lot of reasons to go back and re-experience VN. You don't need to go back to cleanse your soul or shake out the ghosts, not that some shouldn't go for that reason but in my opinion most of us missed the cultural experience. We never got to know the people. They are good, hard working, dedicated family people that experienced very difficult times in the 60's and 70's. I know we corrupted a bunch of them and some took advantage of us but what can you expect. I never knew the people or the country and the first time I didn't really care to see it up close and personal. I wanted to fly helicopters, do what was expected of me, not die, and come home. Those were valid expectations but now I had a chance to see it from another angle and it was worth it in my opinion.


Going to Da Nang required another trip to Tan Son Nhut airport. I checked out the 90the Replacement Depot again and all the revetments and then we took off in a Boeing 767 Air Vietnam passenger jet . At least the Vietnamese buy American because it's the best. Makes me a little guilty about thinking of buying a Toyota product. Tang almost got left because Jeanie had a little too much weight in her baggage and Tang had to deal with the baggage guys. Tang was the man.


As some of you know Danang is located in a beautiful spot on the coast surrounded by mountains. We stayed at the Green Bamboo Hotel, a medium size three and a half star place somewhere in the middle of the chaos of the city. Now we were in Marine Country and the marine vets were starting to stir. This was Tang's home town and Garr's turf and it seemed they knew everybody in town. We arrived in Da Nang early and after checking into the Hotel we drove west of the city and visited the location where Dick Walker had set up an artillery position in 1965. Dick was part of the first detachment of Marines to land at Da Nang in 65 and was given the mission of sealing off the Dai La Pass into the city. The geography was the same but "development creep" had set in. Now the rice paddies were gone and houses and industrial warehouses had started to move out to where he had been. It took Dick a little time to wander over the terrain and remember where his HQ was situated and where the artillery pieces had been set up. He gave a little background to what was going on and how things were set up. It was interesting not only because of the history of the area but he was in VN almost 4 years before me.


From the Dai La Pass we head to the South China Beach area . The old US revetments that housed F-4 Phantoms are still there but now the area has been taken over by the Vietnamese military. We can see Marble Mountain in the distance.


We stop and take pictures and then we take off for Hong Hai, an old port city where Garr, Powell and the Government Tourist Agency wanted us to visit for the silk clothes stores and history. We watched silk worms in action and I purchased a silk robe (fantastic and cheap), and scarves, pajamas and ties for sons, daughter in laws and grandchild. Also went to really nice restaurant out in this area with little ponds. It was extremely Oriental and serenely beautiful.


The next day we resumed our tour of the area around Da Nang. We visited Marble Mountain and hiked up thru it's hollow middle. It was a tough hike up through the mountain but the hike down on the outside after we reached the top was no stroll in the park for a bunch of older middle aged folks. The view however was worth the effort. Once down there is some beautiful marble merchandise at the shops at the bottom. After this we drive around the area and visited some sites that have some real meaning to the marines that were with us. TT Woods, Hill 55, and Dodge City were some of the areas that Garr pointed out where the marines had done some heavy fighting. Just west of Hill 55 Tony had been wounded and come very close to dying. He pointed out where he was just west of Hill 55 while we told his story of how he was wounded during a firefight with the NVA. He was a very very lucky guy. Really some beautiful country and the people treated us very well. That night we all piled into rickshaws for a short ride to dinner and sightseeing. Nights in VN cities are active. I think everyone eats out and everyone moves around on scooters.


Early the next day we packed up and headed for Hue. It was at this point that Mike Sprayberry separated from our group. He headed west with Tony, his GPS and Tang for a little side trip to the Ashua Valley. He wanted to revisit the site where he and his unit, D 5/7 Cav, 1st Cav Division, had had a major run in with the bad guys. The plan was to pick him up on the return leg of our circuitous trip over the HaiVan pass to the DMZ west to Khe Sanh, Camp Carroll, Camp Eagle and other historical locations. On the way Garr and Bob Weekly gave us all a little running commentary of how important the HaiVan was in the defense of Da Nang. Bob was stationed out west with his artillery unit in 72 and brought his unit back thru the pass in the closing days of the war when the Americans were allowing the ARVN to fight their own war. The scenery up and over the Hai Van pass is spectacular. There are places along the coast that would be fabulous sites for ocean resorts with golf courses and other amenities. I would suspect that in another 10 years that area will be full of resorts.


We made a few stops along the way but once in Hue Garr took us on a walk along the route the Marines took during the battle for Hue during Tet 68. Most of us have seen the documentaries of the battle so as Garr explains how the marines fought street by street, and building by building I could visualize the action. After that we checked into our Hotel which used to be the Quarters for the ARVN generals during the war. It was a very elegant place right on the Perfume River. Our afternoon was free so Luke and I walked aroung the city and stopped in bars for a beer with names like Khe Sanh or DMZ where you could get M-16 or AK-47 shots and the Why Not on Phi Knong Par Street.


The next day we toured the Citadel and Garr continued with the battle stories of TET 68. The Citadel is a huge tourist attraction for Vietnamese and foreigners alike. It was a neat place to visit. Luke made an acquaintance with a young Vietnamese girl that was studying engineering and she invited him out to dinner on her scooter. She took him by her house where he met her mom, dad and siblings and then they went to an outdoor restaurant. He got real "Immersed in the Culture". The rest of us went to dinner on a floating restaurant on the Perfume River. Very enjoyable.


Next day we were up early and headed north. On the way we stopped at Camp Evans. It was devoid of any trace of any presence of human habitation just like the spots in the southern part of the country. However the area had large electrical towers and looked like it was about to become a large construction site. Keel had called this place home the first half of his tour and Powell had been here a short time before heading south soon after he arrived in-country.


Leaving Camp Evans we headed up to the old DMZ. Our target was the Vin Loc tunnels just north of the DMZ. These tunnels were used by the NVA to cache supplies that came down by boat. Interesting place and very similar to the Chu Chi tunnels. From here we drove back south and stopped at Cua Tung beach for some swimming and refreshments, then to Dong Ha. This was the site of the heroic exploits of Marine Major Rippley who blew up the Dong Ha Bridge to stop the NVA tanks and troops from crossing. However from a tourist perspective Dong Ha is no Hue. We stayed in a ½ star hotel very similar to the hotel we stayed at in Tay Ninh. That night we went to a restaurant across the street and ate dinner on the roof of a four story building. Food was good, there was plenty of beer and the company was great. We were nearing the end of the trip and everyone had become good friends and enjoyed each others company.


Next day we were up early and headed west. Our trip agenda was Camp Carroll, Khe Sanh, Camp Eagle and points between, plus we were going to pick up Mike and Tony. Overall my impression of this part of Viet Nam was the rugged terrain and the short distance from the coast to the border of Laos. With North Vietnam so close and the west side of the country so open and with no "pursuit policy" across the border it's surprising we held onto this territory as well as we did. There is no doubt in my mind we fought this war with one hand tied behind our back. Could you imagine Ike telling his Generals not to pursue the Germans into Belgium or Germany but they could come onto your turf to have raise havoc. They wouldn't have been the so called "Greatest Generation" allowing that crap now would they? But our leaders who were part of that greatest generation imposed those restrictions on the war we were fighting. What the Hey?


Khe Sanh is one place that the government of VN maintained some history of the American War and to display the spoils of war. Khe Sanh is on a plateau surrounded by mountainous terrain. It's a beautiful site that really doesn't look like it did 40 years ago. Now there is small museum with some static displays of helicopters, old cannons and fake bunkers. It's on about a 10 acre area. Surrounding the area is a coffee farm.


We also visited Camp Carroll and this location has a lot of history. It was a fire support base that contained long range 175mm howitzers that supported the surrounding bases to the west and north. One of many interesting points of history related to Camp Carroll is that it was surrendered by it's ARVN commander Colonel Dinh to the NVA in 1975. Colonel Dinh earned the sobriquet "Young Lion" during TET 68 when he personally placed the South Vietnam colors atop the citadel in Hue. The loss of Camp Carroll was a major blow to South Viet Nam as the NVA marched toward Hue and Da Nang.


Camp Eagle was a highway intersection with a little village surrounding it. Nothing remained of its existence.


By mid-day we were south of Khe Sanh and heading east into the Ashau. By 1 PM we linked back up with Mike, Tony & Tang and had lunch in one of small villages. That night we were back in Da Nang and the next morning we were up and flying to Hanoi.


Our trip was coming to an end but Luke and I had one more thing to accomplish. I had asked Garr before we left if we could play golf in Viet Nam and he had set us up a tee time in a course about 30 kilometers west of Hanoi. We skipped the tour of Hanoi but I figured we could do that next time because I wanted to say I played golf in VN. This turned out to be a better experience than I had anticipated.


A driver picked up Luke and I at the airport and gave us a hair-raising ride out to Kings Island Golf Resort. The city of Hanoi is kind of sterile looking to me and the countryside until you get close to the golf course is flat. The mountains start to rise just as we near our destination and the driver pulls into a large parking lot where a bunch of fancy cars are parked with drivers hanging around in groups talking. The parking lot is bordered by the Dong Mo Lake. This lake surrounds the golf course. We are the only Westerners within 50 miles. Our driver motioned us to a small dock at the edge of the parking lot. Everybody looked at us like we were aliens from outer space. The parking lot is nice with huge shade trees and an ornamental stone fence surrounding it. We get on a small motorboat with four Vietnamese and it takes us across to the course. It was really classy. I took pictures and movies on the boat and narrated the scenes not knowing the Vietnamese could understand English. I wasn't saying anything bad, just commenting on the fancy situation in a communist country. One of the Vietnamese asks Luke who we were and he tells them we are on a Military Tour and I had fought in Viet Nam back in 69. That seemed to interest him and he then told us about the course and translated for us. At the dock on the course side of the lake we had a same fancy ornamental stone fence but a line of women that served as caddies. There must have been 30 or more all dressed out in peasant clothes with the cone shaped hat. With two assigned to us and following our new friend we walked up to the club house. The guy that befriended us was a high Communist official and a member of the Club. He told the girl at the clubhouse that Luke and I were his guests and we got a reduced rate. It wasn't cheap but it was less than I had planned for. We got there about 12:30 and it was hot and humid, probably about 98 or 100 degrees with 85% humidity. It was like playing golf in Houston in August. But it was really pretty and every six holes or so there were these small fancy refreshment centers built into the side of a hill under shade tress. Luke and I took advantage of those and recouped our fluid loss with COLD Tiger Beers. These Vietnamese were living large. Our little female caddies were terrific. They cleaned our golf balls after every shot and gave us putting tips. The caddies were women from the surrounding villages and they just caddied on the weekends. They were both married and both spoke some English. Luke's spoke better than mine and as we walked the course they told us about their families and how they liked being caddies. They didn't act aware of any conflict America had with VN and we didn't discuss it. They were just two nice women that accepted their lot in life and were working for a few extra easy bucks. They made all their money on tips so naturally we tipped them as generously as any ugly American could be expected. After 18 holes we were bushed so we stopped in the clubhouse for a couple more Tiger Beers. Here we ran into Bob Bicknell, an American and the managing director of the golf resort. He was a really a nice guy and sat down and talked to us and wanted to know all about what we had been doing. He was about 42, married to a Vietnamese woman and had worked here for about 15 years. Before this job he worked in Thailand. He had been in Asia for most of his life. Meanwhile our Communist friends came in and we had a few beers with them. We had a great time.


Time was getting late so we shook hands with our new comrades and took the motor boat ride back across the lake. Our driver was waiting and he dropped us off at the Hotel where the rest of our tour buddies were hanging out. We freshened ourselves up, had a quick dinner with them and then we all took off for the airport for our long ride home.


I can't say enough of how much I enjoyed this trip. One big reason was because everybody really got along together well. Another reason is that Viet Nam is a beautiful country. The people are industrious hard working souls that have strong family ties. If there are any fat people in Viet Nam I didn't see any. They are a homogeneous group of people that basically all look alike. I started to miss the differences we have back in America after about ten days. But this is a trip not to be undertaken lightly. As I say in the beginning of this report, this trip is an adventure. For example, you stay in real nice accommodations but when you travel the hinterlands you stay in some nice, clean places but not necessarily as bug free as hotels in the States. But the lizards help out in that category. Powell, Garr and Tang were fantastic. They knew the geography, the people, the restaurants, the shops, the history, the war stories and whatever else you need to know.


Thanks, JP, Captain Garr, David & Renee, Mike, Julie, Jeanie, Bob, Dick, Terry, Tony and Military Tours. You were great traveling buddies and made our trip more enjoyable. .


John & Luke M