I Spent 22 Oct 69 - 22 Oct 70 at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Viet
assigned to the 12th Reconnaissance Intelligence Technical Squadron,
as the Officer-In-Charge of the Operations Support, Map, and Film Libraries.
(That's right, I was OIC OSL, the head librarian for the war)
Because of the classified nature of our operation and my job, I have no
indoor pictures to share, but I found a few out door shots that might be
of interest to friends and family, so here they are. This one will be a
"work in progress" as I find time to scan in pictures and load them here.
And the first addition is right here: now that we all
had a laugh about the
"head librarian" business, let me tell you what it meant:
Several Tactical Reconnaissance units around Vietnam and
flew daily missions over real and suspected targets in North and South
Vietnam and Laos, and their Intelligence Photo Interpreters examined
the film and forwarded the interesting stuff to 12th RITS for further
examination and possible development into targets.
The Recon pilots flew the RF-4C, a version of the F-4 Phantom
Some flew the RF-101 Voodoo
They had to contend with Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA); that's
a 57mm gun
in the lower left corner of the photo and the shadow of an RF-101 in the
They also had to contend with the radar guided SA-2 missile,
MiG fighters and gomers on the ground with
.50 caliber machine guns or even AK-47 assault rifles. Fly high, and you're
where the MiGs and missiles are
most effective, fly low, and you're where the guns and small arms are most
Add to that, when the Recon pilot came to his target, to get
good photography, he had to fly at a fixed
altitude and speed, in a straight line for some length of time, making him a
And still their motto was " Alone, Unarmed, Unafraid".
Eventually, the film that they risked their lives to shoot
came to rest in my film library. My
operations support library and map libraries supported the specialized photo
12th RITS who developed targets for further attention, and those target frames of
film were filed away
in my library
for further use.
You may have heard of President Lyndon Johnson who once said
"Them boys over there can't bomb
an outhouse without my permission", and his Secretary of Defense, Robert Strange
had an MBA and thought all life, including war. could be reduced to Quantitative
They would sit up late in a White House conference room and
decide what targets would be hit on what date.
7th Air Force would get their orders and pass them on, eventually, some Tactical
Fighter Wing would wire
12RITS/OSL that they needed 10 photos and a duplicate positive (overhead
of the following targets.
So we would pull those target frames out of our files and send them down to the
photo lab to get the products
the fighter wing needed. Their Intelligence briefers would distribute the photos
for target study, brief the mission
using the projector slide to illustrate key points about the target, then the
fighter jockeys would suit up, strap on
their aircraft, and go blast some grove of trees into mulch.
There was a truck transshipment point there last month when
the photo was taken, but this was a
guerilla war with fleeting targets in South Viet Nam, Southern North Viet Nam,
and Laos, where we were
bombing. The fixed strategic targets, airfields, factories, railroad yards
were all in upper North Vietnam and
Off Limits to bombing for most of the war, to the extreme frustration of the
As far as I know, no one ever did a Bomb Damage Assessment (BDA)
on how many outhouses LBJ destroyed.
SOAPBOX = OFF
MODE = CONTINUE STORY
Points so far: LBJ was a jerk; Recon pilots got
the right stuff, pardon my whining about an 8x8 room.
This was my home for a year, an 8'x8' room behind that hole in
the first floor screen in Bachelor Officer Quarters 392.
That wall around the building is a concrete blast wall to keep out shrapnel from
near-miss rockets and mortars. And,
if it's not a near-miss, but a bull's eye, I guess it keeps debris from damaging
the building next-door.
The rooms were unfinished, the walls were 2"x4"s and plywood,
the room was just about twice as wide as a GI cot.
The front wall was screened as you can see, with slanted slats to keep out the
The room had a ceiling fan, if you ran it at high speed, the mosquitoes had a
hard time landing on you.
I wallpapered my little home to make a cheery little nook.
Keep in mind that this was
years before Martha Stewart - I could have taught her a lot.
Or maybe the reason I survived a year in an 8x8 cubicle was by
having read Thoreau's
Walden many years before. - If it was good enough for him it was good enough for
At least it wasn't a foxhole in the boonies, right?
The Cost of Living
The "Funny Money" shown above is known as Military Payment
Certificates or MPC. It came in denominations from $20.00
down to $.05, I don't think there was a penny MPC. The very first thing you did
when you arrived in Vietnam was to go to a
Finance window and trade every cent of US money for MPC. US money was highly
prized on the black market and this was
a way to keep it out of the wrong hands.
Even the MPC was valued on the Black
Market, so approximately each six months,
with no notice, the gates would be sealed,
and everyone would line up at Finance
to trade their MPC for a new issue of MPC.
If you had a large amount of the old MPC
and couldn't provide a valid reason,
you met your new friend Mr. MP. Meanwhile, off-base
there supposedly was
great sorrow among those who had been amassing large
amounts of the old MPC which was now worthless.
I worked 12 hours most days 6-7 days per week - there was a
war going on and that's what they were paying me to do. Off duty, I sometimes
hung around with some fellow lieutenants, but most often I just sat quietly and
read. The base library had a paperback exchange policy,
bring one in, take one out. I used to do 5-6 at a time. Back in 69 - 70 the
entire Perry Mason series was republished in paperback and I
think I eventually read it all through that paperback exchange. I'm surprised
there's not an ashtray and a glass at hand in this photo. One of
the perks of the war was no federal or other taxes on various products. I could
buy an Imperial Quart (38 ounces?) of Chivas Regal Scotch
for $5.05, and a carton of cigarettes was $1.00 - $2.00 depending on brand. (I
guess they figured that if you might get killed at any minute,
you may as well go with a bad liver and lungs.) Even this stuff was liable to wind up on
the Black Market though, so we had Ration Cards that
allowed us to buy only so much booze and tobacco products per month - still a
quite generous allowance.
The two radome covers above in the background were involved in
an "interesting" event near Christmas 1969.
The base commander authorized someone to put a star on one and a Christmas tree
on the other made of
fluorescent light tubes. They were lit on 18 Dec 69 and were quite beautiful and
could be seen for miles.
On 19 Dec 69 around 0300 in the morning the VC fired a half dozen rockets at the
base, using the bright
radomes as aiming aides. They stayed dark after that and we had a new base
commander a few days later.
One last memory from Christmas 1969 - It was Christmas eve,
close to midnight and I had been sitting with
a bunch of other lieutenants at the "Tipsy Table Tavern" (see below) when I
stood up to head for my room
and glanced at the Eastern sky and saw a Brilliant Star. I thought I was having
a religious experience. -
Could this be a harbinger of the second coming? Was the end at hand? I examined
my conscience and
said an Act of Contrition. But by now I noticed the Brilliant Star was a little
lower in the Eastern sky, and
I figured out that it was an illumination flare dropped by an aircraft to
discourage the bad guys from attacking
some distant friendly position.
The Tipsy Table Tavern
I don't know who built that table. They had once seen a
picnic/park table and constructed this from memory.
But, the fatal flaw is that the seats project WAY outboard of the table legs.
When in use by a bunch of
lieutenants from the BOQ, you needed to have an equal number of Lts on each side
of the table, and if
one needed to get up to go to the restroom, (a frequent occurrence since they
were sitting around drinking
beer or whatever), he would need to arrange for someone on the other side of the
table to stand up simultaneously
to keep the table steady. As the night went on and the Lts imbibed more beer,
there would be a tendency to
forget about maintaining this center-of-gravity and many times the result would
be a pile of beer-soaked
Lts with a table rolled over on top of them.
No one was ever seriously injured; and no one ever did
anything to fix the table.
There are two things that any American stationed in Vietnam
will never forget. The First, if he was up-country was the
stink of the jungle. If he was stationed in the rear it was the ambiance of the
"binjoe" ditches, (open sewers).
The Second indelible memory of Vietnam is THE sound of the
war, the UH-1 Huey. It seemed like 24 hours a day you
were never more than a few minutes away from hearing one coming overhead.
Depending on your circumstances, it
could be a really welcome sound if you were pinned down and it was a gunship, or
you were in the boonies and it was
bringing hot meals and mail, or if need be it was a dustoff coming to medevac
One Piece of famous military advice is "Never Volunteer" - I
had heard that but I've always been contrary, and
when I got a chance to FLY with some Forward Air Controllers (FACs) I
Bob and another lieutenant figure out how to get Bob into the
back seat of the O-1.
The process is much like getting into the back seat of a 2-door compact car, but
wearing a parachute on your back, a helmet on your head, and the side windows
latched open against the ceiling, taking up a lot of headspace.
This photo shows a pretty good view of the white phosphorous smoke rockets
hanging from the wing
they're fired by the O-1 pilot to show fighters or other aircraft where a target
or reference point is
on the ground. The plane carries no other armament except a pair of pistols and
maybe a rifle.
Bob finally gets to fly like the recruiter promised him.
The FAC Hootch at Lai Khe. This is where they lived for a
year. My 8x8 room begins to look much nicer.
I thought I had a photo of their shower, but I can't find it. It was an
ingenious arrangement that involved
an elevated 55 gallon drum. Cold shower in the morning, warm shower in the
afternoon after the sun
has been shining on the drum all day.
This doesn't fly, it draws flies. The official USAF FAC
Latrine at Lai Khe.
The sign allegedly dedicates the facility to the Sergeant who burned down the
previous facility while going about the periodic necessary duty of burning the
waste to get rid of it. A job usually reserved for the lowest ranking enlisted
or the one most in disfavor with the first-sergeant at the moment.
The pathway in the foreground leading to the latrine is
interesting to know about
if you don't recognize it. That's a sheet of PSP or Pierced Steel Planking, an
military invention of interlocking sections of rigid steel plank that can
roads, runways, or whatever is needed. Here, the section is providing a dry path
the latrine during the monsoon season.
Most of Viet Nam looked like this, parts of Laos and Cambodia
were much worse, depending on
what was there that was worth bombing. I was told this was probably an old
"Arclite" box - where
three B-52s had flown over in formation and dropped 108 500 pound bombs each in
Tactical Fighters like the F-4 Phantom could carry up to 24
MK-82 500 pound bombs each, depending on
how far they were going and how much gas they needed to carry to get there.
Then, depending on the type of
target, they might fly over in formation and "salvo" their bombs at a certain
command or they might repeatedly
dive at it, one at a time releasing one or two bombs on each dive. (This
is the point where a lot of pilots were
shot down by the guns defending the target they were bombing.)
A "Big Tail" B-52D dropping 108 MK-82 500 pound bombs from the
bomb bays and wing positions.
These SAC bombers flew in a 3 plane formation and pretty much devastated an area
2 miles long
by one half mile wide. They were used for types of targets that were dispersed
over such an area
and were therefore not good targets for the fighter bombers which were more
smaller pinpoint area targets.
A note - probably true: after the first time a friendly
aircraft flying at lower altitude found himself flying
through a rain of MK-82s from 30,000 feet, they began broadcasting "Arclite"
warnings on "guard
frequency - 243.0 MHz" about 5 minutes before the drop to warn all aircraft to
stay away from the
Another famous legacy of Vietnam is "Agent Orange". On this
particular mission we used smoke rockets
to show the start and end points where we wanted the UC-123s to release their
agent orange, then we
got some altitude to stay out of the spray. Even then (1970) there were rumors
that the stuff wasn't good
to get on you. I've read that they quit spraying it altogether later in 1970.
There was a good intent behind this spraying. It denied the
enemy concealment, usually along roads so
they couldn't spring ambushes on friendly forces. The other tool was the "Rome
Plow" so named because
it was built in Rome, NY I believe, a massive plow used to clear the brush and
woods for a good distance
out from the side of a road.
Agent Orange will continue to be controversial, maybe no one
knew at the time what damage it could do
to humans. But no one knows how many GIs it saved either.
Lai Khe was a large U.S.Army Base, Headquarters of the "Big
Red One", The U.S.Army 1st Infantry Division
The base was overflowing with Infantry, Artillery, Army Aviation units, and one
little U.S. Air Force
Forward Air Controller (FAC) unit. I remember a lot of helicopter traffic, and I
remember a lot of cannon or
howitzer fire, 24 hours per day. It was hard to sleep. The 105s went boom!, but
the 155s went BOOM!
I got to see a live fire exercise by a pair of Huey Cobras
like this one night when the
base was attacked.
The Cobras carried rockets, machine guns, and a grenade chunker under the chin
of the aircraft, all
controlled by the gunner who sat in front of and lower than the pilot. The
Cobras buzzed around the air
over the base like angry hornets and beat up the barbed wire perimeter fence
until the survivors
crawled back into the jungle.
I watched the show open eyed and thrilled while at
the same time
pondering the irony of the fact
that I was sitting in a foxhole in Vietnam,
taking potshots at the bad guys,
a state of events which I had done my very best to avoid by joining the U. S.
I have never been a hunter and have never shot at a 4-legged animal. But, keep
in mind that
no 4-legged animal has never shot at me either.
Back at Tan Son Nhut
All good things come to an end, and I had to get back to my Head Librarian job
at Tan Son Nhut.
I Had a few adventures once I got back there. In May we invaded
Cambodia, as you may remember, but my map library
didn't have much Cambodian coverage. So several of my troops and I went to the
Army Map Depot at Long Binh to
obtain and haul back the maps we needed. While waiting for the maps to be loaded
on our truck we goofed off and
shot some photos. USAF officers are qualified on the M-16 rifle before they go
to Viet Nam, but normally they are
issued a .38 Caliber Smith & Wesson Pistol, and are issued an M-16 only in an
emergency and this picture illustrates
why. No magazine in the rifle - not ready for business, finger hooked around the
trigger - bad habit, and probably why the
sergeant kept the magazine.
Why did we invade Cambodia and draw another country into that
"futile" war? Well, first of all, remember that it was futile
only because LBJ was forbidding us to kill the ant hills, he was making us stomp
the ants one at a time and there was an
endless supply of ants. In the map shown above, rather than go after the
factories and warehouses and oil storage in North
Vietnam, we had a "secret war" blowing up one truck load at a time on the "Ho
Chi Minh Trail" coming down through Laos
and into Cambodia, then into South Vietnam. A lot of the trucks sneaked through
undamaged, so the Viet Cong Guerillas
and North Vietnam Army troops operating in South Vietnam were fairly well
Like ants, their transportation corps were a dedicated lot,
some of them pushed heavily laden bicycles rather than trucks
the length of the trail, then went back for another load.
Another source of supplies, which was untouchable, was the
port of Sihanoukville in Southwest Cambodia. - Prince Sihanouk
sympathized with the North Vietnamese cause and allowed supplies to be delivered
there and trucked across to Eastern
Cambodia bordering South Vietnam's Central Highland's and Military Region 3
By May 1970, LBJ with his ant stomping and outhouse bombing
was out of office and Richard Nixon was in. Nixon may have
gone on to disgrace himself in the eyes of some, but he and Henry Kissinger knew
how to give the military some slack and
let them "win" a war. The crude circles in Eastern Cambodia on the map above
represent where our GIs captured thousands
of tons of rice, ammunition, weapons, and medical supplies and turned them
over to the South Vietnamese or destroyed them.
There was a Headquarters in Cambodia called the "Central Office for South
Vietnam" or COSVN. I remember at the time that
the US Army chased their butts all over Eastern Cambodia for several months.
They never did catch them, but they sure did
disrupt their operations for that period of time.
Somewhere about this time, while Prince Sihanouk was visiting
China, his people cordially invited him to stay there because
they had chosen a new Pro-US government. The port of Sihanoukville became
"Kampong Som" and communist supply ships
were no longer welcome. The VC and NVA running around in Eastern Cambodia became
no longer tolerated, and Cambodian
communists who worked with them became the "Khmer Rouge".
The new head of Cambodia, Kampuchea, the Khmer Republic,
whichever it was, requested US assistance in ridding his country
of the bad guys. We were willing, but Congress was annoyed that Nixon didn't ask
their permission for the invasion and they said
all US ground troops would be out within 90 days. This decree was honored,
leaving the job of saving Cambodia to the US Air Force.
I don't remember much of the summer of 1970 at 12 RITS. It
must have been really busy with the new country added to the war and
all the new target photos to be processed, etc. In early September I went on R&R
(Rest & Recuperation) to Sydney, Australia. As I
came around the corner of a building at Camp Alpha on Tan Son Nhut where GIs
assembled from all over South Vietnam for R&R,
I ran into a friend I hadn't seen since pilot training. He had graduated and was
flying an OV-10 FAC aircraft like the one above.
When we got back from R&R I gave him a tour of my office and
expected him to be bored with my facility compared to his hot aircraft.
But he got real excited when he saw my map library, particularly the extensive
coverage of Cambodia. He left with an arm load of large scale
maps of Eastern Cambodia and asked if guys from his squadron could stop in,
which I answered affirmatively.
I saw his name in a book a few years ago, he was one of the
founding members of a FAC unit that had extensive FAC experience, and
spoke French so they could communicate with the "good guy" Cambodians on the
ground when applying airstrikes to the bad guys.
I'm happy to say that he survived the war. Several other
friends did not and are mentioned elsewhere in this part of our website.
On 22 Oct 70 I signed a lot of papers turning over all the
classified materials in the Libraries to my
replacement, I turned in my equipment to the first sergeant, and reported to the
Officer's Club, where
my fellow Lts from 12 RITS bought me a lot of drinks, then took me to the flight
line and made sure
I got on the "Freedom Bird" going back to the states.
My arrival back in San Francisco 24 hours later was
anti-climactic. It was the middle of the night and
I had a bad head-cold. No one greeted me. No one protested me.