Working for the DMZ
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Bear Cat, Home of the 9th
Infantry Division and components. Near Binh Hoa, Long Binh, and to the east and
north of Saigon. Our Base Camp was part of the ring of defenses around the Capital
||Oh, there's no place like home for a few more days.
This is what a base camp looked like early on. I am somewhat amused by what I hear
of living conditions in Iraq. The first three days in country we filled
sandbags. We complained, complained, complained. We enlarged the camp by day
by clearing jungle, and filled sandbags in the evening. The fourth night we were
mortared....we didn't complain anymore, and the bags seemed to fill faster.
|We cleared the jungle by blowing up trees.
||We cleared the jungle with tanks. On one occassion I
got a dump truck stuck. Then I got three more trucks stuck trying to pull the first
one out. Then I got a bulldozer stuck pulling them out, and then we finally used a
tank to do the honors. That one threw a track. There are somethings they just
did not teach us at Officer Candidate School.
||Sandbags are stacked along tents just enough to go above a
bunks. That protects you from shapnel. But not much protects you from a direct
hit. So next to each tent was a six foot deep slit trench that you ran out of the
tent and jumped in during the attack. The trenches would have half culverts over
them also sandbagged. But, we got there in October, the monsoon season. Our
"protection" remained a lap pool for much of the three months I was in basecamp.
|Clean your weapon, clean your weapon, clean your weapon.
Here, I am demonstrating how to look down the barrel to check for debris.
Actually, I may be trying to shoot my eye out.
|Tony Lavarda was a good friend of mine. I have no
earthly idea where he is at now or, in fact, where any of my friends are. Tony and I
were junior lieutenants. Because we went before the division came, there were no
staff people to handle the supply or personnel matters of our division. Tony became
an assistant S-4 (supply) officer and I an assistant S-1 (personnel officer, picture of
sign on bottom). I was never so unhappy with an assignment in my life. I wanted back
on the line with my troops and was never more grateful when it happened a month
|Base Camp was exactly that, a base of operations. The
Division Headquarters was here, the major maintenance and supply facilties, the medical
center, and the replacement company where "cherries" from the states became
acclimated to the country. My last position in Vietnam was training replacements and
taking them out on their first combat mission. Those made for some hairy moments.
You tell these guys after forming your perimeter to stay low and be quiet. I
forgot to tell them not to let anything into our position. I imagine my surprise
when a local on his two wheeled, waterbuffalo drawn cart walked right into my CP at 2
a.m.! Here is a shot of our company motor pool and the other is a "cherry"
walking through the dust. If it was not muddy, it was dusty. I was in base
camp for three months. After that we headed to the rice paddies of the Mekong Delta.
|The stand at the right of the tent is a shaving and washing
stand. You fill your helment with water, put it in a space on the stand and start
shaving. Yes, that is me.
|After we blew up or bulldozed a lot of jungle, we started
building the basecamp. We built roads, mess halls (cafeterias you might call them),
headquarters buildings, latrines, latrines, and more latrines, and a few showers.
Nothing was built with solid sides. We more or less, put up 2 x 4 or 6 studs,
covered them with screens, and then nailed on 1 x 6 boards that were nailed louvered so
there was open air.
In the center picture, the young man is a Spec 4 McAtee. This
picture was taken the first month in country. By the end of the year this 18
year old would become the most decorated man in our Battalion. He was on a mine
sweeping detail when his sweeper tripped a grenade boobytrap. He jumped on the
grenade, but it failed to go off. I put him in for a Medal of Honor, but he received
a Distinquished Service Cross instead, the nation's second highest award for Heroism.
He had also received a Bronze Star.
The bottom picture is one of latrines and showers. I was also grateful to finally
leave the basecamp in December and begin operating with the 2nd of the 60th Infantry
Battalion, 9th Infantry Division in the Mekong Delta.
|Shortly after arriving, our unit began hiring local
Vietnamese to complete some of the day-to-day work in the basecamp. After working
all day clearing jungle and providing perimeter security at night, few of us were really
in any mood to spend our free time filling sandbags even if we were getting mortared.
We found it more efficient to hire locals to do some of this labor work for us.
Needless to say, the local economies boomed wherever a basecamp located and there
were major bases all over Vietnam. We took a basecamp a couple hundred yards square
and turned it into a two mile square basecamp for nearly 20,000 American Soldiers.
|World War II vets saw Martha Ray and I saw her in Vietnam.
She performed on a makeshift stage. I did not see Bob Hope, but I was able to
send some of my men to see him. There were a number of performers that came to
Vietnam. Because we rarely got to the base camp, we didn't see many. But,
every now and then someone would venture out to the boonies to shake our hands.
||Are my ears that big! Although I was and am from
Mississippi, now, I still considered Baltimore my home back then. Here I am reading
the "Baltimore Sun". We got a lot of news from home, late. We were able to
see NFL football games on Armed Forces TV network, a week after they were played.
recall writing a letter-to-the-editor of the Clarion Ledger in 1968. I still
have the letter and read it. I am amazed of how it follows word-for-word what our
men and women are writing today from Iraq to their papers back home. I learned
valuable lessons after coming back home about politics and war and the American People.
Only time will judge our failure or success in Iraq. But, I can tell you, the
politicians have learned little from our experiences in Vietnam.
Click here to go to the next section of this chapter for pictures
of "working for the DMZ".