Base Camp
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Working for the DMZ

The pictures on this page are thumbnails.  To see a larger version, click on the picture.

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

row of tents in mud.jpg (28840 bytes) 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.


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We cleared the jungle by blowing up trees.
tank in mud.jpg (32028 bytes) 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.


mortar trnch mud 2.jpg (27271 bytes) 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.


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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.
vietnam tony lavarda.jpg (22761 bytes)
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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 later. 


vietnam basecamp.jpg (22522 bytes)

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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.
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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.
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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.

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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.
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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.
viet me and rebel flag.jpg (21495 bytes) 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.

I 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".







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