Chapter One

I’m not sure why I’m writing this – maybe it’s because I just like to write and I’m better at writing (or so I think) then talking. Or perhaps it’s because there are as many sides to the Viet Nam experience as there are people who served there and I’d just like to get one of those sides recorded, a side that few people hear about. This document was triggered by a series of questions asked by a friend from church, which in itself is unusual. When I returned from Viet Nam, even those who wrote to me while I was over there didn’t want to hear about it (except for family members). I had looked forward to showing the slides and photographs I had taken, talking about my experiences, etc., but few wanted to see those photographs or hear about anything relating to Viet Nam. It was not a popular war and most folks just wanted to forget it - pretend it had never happened. The only person who has ever shown any interest in my experiences (beyond my family and the person who initiated this) was a man who used to attend our church. He had been born and raised in Viet Nam and his family had managed to get him out of the country when the war began. Today I feel that if our leaders had really remembered and studied the lessons we learned there, maybe the second war in Iraq wouldn’t have happened and many good men and women would still be alive.

Most of what you read here is highly subjective and strictly from my personal memories, which may or may not be totally accurate. I have tried to verify the facts where I could, via old letters I wrote home, etc., but that wasn’t possible in every case. It has been almost 40 years since I served in Viet Nam and my memory isn’t as good as it used to be – and it never was all that good to begin with.

In the old days, I would have been considered one of the safe “behind the lines” people, but in Viet Nam no place was truly safe – there were no lines. I was a Storekeeper in the United States Navy; in other words, I dealt with “stores” or supplies. My job was to help see that the guys who served out in the bush (on the front lines) had what they needed to get the job done, whether it was food, equipment or repair parts. The photographs included in this document are also close to 40 years old and most are of marginal quality – sometimes because of poor processing, sometimes because of their age, sometimes because I’m partially color blind and can’t adjust them properly, and sometimes because I still had a lot to learn about photography back when I took them.

Last but not least, much of what I know about Viet Nam and the bases I served at is based on what I’ve learned since then, via the Internet, etc. At the time I was actually serving there my main focus was just to do my job and get through my year alive. I’m not a terribly outgoing person, so I didn’t do the exploring that many of the other servicemen did.

Viet Nam was my first actual duty station (I joined the Navy in February of 1969). I went to Navy boot camp at Great Lakes, Illinois, then SK “A” school (Storekeeper School) in Newport, Rhode Island and then Survival School (Counter Insurgency School) in Little Creek, Virginia. I was 19 years old and about as naive as any one guy could be.

Survival School was a three-week school designed to condition us physically and mentally for Viet Nam. We spent the first two weeks between classroom instruction (learning Vietnamese customs, etc.) and physical training (we had to run 3 miles a day, for example, in the heat and humidity of Virginia). The third week was spent in the field, learning how to survive with nothing but what we could find in the woods or swamps; and learning how to evade enemy forces. We were never taught any real combat skills; only how to escape from a prisoner of war camp and live long enough to reach safety (perhaps they just didn’t have much faith in a sailor fighting on dry land). We did get to fire a few types of small arms during those first two weeks but never had any serious training with them. The last day in the field was spent in a simulated prisoner of war camp but we were not allowed to escape from it. Instead, we got a taste of what to expect (torture). You would be surprised at how much pain a Navy Seal (the people who ran the school) can inflict without leaving a mark. After completing the school, we got our plane tickets for Viet Nam.

Naval Support Activity,
Da Nang, South Viet Nam (NSA, Da Nang)

My flight arrived in Da Nang before daylight on October 3rd. 1969. My first impression was of the heat and humidity (MUCH worse then Virginia), as it was just the start of the rainy season. It would rain about every 10 minutes for a short time, and then stop and the humidity would start climbing. One could almost tell by the humidity when it was going to rain again – you could feel the moisture building. There is no point in going into that much more; you have to experience it to really understand it.

After getting off the jet we (those who were also on that flight) were transported, via “cattle car”, to Camp Tien Sha. Below is an example of a cattle car. Cattle cars were designed to move groups of people in relative safety - the windows were rigged so that sappers (better known as terrorists now days) couldn’t throw grenades into them. We had to use them to get to work each day when there was a security alert on; otherwise we rode a bus or hitchhiked, catching a ride on whatever mode of military transportation that was available. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Camp Tien Sha was (as far as I know) the main berthing area for Naval personal in Da Nang. Below is the entrance to the camp, with a sign to the left extolling the virtues of the hand salute.

The last sentence is Use It! - as if you really had a choice. The main gate was located at the intersection of three roads. Across from the main gate was this:

Why this area was off limits I never found out, but it may have had something to do with the Vietnamese equivalent of a McDonalds, which was over there. More likely it was a prime base for black market business.

The first few days were something of a blur. I was given a temporary berth at the transient barracks, an old French era structure. It didn’t look too bad on the outside but the inside was terrible.

While there I tried to adjust to the twelve-hour time difference, filled out paperwork, got assigned to work details (working parties in Navy lingo) and waited to see what my actual job assignment would be.

One little detail needs to added here – the photographs are all my own, but the maps and charts that appear later in this document are “borrowed” from the Internet and I do not have permission to use them. Therefore, this document is NOT for publication.

Chapter One          Chapter Two ->