Chapter Six

I don’t remember what time we actually arrived in Saigon and we couldn’t see much out of the windows of the bus that took us from the airport to the Annapolis Hotel (I think they may have been blacked out). What we did see was totally amazing. For 7 months I’d been living in a third world setting, but now, all of a sudden, it was like I had been teleported to New York City. There were real gas stations! There were American made cars. There were streetlights and stoplights. There were Western and Vietnamese women on the streets, wearing western clothes.

Everyone on the bus was in shock.

The Annapolis Hotel was the staging area for most Naval personal coming in to III Corps.

(NOTE: The orignal version I did of this document was in the Microsoft WORD format and the photos were set up for that. However, I discovered that many don't have WORD, so I converted this to a web page and at this point the format changes, so many of the photos from here on out will appear to be too wide.)

We arrived there, were assigned bunks and then just stood by for the next couple days to get our base assignment. While we waited, we read the posters plastered all over the place telling about the attack the VC had made on the hotel years before, how many people had been killed and how much damage had been done. It wasn’t the kind of thing that got you really excited about being there, but at least it did make a point – just because you were in the middle of a city that looked perfectly “normal” did not mean you were safe. Some of the guys went out exploring but I stuck close to the hotel, which was probably a good thing – it took a while to adapt to such a big change. We also listened to the scare stories about the bases we might get assigned to – which ones were good and which ones were death traps. All in all, it was much the same as what I went through at first in Da Nang but that didn’t make it any easier!

And once again, the Lord was looking out for me. I had heard that the supply base at Nha Be was a relatively safe place, compared to some of the others, so that is what I had been praying for even though I knew very little about it. When our assignments were finally posted I discovered that I had got it. I was totally elated. Then they told me to go down to the armory and draw a rifle. A rifle??? After 7 months in country and not even being allowed to hold a weapon, let alone actually shoot one, they were giving me a rifle. The locals probably heard the sound of my bubble bursting a couple blocks away.

My rifle turned out to be an old style M-14, much like a common Michigan hunting rifle. It was chambered for the standard 7.62 NATO ammunition and I eventually ended up with two clips, which I later taped together for faster reloading. I’m not sure if they gave me any ammunition or if I got that later at Nha Be. As soon as I was all checked out, I got on the bus for Nha Be.

I’ve made it a point not to name names in this account, but I need to do that now. Somewhere between Saigon and Nha Be, I managed to hook up with another Storekeeper on the bus, who had also been assigned out there. His name was Bill Darrow and he was a native Californian. He had just been transferred from a small firebase up on the DMZ and the M-16 he carried had seen use. At the time I thought he was my age, but upon reflection I suspect he was actually quite a bit older then I. As time went by I found out he had a wife and child back in California, which was pretty unusual because married men with kids were often not required to go to Nam. (He did go on a 7-day R&R to Hawaii and meet up with his family while he was assigned to Nha Be.) You tend to make friends fast in the Navy and this was no exception – by the time we reached Nha Be, we were buddies.

Side note: The first camera I had when I went to Viet Nam was a little Kodak 126 Instamatic. After a couple months in Da Nang, I replaced it with my first 35mm camera, a Yashica Electro 35. It took a while to adjust to 35mm and learn to use it properly but eventually I came to love that thing and still regret selling it later. The photos up to this point were done with either the Kodak or the Yashica and the quality wasn’t always that great, so I’ve kept the images relatively small in this account. Because I was more familiar with the Yashica and shooting 35mm slides in general by the time I got to Nha Be, the resulting images are better and from here on out they will be presented a bit larger. But don’t expect miracles – the slides are still 40 years old!

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