Chapter Eight

Bill and I arrived at Nha Be and were directed to the supply office, which was located in one end of the main warehouse. At that time, the warehouse was located down on the pier near the river (as per the earlier photo). A lot of things happened in the next couple days and I was too busy to grab photographs, so I’ll just run you through what we did – the photos will come later when I get down to specifics.

After a bit of paperwork, another storekeeper, who shall forever remain unnamed, was assigned to take us around the base to get checked in. That is when I was exposed to a totally new (to me) side of Viet Nam – a side that would trouble the Navy and all of our military forces for many years to come. It was the world of drug use and/or abuse. I’m sure there was drug use up in Da Nang but where I was up there, it wasn’t out in the open. There was lots of drinking but little obvious drug use. The guy who was assigned to help us at Nha Be was so high that he barely knew what end was up, which is probably why he got that job – he was clearly of no use as a storekeeper. I don’t know if he was actually using drugs at the time or if he had been using them so much that he was just always half high. At any rate, we spent the rest of the day wandering around in circles. He seemed to have a knack for getting us to the right place at exactly the wrong time, when no one was there to check us in. Over and over the same thing happened. But while we were being lead astray, we kept our eyes open and that paid off shortly.

Eventually he gave up and said we would finish checking in the next day. We got something to eat, then went back to the barracks we had been assigned to – sort of. And encountered another of the strange things of Nha Be. There were actually no barracks assignment, but most of the Supply Division people stayed in a certain one. There were also no bunk or locker assignments. We discovered that most of the barracks had been divided up into rooms, with anything from blankets to scrap lumber or tin sheets as walls. And you couldn’t just pick a room; you had to be invited to live in one by the other people who lived in it. We were told to take a bunk in the transient area (a wide open space at the center of the barracks) and just stay there until we were offered a bunk in one of the rooms. Last but not least, we were advised to make sure we kept our stuff very securely locked up or it would be stolen. It was like right out of the movie “Apocalypse Now”, only that movie hadn’t been made yet! Normal military control and discipline were almost totally absent. So Bill and I sat there and tried to comprehend that place while people wandered through and stared at us. We were almost afraid to go to bed for fear we would wake up to find all our gear gone. And that’s when a new “me” emerged. The quiet guy who never drank, who spent all his time writing letters and just trying to stay out of trouble, he just suddenly disappeared. To this day I still don’t know how I managed it.

As Storekeepers, we were taught in school that our prime concern was keeping our shipmates (or whatever) supplied with what they needed, no matter what. We weren’t taught that we should break the rules, but it was quietly suggested that sometimes rules had to be broken in the best interest of the ship or it’s crew – if the ship sank, you all went down together. To Bill and I, our ship was sinking, so we took action.

I told Bill that I remembered seeing a stack of new plywood sheets at the end of one of the barracks. We had no idea why that stack was there but it looked like it might have been there a while. He remembered where he had seen some stray nails. And after borrowing 5 sheets of plywood and a rock to use as a hammer, the rest was soon history. We built our room in a corner formed by the last room before the transient area – an outside wall of the barracks formed one side, the wall of the room already there formed another side and we built the last two sides ourselves. You should have seen the looks the next morning when guys got up to find a new “room” had appeared, literally over night, in their barracks. And instead of getting locked up in a room with iron bars, we were congratulated for our creativity. What a place!

The next day, at muster, our Chief asked us if we had finished checking in. We said no and he offered us the same guy as help. We assured him we were now familiar enough to manage on our own, so he gave us the rest of the morning off to finish checking in (and it was fairly obvious that he knew why we didn’t want that guy again). That checking in only took us about an hour, after that we went over to the warehouse and (as had been suggested by one of the other storekeepers), got ourselves a real hammer, better nails, a saw, hinges, fans, padlock, etc., and finished off our room.

Side note: The deal was that we could take anything we wanted from our warehouse but we had to keep a record of it and let the office people know. For instance, we could have more then one fan (a hard to come by item, usually only one was allowed per “room”), but if someone requisitioned a fan properly and none was left in the warehouse, we had to give one of ours up – and that did happen once. It was the same with our big Igloo water cooler, etc. There really was a nice side to being a storekeeper! And now is probably as good a time as any to throw in some photos of our room. These were probably done later on, when we had it more “finished”.

In the photo below, the outer wall of the barracks can be seen to the left, the wall we built facing the transient area is to the right. I was probably standing in our doorway to take this. Bill’s M-16 is to the left; my M-14 (which can only be partially seen) is to the right. Lighting in our room was rather poor; I probably should have used flash for this shot.

The room was about 10 ft. x 10 ft, as near as I can remember. The next photo is of Bill sitting on our ghost person bunk, writing a letter home. It was probably done early on because our rifles aren’t mounted on the wall yet. As for our “ghost person” – the rooms, although not technically legal, were overlooked but there was a rule that you had to have at least 3 people in yours. We offered our third bunk to the next new storekeeper who came in, but he turned out to be another drug user. He didn’t like us and we didn’t like him, so he willingly moved on. After that we kept a fake name on our door and kept this spare bunk in our room, making it look like it was being used. By the time the barracks Master-at-Arms caught on, it was time for us to leave Viet Nam. We also decorated our room with things sent from home. My wife-to-be sent aluminum foil to “paper” the ceiling, which helped add to the effect of the black light we had, etc. We obviously weren’t hippies, but it was fun pretending we were.

Next is just an outside view of our barracks. The sandbags were to protect against bullets, shrapnel, etc. The strange looking thing in the distance/center is a bunker. I don’t remember ever seeing anyone going into one of these. I’m using an automatic enhancement program to fix the color and clean these slides up and I think it went a bit crazy with the sand but I have no way of knowing that for sure because of my colorblindness.

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