Chapter Ten

Driving the truck was considered hazardous duty and it was a job most people didn’t want anything to do with. I made my first run with the driver I was replacing, he was driving and I was just trying to learn the route. The procedure was to head over to the armory right after breakfast and draw a .45 automatic handgun (carrying my rifle in the truck wasn’t practical), then pick up my truck from the motor pool and go to the warehouse to see what needed to be taken in to Newport in Saigon. Once that material was loaded (if there was any) and I had the necessary paperwork, I hit the road. Things went well on that first run until we got into Saigon. We found the normal route blocked by hundreds of people, milling around in the street. Then I noticed my eyes watering. I didn’t think much of it at first but it just kept getting worse and worse. Then the driver asked me if my eyes were watering. As soon as he said that, I understood what was happening. The people in the streets were college students and they were rioting (they seemed to enjoy doing that over there) – they were also getting tear gassed by the cops and we were caught right in the middle of it. The driver took evasive action, using any side street he could find to get out of the area as fast as possible and forcing people to get out of our way by almost running over them when it was necessary. We ended up wandering all over the place before we finally found a way to get past the riot and back onto course. We did eventually make it to Newport and the rest of the process went without a hitch. The driver was supposed to drive 3 days before I took over to make sure I knew the route and the truck, but the next day he absolutely refused to drive again and I was totally on my own. What really saved my hide is that, even though it’s a large city, Saigon is easy to understand even if you can’t read the street signs. The road layout is well thought out and on that next run (all alone) I was able to find a way to avoid the potential riot area (we normally drove right by the college) and still get to Newport. I used my alternate route until the students got rioting out of their system. After that I went back to using the normal route.

At Newport I would have the truck unloaded, if necessary, then turn in my paperwork. And then came the nice part. All I had to do after that was have the supplies which were waiting for us in the Nha Be bay loaded onto the truck, get my paperwork, then head back to Nha Be. What made that cool was that I was on my own time; I could wait till later in the day to have the truck loaded if I wanted. A lot of the past drivers had made a habit of heading over to the Air Force base to watch a movie, go to the Air Force Exchange, or whatever before going back to Nha Be. I didn’t do that very often, usually I stuck around Newport and just enjoyed having time to myself. At lunch time I often ate at a little restaurant right there on the base. I suspect it was intended for the Vietnamese who worked there, but it was relatively cheap and clean. I was, however, pretty careful about what I ordered. Usually I got a boiled egg and once or twice I tried something they called “ground meat”. It tasted pretty good but I didn’t think it wise to ask exactly what the ground meat was. I don’t remember how I got lunch when I didn’t eat at that place.

The paperwork part could be pretty confusing, since many of the secretarial women I had to deal with didn’t speak English all that well. Which is only fair – I didn’t speak Vietnamese all that well, either. The paperwork was in English but sometimes the biggest problem was figuring out what went to who.

I was supposed to check each item that was loaded on my truck to make sure the guys put everything on the paperwork said I had, but that was easier said then done. Sometimes a number of items would be grouped together on a pallet and if you didn’t have time to check that pallet before it was loaded on the truck and buried under other stuff, you were out of luck. That only came back to bite me one time, and even then the item which didn’t get loaded was still back at our bay in Newport, so nothing was really missing.

Below, the inside of the restaurant at Newport.

The following photo is of the crew that loaded my truck at Newport. They were a fun bunch and we had some good times just trying to talk to each other. They often went out of their way to make sure my truck was loaded properly and I suspect that was because I treated them like people, instead of like animals as some of the guys did. Or maybe they just wanted to keep their jobs.

The craziest load I ever hauled consisted of mattresses. By their nature, they were very hard to stack and I ended up with something that looked like the Leaning Tower of Piza (or whatever). But the guys banded it down well and away I went. I got stopped by a Saigon cop (they were called White Mice because of their uniforms) just before I got out of the city; he was sure my load was in the process of tipping over. It took some doing, considering the language barrier, but I finally convinced him the load was safe and continued on my way. Unfortunately I never got a picture of that. Below is my second craziest load, which I did get a photo of.

By the look of the back wheels, I was probably overloaded. But the real problem was the front wheels. Notice that they are barely touching the ground – my center of gravity was too far towards the back. But in wartime, the goods must move, so away I went, once again. I’d have to tap the brakes to bring the front tires into contact with the pavement enough to grab when I needed to turn and every time I hit a bump, I’d do a wheelie. But I made it.

In the beginning I only had to make one trip a day, but soon after I started driving they got our new warehouses done and we had to move the entire contents of the old warehouses to the new ones. We had to use “my” truck for that, so I got way behind picking up stuff from Newport. I tried to get caught back up after we had the warehouse moved, but it just wasn’t possible at one trip a day, so I had to start making two. After that the job wasn’t fun any more. Eventually it became obvious that even two trips a day wasn’t going to get the job done and the motor pool arranged for a semi to make a couple runs for us. I almost got to drive that, but since I wasn’t licensed for one, they went with one of their own drivers. The photo below shows how far behind I was. Our holding bay was full to overflowing and was even getting into some other groups bay. That meant that needed supplies weren’t getting delivered or distributed.

I had one accident (of sorts) while I was driving. On the day it happened, I had taken on a load of bottle gas – oxygen, acetylene, etc. The following photo shows the guys just starting to load me up.

It was kind of a dangerous cargo, but nothing out of the ordinary. Just outside the city, a bunch of Vietnamese in a bright red pickup truck tried to pass me. There wasn’t enough room but instead of backing off, they punched the gas, then (to avoid hitting an oncoming vehicle head on) they cut back in – right into my left front. They actually hit my left front wheel and the fender, tearing up the lug nuts and throwing me towards the ditch. I got my truck stopped without crashing and got out to check the extent of the damage. The red pickup kept on going, as if nothing had happened. I wasn’t sure what to do at that point. I didn’t have a radio, so I couldn’t call for help. My truck looked like it was still functional, so I decided to head on “home”. I did keep an eye out for the red truck, figuring it would be easy to spot and there wasn’t much of any place it could go on that road. I stopped at the big tank farm in what I now know is Nha Be village but I didn’t see the truck there and gate security didn’t remember seeing a red truck come in. When I got to our gate at Nha Be (my base), I asked the gate guard the same question and he said the base fire department’s truck had just came through. That explained the bright red paint job. So I parked my truck at our warehouse and walked over to the fire department’s building. And found this:

A group of Vietnamese sitting in the fire station claimed to know nothing about the truck, so I went back to our warehouse, notified my superiors and then got a taste of politics in Viet Nam. When questioned by my boss and the other authorities, the firemen at first claimed to know nothing about how their fender got smashed. Next, they claimed something else, I can’t remember what that was any more. The questioning continued and their next story was that I must have slammed into their truck while they were in town, eating lunch. What became clear was that I was going to get blamed no matter what - my Supply Officer was more willing to believe the Vietnamese then me. In the end, though, what did them in was that they kept changing their story. My Chief (kind of like my foreman) got me off the hook by making an issue of that. That man, a Chief Petty Officer, is the only Chief I worked for in my entire 4 years in the Navy who was anything close to being the kind of sailor a Chief is supposed to be! The firemen, although never formally charged with anything, were eventually transferred to other bases. Politics!

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