Chapter Fifteen

I have no record of what the exact date was that I got my “go home” orders (the actual date I would catch my “Freedom Bird”, as they were called) but fortunately it was early enough to allow Linda to make our final wedding arrangements. About 30 days before I left Viet Nam I was allowed to send home my “personal effects” at government expense. I had to pack up everything except just those items I’d need to get me through 30 days and take them to the shipping place at the Air Force Base. Not long after I got that done, I broke in my replacement truck driver – or actually two of them. From then on I just performed normal warehouse duties. During that same period, Bill and I got kicked out of our room. One of the other barracks had been totally remodeled and that included having “real” rooms in it, more like a college dorm. We were assigned a room, with no control over who else was in it. Bill really didn’t mind because he was only a couple days away from going home, too. It wasn’t supposed to be that way because he had a couple months less time in Nam then I did, but the Navy wanted to reduce it’s forces because the war was winding down; so Naval Reservists with less then 90 days to go were allowed to get out of the Navy early. I spent my last few weeks in Nha Be pretty much on my own, living in a room with guys I didn’t know – but it just didn’t matter!

That, by the way, was the most commonly heard phrase in Viet Nam – “It just doesn’t matter”. The most commonly requested song was “We gotta get out of this place”, by the Animals.

On my last watch at Two Foxtrot, the base took fire - one of the other guard towers reported seeing tracer rounds over the base. I have no idea if that was the real thing or just drunk Vietnamese army guys at it again. The next morning, having already completed my check out procedure, I caught a bus into Saigon and the Annapolis Hotel. My exit from Nha Be wasn’t as sudden and unexpected as in Da Nang, but it wasn’t like I had hoped it would be.

At the Annapolis, I turned in my rifle and was assigned to a bunk. Eventually my flight number was posted, I was to leave from the Air Force base mid-morning the next day. I finished the day just killing time – until I saw my name on the hotel watch list. Somehow or the other I had been assigned the mid-watch in the hotel. So then I spent the rest of the evening worrying. Eventually they gave me a nasty looking 12-gauge pump shotgun, a flack jacket and a helmet. During my watch, I checked out a movie they were running in the break area when my rounds lead me through that room. I got pretty interested in it, even though I could only see a few minutes of it at a time. When my watch was over, I was too charged up to sleep and they were running the movie again, so I watched it all the way through. I don’t know what time of the morning it was when I finally went to bed.

That same morning (after just a couple hours of sleep) I gave away the rest of my greens (the green uniforms we wore over there) and changed into civilian cloths for the bus ride to the airport. We were required to go home in civilian clothes so that the anti-war goons in California wouldn’t assault us when we got off the jet.

At the airport we went through a bunch of “leaving country” procedures, including being checked for drugs. And then we waited. When the time came that we should have been boarding our flight, they announced that it had been cancelled because it wasn’t full enough and they were going to try to get us on the next one out, later that afternoon.

Talk about being panicked! It wasn’t just the part about being late getting home I was worried about – Linda had our wedding scheduled and all the invitations mailed out – and she wasn’t able to build a lot of float into the plan. Actually it wasn’t that close – I had advised her to allow for a typical military screw-up - but I knew full well how the military operated and I had visions of being kept over in Nam for weeks, etc.

So we waited some more. I managed to buy and choke down lunch, and take a few photos. I have an interesting story about that “last meal. I told the waiter in the terminal restaurant that I wanted two hamburgers – he promptly told me I should only order one because I wouldn’t be able to eat two. He was right. They were not all that big but he knew about “last day in Viet Nam” jitters.

The airport did double duty; it was an Air Force base and also a regular commercial airport. This is the main terminal.

Finally, our flight list was posted and I had made it. I got in line to board, and then the military got in one last slap. They decided that those going out on that flight would board according to rank, and I happened to be one of the lowest ranked people on the list, so I was almost last in line. The next photo was the last one I was able to take in Viet Nam because by the time I got on the jet, there weren’t any seats left that afforded a chance to photograph through the windows. It was September 25th. 1970.

We had heard any number of stories about Freedom Bird flights – guys screaming and dancing in the aisles after the jet took off, drinking all the way home, etc. In my case, the flight out was totally anti-climatic. There was no screaming, no yelling, no dancing – no nothing. It could have been any flight leaving any airport any day – almost, but not quite, a complete letdown. We made a refueling stop at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines, then flew non-stop the rest of the way to San Francisco. Thanks to the International Date Line, I technically arrived back on U.S. soil an hour before I left Saigon. There were no hippies at the Air Force base there to harass us and I didn’t run into any at San Francisco’s main commercial airport when I caught a United Airlines flight to Detroit, Michigan.

I kept Linda informed by telephone (the first time I had actually spoken with her for almost a year) as I worked my way home, so she was waiting for me at Tri City Airport (as it was called then) about noon the next day. Here she is, my soon to be bride and the brand new car she had bought for us. I arrived home on September 27th. 1970.

FINI NAM!

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