It is not my intention here to provide a complete running commentary on my year in Vietnam. It is just a collage of various recollections of that time in my life. Time, of course, heals all wounds and tends to mask the unpleasant aspects of the past and let the more memorable of good times shine through. Writing this from the vantage point of more than twenty years later certainly allows me to be very selective in my choice of subjects. Never forget, despite my focus on the more humorous aspects of my experience, that what took place in Vietnam was a war. The dictionary describes war as "a state of open, armed, often prolonged conflict carried on between nations, states, or parties." It was an "undeclared" war, for the spineless occupants of the United States Congress never had the courage or integrity to make such a declaration, nor put an end to it. Perhaps if they had done so, we might have better understood just what our military objective was and we might have achieved it in a fraction of the time this two decade debacle lasted. Please also never forget that 58,148 good, decent, and patriotic Americans were killed, another 2,266 were unaccounted for, and untold thousands were grievously wounded and maimed in this experiment with unchecked Executive Authority. I have particular animosity toward Robert Strange McNamara and Henry Alfred Kissinger. The former was an egomaniac who thought that running an automobile company qualified him to run a Defense Department and a war. The latter negotiated and declared a "Peace with Honor" which was neither a peace, nor was it honorable. Ironically, one of the few high public officials involved in the war in whom I do have some respect is none other than Richard Milhous Nixon. Although his action came much too late for most of the casualties we suffered, his decision to take the war to its source and bomb North Vietnam in earnest could have produced an unconditional surrender had it been sustained for another few weeks. Had he just the additional courage to take that course, we could have sent Mr. Kissinger packing and had a victory with honor.
With barely enough time to wash off the dirt after jungle survival training, I was on a civilian contract carrier enroute to Cam Ranh Bay and my assignment to the 535th Tactical Airlift Squadron. To anyone who had seen any news at all, the name Cam Ranh Bay was a familiar one. Of course, I had checked on the maps to see exactly where it was, but I really knew next to nothing about what this assignment would bring. To add to the excitement, we would be arriving at night.
Although I was now an experienced pilot, the flying experience in Vietnam was like no other on the planet. Everything was reduced to its quintessential elements and it is an experience I will never forget and always cherish. You have to understand that the brain of a pilot can separate the flying itself from all other sensory input and he actually enjoy the flying element as distinct from the reality of the situation. The best flying I ever experienced or ever will was in Vietnam.
Starting a Pratt&Whitney R2000 is much more of an art than a science. It is something you get better at with experience, but is never an entirely deterministic process. This is the story of the "fast burner" Colonel who arrived at Cam Ranh Bay part way through my tour to assume the position of Deputy Commander for Operations (DCO) of the 483rd Composite Wing. Names are unnecessary here, because the humor transcends them.
"TDY" is a military acronym for "Temporary Duty". The four Caribou squadrons at Cam Ranh rotated groups of aircraft around through Bien Hoa, Can Tho, and Phu Cat (where the fifth Caribou squadron was based) in order to meet the tactical airlift needs throughout South Vietnam. A TDY lasted for about a week and, in general, was not the most popular of duty. In addition to being a stranger in a strange land, you had to live out of a B-4 bag on top of everything else. I managed to do a number of TDYs at Bien Hoa and Can Tho, but somehow never ended up drawing one to Phu Cat.
Ham Tan is on the coast due east of Saigon and about half way between Vung Tau and Phan Thiet. Once of a fine sunny morning, yours truly met the commanding general of the 834th Air Division.
On rare occasions while TDY at Bien Hoa, it was possible to get both a pass and the transportation to Saigon to spend a few hours in the city.
Also on rare occasions, we could get one of the squadron trucks to visit the mainland from Cam Ranh.
The moist tropical air in Vietnam was unhealthy for aircraft and periodically they had to be taken for corrosion control inspections and treatment. The nearest facility which could handle the C-7A was Kadena Air Base on Okinawa.
All aircraft require periodic inspections and maintenance and the Caribou was no exception. Many of our aircraft came due for IRAN ("Inspect and Replace As Necessary") checks while they were in service in Vietnam. C-7A IRAN was done by a civilian contract company at Don Muang International Airport in Bangkok, Thailand.
In order to discourage the thriving black market for American currency, U.S. Military personnel were generally forbidden from using real greenbacks in any transaction, on-base or off-base. In lieu of normal U.S. currency, we were given Military Payment Certificates (MPC) in exchange for a check written in U.S. dollars whenever we needed cash. For off-base use, we could also cash a check in Vietnamese piasters. Periodically and on very short notice, the MPC would be changed to a new series and you would have to exchange any you had for the new series, for the old series would become non-negotiable.
Vietnam in the late 60's and early 70's was a veritable aircraft museum with examples from the 1930's to the present. It was a strange mix of civilian and military aircraft with each used to take advantage of its unique capabilities. Here, in the middle of a war, one could find the large international carriers like Pan Am flying scheduled trips into Saigon, a Vietnamese domestic airline, Air Vietnam, flying all over south of the DMZ, and every conceivable type of military aircraft flying combat missions. It wasn't unusual at all to see a flight of F-4's loaded for bear waiting for the Pan Am 747 to clear the runway in Saigon!
I took a lot of pictures during my tour and haven't the faintest idea of how to organize them, but here are a bunch of non-aircraft photos.
As a result of building this web site, I have had the good fortune to hear from a lot of people who shared some of my experiences. This is particularly true of other Vietnam veterans whose experiences were not unlike my own. Several of them have graciously volunteered to share some of their photos. I have welcomed these donations to the site because they greatly broaden the range of photos and because they carry the unique viewpoint of their creators. None of us, of course, were professional photographers, so our work may not win any artistic awards, but the richness these additional photos add transcends any lack of technical excellence. Without further ado, let me introduce my fellow servicemen and friends:
Skip Tannery's Pictures of Tan Son Nhut 1967/1968
Skip was a young airman when he arrived at Tan Son Nhut to maintain C-123 aircraft in 1967. He has generously allowed me to scan his photos and he has selected a set of forty for me to post. Here they are!
Steve Lentz's Photos of the Caribous at Cam Ranh and Nha Trang
Another young airman, Steve was assigned to Caribou maintenance at Cam Ranh and was a crew chief for the 458th TAS. He also did some TDY at Nha Trang and has photos from there.
A young Vietnamese man visited my web site and sent me a message outlining some of what happened after the U.S. decided to pull out of South Vietnam and leave it to its certain fate of defeat at the hands of the NVA. He agreed to let me post his story, because both he and I believe everyone should hear it.