Tuesday, April 1, 2014

HAPPY NEW YEAR SAIGON, VIETNAM

The Staff Sargent and the corporal stepped down off the Huey gun ship as it landed at Vung Tau - their feet touching the ground before the aircraft settled down.  The smell of diesel fuel was heavy and it blended with the sweat that saturated their clothes and combined with the filth that covered their bodies and added to their miserable condition.  They had been a week in the Mekong Delta establishing communications for the 1st Army and the Air Cav and were all set to enjoy a four day break in their responsibilities with leave to Saigon.  Four days of total bliss with no one to answer to and a roof over their heads with lots of beer and maybe a little, or a lot, of grass to lift them out of this miserable, God forsaken hell hole, if only in their minds. 
 
Communist North Vietnamese Flag
A quick dinner, shower and a change of clothing found both of them ready to catch a chopper heading for Saigon where they would report to MACV-1 for temporary duty
until their unit was again called into the field.


The Sargent at MACV directed them to a deuce and a half that was heading to the Cho Lon district where they would be billeted for the next four days and nights.  The digs were great - an old French Vila with a winding staircase that climbed around a three story living quarters made of stucco ending on a rooftop covered with terracotta tile.  This was very cool and the two soldiers made themselves right at home on the roof top.  It was super hot outside and inside was worse so the boys simply set up their cot mattresses on the roof under a canope made of mesh mosquito curtain.  It was odd that they were the only occupants of the villa.  They had it to themselves.  It was later discovered that the Viet Cong raided Cho Lon two weeks earlier and killed the family who resided withing the stucco walls of this villa because they were American sympathizers and on the payroll of the U.S. Government.   The news was not disturbing as all Vietnamese were looked upon as Communist rascals by most American GI's and the demise of a couple more didn't make any news.
 
Viet Cong came in all gender

The most important thing at the moment for the two vacationers was beer and weed.  An MP stationed at the front of the Villa drove the Sargent to a local bar where he bought some beer.  Actually he bought five cases of Falstaff Beer.  Well, one didn't want to be caught short.  A quick side trip down Yun Ti Street to the third hovel on the right produced a quarter pound of weed that was stuffed between the cases of beer just in case some gung ho MP decided to do a shake down of two not too properly dressed GI's.  Finally the boys became settled on the roof and commenced to drink themselves into forgetfulness.  There was much discussion about each others home, likes and dislikes and that sort of conversation.  Its amazing how much a fellow doesn't know about a guy who is responsible to protect his back, his life.   There just isn't time for all the niceties and nuances to occur.  Everyone's trained and expected to react as conditioned, eliminating the need for social interaction.  Can after can of beer was opened and drank.  The empties were stacked in a great 15 tier pyramid that threatened to tipple over and collapse.  Each empty can was set with extreme care, eyes fixated upon the scene while steady hands carefully situated the empty aluminum cylinders on the pyramid's wall.  The creation was impressive indeed. Each soldier held his own version of Mary Jane's elegant elixir of supreme joy between index finger and thumb and a continuous, voluminous column of smoke poured forth nonstop.  A slurping of the lips upon the open can could be heard over and over followed by the puff, puff, cough and the exclamation "great shit huh"?.  Much needed sleep overtook the two soldiers and the night went uncannily silent and still.

The quiet was broken by distant thunder and slight tremors could be felt on the third story patio of the villa.  The Sargent forced his eyes open but found it difficult to sit up.  Each attempt caused his temples to pound and he would lay back down.  Yet, something didn't seem right.  Flashes of light glowed off the wall of empty beer cans from the day and night before.  Sudden panic put him on his feet in an instant and two steps took him to where the corporal was sleeping.  He kicked him hard.  "Chuck, get the hell up.  Somethings not right."  Chuck got up with squinting eyes barely open complaining about being bothered at the early hour.  The thunder was getting closer and it had a sobering affect on the two on the third floor of the villa.  What the hell was up?
Our war had it's oddities and idiots too
Then the sirens started and screamed their high pitched warnings of impending danger.  What the hell was up?
Of a sudden flairs were launched from Huey Gun ships and they lighted the ground where countless figures ran in long horizontal lines toward the city of Saigon across the defoilated areas west of Highway 1.  Chuck made the comment that, "those damn marines have to have their combat games even here."  The only thing that didn't reinforce Chuck's statement was that the Hueys were spewing what appeared to be  orange, molten steel from their open door gunners.  It seemed that a hundred ships circled above the running combative s on the ground constantly pouring the molten death down upon them.  The two looked at each other and ran to get their rifles without a word.  Training kicked in at that moment.  Each had eight clips of .308 ammo and both took a position beside each other behind the 4 foot wall that ran around the perimeter of the roof top.  

It was January 30, 1968 and the Vietnamese New Year was being kicked off in the most unusual way, with the invasion of South Vietnam by the Communist north.  Khe Sanh was overrun on the 21st and that should have been a tip off of what was coming.  Who's running this war - the generals or the politicians?

The main concern was that Cho Lon was the first contact point that these insane, running North Vietnamese Regulars would push through.  The two on the roof were very concerned and both figured they were in a very bad spot at the present time.  There was nothing to be done about it at this point.  The Hueys were pounding the Communists hardl.  Helicopter followed helicopter and each chopper carried a puff and the magic dragon took a heavy toll on the Communists below them.

Stone fragments as well as small arms bullets could be heard and seen striking the stucco walls of the villa.  There was no way up to the roof except by the one set of spiral stairs and both GI's waited at the top for what they felt was inevitable.  

A loud scraping sound could be heard as if someone was crawling across the roof.  Tiles were falling and it was obvious that someone was moving along the roof on the building beside the villa.  Chuck said, "what the hell - look at that" and the Sargent turned and saw a Viet Cong running across the top of a tiled roof carrying the North Vietnamese Flag.  He was heading to the end of the roof comb where he would plant it through the tiled roof with the metal post that the flag was attached to.  Chuck turned and placed the M14 stock against his shoulder in one fluid motion and without aiming, pulled the trigger and the big rifle automatically spewed .308 slugs out the barrel striking the roof a yard behind the Cong  rapidly catching up to him, cutting through his hips and gut and continuing out in front of him for a few yards before Chuck removed his finger from the trigger, ejected the empty clip and slammed another home.  The Communist tossed the flag and crumpled immediately and slid from the roof to the ground.  No more attempts were made to plant that devil's flag.  Sirens sounded signifying the all clear.  The choppers circled with search lights scanning the ground and nothing could be seen moving.  Tiny unmoving lumps resembling the pox lay across the large expanse of bare ground that was defoliated.  Those we assumed were dead Communist wretches and miscreants.  They were.  

That was a close one.  The U.S. Embassy was destroyed and Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam was almost taken and with it, us - Chuck and me.  Whew.
And that was the new year for Vietnam in 1968 through my eyes.