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08 August 2010

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Tyler

Colonel,

So my question is how bad was the PFC skinned up after you guys got to where you're going?

I imagine a SMG somewhere following around a duck walking private around your FOB.

Patrick Lang

Tyler

The bus was full of officers. This kid was so scared that it just wasn't worth pushing it.

The day before I had been at the USARV personnel center in an old French industrial warehouse also by the Saigon River on the edge of town. The cavernous room was full of steel desks, clerks, fans and typewriters. Some fellow was in-processing me when shootin started from across the river with rounds coming through the windows. The customers all lay on the floor while the clerks gathered up their rifles and went to shoot at the dinks on the other side of the river, Smokes were handed around. eventually, a Cobra showed up and hosed down the opposition and we went back to filling out allotment forms. pl

Tyler

Colonel,

Understandable. Hopefully he learned from the situation.

Also, it sounds like your support staff was tougher than what we have going on now!

Patrick Lang

tyler

Yes. The seats in the bus were pretty much shredded. In those days, we didn't wear combat uniforms all the time like now, and we had just gotten off the plane from Travis, AFB so we were all in suntans during both these incidents. I thought to myself, "well I guess this happens all the time."

I was struck by how nonchalant these USARV personnel guys were about having their warehouse shot up. There weren't really things like FOBS. Installations were scattered all over the place and defended locally. There was a lot of contact with the civilian populace. There were some big bases like Long Binh and Bien Hoa but most people were not fobbits by any means. There were some artillery defended positions and the like but most posts were rather small. Even in Saigon people lived in requisitioned hotels with some sand bags and MPs out front. They blew up from time to time. I found the Combat Service Support people, Quartermaster, Ordnance, Signal, etc, to be brave as hell and the infantry was "beyond praise" "It don't matter. It don't mean nothin..." was their theme.

I am surprised that nobody asked how I worked out a "truce" with the VC commander over the missionary family. I had been in the field with a VN Ranger battalion a month before in a North Vietnamese refugee resettlemt village. The VC held the village. My det. found that out and so the RVN Rangers went in to remove them. There was a brisk little fight with me, the US advisers and the Ranger Bn CO pinned down in a drainage ditch on one of the straight streets. The town was laid out in a grid with the church in the center on a square. The inhabitants were all catholic. The CO was summoned by s villager to a meeting that night in the church. He, the parish priest and the VC CO met and agreed that the VC would pull out of the town during the night to prevent further damage to the town. They did that. Of course, They then ambushed us as we also withdrew So, in re the missionaries I had a VC prisoner released (one I had never had anything to do with). He had my message. The family came through Song Be on their way out by air. They told me that an enemy officer had come to the mission to order them to leave within two days and to say they would be safe doing that. Not exactly like Badakshan. pl

Cold War Zoomie

Col Lang,

That bus story would be one of my worst nightmares - of all the nasty weaponry out there, for some reason its the big machine guns like a .50 cal that scare the living daylights out of me.

Are you one of those blessed people whose minds do not freeze when confronted with a situation like the bus episode? Sounds like it.

My brain tends to go blank for 4-5 seconds when it's a really hairy situation.

Amazing that no-one in your group got hurt.

Tyler

Colonel,

Quite the different Army in your time, Sir. I've always meant to ask you, what did you listen to over there, as far as music goes? Did you eat a lot of army chow or did you prefer the local stuff more?

And your story about the VC commander and you having that parley is pretty fascinating. I imagine you have a thousand such stories like that, and every one is interesting.

Do you recommend any books to read that give a good history of the war in question?

Patrick Lang

Tyler

We listened to AFN TV from Saigon. In Song Be we had a 60 foot radio mast for our Collins SSB radio. On top of that we put a TV antenna driven by the 2 30 KW diesal generators we had buried in pits in the back of my det. hq. We scrounged those and ran them every other day with overhaul by a VN mechanic on the day off. We bought the TV set in the BX at Tan Son Nhut and watched Johnnie Carson and Combat every night. Some nights we had to take a break for "other activities."

In SB there was a mess at the CORDS compound but the "little friends" liked to mortar or rocket that at meal times, so we preferred to eat "chez nous" with our Chinese guard force cooking A-rats wished upon us from nearby US units. Very Cantonese.

My second tour, there was all of Saigon available from SOG HQ when I was not in the field. There we ate freeze dried LRRP rations.

As to books, no, it is all pretty dull compared to my war. You would have loved it. pl

Patrick Lang

CWZ

I am one of those genetically blessed freaks. pl

Tyler

Colonel,

More than likely. It sounds like it was a lot more free for all. The closest I comparison I have is being on the edge of empire in Afghanistan, and even that was pretty staid after the first few months.

When you say Chinese guard force, are you talking about the Nung mercenaries? I read about them once and wondered if they were as efficient as they were made out to be?

Patrick Lang

Tyler

The original Nungs were Chinese tribals from North Vietnam. By the time we are talking about they were pretty much all dead, killed off in combat. These were Cholon Chinese from the Chinese part of Saigon. They had been in the ARVN and had been wounded out. Not sure what "mercenary" means in this context. We all want to get paid. The Chinese would cook all this GI chow into Cantonese food and we would sit around on upturned plastic buckets in the back yard where they lived and cooked and eat these great meals from rice bowls with chopsticks. a 3/4 ton full of groceries would pull up at the team house every other day. As you knw, the Army supply system pushes perishables and expendables forward automatically in combat. So, with troops in the field every day living on C rats most of the time, food would buil up at forward posts like LZ Buttons nearby. We were a convenient way for mess sergeants to get rid of some of it without trashing it. pl

SAC Brat

Genetics or training?

Reading SF autobiographies the authors all were more aware of where they were at and what they were doing than other groups involved in the same action. Very professional.

I argue this from the standpoint of being exposed to military training at a young age and dealing with fires and being a first responder when others just stand still.

John Minnerath

Since it's been 48 years, my memory is really fading, but I remember the Special Forces battery of tests for acceptance as the hardest and best I ever took.
Also the longest, seems like it took us 4 or 5 days to complete.
Of 20 or so who tested, 5 or 6 of us were accepted and sent to Training Group at Bragg.
I also went on to spend many years as a volunteer fireman and EMT.

Patrick Lang

SAC brat

I think it is both. John Minnerath points out how intensive the testing is BEFORE one enters SF training. On top of that the work attracts people who are exceptional material. It always has. Once again the distinction must be made between Army SF (Green Berets) and the rest of the SOF community (Delta, Seals, etc.) pl

Medicine Man

I've always regarded people who do aid work in dangerous locations as being somewhat heroic. I imagine a different impression forms when one has had to drag people like that out of harms way, at personal risk, while they bitch and complain.

Oh well, there isn't much for me to say other than its too bad they came to that end. If they were as experienced as people are speculating, they would have had some inkling of the risks they were taking (or so I hope). Tragic that they met their end out there but far from unthinkable. God take care of them.

Anyhow... off topic: What the heck is a FOB (or fobbit)? Sounds like something from a Tolkien novel.

Patrick Lang

MM

Forward Operating Base. The big, walled, wired in bases that the rear echelon types resided in during the Iraq War, thus Fobbits. They used to be called Rear Echelon M----r F-----s (REMFs) pl

Tyler

MM,

Support staff, mainly, who treated trips outside the FOB as some sort of grand adventure. Not to mention they tended to get roly poly rather quickly thanks to pogue bait at the PXs and rat fucking MREs for all the pound cakes and cheese spreads and the like.

Not limited to support staff, as I knew plenty of infantry who slid into support slots in S-shops and what not to avoid having to go outside the wire.

We also had a term called "geardo", which was someone who was obsessed with adding the latest and greatest kit, no matter how impractical.

I knew a mortar who had an M4 that had: A green laser, a PAC-2, EOTech sites, Surefire, double buttstock mag pouch, and dual mag clip for his magazines. The thing almost weighed as much as a 240B.

This hardcore soldier panicked and shot an IP that was driving behind us and then no longer went outside the FOB shortly after we arrived in country.

Colonel,

No offense was meant at the use of the term "mercenary". That's just how they were described when I read about them.

How useful were the ROK Tigers over there? Everything I've read said that they were pretty effective in getting the job done, so I was curious what your personal experience was.

Patrick Lang

Tyler

I was never around them but they had a hell of a reputation. Supposedly the VC were afraid of them.

The only ones I ever saw were ROK Marines guarding their embassy in Saigon. The USAID had a spiffy dining room about a block from the embassy. I would go over there to eat when I was in town. If I got out of a vehicle under a street light. The ROK Marine sentry a block a way would roar "GOOD EVENING, SIR" and come to a crashing present arms. I had one of my MI ruffians with me once when that happened. He yelled back at the sentry, GOOD EVENING, MARINE!" The Korean was still standing there at present arms when we disppeared from the street. pl

The Twisted Genius

Tyler,

I like your description of the geardo. We called them Johnny Highspeeds... they carried a hundred pounds of light shit. I'm glad I missed the days of body armor. Of course I'm also glad I never took a bullet or piece of shrapnel to the chest. On two MTTs I carried an AKMS with three RPK drum magazines. It was like a super soaker and it didn't require batteries.

Medicine Man

"Fobbits" -- that's pretty clever; although maybe a bit generous if you think about it. The Hobbits in the story were made of very stern stuff when put in extraordinary situations. I guess that's neither here nor there though; I'm just too much of a nerd to resist commenting on the term.

While I have no soldiering anecdotes to share—I'm about as much a soldier as I am Titania, Queen of the Elves—but I think I know the type you're talking about, Tyler. Many years ago, when I was on one of my once-a-decade trips to the firing range to shoot some .22 and .303, I listened in on a conversation between my father and a "gun enthusiast". A big beefy guy with a *really* fancy weapon, camo clothing, and a vocabulary that was about 80% jargon. My impression was that he was one *hardcore* hombre... that is until my father pointed out that I was a better shot. Some people are just in love with the *idea* of being hardcore, I suppose.

SAC Brat

Colonel,
Did you work with or around any Thai forces in Vietnam? If so, what were your observations of them?

Patrick Lang

SAC brat

Royal Thai Army. I was never around them. They had a mixed reputation. They were famous for cleaning out PXs to carry the goodies home. pl

SAC Brat

Colonel

That may still go on, re Thaksin Shinawatra ....

Thanks for the reply.

Cold War Zoomie

Genetics or training?

I also think it is both. Training can mitigate shortcomings as long as we are honest enough with ourselves to recognize those faults.

(WARING: Middle age reminiscing alert!)

I learned that my brain freezes in "overload" the first time I parachuted. My buddy and I decided to "skydive" (falling out of a plane is more apt) one Saturday a long time ago. Part of the short training session was going over some sequence of activities that we would use if we ever graduated to freefall. It was a pretty simple procedure - count three seconds, reach, grab, pull, check...something like that. So, we go up in this little Cessna 180 and I am too tall to fall out of the door, so it was decided that I'd do a hanging exit - climb out, grab the strut holding the wing, hang there a bit, and then just let go. We went up to 3,000 feet, I climbed out, and then let go as instructed. When I let go, I never took my eyes off the plane against the clear, crisp blue sky. And my brain froze. Nothing, other than an immense feeling that this was not the way things were supposed to be! By the time my brain thawed, the chute was open.

I think training can reduce that freeze time but may never eliminate it.

Here endeth the FOM (Fat Ole Man) reminiscing.

SAC Brat

CWZ

I have parachuted also. In my early twenties I got fed up with some people I was around talking about parachuting and rode out on my motorcycle one Saturday morning and paid my money. I thought the training, which took about four hours, was great. When the instructional drills were over I think a fire hydrant could have used its back up parachute. We jumped out of a very used Cessna on static lines. It was exciting (I liked climbing out to get into position) but I concluded flying or racing had a better cost/excitement/time ratio. It had been a big adrenaline rush. I noticed that the trees looked very large and hungry around the drop zone.

Another time I had been sent to a maintenance training class for 747s. At the end of the four week training we went to a full motion simulator for taxi training so we would be able to drive the aircraft and perform engine checks. One of our group of three mechanics was rather loud, the other was a super guy from South Africa. I was in the left seat, the African was in the right and the loud guy who had done everything was at the engineer's panel when we went through the checklists, started engines and began taxiing. The instructor then gave us a fire warning on one of the engines. Loud guy went bouncing all over the cockpit yelling and waving. I stopped the taxi, the African and I went through the drill and put out the simulated fire. The loud guy was very quite afterward.

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