NOTES FROM NAM

A blog based on 170+ letters and photos sent home from the Vietnam War.

  • Joe Lex

#03 16-30 June 1968 - Early down-time


AFRTS tried very hard to entertain the troops. We had many American shows, just a few months later than they were seen in “the world.”



If you have never seen the first television appearance of Herbert Khaury, aka “Tiny Tim,” go to YouTube and search for “Tiny Tim Laugh In.” He was an androgynous singer with shoulder-length hair who sang old songs in a falsetto voice and played ukulele. Host Dick Martin’s reaction is priceless. The show also featured future stars Goldie Hawn, Henry Gibson (“verrry interesting”) and Lily Tomlin.


I still subscribe to "Stars and Stripes" on line. I was horrified a few years ago when the Trump administration threatened to pull its funding. It is a true military institution.




I have always been a newspaper reader. Even to this day, I need a paper in front of me when I drink my morning coffee.

This was a 20-year-old’s musical snobbery about The Monkees. I’ve learned to admire and appreciate them through the years and have even seen them perform live twice.




While in the field and at base camp, we built our own latrines and showers. The finished product was a matter of pride for each platoon.

OD = Olive Drab, the universal dull green color of the United States Army.








Charlie is, of course, the VC or Viet Cong; using Army alphabet, he becomes Victor Charlie.

Huey: nickname for the UH-1 helicopter, the workhorse of Viet Nam. The Huey is powered by a single turboshaft engine, with two-blade main and tail rotors. It was developed by Bell Helicopter to meet a United States Army's 1952 requirement for a medical evacuation and utility helicopter, and first flew in 1956. Around 7000 Hueys were deployed in Viet Nam.




My mother was a professional dance instructor who loved Fred Astaire. She said she always wanted to dance with him in order to find out if he was as good a dancer as her father, who had died in 1958.


The Presidential Unit Citation (PUC), originally called the Distinguished Unit Citation, is awarded to units of the Uniformed services of the United States, and those of allied countries, for extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy on or after 7 December 1941. Only those assigned to the unit at the time of the action cited may wear the decoration as a permanent award. I was allowed to wear it as a temporary award. We were awarded our own PUC a few months later.


I did get promoted from Specialist 5th Class (SP5, E5) to Specialist 6th Class (SP6, E6) during the tour.




My father worked almost his entire career in middle management for Cargill, Incorporated, international grain merchants. He had been at the Lockport grain elevator when we lived in Park Forest. He drove 30 miles to and from work every day. In June 1968 he was reassigned to their elevator in Havana, Illinois, a town of fewer than 4000 on the Illinois River, 180 miles southwest of Park Forest. My parents’ mothers both still lived in Springfield, Illinois, and the move put them just a little more than an hour away. They stayed there for about 10 years.



The cooler was probably full of plague vaccine which, truth be told, had a higher priority than I did. Hence, my uncomfortable ride. I felt like I was strapped to a strut. Years later when I was helping train residents in Emergency Medicine at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, I would rib the trainees who did a prehospital elective and rode in helicopters to transport patients. I would say,

“Did the helicopter have doors on it?”

“Yes.”

“Was anyone shooting at you with a .51 caliber machine gun?”

“No.”

“And you call that a helicopter ride.” These “Treetop Flyers” were later made famous in a 1991 album of the same name by singer / songwriter Stephen Stills.


Chợ Lớn is Saigon’s Chinatown – the largest Chinese population in the world outside of China. Deserters from the United States Army maintained a thriving black market there, trading in various American and especially U.S Army-issue items. This was the area, near the Quan Âm Pagoda where photojournalist Eddie Adams took his famous execution photograph. Four Australian journalists had been killed in Chợ Lớn during the Tet Offensive earlier in 1968.






Obviously, I was confused about nước mắm, which is the stinky fish sauce and not the “spring rolls,” which were new to me. I still ask for nước mắm when I eat at a Vietnamese restaurant. If the waitstaff gives me a funny look, I just smile and say “dinky dau,” pidgin Vietnamese for “crazy” (“dien cai dau”)




Naba hatchi is not “never happen” – never happen is không bao giờ xảy ra. I do not recall what my source of Vietnamese translations was in those pre-internet days. Probably a mimeographed sheet.


********************************************************************************************

Final Battalion Action Report: There were NO Bobcats killed in Viet Nam during the month of June 1968.

********************************************************************************************