NOTES FROM NAM

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

  • Joe Lex

#08 Some Quiet Returns ... at First

On October 01, 1968, The battalion units conducted RIFs in the area of Dau Tieng. One Bobcat from Company B died in hospital from an illness he had contracted.

==========================================================






I mentioned before that while at Dau Tieng, we were staying in an old French Colonial villa that actually had a real live bar on the second floor. I was the "on-call" guy at the Battalion Aid Station, ready to take care of anyone who showed up 24 / 7. The Battalion action reports were quiet for the first two weeks of October.




Excuse the misspellings. For some reason I remembers my date of entry into service as 13 October 1966, and not 07 October. "E-5 over 2" meant my rank, Enlisted-5, with more than 2 years service. The $40 / month raise was a lot of money.

In retrospect I was certainly greedy. My parents were kind enough to send me my little reel-to-reel tape player and a few tapes of music I had made. Although the cassette player had been introduced by this time, I do not think I was aware of it.

I was apparently enamored by Robert Ardrey's "African Genesis" when I read it, so was looking for his newer publication "The Territorial Imperative." I vaguely remember being interested in paleoanthropology and the origins of man at the time.

Philip Wylie, on the other hand, was a prolific writer that I am sure I first read in one of my father's "men's magazines" at the time - "True" was a favorite of his. Then again, I have have read him in the "Playboy" magazines that got handed around. "Generation of Vipers" is the one that stuck with me. I doubt that it had stood the test of time.



Yes it has faded, but it was probably a 2nd or 3rd copy to begin with. With my $50 raise, I was now getting paid a total of $307.81 / month - that would be $9.93 / day for October. The vast majority went into savings and I was left with $89 / month to spend as I pleased in the local post exchange, when I could get there.




Of course one of the great regrets of my life is not saving those letters from my mother. I can only recall them in retrospect when I address something that she wrote. This was when my family had moved to Havana, Illinois, from Park Forest. My brother Mark would have turned 9 years old on 13 October. I don't recall whether I heard from the "college girl" at Oswego State.

Neither of my parents graduated from college, but they both stayed educated. My father took evening economics classes in Chicago - I forget where, though. My mother attended evening classes in Chicago at a place called Pestalozzi Froebel Teachers College. She was a dance instructor who was incredibly popular with her students.

I very much wanted to be a teacher when I got back from Nam. I think there were eight 91-Charlie schools scattered around the country and my goal was to get to either Fitzsimmons Army Medical Center in Aurora, Colorado (it closed in 1999) or even - the holy grail - Letterman Army Hospital at the Presidio in San Francisco (it was decommissioned in 1994). It probably would have meant that I had to reenlist for a few more years, but I was willing to do that if it meant getting a teaching job somewhere.



These may have been some of my most enjoyable days in Nam - a bar, a swimming pool, volleyball and horseshoes, and barbecue almost every evening. The battalion was in the process of cutting trees down in the Michelin rubber plantation, where we had been ambushed so badly in August.





Lazy, lazy days. We should have known that it wouldn't last forever.




Ah yes, the tree incident. It wasn't bad enough that the natives were trying to take us out with bullets and mortars and RPGs, even the vegetation had turned against us.

There's my answer to the girl from Oswego State. I do not remember her name or even how long we mailed each other letters. Of course nowadays, we would be Facetiming or communicating in real time, even across the ocean.

I stayed fairly good at volleyball for many years, even in our med school team when I was in my late 30s. I'm not sure that I played a game of horseshoes in the past 50 years.



At one point I sent my family this map of our AO (Area of Operations) - it's still the best I have seen. You can see the triangle formed by the base camps Cu Chi, Tay Ninh, and Dau Tieng. You can also see how close we were to the Cambodian border - that little group of 6 men heading east represent North Vietnamese regulars coming into our area from the Ho Chi Minh Trail. And there is Nui Ba Den, the mountain that haunted my dreams for several years when I got back.


===========================================================

Thru October 15, 1968, the 1/5th(M) conducted operations around Dau Tieng Base Camp, including road and convoy security missions.


On October 17, 1968, at 1445 hours, an APC from Company B detonated an AT mine on Highway 19 about three kilometers south of Dau Tieng. Two Bobcats were wounded and the APC was a combat loss.

===========================================================





============================================================

On October 19, 1968, at 1115 hours, while sweeping through an area south of the Ben Cui Rubber Plantation at XT 456419, one Bobcat from Company B was killed and another was wounded when a booby trapped RPG round was detonated. About 500 meters to the west, the Recon Platoon located a small food and ammunition cache.

At 1656 hours, Company C, working the area just to the southeast of the Highway 19 and 238 split, discovered a cache containing 7 weapons.


On October 20, 1968, at 1215 hours, the Recon Platoon had one Bobcat wounded when an AT mine was detonated about 5 kilometers southwest of Dau Tieng.


On October 21, 1968, Company B located an abandoned enemy base camp in the southern part of the Ben Cui. The body of a dead VC soldier was located along with a few hundred pounds of rice and some mortar ammunition.

============================================================


"The novelty of war has worn off." Yes, I really wrote that. Our "heaven on earth" ended when the officers discovered our little Shangri-La and made it into their own. In retrospect, I don't blame them. And as you can see from the Battalion Action Reports, the enemy were back on their feet and ready for battle. You will hear more about the rash.


============================================================

On October 22, 1968, units from the battalion were providing security for Rome Plow operations 2 kilometers northeast of Trung Mit. At 1045 hours, an APC detonated an AT mine wounding one Bobcat.


On October 24, 1968, Company A cleared and secured Highway 14 between Dau Tieng and Thanh An for the movement of convoys. The 1/27th Infantry was to deploy around Thanh An and FSB Mahone was to be constructed at XT 538375. At 0930 hours, sniper fire was received in the area of a bridge crossing on Route 14 at XT 524408.

On October 26, 1968, one Bobcat from Company A was wounded when the APC he was in hit an AT mine on Highway 14, four kilometers north of Thanh An. The APC was a combat loss.

============================================================




Ray Tanner's death probably affected me more than anyone else's. He was a soft-spoken Texan and even though he was several years older than me, we hit it off immediately. I thought of him as my big brother. I refused to believe he was actually dead until I personally unzipped the body bag to see for myself.

I had forgotten about the priest's offer to non-Catholics to receive Communion. I don't know how often that happened; I had certainly never heard of it from anyone else.


============================================================

On October 27, 1968, Company A and Company B of the 1/5th(M) were assigned the mission to clear and secure Highway 14, between Dau Tieng and Thanh An. At XT 510430 a mine was located and destroyed. At 1000 hours, about 500 meters south of that location, an APC from Company B detonated an AT mine. One medic was killed and five other Bobcats from Company B were injured. The APC was damaged beyond repair.


At 1125 hours, Company A located and destroyed 3 anti-tank mines. At 1135 hours, at the bridge site at XT 524408, three Bobcats from Company B were wounded when 2 boobytraps were detonated. At 1208 hours, Company B suffered 3 more wounded when an APC detonated an AT mine along the roadway. At 1612 hours, Company B came under small arms fire 1½ kilometers north of Thanh An. Fire was returned with organic weapons, artillery and helicopter gun ships. Three Bobcats were wounded in the contact.

============================================================




My first time voting was in the 1968 election and I will never forget it. My choices across the top of the ballot were Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, and George Wallace. I already knew that Nixon was a crook and a liar, Humphrey was a weakling (especially during the 1968 Chicago riots which I followed closely in the Sun Times, although a week late), and there was absolutely NO way that I would vote for George Wallace. I left that part of the ballot blank and Nixon won. I swore that I would NEVER leave a ballot blank again, no matter how odious my choices, and I have followed through on that in the 13 presidential elections since then.

I also vaguely remember voting for Everett McKinley Dirksen to be re-elected as Senator. Obviously the "Polish Beauty Contest" joke is horribly incorrect these days, especially since I have visited Poland at least half a dozen times and found that their women are among the most beautiful in the world.

LTC Anderson was the best CO we had in Nam. He is still alive and apparently goes to the annual reunions of the battalion whenever possible (I do not). His email address retains his old radio callsign - Bobcat6.

The story of the RPG passes through both walls of the track gave me a shiver when I read about it again. That was unheard of.


============================================================

On October 28, 1968, Company A cleared and secured Highway 14 between Dau Tieng and Thanh An. 5 AT mines were located and destroyed. Companies B and C conducted a sweep down the west side of the Saigon River from Dau Tieng. At 1345 hours, a food and ammunition cache was located.

On October 29, 1968, at 1705 hours, a convoy being escorted by elements of the 1/5th(M) received small arms and RPG fire north of Thanh An. The enemy fire was returned with unknown results. Two soldiers were wounded in the contact. That evening, an ambush patrol from Company B 1/5th(M) set up in Dau Tieng, near the Catholic Church over looking the graveyard. At 2300 hours, after several hours with no activity, the patrol leader took half the ambush patrol and commenced a roving patrol in the general area. The patrol moved south and then turned down an alley. About 75 meters down the alley the patrol came upon a fence blocking the alley, with a gate in the middle. The point man pushed on the gate to open it and there was an explosion. The pointman was killed and the patrol leader and two other Bobcats were wounded. The remainder of the patrol was sent for and the unit then moved to the bridge, where a dust-off was called in.

On October 30, 1968, Company C conducted a sweep of the northern portion of the Ben Cui. The unit then returned to Dau Tieng Base Camp to provide night security. At 1942 hours, an unknown size force probed the base perimeter. They were repelled, leaving four dead. One Bobcat from Company C was wounded in the exchange.

============================================================




Ah yes - the rash was taking over my life, despite several different steroid creams and various anti-fungal ointments. In retrospect, it was almost certainly a photosensitivity reaction to the chloroquine we were taking as malaria prophylaxis. More on the rash in November.


============================================================

On October 31, 1968, at 1400 hours, Company A became engaged in a fire fight 1 kilometer north of Thanh An. Fire was returned with organic weapons with unknown results. Three Bobcats were wounded during the contact.

============================================================


During October 1968 four Bobcats died in Viet Nam. They were:

* Allen P. Broekhuizen

* Paul E. McGinness

* Raymond M. Tanner

* Clarence R. Chaffin.


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

During the Quarterly Period of August 01 thru October 31, 1968, the 25th Infantry Division reported the following personnel statistics:

* Killed in Action: 309

* Wounded in Action: 1,837 of whom 1,050 were evacuated

* Non-battle Deaths: 14

* Non-battle Injuries: 33

* Missing in Action: 7

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