A trip from Long Binh in Vietnam 1969
| A Day at Vung Tau
It was late in the year of 1969 and I had been In Country four or five months. I had a cush job in the power train department inspecting and repairing tail rotors, main rotors, short shafts (connects the transmission to the turbine engine)etc.on Huey helicopters. I served with the 120th AHC (Assault Helicopter Company) "The Deans".
Everyone worked long hours (12 hour shifts, 7 days a week) except for the flight crews who worked even more erratic and sometimes longer hours.
The company had one flight each Sunday that would take ten or more lucky souls to Vung Tau, a former French vacation town on the South China Sea.
Now to get one of those spots I had to work a double shift. I put in 12 hours in the power train shop and then 12 more hours in the unscheduled maintenance platoon. They worked overnight on repairs and inspections on the birds after their daily flights.
I had been trained as 67N20 UH-1 Crew Chief at Fort Rucker, Alabama but had been put in the power train shop because that is where they needed me. Unlucky for me a new man had arrived with a power train MOS and I was going to the UM platoon.
We left Long Binh around 9AM on a beautiful Sunday morning. It was hot (it was always hot) and I had been up for 28 hours but I was 19 years old and eager to see other parts of Vietnam.
It cooled down with the prop wash and a couple thousand feet of altitude. The country side was beautiful with patchquilt rice paddies, rubber tree plantations, and hill locks dotting the landscape. The country was scarred here and there with bomb craters and rusting bombed out vehicles.
I didn't see many people, just a few round straw hats,a few water buffalo, with the steams and rivers an ugly brown. There was a mountain near the coast that towered over the entire area.
We landed at the Vung Tau heliport after only 30 minutes in the air. The heliport was a couple of miles away from the downtown area so we had to catch a ride on a lambretta to get there.
A lambretta is hard to discribe but I will try. Picture an old Cushman motor scooter with a two wheel cart attached to the back. The front wheel turns like a bike but the back end is canopied with a narrow wooden seat on each side.
It was common to see eight or ten Vietnamese riding in the back of one with ducks or chickens in a cage on top. But four American GIs could fill one up and with six GIs the guys on the back would each have a cheek hanging out and would have to give it push to take off or go up any inclines.
Eight of us enlisted men got out in the downtown area. Vung Tau was a resort area that catered to the French and the buildings looks like the set from the movie Casablanca.
We were immediately surrounded by "salesmen" trying to interest us in number 1 good times,gift shops, boom boom girls, or dope or all of them. One 8-10 year old appointed himself my guide speaking the jargon of the part French, part American slang that everyone used. I did not pull out my billfold so after a while my guide wandered off.
I walked down toward the beach area and the pure white sands. The South China Sea was the most beautiful blue color I had ever seen before or since.
There was an Australian unit stationed at Vung Tau that was having a cookout on the beach. I noticed a hanging sign announcing "FAT MANS CLUB". Our company driver Spec 4 Fry was of Samoan descent and probably weighed close to 300 pounds(thats before dressing in the morning) and he was nearby when the Aussies spotted him.
Three of them came running over and hugged Fry and drug him over to the Barbie. He did not put up much of a fight as they had some huge steaks,baked potatoes, and corn on the cob with whole tubs of that great Fosters beer under mounds of ice.
I hung around for a while looking forlorn as our own chow at the mess hall was pretty sorry. But I guess I did not measure up to their standards as I only weighed in at 180 pounds and they ignored me.
I walked down to the water's edge and removed my shoes and socks. There were signs up not to swim because of jelly fish. I walked aways until I stepped on some sand burs which was not fun so I put my shoes back on. Going by the Aussies I saw Fry on his second plate of steak and potatoes.
I walked back in to town passing shops with all kinds of knick knacks,ivory carvings, and jade jewery. Some of the Vietnamese were real craftsmen but I was getting hungry after passing Fry again. I stopped at the Imperial Hotel. Three stories high right out of Casablanca with a bar running the full length of the lobby with red checkercloth tables and slow moving ceiling fans. Sorry but no piano.
I do not remember what I ordered because the menu was in French and I had flunked my French course at the University of Kentucky just the year before (that was one of the reasons I was in this strange place). No student deferment in 1968 sort of mapped out your future for you.
After the meal I set at the bar and admired their drink list on 3 big boards on the wall behind the bar.
As the world traveler that I had become I wanted to try some drinks I had read about. Some 3.2 beer at the Old Cincinnati Reds Crosly Field and some bootleg beer and a couple bad experiences with whisky and mint gin was plenty of experience, I thought, for a small town boy from Kentucky.
Starting on that first column I had my first Martini (nasty),first taste of Scotch (ugh?), Cognac I had wanted to try (tasting better), a Gin Buck I wanted to try, of course Jack and Coke then Seven and Seven.
I was on that second column of the drink list when I realized this trooper was getting a little tipsy. I swaggered out of there after deciding to get some fresh air. The world traveler made contact with both sides of the door frame on the way out.
I made it across the street to another hotel /bar with an open air dining area on the roof, after picking up another drink of course.
There was a beautiful view of the beach and ocean from up there but it was very hot in the direct sunlight. Then my world began to spin in a clockwise direction with the speed control out of kilter. I quickly sit down on a lounge chair and held on with both hands.
I upchucked that fine French food and all the drinks into a potted palm tree on that roof (I hope I did not kill it) and then tried to get seated on that lounge chair again.
I woke up later and the sun had changed positions and my face felt like a broiled lobster and my stomach felt like the blubonic plague had taken up residence and was about to give birth.
I looked at my watch (damn- my arm is sunburned too) and it was 20 minutes till 5 when the chopper was leaving. I sure did not want to miss the ride home.
I made it back when they were untying the main rotor. Fry looked like he had put on a little weight and was sweating profusely. Woofenburger and others were comparing boom boom shops and other had souviners for the loved ones back home.
Me, I had to concentrate not to upchuck that blubonic plague cause the rotor wash would have brought it around and back in every open door and window on the ship. Them damn Hueys vibrated several different ways at once, with my stomach going along for the ride. Maybe I should have done a better job balancing the main rotor.
At least the "Jesus" nut did not come off (it holds the main rotor on) and we made it back to the airfield in time for me to clean up and go to work.