Thursday, November 26, 2009

Before going to Sapa we took a 2 nite, 3 day tour of Halong Bay. It was very hard to figure out what was going to be the best deal. There are literally 100's of boats to go on. Every booking agent shows you the same boats in their pix and all charge a different amount. The whole enterprise is very incestuous. We changed boats and had people getting on and off our boat for different legs of the tour. Depending on how much you pay, the quality of the on-shore lodging varies and the quality of the boat food varies. We talked to some people who paid $70 and weren't real thrilled. After LOTS of looking and talking we paid $90 each for the tour. At Vietnamese prices it seemed steep, but really for $30 a day we got transported to and from Hanoi, meals and lodging.Not a bad deal really. In the end we were glad to have spent the money. Food was really good and the beds were clean and dry. I was surprised that at sea level in the tropics we had to wear jackets to stay comfy in the wind and rain. Being from Puget Sound in Washington state USA it felt very familiar. It is really a beautiful sight. Don't miss it and don't go cheap unless you just have too. We were there the end of Feb, 2009


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Friday, November 20, 2009


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In March 2009 we spent one day in Hanoi arranging a trip to Halong Bay and Sapa. We took the nite train to Sapa and stayed there for a few days. Sapa was a photographic gold mine. We loved it. Since it was our last stop before Hanoi I loaded up on souvenirs. Being willing to buy the local crafts earned us an honored position in the town for a few days. We were popular guys. The women hawkers can be very obnoxious and pushy. There were two, that were sales ladies to be sure , but were polite and pleasant and spoke enough English that they made good guides to the area. They escorted us to CatCat village one day and helped us negotiate a reasonable rate on the motorbike trip back up the hill. The next day they asked if we wanted to go to their village for lunch. We, of course said, "Yes" knowing that the "price" was going to buy some souvenirs.
Getting to know these folks, eating in their house, tramping thru their village, and taking photos was the top hilite of many on the trip.



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Saturday, May 23, 2009

From Dong Ha We took the train to Ninh Binh, known as "Halong Bay on the Land" because of the remarkable limestone karst formations that dominate the rice paddies. As we looked out the window, Mike remarked, " We are in enemy territory now." I was thinking the same thing. Since crossing the DMZ area we were in what we knew in 1968 as "North Vietnam." All the people living here were dedicated to the proposition that "The only good American is a dead American." It was eerie to think about. Pleasantly, everyone we spoke to that found out we were Americans was very friendly. "Welcome to Viet Nam." "Can we take your picture?" It was a beautiful place to photograph.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Mine Sweeping

My typical day at Camp Carroll started out by going with the Marine infantry and engineers to sweep a section of Route 9 for mines that would be planted during the night. There were several teams that each had a section of road to check. Once that was done the convoys could roll.

These photos show some enemy mortar attacks. We also had to contend w/ command detonated anti-personnel mines along here. Mortar and sniper attacks would be mounted from the hills just N of the river that runs to the N of route 9. There was one hot area where the problem was the worst. Both pix of shooting Dusters were taken on different days but the action is in about the same approximate place. Our guide wanted to know where this was, but because of all the houses and tall trees, I was unable to pinpoint the spot. These exchanges of gunfire took place in what is now somebody's front yard.

It was an unnerving experience. When I first came under fire I was glad to be in a steel vehicle, but as crazy as it sounds I thought maybe "I'll just stick my finger up out of this cocoon I'm in to see if I can get a Purple Heart." So, while mortars were exploding around us, I gingerly poked a couple of fingers up out of the track. It took about a nanosecond to think, "Jesus! What if a piece of shrapnel comes flying along here and hits me and pulls my whole hand up and out and I lose my arm?!" My hand came back down in a hurry. I'm laughing right now as I write this. What a stupid thing to think. I guess that's why they send kids to war. We were dumb enough to do all kinds of crazy stuff.

What I experienced along here went a long way towards my disenchantment of the war. Marines who were stationed closer to the DMZ and various pilots who had a better view than we did told us of seeing trucks in the DMZ loaded w/ ammo, or troops swimming openly in the river, but the Americans were under orders to observe the neutrality of the DMZ and not call air-strikes or artillery in on them. NO! we had to wait until they brought all that stuff down a little closer and mortared us and mined us before we could take any action. One can only imagine how pissed we were about that! Another time we were getting mortared and my radio quit working. I could hear , but couldn't transmit. The Marine RTO kept trying to raise me on the radio so he could tell me where to return fire. I was screaming at the top of my lungs, " TRANSMIT TO ME! I CAN HEAR YOU, BUT I CAN'T TRANSMIT TO YOU!" I finally had to get down ( out of my somewhat protective hatch- with frikkin' mortars exploding for chrissake!) and run over to him and explain the situation. Not a fun day. We always had something breaking down. There were other dicey situations where I couldn't communicate or some other damned thing wouldn't work. Our equipment was just too old and that is what we were sent into combat with. The Marines had it even worse than we did. They even came to us begging for rifle patches to clean their weapons. They complained of only getting 2 C-rations per day while they were burning calories like mad out in the bush. I distinctly remember a squad of Marines being so thankful to get C-ration Ham and Lima Beans. They were so bad that we called them "Ham and Motherfuckers" and refused to eat the stuff. They had to be terribly hungry!

This FUBAR crap happened all the time. In the Iran-Contra hearings, Col Oliver North defending his actions, explained that he was motivated to "... not abandon men on the battlefield." I never met Oliver North, but he and I were both officers along the DMZ at the same time and same place. I know EXACTLY what forged his mindset in this matter. In later years I got further enraged while watching the PBS presentation on the War I heard that the high mucky-mucks in the Whitehouse and Cabinet were discussing that they knew we couldn't win this war. All this was going on while young Americans were fighting, dying, and being maimed along the DMZ during my tour. Much has been written on the tragedy of all this, but this is my own personal take on it. All this disenchantment changed how I operated. My mission was to not win a war that it appeared to me was just a terrible sick joke. My mission became "Don't risk my troops unnecessarily. Don't go looking for Missions we can get involved with as the whole thing is going terribly wrong." I wouldn't hesitate for a minute to go to the rescue of Americans in trouble, but any pro-active gung-ho, macho BS was off my plate. I told my brother to go to Canada. The President, the Congress, the whole American leadership apparatus placed no value on us at all. It became my job to protect as many American lives as I could.

Road to Khe Sahn

Old and New Pix Along the DMZ

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Monday, April 13, 2009

These 3 pix were taken on the road towards Rockpile (west) from Camp Carroll. If you were there you remember a bridge that had a sharp ridge coming down to it from the S side of the road. The abutments for an old bridge are still there - the ridge has been cut way back as you can see in the 2009 photo. The road doesn't have to make such a sharp turn now. Big trucks from Laos have an easier time getting thru there now.The river hasn't changed much at all in 40 years. The arrows in the above photos point out the riffle that is in the same spot now as then.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

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These next 4 pix were taken probably 1968, on or near route 9. Where you see nothing but grass in '68-69, I saw houses, farmettes, and tall trees

These pix from 1968 -9(?) show just grass alongside route 9. Today there are so many houses, farmettes, and planted tall trees that I really couldn't orient myself too well. Google Earth at this time has very poor detail of this area and is useless to help out. If You go there (or any other place you were in the olden days) try to find satellite photos (if there are any - try cruising the GPS mapping sites on the web). I wish I had taken a GPS w/ me to get some waypoints that I could research at home.

My traveling partner, Mike, was disappointed w/his tour of his old base in the Delta. The guide was able to take us to some things that Mike recognized, but there was so much modern buildup that orientation was difficult. When Mike got home he was able to see an airfield on Google Earth that we had been taken to, but he also was able to scope out on Google Earth what he thinks are "his" old hangers that still exist to this day. Unfortunately we didn't get taken there. Had he taken GPS coord's off Google Earth we could have directed our driver right to the spot.

Supporting Marines w/ Dusters '68-'69

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Road to Khe Sahn

Looking at my pix from 1968

I'm not exactly sure when I made my first trip into Khe Sahn. It was sometime in April '68, and I believe it was the second convoy that went into Khe Sahn after the siege had lifted. I had just gotten to C Btry 1/44th Arty and was still in my orientation phase. Being a newbie young 2Lt I had never seen anything like it.It was eerie to look at bomb crater upon bomb crater, torn up jungle,and so on. I couldn't imagine how the North Vietnamese could sustain such a horrific bombing and still keep at it.( I later learned, that at Khe Sahn, the NVA had lost 10,000 men to our approx 275) I remember talking about this and calculating that this war had been going on w/ us and the French for a generation, and the North could keep it up indefinitely just by having more and more children that could grow up and be fed into the hopper. It was almost more than you could wrap your head around.
It was a 99% Marine show in that area, and we Army "Doggies" (Army personnel) provided convoy security for the "Jarheads" (Marines) convoy. I can't remember exactly, but we must have been bringing replacements of people and/or ammo to the Dusters that were perimeter security for for the base. The battery CO, CPT Vince Tedesco, and 1LT Jim Sheffler were the other 2 officers that I remember along for this deal. I was so glad they knew what they were doing because I had been trained as an Artillery forward observer and here I was, orienting to be a platoon leader in a Duster battery. A duster was something that up until a week -ten days before, I never knew existed. It was explained to me that we operated something like tanks only we weren't completely armored as the gun turret was an open area. These things were designed to be anti-aircraft artillery- shooting at planes up in the air rather than close combat. Anti Aircraft ARTILLERY was the key word that got a Field Artillery officer involved with these things. They were used in the Korean War and were so obsolete that we had a hard time getting parts for them. I remember that at one time at least half of my "tracks" , as we called them, were unable to be driven and were used only for perimeter security.
Anyway, back to the convoy story. I was pretty much scared shitless. I knew full well what had been going down around there, and memories of the ferociousness of the Tet Offensive were fresh in my mind. The road was narrow and hemmed in by steep hills that were covered in jungle that could harbor a jillion bad guys just waiting to blow my brains out. At one point a vehicle broke down and stalled the convoy. "Oh My God! we're stopped! We are going to be ambushed for sure now!" Lt Sheffler was up front several hundred yards very confidently giving orders on the radio about how to handle the situation."Thank God I'm still orienting and nobody expects me to know anything. How do they stay so calm? (hyperventilate-hyperventilate) When Sheffler goes home soon I'm going to be in charge. I'm the one who will be on the radio calmly giving out commands like you see heros in the movies doing it. Oh Jesus, help me." Many times I had that same surreal feeling that "This is just like being in a movie, but it is REAL."
There had been plenty of shelling the nite before and somebody's dismembered body part had been found on top of one of our tracks. More surreal stuff to digest. It was interesting to me to see how I adapted to all this. After a while you got, of course, concerned when rockets or mortars were falling around you, but you psychologically dealt with it and went about your business. After a while I got a private chuckle out of listening to the Newbies prattle a million miles an hour as they came down off their adrenaline high after their first time of being under fire. That was me just a month or two ago. It is amazing, and in some cases horrifying, what people can accommodate to.

To read about what happened to Dusters at Khe Sanh just before I got there you may want to check out this account written By Bruce Geiger