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Before most of you were borne

Discussion in 'Street, Documentary, and Portrait' started by the_traveler, May 7, 2013.

  1. the_traveler

    the_traveler Mu-43 Veteran

    204
    Sep 12, 2011
    Columbia, MD
    Lew Lorton
    This is a thread of mine from 2007 that I am repeating from another site that was interesting then, and I hope now also.

    Sorry it is out of order, I am reconstructing parts as I find them.

    Hope this is interesting.

    ==========================================
    This was taken in 1967 with Pentax Spotmatic and tri-x, developed in whatever was in the brown bottle. I have no idea what the shutter speed or aperture was.

    I was out in my jeep doing MedCap on civilians when I inadvertently (believe me) ended up in the very middle of a helicopter assault and a fierce firefight. Only dared to take this one and then hid my head until tanks and more troops came up and the area was secured.

    Negative long gone, just this one battered print remains.

    warphotoya2.
     
  2. the_traveler

    the_traveler Mu-43 Veteran

    204
    Sep 12, 2011
    Columbia, MD
    Lew Lorton
    I was the battalion dentist for the 145th Combat Aviation Battalion, headquartered at Bien Hoa Air Base.
    My boss was 8 miles away and was never interested in driving over to see me.
    That worked out well.

    Huey reloading
    Gunship platoon of 118th AHC/145 Combat Avn Bn
    Rocket tubes on side of UH-1 Huey
    scanned from 40 yr old slide.

    Gunner fires M60 machine gun from door, hulls and links ar on the floor of cabin.(M60s leaning on rocket tubes)

    gunshipbeingreloadedas8.
     
  3. the_traveler

    the_traveler Mu-43 Veteran

    204
    Sep 12, 2011
    Columbia, MD
    Lew Lorton
    Checking rockets from storage tubes

    checkingrocketsinstoragkx1.

    Paddies behind compound. (picture below text)

    For any of you who are interested in history this was the American Club compound where John Paul Vann lived. He was the protagonist in a famous non-fiction book about the Vietnam War called 'The Bright and SHining Lie" by Neil Sheehan. I never knew who the mysterious man was who lived in a guarded villa across the street until years later when I read the book.

    The entire compound was about the size of a football field and was cut off for 3 days during the Tet offensive in 1968 until we were literally rescued by the cavalry - a platoon of tanks from the 11th Armored Cavalry rolled through our gates on the morning of the 3d day to my and others everlasting relief. Altho the VC were never serious about overrunning us, they threw the odd grenade at the walls and shot at anyone at the walls.

    Their main attack was at the air base where over 500 VC were killed in a running battle over 3 days. They came close to reaching two big AF bunkers where 500 unarmed airman were sitting out the attack and were only driven off when the attack on the helicopter airstrip was foiled and the gunships actually got into the air. The pilots had been lifted by helicopter off of the American Club compound where we lived - we tore down some fences to make an impromptu pad just big enough for a Huey to get in. That left a skeleton crew of non-combatant officers, including me, and some enlisted men in charge of defense.

    Lucky for us, the difficulty of approaching across the paddies and the presence of helicopters from nearby Bien Hoa air base (3 km) prevented any serious attack on our compound after the first day although it was a scary, surreal experience.

    I went back to see the place in 1998 and it is entirely gone, although Cong Ly Street, the street that ran down the center of the compound, still exists. War is interesting in retrospect but nasty, ugly, bloody things when they are happening.

    This is a link to the Thunderbirds web site - 118th Assault Helicopter Company; I bunked with their officers and the avionic lt was my roommate.


    paddysinbackofhouseas7.

    Actually this photo is on their web site here near the bottom of the page.
     
  4. the_traveler

    the_traveler Mu-43 Veteran

    204
    Sep 12, 2011
    Columbia, MD
    Lew Lorton
    Rainy season.

    Bad shot but it gives you exactly the idea of what it's like

    vietrainbz6.

    A typical govt building out in the provinces. one story stucco. not very fancy
    Deserted because the VC controlled the area.

    vietbldgqv1.

    The prison camp at Long Binh post where the VC captives were held.
    Not very inviting

    vietprisonlk9.

    Fortune-teller in the market place

    tarot, hand-reading, etc.
    vietmarketiu9.

    Boys playing in the paddies behind the compound where I lived.

    vietboysgz9.

    There is a long involved story involving a 3 AM alert that culminates with me not shooting a drunken Korean engineer who was late coming back from his girlfriend's home and was staggering towards the gate along the wall in the background, not responding to calls to halt.

    But that was the punchline to the story.

    Anyone who has ever been in the dark, holding a gun, being afraid, knows that awful temptation to pull the trigger just to end the waiting and the tension. If there had been any random bang, the entire thing would have cascaded downhill from there.

    Lew
     
  5. the_traveler

    the_traveler Mu-43 Veteran

    204
    Sep 12, 2011
    Columbia, MD
    Lew Lorton
    Found some more

    In 1967 I got to Vietnam and was immediately assigned to Long Binh post, a huge encampment built not too far from Saigon and about 8 miles from Bien Hoa air base. Long Binh eventually grew to about 50-70,000 people and was a self-contained city with every conceivable thing that you would have in an equivalent size city, except slums and crime. Guns were well controlled and so the police could shoot with impunity. You couldn't get out any gate without a pass and very few people got passes. Many of the people here spent there entire tour inside this city. These people were known to the troops as REMF. The RE stood for Rear Echelon. The MF you can fill in.

    I lived for most of the first 3 months in a tent (until we built our barracks - just in time for me to be transferred).
    The rains came early and the red mud so common to the tropics meant that when you came back from the showers, you needed another shower.

    MiddayraininLongBinh.

    I hated being confined and so I volunteered to do MedCAPs (Medical Civic Action Program). I would arrange to rendezvous somewhere with some group from a medical unit and we'd drive to a Vietnamese village and take care of the civilians. Since all able-bodied males between 18-35 were supposed to be in the Army, in the outlying villages we'd often be treating young men that we knew were VC. I loved the getting out of the clinic but there were pluses and negatives.

    Buying Lichees


    GIsbuyinglicheesfromkids.

    Waiting for a ferry

    bridgeovertheDongNai.


    On the plus side, I was away from the base 3 days out of 7 (we worked 7 days/week), I would get to see stuff that most of my colleagues, the REMFs, never saw and, most importantly, my boss thought I was nuts. On the negative side, the VC of course. Also, since we were in a non-maneuver unit, our jeeps had no radio and we weren't on any radio net. So when we were out on the road, no one heard from us until we got back. That made me very nervous but since we never got killed, I eventually got used to it.

    To reinforce the impression of my nuttiness, I invited the CO, my boss, along one day to visit a village and while we were stopped in the village talking to the local MACV advisor, a gunship started making runs at the far edge of the open space. My boss turned pale and began insistenting that we get moving, obviously very happy that I was doing this stuff routinely and he wasn't. So, from then on, he let me pretty much alone. We were able to give lots of care, medical and dental, with drugs and anesthetic the Vietnamese weren't used to. I was happy as I could be, being 12,000 miles from my wife and living in a tent with 5 other guys.

    Here we are, the MACV guys looking at the helicopter strafing the woods, going "WTF!!!". My boss is on the right, wearing the flak jacket. (He wanted one to hug also.)

    p1585557428-5.


    Unbeknownst to us, something else was going on. The motor pool sergeant was tired of getting tools ripped off out of the jeep and so he removed the jack and lug wrench from the jeeps. We never thought to check the tool well; after all it was securely padlocked - but empty. So one day later on, 30 km from LB, we had a flat and when we opened the tool well, no tools.

    Well, night was coming and, as you know from watching the "Quiet American", the VC owned the roads at night. Luckily an ARVN (Army Rep Viet Nam) truck came by and they had a wrench that would fit - but no jack that would work. So we drove the jeep over to the side of the road at a culvert, letting the flat tire hang down and we wrestled the spare tire back on.

    We were pretty angry when we returned, angry enough that the CO took my pistol away, and that episode resulted in a transfer to be the dental officer for the 145th Combat Avn Bn at Bien Hoa Airbase.
     
  6. mnhoj

    mnhoj There and back again

    Dec 3, 2011
    Los Angeles
    John M
    Very, very interesting.
    Thanks for sharing.
     
  7. the_traveler

    the_traveler Mu-43 Veteran

    204
    Sep 12, 2011
    Columbia, MD
    Lew Lorton
    I was there in Bien Hoa from September 1967 through May 1968.
    The Tet offensive, that is referred to above, happened in Jan 68 and is described here by one of the pilots of the 145th and with a wider scope by an infantry commander Tet Offensive: The Battles of Bien Hoa and Long Binh.

    In the first article, the author describes the VC rolling by the front of the "145 th HQ yelling Yankee, tonight you die." That was where I lived and it was a disturbing moment.

    While this huge battle was going on, I was in a little compound in the very center of it, ignored because it wasn't of strategic importance and totally ignorant of the scope of what was going on around us.
     
  8. Fmrvette

    Fmrvette This Space For Rent

    May 26, 2012
    Detroit, Michigan
    Jim
    Lew,

    Welcome home.

    I was with the 73rd flying right seat in OV-1B Mohawks from Jan 69 to Jan 70.

    I've not yet scanned the slides I took (with my very first "real" camera, an Olympus Pen FT); I'm 3/4 afraid to review the photos, not a whole lot of good memories in those boxes. (Although the beach at Vung Tau was something to behold - I wouldn't mind seeing that again).

    Regards,

    Jim
     
  9. the_traveler

    the_traveler Mu-43 Veteran

    204
    Sep 12, 2011
    Columbia, MD
    Lew Lorton
    Jim,

    I flew some in the Bird Dogs that we had, a truly frightening experience because the pilots were generally nuts.

    My clinic was right near the Cobra NETT team and we would work on the guys who came in from field units to transition. We worked anytime they had free, 24 hours so I built up a lot of creds with the instructor pilots. Whenever they had needed someone to fly front seat, they'd call my office and if I had time I'd go.

    Routinely frightening but very interesting.

    Lew

    COL, USA (Ret)
     
  10. Fmrvette

    Fmrvette This Space For Rent

    May 26, 2012
    Detroit, Michigan
    Jim
    Hey, I resemble that remark.

    :biggrin:

    (One has to be just a little bit nuts to fly in unarmed recon aircraft in a combat zone, it's in the job description :wink:).

    Thanks for posting the photos. I bought a scanner last year and have been putting off going through the slides (and a few Kodacolor 64 prints); I supposed I'd better get to that this summer.

    Regards,

    Jim
     
  11. Replytoken

    Replytoken Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 7, 2012
    Puget Sound
    Ken
    Appreciate both the images and the back stories. Thankfully, I have a boss who is not afraid to join me when I am in the field (my favorite story).

    I do not know if you saw this, but you might be interested: Photographer revisits images of Vietnam War: Digital Photography Review. There are a couple of links, and the Boston Globe photos were quite interesting.

    Take care,

    --Ken
     
  12. spatulaboy

    spatulaboy I'm not really here

    Jul 13, 2011
    North Carolina
    Vin
    Thanks for sharing your photos and experiences. They are truly priceless.
     
  13. aldus

    aldus Mu-43 Regular

    53
    Dec 24, 2012
    Fairbanks, Alaska
    Dennis Moser
    Thanks for these — I was old enough, but wasn't chosen.
     
  14. the_traveler

    the_traveler Mu-43 Veteran

    204
    Sep 12, 2011
    Columbia, MD
    Lew Lorton
    I was 'chosen' in a strange way.
    I received a letter saying that I was going to be drafted as a Private E-1 or I could 'volunteer' and get commissioned as a Captain.

    Not exactly a 'Hobson's Choice' but close.
     
  15. Livnius

    Livnius Super Moderator

    Jul 7, 2011
    Melbourne. Australia
    Joe
    Great story Lew, thanks for sharing.
    ...and unlike the stylized and romanticized images Hollywood has given my generation it's nice to see real images to go with story.

    (Fantastic website too btw....shot through just briefly but look forward to a more in depth perusal soon)
     
  16. GaryAyala

    GaryAyala Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    SoCal
    Welcome back Jim, Ken and Lew. I was with UPI - Saigon, about the same time period as Lew.

    Gary
     
  17. Replytoken

    Replytoken Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 7, 2012
    Puget Sound
    Ken
    Point of clarification. While I referenced my boss in comparison to Lew's, that was a current reference. I was a few years too young to be chosen for a trip with Uncle Sam's Gray Line Tours. Had I been chosen, I probably would have received a medal for invading Grenada!

    --Ken
     
  18. the_traveler

    the_traveler Mu-43 Veteran

    204
    Sep 12, 2011
    Columbia, MD
    Lew Lorton
    For anyone except real combat soldiers, which I am not, wars are generally long boring interludes interspersed with very short bouts of extreme fear and potential incontinence.
    I lived with aviators who were shot at every day and I saw the effects of that.

    Thanks, Gary.
    Saigon made me nervous. Lots of people on motorcycles and the closest I ever came to getting killed was when I was flying over Cholon sightseeing in an OH-13, just before Tet and we took some serious fire. I could see the tracers start as sparks and then grow rapidly larger as they streaked past the bubble. The pilot just dropped us out of there and we flew away maybe 50 feet over the roofs.

    Caimi, there was no censorship or control that I knew of, but that didn't mean there wasn't a policy. I only came across it once; while walking the flight line at Bien Hoa Airbase, I took pictures of a U2 as it taxied into its hanger. SPs came after me and took my film.
     
  19. GaryAyala

    GaryAyala Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    SoCal
    Saigon was just the regional office for the semi-REMF. I spent most of the time in the field, the Intercontinental was my R&R. Can't take many photos from the office. My first helicopter ride, in my life, was shot down, fortunately, for most of the troopers and myself, we were just taking-off and sorta crash landed on the tarmac.

    Gary
     
  20. RT_Panther

    RT_Panther Mu-43 Legend

    May 4, 2011
    Texas
    Thanks for sharing your personal experience in history through these images. :smile: I was born in 1963 so I definitely have memories of Viet Nam.

    Also, I've spent the last 23 years of my life in the USAF. When I first joined in 1989, we definitely had some vets that were still on active duty back then.

    I for sure appreciate your service - you've no doubt dealt with things that I have not had to deal with & you've paved the way for how things are now and for that, I salute you!