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Category: Vietnam (Page 1 of 2)

The Army Security Agency in Vietnam

This story was on the Lompoc Record…. it is a typical story for a guy in the Army Security Agency in Vietnam during the 60’s and 70’s… and there were a lot of us.

Andy Francis recounted his story of Vietnam service and mentioned the dangers ASA personnel faced.  One danger all rear area guys faced was constant mortar and rocket attacks, but only rarely coming face to face with the enemy.  That usually happened to intercept guys in outlying firebases, but that was rare.


The one danger we all faced was from our own guards.  Francis mentions the Air Force bombing us if we got overrun, and I had never heard that one.  What I did hear from the MP’s that were assigned to guard our top secret compounds was that they had orders to shoot us if we got overrun.  I think few of us had anything the North Vietnamese could use, but whatever….

Getting drunk with me might not have done that MP any good in the long run though, as who was going to get shot first was the question.

Not that it mattered much, if you got overrun, your survival chances were slim to none.

Reporters in war zones.. Sean Flynn

With the snow 5 inches deep outside, with another five on the way, of course I started thinking about Vietnam again. It’s 20 degrees here, but could get from 60 to 130 degrees there. I worked nights during the war cooped up in a 5 ton truck, but during the day I was free to roam around the country. So roam I did, and usually in the company of reporters.

They had vehicles, cameras, a nose for news and chased after the war. I was on foot, had a thirst for adventure, and they were glad to drag me along. As a rule they were pretty nice guys, and always had a beer to share. On the other hand, they had a propensity for taking you places that you later realized you didn’t really want to go to, especially when things got hot.

Shell shocked soldier, Hue Vietnam

I caught this story in the Guardian about Don McCullin and some of the photographs he took during the war. A famous one caught my eye, Shell shocked US Marine, Hue Vietnam… since Hue was my base of operations I had to know more. The photo was famous for the haunted look of the marine, staring off past the camera, during a particularly rough battle during Tet of ’68. When I got there in 1970, all the holes were still in the buildings. It must have been a hell of a fight.

Other reporters were mentioned in the article, some famous, like John Steinbeck IV,the son of writer John Steinbeck. Another famous guy was Sean Flynn, the son of actor Errol Flynn. He’s not the Sean Flynn currently known in the movies, since he disappeared there in 1970 during the invasion of Cambodia by US troops.

Don McCullin was more like the reporters I knew, didn’t carry guns and were all business. Sean Flynn was a little more swashbuckling, like his dad and himself in some pirate movies. He carried guns, smoked a lot of dope, was fearless and stuck his neck out. The last time he stuck it out too far. You really couldn’t blame him. He was young, found adventure in an exotic locale, lived through danger and was free to do what he wanted. During the invasion of Cambodia, it was becoming clear he wanted to find out what it was like to be captured by the North Vietnamese. So he got his wish, along with reporter Dana Stone. They were captured in 1970 and never heard from again.

last known picture of Sean and Dana alive

One friend of his, a Tim Page (who was the model for the reporter in Apocalypse Now) has probably done the best investigation of his disappearance, and figures he was killed by the Khymer Rouge a year after his capture. Reporter Tim King, who was a war reporter in Afghanistan, is putting together a documentary on Sean. Whatever happened, he’s dead now or he would have turned up somewhere. It makes you think about his judgment, but young guys in a war zone who smoke a lot of dope probably didn’t have the best judgment anyway. I know I didn’t. I did a few things I regret, but thankfully they didn’t kill me. I still think about roaming around with those reporters, and I’m glad they didn’t want to get captured. Thanks guys.

Update 3-29-10 Flynn’s remains discovered?

According to Fox News, freelance bonehunters may have found Sean Flynn’s remains. They have been turned over to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command for identification. Concerns have been expressed over the discovery, as the pair involved used excavating equipment and not forensic techniques to recover the remains. It seems there are freelance bonehunters looking for remains in Indochina, looking for a fee for their return.


Longing for Home… Hue DaNang road.. 1971


Sometime around march of 1971, Sgt Spence (our 1st shirt) took me and another guy or two (can’t remember) to Da Nang to pick up some crypto stuff or other. So we loaded up in our 3/4 ton pickup truck and headed south.

It was quite a panaromic view of Vietnam. Highway one runs down the length of the Vietnamese coast with all the major cities along it. Hue and Da Nang were the 2 largest cities in northern South Vietnam. We did plenty of sightseeing along the way, had a pleasant time in Da nang, and even saw the Seventh Fleet in the harbour. We saw the fleet from the tops of the mountains coming into Da Nang, and the aircraft carrier dwarfed the numerous ships with it!


The trip back was another story. Spence was driving, and also drinking heavily. This seemed to be the curse of all top sergeants I have known. Spence was a special case tho, as he had been in the Army for 18 years, and curiously spent 17 of them in the orient. Supposedly, he had killed the wrong guy in his corner of Alabama, and his influential family shipped him off to the Army to save him from the authorities. I think he really liked it over there. So anyway, we were heading through the Hai Van Pass, the highest pass in Vietnam, with 2 of us in the bed of the truck, and Spence working furiously on his bottle of gin when the truck suddenly veered towards the small concrete abutment alongside the road. Sensing disaster, Whittley(?) had already jumped out, and I had just put my foot on the tailgate to join him when we hit the abutment. I fell back into the truck and knew this was it. Somehow the truck ran along the low concrete wall and jumped back onto the road. Whit was still laying in the road and it seemed hours before anybody could move. We were still alive!

We ambled up Higway One for hours, shooting at things and generally having a good time. Then our right front tire went flat. Spare was flat. We were in a pickle. We were hours away from home base and not in the friendliest part of Northern I Corps. So we drove up the road at 20 mph and the right rear tire went flat. Things were looking grim. Nobody was coming by, and we assessed our situation. We had 9 rounds left between us for our M-16s. Then we checked the M-79 we had with us and it didn’t work. The firing pin was broke. Yikes, it was getting dark so we drove on flat tires till we came to a Vietnamese strong point along the road. They were just setting up their claymores for the night, and we practically drove over them to get in.


There was one American advisor with these guys, and they put us up for the night. The American guy had some movie for his boys so we all watched Love Story. The Vietnamese troops would go wild everytime Ryan O’Neil would kiss Ali McGraw. They also had plenty of beer! The next morning they fixed up our tires and gave us some ammo, so in better spirits we headed for Hue. Some time later we were running along the coast and found a great beach. So we decided to take a break to go swimming.


Spence decided to watch the truck so we shucked our clothes and swam out to some small island off the coast. The water was real shallow, and it was a long way out there. The passing sampans got a kick out of some naked GI’s sunning on the island. Then we noticed the truck was in the water! It took 20 minutes to get back, and we found the truck sunk in the water half way up the cab. Spence was asleep in the drivers seat. We woke him up to find out what had happened. He got homesick and decided to go home. He drove the truck straight towards Alabama till the water swamped the motor. We were in for it again.

A passing truck radioed our position to Phu Bai and they dispatched a wrecker to pull us out. Since we had a motor full of water they had to tow us back to Phu Bai. They couldn’t quit laughing when they found out what happened. The Radio Research station at Phu Bai was our parent headquarters, so when we got there, this Colonel chewed on Spence in a spectacular fashion.


We finally got another truck and finished our mission, but I don’t think any of us really learned our lessons.


Moving into Camp Eagle… 1972


Sometime in March 1972, The 101st Airborne left Vietnam for home. This left a huge army base deserted and the 1st ARVN Division decided to call it home. A South Vietnamese division has lots of American advisors, including our intelligence team, so of we went to our new home.

The first thing you see when you enter a recently evacuated American army base in Vietnam is dogs. Lots of dogs. I think every GI over there had a dog. Our detachment had 10 guys and we had 2 dogs. Some army communications guy from TOC named Lt. Pappas was assigned the job of shooting all the dogs. He kind of liked it, and earned his moniker “Mad Dog Pappas.” Nobody liked him…

Traded a .38 S&W for a homemade go kart… I coulda just waited till the Airborne guy left… but it was cool. It was made out of a ‘mule’, a kind of mobile basket with a 3kw generator engine on it, and it was used originally to unload planes. It was welded up with a seat in the middle and the motor in the back, and a big 101 Airborne insignia on the tank… No suspension though, and it would beat you to death. General Phu told my CO that he wanted it for his kid… but it kinda got wrecked before I handed it over.

Freaked out one day, my hooch was close to the perimeter and the patrol found a spider hole just outside. How long has this guy been watching me. They found rice and rifle in the hole too. Gives you the shivers.

Trying to find a place to smoke dope. Our new CO was an airborne ranger… we weren’t used to these guys, and they didn’t like punk kids like me either. One night we crawled up our radio tower, enjoying the scenery when 122 rockets started coming in, in a straight line for our tower! They must have been sighting on the helicopter beacon, I smashed it with my rifle but and came down the tower in seconds. (I think it was pretty high too…)

Wandering around the base at night, we came on an ARVN tank crew sitting around their fire. We got to drinking with them, and they showed me how their tank worked. It was an American armored car with twin 40mm guns in the turret. These were usually used for convoy protection. Unlike their American counterparts, ARVN’s drilled a hole in the dash and put a key and tumblers in place of the American switch that anybody can turn on. They didn’t trust anybody, and they shouldn’t have trusted me, because I took off in it for a joyride.. They chased me for a while, but that thing was neat.. It could knock over trees and all sorts of big stuff. I finally gave it back…

Somebody gassed out Airborne Ranger CO. He had just gotten out of the shower and was all wet… gas will burn you when your wet. I think the real target was the mess sgt, who shared the hooch with him. I heard all the commotion out on the street and came out to see the CO dripping wet in a towel with his M-16 pointed right at me. “Pfeiffer” he says, “I know it was you…” It wasn’t me, and he didn’t shoot me, thank god, but it did steel my resolve to get even somehow. While down in Phu Bai I learned that they had 2 gas grenades for a M-79 in the company safe and traded the company clerk for them. That night we climbed up our tower again and pointed the M-79 towards the officers club (we learned he was in there) and let one go. Unfortunately the officers club was 400 yards away, and the gas round could go 200 at the most. But General Phu’s hooch was 200 yards away. Shame his whole family was in there.

The next morning, in my breifing to General Phu and our CO, I duly reported an incoming round of enemy gas during the night. General Phu’s eyes were still red. That night, with one round left, I was determined to fulfill my mission, and tucked the M-79 under my jacket and boldly walked past the Vietnamese guards to the compound and let her rip right through the officers clubs screen door…. mission accomplished. The next mornings breifing included the now regular round of enemy gas….

If I spent this much energy fighting the war, we might have won….


Trip home… Leaving Vietnam.. 1972


I got orders for home some time in April 1972, and I was glad to get them. I ‘d had enough of Vietnam by then. I had recently been busted by the CO for stealing his jeep (I had just borrowed it for a while) and got an Article 15 for it. An Article 15 is one step away from a court martial. I left for the Hue/Phu Bai International Airport (!) to catch a ride south, I didn’t sign out or turn in my weapon. As far as I know, that M-16 is still leaning up against a wall in my hooch. I think I owe the Government 300 bucks for it.

I got to the airfield to find that all the available aircraft were ferrying troops north, as the Easter offensive was still going on. No hope for a fllight south, I took to the road. Some old wreck of a french truck picked me up. I sat in the back with a few black toothed papasans and barrels of what smelled like fish. We got along great till we got to this roadblock. There was a recent firefight there and you could still smell the fireworks. Those papasans were starting to look funny so I hopped off this truck and got on one full of ARVN’s as they were all armed. These guys took me to Danang, and one of them befriended me took me to his house for the night. His family was nice and they treated me to a Vietnamese meal but no one could speak english. The next morning I could see that my bag looked like it had been rifled thru, so I left in a huff. I still regret that, as they were really nice people. Nothing was missing and it was probably just the kids that had gotten into it.

I walked into the Danang airbase looking for a ride and the MP’s went crazy… I guess Danang proper was off limits to GI’s… They also relieved me of my AK 47… it was a nice Russian underfolder too… I think they were just looking for souvenirs… There was no way I could get it home anyway. Finally got a flight to Saigon… however, the C130 had more Vietnamese, pigs, goats and whatever riding along than GI’s… Then the engine quit… a couple of hours later and another airplane and we were on our way…

I spent a week in Saigon before I got a flight out. I hung out in this bar for a while, full of marines that were off duty. Then a bunch of Austrailian grunts wandered in. I could see things were getting tense so I left… It wasn’t 5 minutes before people were getting thrown out the windows and such…

To get on the plane, you and your stuff had to go into a little room with a marine in it. He decided whether to take you apart or not.. They didn’t want drugs or guns going home.. I made it thru… and off on the way home. The ride back was pretty subdued… wasn’t much chatter, compared to the ride there… about forever later we were above Oakland…. but couldn’t get down. They waved us off as some woman shot a GI getting off the plane ahead of us. Seems her husband got killed by friendly fire over in Nam. We finally did get down, though, and were greeted by a large group of hippie protestors. After the usual charge of babykilling… they went home and I was finally loose in the USA…

They had a welcome home meal for us at Oakland Army Replacement Station. It looked like a big pile of steaks so I loaded up and sat down for some chow. It was liver. Who were they kidding. So I headed for home. I don’t really remember why, whether I was short of cash, (The army had lost my records, so getting paid was sporadic) or still had some wanderlust left in me, I decided to hitchhike home. I got a ride in the back of some pickup truck that night, but the temperatures in the mountains were below freezing, and I had just came back from the tropics. Yikes.

Somehow I lived thru that and had a pretty uneventful trip home. I was picked up in Nebraska by the cops as they were always looking for AWOL’s. (They didn’t even look at the obvious criminal types hitchhiking along side me.) I found the truck drivers the best. They fed me along the way and even gave me money to complete my trip.

But I did make it home…. I had 6 months left to go at Fort Bragg… but that is another story…


Vietnam R&R…

Some time around March 1971, the higher ups decided we needed a break. The U.S. Army had a beach set up just for this purpose. It technically was the 101st Airborne’s beach, but since we were all on the same side, they let us use it. In Country R&R usually lasted about 3 days and ours did but just barely. It was pretty cool, ocean front property. The only indications of the war was the constant buzz of helicopters whipping up the beach, and the vietnamese on the next beach over. They weren’t there for fun though, just fishing to get something to eat.

The first day started off badly. One of our guys broke his back body surfing. He wasn’t killed but his war was over and they hauled him off to Japan.

The next day was my turn. I was far out in the surf, when I noticed one of the helicopters that flew low along the beach was turning around. The gunship started wailing on the water just in front of me with all their machine guns at once. I couldn’t get out of the water fast enough. Then all the Vietnamese charged into the water and dragged the biggest white shark I’d ever seen onto the beach. There must have been 500 bullet holes in him. The Viets carved him up into steaks in no time. I had enough of swimming for awhile, and my hat was off to those chopper guys.

That night a typhoon blew in during the night and levelled most of the hooches we were staying in, including mine. There wasn’t anything to do but ride it out, and the next morning crawled out of the wreckage.

Thank God, this R&R only lasted 3 days…


Lam Son 719

I was a member of a DARRS team in Vietnam. The acronym DARRS stood for Division Advisory Radio Research something or other. The whole Army Security Agency thing was disguised in Vietnam as Radio Research for some legal reason. Our outfit had 10 guys in it, with your associated vietnamese counterparts, attached to the 1st ARVN Division, and we provided intelligence support to this vietnamese division. At the time I worked out of the back of a 5 ton truck, with huge maps of northern I Corps, and a rat rig (radio module) attached to the side. I kept track of order of battle (who and where everyone was) and gave intelligence breifings to the vietnamese General. Our truck was parked in the middle of the Forbidden City in the center of Hue, and was like being in the middle of a National Geographic article.

Sometime around february 1971 we got orders to move our operation to Dong Ha, on route 9, to support the Arvn’s operation in Laos to cut the Ho Chi Minh trail. This operation was called Lam Son 719, and was mainly a vietnamese deal as we weren’t allowed in Laos. Other American outfits reoccupied Khe Sanh, which was down route 9 towards Laos. It was cold, rainy, and we had to go up Highway 1 thru Dynamite Alley, a stretch of road the zips liked to bury bombs in. We only lost 1 jeep.

Our forward base was like any other base camp in Vietnam. Lots of bunkers to dig, lots of wire to stretch and tents to put up. We usually got mortared every night, just about the time we were getting resupplied, as they had the airstrip zeroed in. We watched the show in lawn chairs, like a Mash episode. One of the guys we called speed ran into the wire the first night we were hit. I think he got a purple heart for that.

The Arvn’s spent about a month in Laos getting beat up, hung down, drug down and generally had their ass handed to them. We went in to get some of our guys out, but the Arvns wanted out to, and overloaded helicopters made the news. Some were brought down by the load. The 1st Arvn Division, for instance, lost every tank, truck and helicopter they had in Laos.

2 weeks later, in downtown Hue, there was a big parade. The 1st Arvn division marched through town with new tanks and trucks. There was a big celebration and we all got medals for our great victory during Lam Son 719. For my participation I got a Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, with palm.


2 Shots in Anger… My Chanh River… Easter ’72

Things were heating up in 1972. Most American troops had left and the NVA were getting bolder. When I got to Vietnam in October of 1970 there were 500,000 American troops in the country. Now there were 5,000… not a lot of people to watch your back.

Not too far away the NVA had advanced to the My Chanh river during their Easter offensive. I was hanging around with some Time and Life guys, who were on their way up to the river to cover the story. Our side of the river was covered by Arvns (Army of the Republic of Vietnam), the other side was manned by how many? Who could know, you never saw them. Could have just been one guy banging away with an old Maxim gun.

Then things got started… a couple of Cobra’s made a run at the other bank from behind us. A rocket fell short, blowing up a couple of Vietnamese Marines to my right. A smoking shell splinter flew past my head and lodged in a nearby tree. I dug it out, the threaded portion burning a pattern into my hand. That was my good luck charm for the rest of the war.

The old Maxim was still methodically chugging along, when a F-4 came screaming out of the sun. Funny how they look like they’re heading right for you! The other bank exploded in a wave of Napalm. I’d had enough sightseeing. I held my rifle over my head and fired 2 shots at the opposite bank.. then split.

The South Vietnamese held the line at that river till ’75. Without our backing, the end was inevitable.


New Guy.. Oct 1970.. Republic of Vietnam

October.. It’s still hot as can be… just got off the plane.. walked into a wall of air so thick you can feel it pressing on you… I was waiting in the replacement hooch for a ride upcountry to our Darrs unit.

Some guy in faded fatigues and a 3 day growth on his chin drove up in a M151A jeep. He was our ride. Our fatigues were bright green, as opposed to his, faded, rotted around the collar.. and stained where you sweat. This guy looked like he’d been here for a hundred years, tho in reality he was just finishing up his one year tour.

“You guys going to Hue?”… We nodded yes, and got in the jeep. “Those guns loaded? This ain’t exactly Disneyland, you know…” Now I was freaked out. He took off while we scrambled through our duffel bags looking for our bandoliers…

I heard a machine gun empty next to my head! Both of us new guys were out of the jeep before we knew what hit us… I was laying on my back, looking up at the sun wondering what the hell happened… when the old guy came into view over me… smiling… “We’re never gonna get back if you guys keep falling out of the jeep!” That son of a bitch aimed his M-16 at the sky and empied a clip while we were scrambling for ammo..

A year later… I had to go down to Phu Bai to pick a up new guy for our Darrs unit. I had a 3 day growth of beard and my fatigues were practically rotted off me. This kid looked like he was in grade school… “That gun loaded?…”


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