I had to leave Dong Ha and Vietnam from Cam Ranh Bay. Since there was NO direct flight there, I had to go to Da Nang first. My flight was uneventful, but my arrival there was NOT. The day that I arrived in Da Nang happened to be the day that the new terminal building was opened. HOWEVER, my plane landed at the OLD 14th Aerial building. Then, I had to grudgingly carry my heavy duffel bag and LARGE, heavy American Tourister suitcase ALL THE WAY across the tarmac (seemed like a mile). I toted them because I did NOT want to leave my rock or lead collection, behind.
Upon arriving at the new terminal, I went to the clerk in charge and told him I was going home, and wanted a flight to Cam Ranh Bay. He said that I would have to go stand-by and that I would probably get “bumped” once or twice. He was right. I got bumped, but NOT once…more like a dozen times until NO MORE flights were leaving that day.
I had NOT wanted to leave the building [for chow] and possibly miss a flight. Since the flights were over for the day, I hitched a ride to the China Beach USO, went to the snack bar, and had a GREAT omelette breakfast. (I reasoned that anything else might be too heavy on an empty stomach.) Upon leaving the USO, I was confronted by a Vietnamese woman (A Lady of the Afternoon/Evening) who asked if I wanted some “Boom-Boom.” I declined – didn’t want to catch anything as I was on my way home.
Returning to the air terminal, my duffel bag and suitcase were just where I had left them. I was pleased. Since all of the seats were already occupied by fellow travelers, I laid down on my bags. After dark, sirens blared and I knew what was happening – ROCKETS! When I was stationed in Da Nang, we used to sit on our bunker roof and watch the enemy rockets go overhead. Many of them were just aimed in the general direction of the airstrips; if they didn’t do damage, they caused havoc. Now, I was on the RECEIVING end of those rockets. I thought to myself, “This is NOT what I want – to be killed when the end of my tour is days away.” I pulled my bags on top of me (in case of a nearby hit and shrapnel) and hoped for the best. There were a number of explosions, but NONE hit the terminal. When the all-clear was sounded, I changed my brown underwear and went to sleep.
As soon as the flights started in the morning, I again went to the counter. However, this time, I was on one of them. The flight to Cam Ranh Bay was as uneventful as the one to Da Nang. Upon arrival, I went through the usual out processing. I recognized a number of soldiers who had arrived with me when I came to Vietnam; they were leaving the same time as me. Most had increased in rank, but not me. I arrived an E-4 and left an E-4. Eh! There were also searches for contraband, but nothing was found. In fact, nothing was found on any of those who were on my flight home. All of this out processing took a couple days, but we were left to ourselves when NOT required to be somewhere. This was different than when I first arrived while we were put on various little details while waiting for our orders to our destinations – busy work to get us acclimated to the heat.
Late one night, I had to use the latrine; it was a big one – a ten-holer. I sat on an end seat, as there was paper there. After a few minutes, another soldier came in and sat at the far end. I looked at him and recognized him from a previous duty station in Germany. His name was/is Rich Rose; he did NOT like Germany and put in a 10-49 (Change of Duty Station). At that time, if one wanted to leave somewhere, the ONLY place that one went to was Vietnam. I hollered over to him, identified myself, and he hollered back. It seems that Rose’s orders were lost and that he had been at Cam Ranh Bay for almost two weeks. He was on the daily garbage detail and disliked it as there was NO running water [for showers] at the out processing center. He also said that there was NO running water at his last duty station either, but that was different. He was NOT on a dirty, smelly garbage detail while there (I knew that he was a mechanic.).
We spoke a little more, but Rose did NOT want to continue our conversation after we left the latrine. He had to get up before dawn and was tired from wrestling with the garbage all day. I too went back to my barracks and watched a prank pulled on a sleeping soldier by his buddies – the old “tickle-his-nose-with-a-feather-after-first-filling-his-outstretched-hand-with-shaving-cream” trick. It worked and the poor guy had shaving cream all over his face and head. There were no hard feelings by the victim and everyone had a good laugh.
In the morning, my flight out was announced. Only after the airplane had lifted off, and was out of enemy rocket range, did I know that I was DEFINITELY headed to “The Land of the Big PX.”
Gerald F. Mazur, a/k/a “IGOR”
B Btry 1968-1969