Eighth Aerial Port Squadron, USAF
 Mobility Operations
Vietnam, 1970
 My Story A1c - (later Ssgt) Alan Runfeldt
 8thMob@NoDeadlines.com

 
 
 
My story:

dedicated to Nguoi Viet publisher Do Ngoc Yen, who led his people into the new world and continually encouraged me to tell my own story

California December, 1969
Prior to serving in Vietnam, I had been stationed at Norton AFB, in San Bernardino California. My first year in the AF had been a bit rocky. I had no problem with the work - I sincerely enjoyed that aspect of my duty. But there was a certain conflict with the people I worked for - the "career NCO's". I knew that I was going to Vietnam - my hopes of being sent to Europe had already been replaced by the realizaiton that there "was a war on" and I'd be heading to Vietnam, like it or not. And I knew that I did not want to be stuck at the main base in Saigon. I just knew I'd get into still more trouble with the "lifers", as we referred to those older NCO's and with whom I had continual conflicts - before during and after my time in Vietnam.

But I did get along well with Ssgt. Francis "Smitty" Smith who had recently returned from a tour of duty in Vietnam and described the relatively beaucracy-free life of duty at the small detachment at Tay Ninh, and suggested that I might be better suited to life at a detachment than at the main base in Saigon. He told me about the Dets & OLs section of 8th Aerial Port and suggested I try to get posted to a detachment like Tay Ninh. 

I did realize that duty at small detachment would likely be more dangerous than at Tan Son Nhut and life would be quite a bit more difficult, living with the danger and without the creature comforts available in Saigon, but on balance, it promised a respite from the conflicts I had experienced dealing with the authority figures in the states. 

Vietnam January, 1970

The memory of my arrival is Vietnam in mostly blur of disconnected images; the opening scene of the movie "Platoon" was eerily accurate in its depiction of the images and feelings of arriving in Saigon at that time. 

Although at times I felt as though I was walking through a dream, I did have the presence of mind to keep a clear focus on my personal mission; escape the bureaucracy of a main base like Tan Son Nhut, and escape to the back country where I would be judged more on my contribution and work ethic than on my military bearing, haircut or the crease of my fatigue pants...

All in all, duty at a detachment did seem to suit me, so when I arrived in Vietnam - before I even signed in to my squadron, I made my way over to the innocuous set of quonset huts with the simple sign outside: "8th APS Dets & OLs"

I began my tour of duty with the 8th APS by walking in the door and introducing myself as "A 605* looking for a job." I met SMSgt Jesse Goddard, Msgt Ed Taylor and a third senior NCO (whose name will be added here as the memory improves or some reader reminds me of the third NCO in our leadership.)

 Although all detachments were fully staffed at the time, Ssgt Web Layton's death at BuDop just 4 weeks earlier had left them short handed and they were looking for a new MOB team member. (Why do I always think of the phrase "here's some fresh blood" when I recall this meeting...?)

Since I just walked in the door as I had done, and had bypassed the squadron front office, they had a chance to grab this "newguy" before anyone else in the squadron even knew I had arrived... After a few hours of intense interview, they decided to give me a chance to see if I could "fit in" to one of their very close-knit and active Aerialport Mobility Teams.

This interview was the most pivotal point of my own personal experience in Vietnam. If not for their willingness to "try me out" on a Mob team, all of the experiences and adventure to follow would have been replaced by a very different - and possibly even more difficult - experience.

* (60551 was the Air Force Specialty code for "Air Freight Specialist".)

Bldg 872 - Home of the 8th MOB

 I was directed to the 8th MOB Team barracks - bldg 872 near the passenger terminal at Tan Son Nhut and walked in with my gear. The barracks echoed emptiness, with only 3 airmen sitting in one area, drinking beer and playing cards. They welcomed me and, between hands, gave me a rather exagerrated account of what I would be experiencing during the coming year. When I asked how often I could expect to "come under fire", one casually said, "Oh, not more than half the time." (HALF the time!!?? my mind exclaimed!) "Mostly, it's just hard work and discomfort. We don't often fly into hot lz's.. We're not considered expendable, so they try to keep us from getting killed whenever they can..." 

On balance, this really was no exagerration of the past few months' missions. Only four weeks before, the Mob endured the massacre at BuDop in which Layton was killed, a 10K AT was cystalized in the flames of the fuel/ammuntion dump rocket attack, and nearly every member of the team was wounded and taken out via medevac.

We chatted and I dozed on the bunk as they played, until after a few hours, they decided that they liked me (or simply accepted my presence) and showed it by extinguishing their cigarettes into a warm, but freshly opened beer, and handed it to me to drink. Although I had little taste for beer, this one was special - it was a challenge and I saw it for what it was - my first little initiation into the 8th APS Mob... Besiders, I really was quite thirsty, so, with the newly learned phrase "What the fuck, over", I drank (most of it) down in a few gulps (but did not swallow the cigarette butts....) and was accepted.

Later on, I learned that aside from having our nametags sewn on our shirts, we were instructed to have the same nametag sewn onto our back left trouser pocket "just in case you get blown in half...". In addition, I learned that we wore one dog tag around our necks at all times, and had the other laced into the left boot - "just in case you get shot down or blown to pieces - the can usually find a boot." 

Well, Alan, welcome to Vietnam...


still to be written:

    * First Mission - Ham Tan & the Aussie 8th RAR
    * Bu Dop - 8th MOB's hell
    * FSB Snuffy - Djmap/Bu Gia Map - Jan
    * Duc Phong -
          o 'penetrating the jungle'
          o Jim Wade's last mission
    * Tonle Cham
    * An Thoi Island
          o difficult runway
          o VC Prisoners
    * That Son - learning to speak Vietnamese
    * Long Thanh
    - supporting the Cambodia Incursion Kham Duc - Dave gets it in the ass
    * Close call at Phuc Vinh - "In God I Trust"
    * FSB Snuffy - Djmap/Bu Gia Map - January, April, June & July
    * A Body is a Heavy Thing - Tay Ninh
    * Katum
    * More Bodies - Easter at Katum
    * Tonle Cham - an anxious walk in the sun
     (where's the SF team?)
    * Tonle Cham -
      incoming mortars + nervous aircrew = "melons on the ramp"
    * Tonle Cham - "speed offload"
    * Tonle Cham May 30
      Cambodia
      11 ACR "flower power"
    * Kent State
    * That Son - VC 50 cal gets Aussie Caribou

 
  • First Mission - 
  • Ham Tan & the Aussie 8th RAR

    rolling a cigarette (since I thought I was still really a cowboy), the Aussies thought it was a joint! ;)


  • Bu Dop - 8th MOB's hell
    Web Layton was killed and nearly everyone on the team was wounded. December, 1969

  • FSB Snuffy - Djmap/Bu Gia Map - Jan
    We were the first ones back in to what appeared to be a pristine land - a large field of waving grass, old runway markers and rumors that Vietcong had flown small planes in and out of here for years... Later, this became one of the major resupply transit points for the Cambodian Incursion in June.
    ... and the beatiful field was a muddy morass, littered with the trash of war and tons and tons of rain-soaked bags of rice, fermenting under the hot sun...
    In July, we lost 3 choppers in one day.
    Ground attacks and 'mad minutes' at night.
    It was a beautiful, but dangerous place - and is now a nature preserve....

  • Duc Phong - 
    'penetrating the jungle'
    I went down through the village to the river to fill our canteens. The locals were decided not friendly. I didn't learn until later that the reason we were there was to evacuate the Special Forces camp and give the area back to Charlie. Looking back, I can only figure that it was just our naive ignorance - and our armament - plus the fear of a retaliatory airstrike on the village - saved us from an unpleasant situation that afternoon...

  • Jim Wade's last mission
    We had found a number of discarded frag grenades along the side of the runway - hopefully simply dumped when some US soldiers were about to board their aircraft and leave. Nonetheless, we had to scout them up and disarm them. Jim Wade was on his last mission; he was so short that we didn't want him blown up. He wouldn't have it, and sat there unscrewing grenade fuses along with the rest of us, almost daring Vietnam to get him before he escaped to "The World".

  • Tonle Cham

  • An Thoi Island
  • difficult runway
  • VC Prisoners

  • That Son -
    learning to speak Vietnamese: "Me" vs "M~y"

  • Katum
    More Bodies - Easter Sunday (or April 1st, it appears) at Katum
    Attacks on FB Jay and Ellingsworth leave 7 KIA

    The day dawned beatifully in Saigon. We headed out just after sunrise and the sun was a big red 'rising sun' - just like on the flag of Japan. It was an amazing morning.

    Then we flew to Katum...
    and loaded 7 KIAs from the previous night's attacks on Jay and Ellingsworth (Illingsworth).

    "A sapper attack at Katum during the night of 23 July resulted in several friendly KIA"
    from website of the artillary unit that there.

    Air Force pilots used to refer to Katum as "Kaboom" due to the hazards of flying into this dangerous airstrip.


  • Tonle Cham - an anxious walk in the sun

  • Tonle Cham - "speed offload"
    - incoming mortars + nervous aircrew = "melons on the ramp"

  • Tonle Cham May 30
  • on to Cambodia 
    11 ACR "flower power"
    Kent State
  • That Son - VC 50 cal gets Aussie Caribou


    • Long Thanh - supporting the Cambodia Incursion



    The (20-yr) "old veteran" at Long Thanh, spring, 1970
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    This was the same day that Sgt. Dave Gfeller was wounded at Kham Duc. We heard a radio report by Sgt Charlie Brown that he needed "a replacement Controller", which could only mean that Dave was out of action. 
    -------
    Later, that night, Dave made it back to Bldg #872 - MOB barracks in Saigon. He'd bit hit in the ass by the fin of a B-40 - an RPG - just before it blew up 20 yards away - and he lived to tell the tale...
    -------
    But, that close call bothered him for years afterwards. We were together again at Norton AFB, but the experience had an impact....




    • Kham Duc - Dave gets it in the ass - literally - from an RPG
    • Close call at Phuc Vinh - rockets

    • "In God I Trust" - 
    • Tay Ninh - A Body is a Heavy Thing - KIAs in body bags
    • Tonle Cham - snipers ponpoint our OL

    • FSB Snuffy - Djmap/Bu Gia Map - June
      We had re-opened Djamap in January. By mid-June, it had handled so much traffic and warehoused so much cargo of all sorts, that the pristine field of waving grass was replaced by a quagmire of mud, and tons and tons of stinking, fermenting rice brought back from caches in Cambodia

      We also had a wide array of 'stuff' taken from the Vietcong during the incursion. We had 2 American made Willys jeeps - old ones - apparently left over from WWII. We found sewing machines with "China Made" printed in Engish on the sides.


      There was all kind of ammunition, and equipment - and bicycles! "Ho Chi Minh pickup trucks" from an underground factory across the border. We had at least 3 pallet loads of bicycles and bicycle parts which we sent back to Tay Ninh. and more an more. lots more to write.... at another time.
    • Djmap - July - Blue Max is down, Piot KIA. CH-46 goes down in the valley. A Loach lands silently behind me.


    Tour cut short - A surprise ending to my Vietnam Adventure

    Chronology - Where I was and when

    • to be added

    Cast of Characters

    • Sgt Neil "Brownie" Brown - A grandfather now, alive and well and living near his hometown in Ohio.
    • Sgt Gerry "2k" Bickford 
    • Sgt Jim "lifer" Wade
    • A1C Scott McCoy (wia)
    • SSgt Jim Green (wia)
    • Ssgt Doug Cave (wia)
    • Re-up? "When I get out I'm gonna Rob Banks and sleep in ditches...."
      (who was the tall guy who coined that phrase?)
    • Ssgt Roy Shinley (retired from the USAF and became a commercial airline pilot - in photo on home page has promised to send photos.)
    • Ssgt Web Layton (KIA) Layton's on the Wall in Washington - panel 15W, Row 037
      Ssgt Layton was a Loadmaster and  member of 8th Aerial Port Squadron Mobility Operations Branch when he was killed during a Viet Cong rocket and mortar attack at BuDop in December, 1969.

    • Sgt Dave Gfeller (wia) Dave was wounded at Kham Duc in June, 1970
    • Ssgt Nick Sylvestri (loadmaster from NJ who left the MOB and Vietnam. We met again at U-Tapao, Thailand in December with a C-141 full of Christmas Trees!)
    • Rob "Kit" Carson - found me through this website. "Is this THE Sgt. Runfeldt?" ;)<>
      See his photos from Tay Ninh, 1970 - also a granfather now - no longer a skinny kid in cammies.

    U-Tapao, Thailand - The young Sgt - too much rank too soon
  • Defending the Mob Team
  • Beer in the Colonel's face...
  • Air America job offer

  •  

     

    Norton AFB, California- The young Ssgt - and still too much rank too soon

  • Riggers School (not to be)
  • Conflicts with the Colonel (cost me some stripes, but worth each one...)

  •  

     

    Epilogue - 12 years of nightmares and anger

  • To the cop: "Why don't you just shoot me now!?"
  • Alone... Alone and wandering... a vagabond by choice.
  • Yes, PSTD is real.....
  • It finally ends when I learn to give of myself - to those who need help - Vietnamese refugees in California

  • Epilogue - 15 years later
    California - 1984
    New friends & catharsis in Little Saigon, California
    at Nhat Bao Nguoi Viet

    My new friends at the Vietnames Daily News; friends who suffered far more loss than I did...
    • Yen Do (Do Ngoc Yen) - "When the Vietcong arrived in Saigon, it was like Brigadoon"
    • Tong Hoang - man of many names...
    • Nguyen Co - wound up in Norway before finding his way to California
    • Chi Yen - husband in Vietcong prison
    • Ming Thuy - imprisoned multiple times before escaping by boat
    • Pham Quoc Bao - 6 years of 're-education' - watching his friends die in captivity, reading 'GWTW' - smuggled into camp in small batches - as wrapping for food brought by his sister
    • Pham Cuong - opened the first fresh noodle factory in Little Saigon
    • Du Quang - his wife was on the cover of National Geographic
    • Nguyen Viet - gave his people their language on the PC
    Nguyen Viet and Diplomat Software - Vietnamese and more on the PC

    Epilogue - 30 years later 
    y2k in New Jersey - a farm-based webgeek - & digging it... 
    What happened to this guy? resume, y2k

    Hooking up with old buddies

    • Neil Brown - back in touch in Ohio
    • Rob Carson - meeting in Little Saigon
    • Roy Shinley - a surprise from the past
    • Where is Doug Cave?
    • Reunions (a result of this web site)
    • We missed Bickford. We all miss Gerry Bickford...
    30 years later - married and settled down.
    Yes, it finally happened. I hit on some good work (database programming on the internet), started a small, successful business with my brother and finally, after 53 years of bachelorhood, married the sweetest girl in town. It's been 18 months so far, and it's great. We're buying the house with 9 wooded acres and a rock-bed creek going right through the back yard. A fitting next chapter to a life-long adventure...

    40 years later - caught by the after-effects of Agent Orange exposure -
     

    to be continued...

     

    . .. continued.. Jan, 2007
    I recently stumbled upon the works of John Pilger. One of his films was made at FSB Snuffy (Djamap to USAF). I would like to contact him about his outtakes - to see if he filmed us at work. For now, here's a link to his articles about Vietnam http://www.johnpilger.com/page.asp?partid=273

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