publisher Do Ngoc Yen, who led his people into the new world and
encouraged me to tell my own story
California December, 1969
Prior to serving in Vietnam, I had
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
enjoyed that aspect of my duty. But there was a certain conflict with
people I worked for - the "career NCO's". I knew that I was going to
- my hopes of being sent to Europe had already been replaced by the
that there "was a war on" and I'd be heading to Vietnam, like it or
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",
we referred to those older NCO's and with whom I had continual
- before during and after my time in Vietnam.
But I did get along well with
"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
at Tay Ninh, and suggested that I might be better suited to life at a
than at the main base in Saigon. He told me about the Dets & OLs
of 8th Aerial Port and suggested I try to get posted to a detachment
I did realize that duty at small
would likely be more dangerous than at Tan Son Nhut and life would be
a bit more difficult, living with the danger and without the creature
available in Saigon, but on balance, it promised a respite from the
I had experienced dealing with the authority figures in the
Vietnam January, 1970
The memory of my arrival is
mostly blur of disconnected images; the opening scene of the movie
was eerily accurate in its depiction of the images and feelings of
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
focus on my personal mission; escape the bureaucracy of a main base
Tan Son Nhut, and escape to the back country where I would be judged
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
to suit me, so when I arrived in Vietnam - before I even signed in to
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
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
of the third NCO in our leadership.)
Although all detachments
staffed at the time, Ssgt Web Layton's death at BuDop just 4 weeks
had left them short handed and they were looking for a new MOB team
do I always think of the phrase "here's some fresh blood" when I recall
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
After a few hours of intense interview, they decided to give me a
to see if I could "fit in" to one of their very close-knit and active
This interview was the most
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
Force Specialty code for "Air Freight Specialist".)
Bldg 872 - Home of the 8th MOB
I was directed to the 8th
barracks - bldg 872 near the passenger terminal at Tan Son Nhut and
in with my gear. The barracks echoed emptiness, with only 3 airmen
in one area, drinking beer and playing cards. They welcomed me and,
hands, gave me a rather exagerrated account of what I would be
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."
the time!!?? my mind exclaimed!) "Mostly, it's just hard work and
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
of the past few months' missions. Only four weeks before, the Mob
the massacre at BuDop in which Layton was killed, a 10K AT was
in the flames of the fuel/ammuntion dump rocket attack, and nearly
member of the team was wounded and taken out via medevac.
We chatted and I dozed on the
they played, until after a few hours, they decided that they liked me
simply accepted my presence) and showed it by extinguishing their
into a warm, but freshly opened beer, and handed it to me to drink.
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
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
our nametags sewn on our shirts, we were instructed to have the same
sewn onto our back left trouser pocket "just in case you get blown in
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
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 Jim Wade's
* Tonle Cham
* An Thoi Island
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
* 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
11 ACR "flower power"
* Kent State
* That Son - VC 50 cal gets Aussie Caribou
- First Mission -
& the Aussie 8th
rolling a cigarette (since I thought I was still really a cowboy), the
Aussies thought it was a joint! ;)
Dop - 8th MOB's hell
Layton was killed and nearly everyone on the team was wounded.
Snuffy - Djmap/Bu Gia Map - Jan
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
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...
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".
An Thoi Island
to speak Vietnamese: "Me" vs
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
"A sapper attack at Katum during the
night of 23 July resulted in several friendly KIA"
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.
Cham - an anxious walk in the sun
Tonle Cham -
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
at Long Thanh, spring, 1970
was the same day that Sgt. Dave Gfeller was wounded at Kham Duc. We
a radio report by Sgt Charlie Brown that he needed "a replacement
which could only mean that Dave was out of action.
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
- and he lived to tell the tale...
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
Cham - snipers ponpoint
- FSB Snuffy -
Djmap/Bu Gia Map - June
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
- Djmap - July - Blue Max is
down, Piot KIA. CH-46 goes down in the valley. A Loach lands silently
Tour cut short - A surprise
to my Vietnam Adventure
Chronology - Where I was and
Cast of Characters
U-Tapao, Thailand - The young
Sgt - too
much rank too soon Defending the
Beer in the
- Sgt Neil "Brownie" Brown
- A grandfather now, alive and well and living near his
hometown in Ohio.
- Sgt Gerry "2k"
- 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
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
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.
Norton AFB, California- The
- and still too much rank too soon
(not to be)
(cost me some stripes, but worth each one...)
Epilogue - 12 years of
To the cop:
"Why don't you
just shoot me now!?"
a vagabond by choice.
Yes, PSTD is
It finally ends
when I learn to give of myself - to those who need help - Vietnamese
refugees in California
My new friends at the Vietnames Daily News; friends who suffered far
more loss than I did...
Epilogue - 15 years later
California - 1984
New friends & catharsis in
at Nhat Bao Nguoi Viet
Nguyen Viet and Diplomat Software
- Vietnamese and more on the PC
- Yen Do (Do Ngoc Yen) - "When
the Vietcong arrived in Saigon, it was like Brigadoon"
- Tong Hoang - man of many
- Nguyen Co - wound up in
Norway before finding his way to California
- Chi Yen - husband in
- 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
- 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
Epilogue - 30 years
y2k in New Jersey - a farm-based
- & digging it...
What happened to this guy? resume,
Hooking up with old buddies
30 years later - married and settled down.
- Neil Brown - back in touch
- Rob Carson - meeting in
- Roy Shinley - a surprise
- Where is Doug Cave?
- Reunions (a result of this
- We missed Bickford. We all
miss Gerry Bickford...
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