Sun and Fun in Vietnam

1969 – Vietnam – 1st Unit

South Vietnam MapMy first 12 months in Nam were with the 1st BDE, 101st Airborne Division.  This unit was located in I Corp, which is found right below the DMZ.  12 months in the sun and fun capital of the world.  As a parachute rigger (43E), we had the honor and privilege of making sure the combat troops had everything they needed.  A lot of this was accomplished from the firebases built in the A Shau Valley.

I was the radioman at the resupply chopper pads at the firebases where I was.  There was occasional sniper fire, but they were either bad shots or didn’t really try to hit me.  I was on FB Birmingham for awhile, then back to Camp Eagle outside Hue/Phu Bai.  I was then sent to help open up FB Blaze.  That was interesting.

The first night at FB Blaze, the perimeter was not completely up.  I was on an APC manning the machine gun.  At about 0200, all of us on that side of the perimeter started smelling real strong marijuana smoke blowing in from outside our position.  That raised the excitement level a notch or two.  I called the major at the CP and he came down to our position.  He looked at all of us and told us to keep our eyes open. We had already figured that out.

Chinook with Sling LoadThe rest of my tour was spent running Air Item Supply for the brigade making sure the combat troops got what they needed by chopper resupply.  There is nothing more exciting than standing underneath a Chinook helicopter that is hovering about a foot over your head while you hook up a load.  This is what an Army parachute rigger lives for.  On one occasion, while hooking up a load, the wind shifted.  A fast gust of wind pushed the Chinook sideways just as I was putting the donut ring onto the hook.  I was hit in the forehead with the static discharge and then by the hook itself in the same spot the spark hit.  That left a mark.

1970 – Cambodia Here We Come – 2nd Unit

Southeast Asia MapI extended my tour and transferred to the other rigger unit for my next 6 months.  5 days after I reported in, President Nixon sent us all to Cambodia.  Our unit spent its time pulling arms caches back out of the jungle.  We did this for about 2 weeks.  On the way back out, our unit was ambushed.  The truck in front and the truck in back of the one I was in were both hit.  Our company commander was in the truck in front.  He and the driver were both hurt but not killed.  No one was hurt in the truck behind us.  The armored cavalry unit that was pulling security for us also had some injuries.  They had several of their vehicles hit.  Their tank fired a white phosphorus round into a tree.  That lit up the area real well with the fire it started.   You could see people running all over the place away from us then.  The machine gun fire was right behind them.

We arrived at a place in middle of the night.  It was called Lộc Ninh.  It is not too far back inside South Vietnam.  We were told to put our gear into a big barn and sleep there.  About the time we were all asleep, there was a very loud roar right outside the barn.  We all rolled over grabbing our M16’s and were ready for a fight.  It turned out to be a minigun mounted in a jeep followed by a deuce and a half hauling ammo for it.  They were firing along the perimeter.  It scared the poop out of all of us.  There was no more excitement or sleep for any of us the rest of the night.

A few months later and I was back home.  Processing out took about 5 hours.  No one asked if I was ok, or asked me if I was troubled by anything.  I got my discharge papers, my final pay, and then the SP4 clerk yelled – Next!

I walked out the door into Oakland, California.  The only plans I have at this point in my life is to go back to school.  I had finished 3 semesters at Washington State University before going into the military.  I now have the time and money to go back and finish school.  Pullman, Washington here I come!

About James Kirby

Our group has been hiking, backpacking and camping in various parts of the world for over 50 years. We have been from Alaska to Texas and from Virginia to California. There have been extensive extreme levels overseas both in Europe and the Pacific while some of us were in the military. We have experienced the good times and survived the bad times. You will be amazed at how creative you can be when you forget something that you need! Through it all we have never lost our sense of adventure and are still looking to see what is over the next ridge line.
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