Sunday, February 24, 2013

"I slept in two hootches two stories tall..."

My Dad died last July 3, and I cobbled all of the below together on July 5, and whatever it is, it isn't my usual.  It's a classroom report, something to cut and paste on those posterboard set ups they sell kids who have a presentation to make.  It's pure as gold and it's pure crap, both.  Anyway, it's draft clean-up time again, probably the quickest road to fallen pride, if not humility, that I know.

"Better late than never, though there's nothing much wrong with 'never,' really..."
-- My Family Creed


G'morning, Faithful Readers.  Probably one of the most important, or influential, times of my father's life was as a co-commander of a base in Viet Nam.  We'll call it PRAB because that's what they called it.  I know only a few things about what happened to him and to his men and to his enemies and to the civilians he overflew there, and these memories are filtered through a kid's desperate desire to not understand, so I'm posting, instead, photos from that time and place.

Also, I found a neat archive of a guestbook where USAF personnel stationed at PRAB left a word or two.  It's a place of considerable understatement, which jives with my lifelong experience with The Colonel.  You had but to look in his eyes -- and who could do that for longer than two seconds? -- to see that he would never ever speak to you, or anyone, about what happened to him and to his men and to his enemies and to the civilians he overflew there.  Anyway, I do know that we heard some FUNNY stories about purported antics committed by Our Colonel.  A few were corroborated with photography, some with involontary snorting, and there are a few that I think were just made up.  It's apparent from the entries at the online guestbook that humor was a Saving Grace.

My biggest challenges were getting 
throttle actuators for the J-85s and Type II cleaning
solvent for docks so they could clean the R2800s.
Depot never could get the actuators and they
finally broke the solvent problem by getting it in
Singapore instead of a stateside depot. Also, we
had quite a time getting straight brooms so the
crew chiefs could clean out the cargo bays after
hauling elephants, nauseous native personnel and
leaking diesel fuel bladders. Flashlight
batteries were a problem as were the cargo
rollers. Other than that, a piece of cake.

shop area at PRAB

My first night on base was the night we 
had a mortar, rocket and sapper attack. A bomb 
loaded F-100 was hit below the tower and tower
personnel could be heard on Giant Voice telling
someone to get them out of there. The next
morning at Security Police building, all the
failed sappers were laid out for photographers
to take their pictures. Not a good night for
Charlie. As I remember, a K-9 alerted to the
attack before Charlie could make it to the 

flight line.

Panoramic PRAB

I volunteered to go to Vietnam. I
believed it 

was my duty and the least I could do. 

I met a 
great bunch of guys that loved to drink J.B. I
lived on cans of pineapple slices because I was
always hungry. Worked on the F-100's and the F-
4c's. I loved the Aussie B-47's especially when
they started up with the cartridges. Really cool
looking. I have some old slides of the guys and
the field. Remember hitch hiking and taking the
bus down town and getting some barbequed dog.
Really tasty. lol..

 Movie theater area. Movie Projector shack is
on the left. Movies were projected onto the side wall of the
inflatable warehouse. 

 I was crew chief on F-100D 56-2911. 

Had "Ding How" painted on the nose. It was the 
Sq. C.O. acft "Buzz Sawyer". We lived in tents, moved

into hooches and wooden barracks were being

built just before I left. 
I painted several sleds with 

nose art. Sure 

wish there were pics of them now. 

Often wonder 

where the old aircraft went and 

all the guys that 

crewed them. Its been so long now. 

All the pics 

I had from that era have been lost but sites like
this bring back so many memories....
I retired in 79 and went to the wilds of Maine
where I could enjoy mountains, four seasons,
trees, wildlife and escape the roar of the J-57.

Phan Rang is actually composed of twin towns; Phan Rang and Thap Cham. It is a small town on the coast with its main attraction being Cham historical remnants and towers in the surrounding area. The Cham Empire thrived in and around Phan Rang from around the 8th century its fall in the 17th century. The Phan Rang region is very dry, as it manages to avoid the summer and winter monsoons. It averages only 60cm of rain per year. The immediate area around Phan Rang is very beautiful and is interspersed with grape gardens and is the home of the best dragon fruit in Vietnam.

The main attraction in Phan Rang is a small group of Cham towers which sit by the roadside 7 km on the road to Dalat. These towers were built in the early 14th century as Hindu temples during the Cham Empire. They have been beautifully preserved. The towers were named after the King who invented a system of irrigation used in local villages. As the tourist buses from Nha Trang to Dalat pass through Phan Rang, the Cham towers are seen as a convenient place to take a break along the way. The result of which is that the towers are periodically swarmed by travelers heading north and south. In the center of the largest temple is an ancient linga (phallic symbol) with a human face painted on it. The other towers still retain their beautiful shapes and the carved details are clearly visible.

1000 lb bombs ready for loading

I remember when we were infiltrated in Jan and 
then in Feb 69 by CHARLIE. If I remember

correctly an F-100 and a B-57 were damaged.
The Super-cops shot I think 11 VC and then
displayed them in the parking lot in front of
the BX. One VC was a barber who used to cut my
hair at the barber shop.

"Viet Nam Baby Lift," Wayne Day

I was an aircraft Loadmaster on the 
Bookie Birds. I arrived from Travis AFB, CA where I flew 
on C-141s and after leaving Phan Rang went to
McGuire AFB, NJ, back on C-141s. Went back to
Travis in 73 and retired in 76.
Lot of memories GOOD & BAD. Few scary occasions. 
Always looked for and counted bullet holes upon 
landing back at Phan Rang.

Members of No. 2 Squadron’s Australian Airfield Defence Guard (ADG)
prepare to fire on suspicious movement while on patrol outside the perimeter
of the base at Phan Rang in 1969.

 I slept in two hootches two stories tall no air conditioning
in a 2 man room. Next moved to new 35 AMS
Sqadron hootch 20 rooms open floor plan 2 people
per cubicle that if you slept in the top bunk and
jumped out of bed you hit the two lockers that
were a part of the room. Where was the air
conditioned 2, 4 and 6 man rooms...hmmm? Dusty
yes NCO club yes, Airmens club was pitiful.
Entry to down town Phan Rang banned so Dodge
City was the primary choice of recreation to the
Airmen. Mayor of Phang Rang was the reason for
banning visiting the city do to Pathet Lao,
Chicom and NVA activity in the area. Someone
asked the question someplace about getting hit
with rockets and mortars. 1969 Phan Rang by
number not volume beat out Da Nang meaning we had
more weapons dropped on us than they did and I
can testify to that in that working graveyard
shift a month didn't go buy where I didn't find
myself in the bunker next to the 35 AMS building.
One last thing the 3rd snack bar was next to the
hanger across the street from the AMS building
had the worst hamburgers in the world. After 6
weeks and Mess Hall food they tasted pretty

When Dad had things he thought were "heavy" to explain, I was always summoned to the Master Bedroom, my stepmom usually intensely, obsessively engaged in the application of moisturizer to her face, neck, arms, and legs.  We were supposed to pretend she was not there. And so we did.

He asked me if I knew the story of Washington crossing the Delaware, and though I did not (I could, however, reference several paintings of that watery passage, with Washington idiotically standing upright in what looked to me like a rowboat) -- I nodded an assent.  Then came the brilliant segue, that to this day leaves me aghast and close to drooling:  "Well, what if no one had volunteered to row the boat?"

That was his way of explaining that he'd been assigned to go to Vietnam.

The emphasis on volunteerism was a nice touch, especially since he certainly owed no service time to that war, having flown in it and around it for many years already.  And especially since he fought his superiors tooth-and-nail in an effort to get them to tally his air time over Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos and *then* dare to tell him he owed a year "in country."  Didn't flying "hospital" planes, heavy lunky dumpy planes, didn't flying the wounded out to Clark AFB for medical minsitrations count for something -- flying low, flying invisible, in one of the heaviest planes in the world -- so deft a touch, so one with the mission, keeping it light so the nurses would not scare, an Albert Schweitzer of the air -- was that all for naught?

The year and a few months that he was gone were the best years of my fucked-up family's life, and I felt ashamed for every day that I was happy.

The day that he came home, I broke my stepsister's hair dryer, and was so afraid of starting out his return in trouble that I gooped it back together with some inappropriate glue and when it wouldn't stick, I hid it.  When my StepMom drove the car into the driveway, and we all stood there, in a line, waiting, mourning our days of freedom fun, all I could think was "I broke her hair dryer and now I'm going to get in trouble." Look in the eyes, and bullet understatement trouble.

What you don't understand is that I was never forgiven for anything I ever did wrong. Never. Not for a broken hair dryer, for not eating my eggs, or for the most horrible sin you can imagine.  Wrong was wrong, and wrong was not forgiven.

When he got out of the car, he looked like he needed us.

His head was shrunken, all bone, all old. His eyes looked too big for that shriveled face.  And his voice cracked.  "I'm home," he said, his voice cracking, and he cried.

No comments:

Post a Comment

The Haddock Corporation's newest dictate: Anonymous comments are no longer allowed. It is easy enough to register and just takes a moment. We look forward to hearing from you non-bots and non-spammers!