Charlie in the Mess Hall


The following is an accurate account of the capture of a suspected VC/NVA working in the 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry, 1st Air Cavalry Division mess hall in Phuoc Vinh, Vietnam. The year was 1970 while I was serving with the Charlie Troop Blues. I ate many meals at this mess hall and surely looked this guy square in the eyes, not knowing who’s side he was on.

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New mess hall (right) built to replace the one that burned in 1969.
Photo courtesy of Jim Delp

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1st Lt Ralph Diaz (C company 31 Engr. Bn. 79 GP 20th Eng. Bde.) was the project engineer and platoon leader that built the new mess hall.

POW STORY by Larry Donaldson

308053_536935043004397_773982174_nI remember that morning as being hot. The kind of hot no matter how climatized one was it promised to be a day of slow steps and a lot of liquid. I went to the flight line and watched the slicks take off with my platoon members and saying a prayer that they all came back safe and sound. I policed up the flight line of any trash and then I saw a Willie Pete grenade laying by the conex. “What was that doing there?” I thought. I reached down and picked it up. It sloshed. I stood there looking at it and waiting for myself to disappear in a flash of white burning light. I stood there and stood there looking at it. I gently placed it back on the pina prime. Walked backwards very slowly and took off for the OR (orderly room) to report it and have EOD come get it. That done, I went back to the conex. Yep, still there.

After what seemed an eternity a EOD Sp/4 showed up, asking me some questions, and walked over to the grenade. He picked it up and shook it, tossed it in the air and caught it with a behind the back catch. Me? I was shitting myself!

He just smiled at me and said something like, “Yep! She’s a hot one alright!” I didn’t want to know really what a “hot one” meant No, not at all and just wanted him to take that thing far away from me and the flight line as possible.

Once gone I opened the conex, after checking for trip wires, etc. (still spooked) and checked the ammo and the spare M-60’s we had hid.I looked for the spare Ma Deuces we also sto……borrowed…….and made sure it was well concealed. I thought about what a way to start a day. Little did I know.

I went to the hanger to check on a slick to see when she’d be ready to fly again. Filled out some paperwork and SSG Gonzalez asked me how my studying was coming along. I told him great, and I’d be ready for a test soon.

History here. I was a bonafide 11B40 killer assigned as a platoon sergeant to Lift Platoon and now had a PMOS of 67N40. That magic of that Army OJT thing converted me somewhere up there in the sky. I could pull a 25 hour PM, was a competent door-gunner, an expert shot, but didn’t understand the first thing about being a 67N40. If I was sent stateside with that MOS, I knew I would be a poor excuse for maintenance NCO. SSG Gonzalez lent me manuals to study and would kindly quiz me after I studied for a while.

By this time, it was nearing noon chow, and I stopped by the mess hall to see what was on the noon menu. That done I headed for the hooch to finish some paperwork so decided to skip lunch.

I went to my cubicle and did just that. I cranked the fan on high and stripped to my undershorts. After that, I checked the platoon members personal areas to make sure all was secured (yet) and being the bad guy checked for stashes of pot. I kept missing those small baggies all the time unless I could plainly see them and if I did I hid them better from the prying eyes of the senior NCO’s and officers.

I got into a bullshit session with PSG Bryant (White Mike). He told me all the latest gossip supposedly going on around the troop, to include the big MP dog catcher patrol coming up in the near future. He was right. It did happen, but that’s another chapter in Lift Platoon.

I redressed, and strapped on my side arm and headed for the hanger again. I had just walked past the side of the mess hall when “Old Papasan” came running towards me with his stick with the nail in it for picking up trash in the squadron area. He kept yelling, “Trung Si! Trung Si! VC! VC! VC!” I had never seen him move that fast nor that look on his face. I mean I’d lend him a cigarette or two throughout the day but I never considered him a great pal or ally!

He was pissed off about something and kept pointing to the back of the mess hall. There, hanging out the door, stood this gook that was smoking a cigarette and watching us. I recognized him immediately.

He had a white-wall haircut ever since I could remember. He worked on the service line and always had a look of disgust on his face each time he served a GI. I said something jokingly to him once about his haircut, and he just sneered at me. Every time he saw me he’d give me that sneer. One day I raised my hand into a finger pistol and pretended to shoot him. He saw me. He just sneered bigger and had a look of, “I dare you”, in his face. We soon disliked each other immensely. He reminded me of NVA regulars I had seen before only cleaner.

Anyway, back to the story. I unholstered my Colt 1911 and jacked a round into the chamber and followed Papasan to accused VC. Papasan kept repeating “VC! VC! Trung Si. Numba fuckin ten!”

I never took my eyes from that character in the door, and when he started to move to go back inside I yelled to him, “DUNG LAI! DUNG LAI!” (Stop! Stop!) as I raised and pointed my sidearm at him. “GIO TAY LEN!” (Hands up!) as I motioned with my pistol to put his hands up. He hesitated and looked back inside the mess hall. I yelled even louder, “LAM DI! NGAY BAY GIO! MEDO NGU!” (Do it! Now! Mother Fu$#@*!) That got him moving to comply and besides the end of the barrel of the .45 cal. was only now three feet away from his face. Then, “XOUNG! CODO’OC TREN GOI CUA BAN!” (Down! Get on your knees!)

He did, and Papasan nailed him, no pun intended, with the nail end of his litter stick. The whole time he had an intense look of hatred in his eyes and never took his eyes off mine. I mean I was dead if the eyes could’ve done it. I knew right then he was exactly what Papasan said he was. If he had been innocent, he would have started jabbering and pleading that he was not VC/NVA! I did a one hand pat down then.

I stepped behind him and forcibly put his hands behind his head all the while pressing the .45 cal. into his skull.

I guided him to the troop OR with Papasan guarding him with the stick. When I reached the OR Papasan opened the door, and I shoved him inside.

Top Chewning was behind his desk and was looking at me like, “What the hell are you doing now?”

Got a prisoner for you Top. Papasan says he’s a VC. Papasan was nodding his head up and down so fast that I thought he would break his neck. Top just said, “Sir.”

The Troop CO came out, and I explained to him what had transpired. He was a captain and a former SF officer on a previous tour. I forgot his name.

He asked “Chuckles” some basic questions and “Chuckles” gave him that same intense look of hatred and didn’t even open his mouth. The CO told Top to call the White Mice (South Vietnamese police).

He then asked Papasan why he turned him in. Papasan replied that after every noon meal that he would get leftovers that were being thrown out to eat and maybe take some home with him. Chuckles had chased Papasan away from the garbage that day and when Papasan snuck back after he had thought Chuckles was gone Chuckles jumped out of the door and hit Papasan. Papasan took off running, and that was when he saw me.

Luckily I listened to him.

The White Mice showed up. The CO told them what had happened, and they nodded and took Chuckles away.

Papasan and I were dismissed with a “Good Job.” I took Papasan to my hooch and while he waited outside I went in and came back out and gave him some packs of cigarettes.

(FAST FORWARD ABOUT TWO WEEKS)

I headed for the flight line one day to help a 25 hour PM when Top called me into the orderly room. He proceeded to give me an update on Chuckles.

Chuckles was a hard case, and it took almost a week and a half to break him.

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Stolen Valor


Fake Warriors

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Whenever I see someone wearing a Vietnam Veteran cap I ask them who they served with in Vietnam. Nine times out of ten I get an answer that is legit and we welcome each other home.

It’s rare to come across a wannabe, but it happens. Some time ago, I walked up to a guy in a grocery store with a cap displaying Vietnam Veteran. As usual, I asked the guy who he was with. After some small talk, he confessed that he was on a ship heading to Vietnam, but for some reason, never made it’s destination. I turned my back for just a second and he was gone.

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On June 03, 2013, President Obama signed into law the latest version of the Stolen Valor Act, which makes it a federal crime for people to pass themselves off as war heroes by wearing medals they didn’t rightfully earn.
The legislation passed both houses of Congress with overwhelming majorities.

An earlier version, passed in 2005, was struck down in June 2012 when the Supreme Court ruled that lying about military heroics was constitutionally protected speech unless there was intent to gain some benefit or something of value by fraud.

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One of many

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Television Coverage of the Vietnam War


The First “Living-Room War”

I entered high school in the middle 60’s when the war in Vietnam was escalating at a rapid pace. Newspapers and magazines were plastered with photos and stories about our involvement in Vietnam. The top stories on the nightly world news were always about the war. Newsmen were often in the middle of the action reporting the horrors of war as it happened.

I enlisted in the Navy shortly after graduating from high school and was on the 120-day delay program before I would become active. The Navy never occurred due to an untimely event in my life. I then became eligible for the draft and I knew Vietnam would be my fate…

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John Hlavacek

In early December 1970, I had the privilege of meeting John Hlavacek a reporter/foreign correspondent for a midwest television station. I was no longer with the Charlie Troop Blues due to an injury on the greenline of Phuoc Vinh and was chosen to be our Troop mail clerk for the remainder of my tour.

John’s mission was to film and interview soldiers serving in Vietnam from the TV viewing area around Sioux City, IA and Omaha, NE. He was putting together a program to be viewed as a TV Special during the 1970 Christmas Holidays. The families of the soldiers were notified by the TV stations ahead of times they could watch their loved ones when the program aired.

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Walter Cronkite

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Dan Rather

“I always want to emphasize, I felt honored — and I use the word measuredly — to cover American men and women in combat in Vietnam. Because, what everyone may think of the war — it may have been the wrong war and the wrong place at the wrong time for the wrong reasons — but the Americans who went there, went there for the right reason. They went there because they loved their country, and their county had asked them to go.”

-Dan Rather

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Photographer Dickey Chapelle

Chaplain John McNamara of Boston makes the sign of the cross as he administers the last rites to photographer Dickey Chapelle in South Vietnam Nov. 4, 1965. Chapelle was covering a U.S. Marine unit on a combat operation near Chu Lai for the National Observer when she was seriously wounded, along with four Marines, by an exploding mine. She died in a helicopter en route to a hospital. She became the first female war correspondent to be killed in Vietnam, as well as the first American female reporter to be killed in action. Her body was repatriated with an honor guard consisting of six Marines and she was given full Marine burial.

There were more images of conflict and battles in Vietnam than any previous war. Many scholars consider Vietnam to be one of the most well documented wars in modern times. War reporters began to report on the bloody battles of the Vietnam War and the Washington politics surrounding it. The American people began losing faith in the war effort and the government. “Reports during the Vietnam War and images from the front line on television were crucial factors in turning public opinion against the war.

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The Truth about the Vietnam War


Did the United States win or lose the Vietnam War?

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In late 1972, South Vietnam and the United States were winning the Vietnam War decisively by every conceivable measure. That was the view of our enemy, the North Vietnamese government officials. Victory was apparent when President Nixon ordered the U.S. Air Force to bomb industrial and military targets in Hanoi, North Viet Nam’s capital city, and in Haiphong, its major port city, and we would stop the bombing if the North Vietnamese would attend the Paris Peace Talks that they had left earlier. The North Vietnamese did go back to the Paris Peace talks, and we did stop the bombing as promised.

Cease-Fire

On January the 23rd, 1973, President Nixon gave a speech to the nation on primetime television announcing that the Paris Peace Accords had been initialed by the United States, South Vietnam, North Vietnam, the Viet Cong, and the Accords would be signed on the 27th. What the United States and South Vietnam received in those accords was victory. At the White House, it was called “VV Day,” “Victory in Vietnam Day.”

The truth is that our military won the war, but our politicians lost it. The Communists in North Vietnam actually signed a peace treaty, effectively surrendering. But the U.S. Congress didn’t hold up its end of the bargain.

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General Vo Nguyen Giap

General Giap was a brilliant, highly respected leader of the North Vietnam
military. The following quote is from his memoirs currently found in the
Vietnam war memorial in Hanoi:

“What we still don’t understand is why you Americans stopped the bombing
of Hanoi. You had us on the ropes. If you had pressed us a little harder,
just for another day or two, we were ready to surrender! It was the same
at the battles of TET. You defeated us! We knew it, and we thought you
knew it. But we were elated to notice your media was definitely helping
us. They were causing more disruption in America than we could in the
battlefields. We were ready to surrender. You had won!”

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Fall of Saigon

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Tri-City Military Vehicle Club


Military Vehicle Owners

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On my way home one day, I passed a guy driving a 1/4 ton Military Jeep on Clearwater Avenue in Kennewick, WA. It was very much like the one I drove in Vietnam 44 years ago. I was curious where he got it.

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I met the driver of that jeep (Art Moore) at a Veterans group meeting shortly after. He is one of the founders of Tri-City Military Vehicle Club.

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He is involved in the Tri City Military Vehicle Club with his 3 military vehicles he takes to shows, parades and military events. He owns a 1951 M37 Jeep (Korean War), a 1946 (one year post WWII) Willy’s Jeep, and a 1964 Dodge M43 Military Ambulance. The TCMVC is a loosely organized club with no elected officers, no dues, just events for military vehicle owners to participate in. The club welcomes all Military Vehicle owners & friends in the Tri City (Kennewick, Richland, Pasco) and Lower Columbia Basin of Washington State!

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10894173826_ea3c30872b_bArt Moore was a Builder 2nd Class in the US Navy “Seabees” during the Vietnam War. He completed “A School” at Port Hueneme, CA in 1966 and worked his one year first duty station as a part of Public Works, US Naval Air Station, Kodiak, Alaska. He served with CBMU 301 (Mobile Construction Battalian) for one year (Apr 1968-April 1969) in the I Corps, Vietnam. There he led a crew of builders up and down the north rivers and into jungle LZ’s building everything from out-houses to bank vaults. Dong Ha, Qiang Tri, CUA Viet, LZ Betty, LZ Nancy, Rock Pile and more were some of the assignments. Art’s final duty station was Public Works at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard where he was honorably discharged to the US Navy Reserve in October 1969.

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Tri-City Military Vehicle Club on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tri-City-Military-Vehicle-Club/360725387365414

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Hardware Left Behind In Vietnam


Fuel tanks jettisoned by U.S. fighter jets

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Tactical jet planes heavily rely on the JP-4 fuel loaded on the external fuel tanks. However, the auxiliary fuel tanks represent an additional weight, additional drag, and they will reduce the aircraft maneuverability.

In real combat, external fuel tanks are jettisoned when empty or as soon as the aircraft needs to get rid of them to accelerate and maneuver against an enemy fighter plane or to evade a surface to air missile.

Several thousand drop tanks were jettisoned over Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.

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And here you can see what happened to some of those that were recovered.

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2013 in review


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 51,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 19 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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