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Vietnam Revisited
Marshall Hawkins
"Rat Pack", January - March 1970
"Bandit 26", March - December 1970

I returned to Vietnam on July 31, 2000. I was motivated by an email I received from Jason Woodforth (Woody) who was an operations NCO for the Recondo School. The email contained an after action report on his trip back and mentioned a large number of sites I faintly recall, including his observations on traveling the road up to Dalat and remembering how he always flew over and wondered what it would be like.  Passages like that and also the fact that the memories were fading prompted me to make the trip.

I traveled with a group of people who actually had business there and coincidentally was a client of mine here in Oklahoma. (If you are affiliated with the IRS, I was available to give my client financial advice there, if needed, and as such all expenses were fully deductible.) They had made the trip several times and arranged for visa's and other detail. I also invited an old army buddy that commanded another FA battery in the same Battalion with me in Germany in '74. Steve Butcher spent two consecutive tours in 67&68 with the Cav as a forward observer, battery commander and liaison officer. He spent all his time there in the bush and had no social skills with the Vietnamese at all. I had a good time with him. (I finally told him what Chung We Mop meant (Fat Lieutenant) after we left. I was Die We Dep Tai (Handsome Captain) when introducing ourselves) Anyway, that was the traveling party.

We arrived in Saigon (Now Ho Chi Minh City) on August 2, saw the sights for a couple of days, drove up to Dalat (my idea), spent the night, drove back down to the coast and up to Nha Trang. I stayed in Nha Trang for four nights and then flew up to Danang to rejoin my party. Stayed there (Furama Resort on China Beach) for three more days (with daytrips to Hoi An, Marble Mountain, and Hue), then back to Saigon for a night before returning to the US on August 12.

This picture below is on Highway 1 between Phan Rang and Dong Ba Thin after coming down from Dalat. We had gotten down on the coastal plain in late afternoon and headed North on Highway 1 to Nha Trang. While driving, we watched a storm develop over the mountains. Both Steve and I were amazed at the sudden forming of the clouds from a clear sky to white, puffy clouds to a black, stratocumulus rain storm. All in about 3 minutes. (Okay, I wasn't looking at my watch but it was real quick! OK?) It's a wonder any of us flying there came home.

"Bandit 26" Out

Picture of the temple leading up to the Buddha.

Looking toward the airfield from the base of the Buddha

Yours truly posing in front of the Buddha.
(Except for the white hair, and volume of hair, and extra 30 pounds, and wrinkles, and facial scars, I look the same as I did in 1970.)

My buddy Steve and I at the base of the Buddha, looking North.
(I'm the good looking one on the left.)

From the base of the Buddha, looking North.

Going up to the Cham Towers. I don't remember ever visiting this when I was there but was very interesting.
Built between the 7th and 12th centuries, they were under reconstruction.

Another view reflecting the need for reconstruction

Another of the Towers

From the Cham Towers looking back South toward Nha Trang showing the mouth of the river.
Didn't ask the reason for the sad condition of the old bridge but looks like its well utilized as support for the water line.

Slightly North of the Cham Towers is the Hon Chong Promontory. Jutting out into the Bay, it has a spectacular view of the islands.
I remember flying over it beau coup times but don't remember ever visiting it. Has some neat "touristy" type shops not pictured.

Another reason I went back to Vietnam was to refresh my memory on some of the sights there. In this case, I'm not for sure it worked. I think I remember this pass in the mountains as "Dead Man Alley." I do remember as a Newbie, I was told to never fly through it because you would draw fire every time.

Apparently, those directions stuck because I don't ever remember flying through it.
We would always fly around the mountain to the North or around the coast to fly South.
Looking West from the top floor of the Nha Trang Lodge.

My buddy, Steve Butcher, below, in a pedicycle outside the Nha Trang Airport terminal. A pedicycle is a bicycle that has two front wheels with a seat mounted between them and collapsible awning that provides a basic form of transportation throughout the country. Men and boys make a comparatively nice living transporting paying passengers around. (Of course, I would always tip heavily due to the extra work involved in transporting me around) Anyway, it is a close and personal way of seeing the city, except for the traffic. There is only one rule about driving anywhere in Vietnam- that rule-There are no rules! Bicycles, mopeds, cars and large trucks (and yep, pedicycles) all try to occupy the same space at the same time. The only way of coping with it is "don't look back."

The guy standing to Steve's right was my driver.

He was a former Lieutenant in the South Vietnamese Army, university educated in Saigon, widowed but with two kids still at home. After the war, he had spent 10 years in a "reeducation camp" (read Jail) and driving a pedicycle was the best job he could find. He spoke passable English and drove me for the four days I was there. I found his condition to be common for veterans of the wrong side throughout Vietnam.

I left the Airport terminal in my Pedicycle and tried going North up the side of the runway (I believe the Aussies and Koreans were on that side back in the old days) but was stopped by a couple of little Commies in uniform that informed me that because it was a Vietnamese military installation, I would not be allowed go anywhere on the old airbase. I told them I had already seen everything that was there (Hell, we built it!) and all I wanted to do was walk around some barren land and take pictures. From my best observation at the terminal, nothing but a couple of old radar screens and maybe our maintenance hanger was left up on that end of the runway. Anyway, no amount of persuasion (didn't try cash) would cause those little Pinko's to let me in. My driver/interpreter started getting nervous so we headed South outside the perimeter and came up the back side (Southwest). This picture, below, is one of the first I took.

Although I didn't recognize it, it looked old enough to be from that period and may have been part of Camp McDermont (?)
and according to my driver, was now used as dependent quarters for officers of the Vietnamese military.

This house, and others of similar styles and colors, are located throughout Vietnam. Built close to the road, they have an open living area in the front and presumably the kitchen in the rear. Bedrooms are located on the second and third floors. A lot of pastel colors. The ones along this particular stretch was across the road from the 281st cantonment area.

picture missing ...
My best recollection was that this entire area was nothing but rice paddies during my last trip there.

Nha Trang Beach. Although not the nicest of accommodations in Nha Trang (Ana Mandara is by far the nicest) it was acceptable (Read Cheap @ $50 a night), it was right across the street from the beach and right in the center of activity of the city. So much so that. about 5 a.m. every morning I spent there, loudspeakers with the most god awful noise (Vietnamese music) started blaring a morning wakeup call for city residents, who turned out by the millions (Ok thousands) to do morning calisthenics, play sports (soccer, get in a circle and keep a little beanbag in the air, etc.) and other physical activities. I don't know who was responsible for that plan to insure everybody was up in the morning but if I had been a taxpayer there I would have dang sure complained to the Mayor or Commissar or whoever was in charge. Next time, I'm staying at the Ana Mandara. (BTW, don't know what that black spot is in the picture. UFO?)

A view from my room at the Nha Trang Lodge looking South.

To the right side of this picture is all of what's left of the 281st area.
If you look closely, you'll see the old radar screens just over the vegetation.
To the left is the active runway. Again, it was taken from the road and not much was left.

Another from a different location on the road, looking South. I believe that is our old maintenance hangar.

Another shot of a maintenance hangar but from the terminal. I believe ours is still there but back behind this one (off to the right with the rusty roof)

After my frustrating trip around the perimeter of the airfield, my driver insisted upon taking me down to the river to eat lunch. Probably got a kickback from the restaurant owner). It is hard to believe that Nha Trang has 300,000 people and yet you can escape the big city (traffic, noise, etc.) in such a short period of time.

Less than a five minute pedicycle trip from the downtown area of Nha Trang was this peaceful, almost serene, area with nice houses and rice paddies.

At the restaurant the driver took me to on the river, I ordered a 33 beer (or was it 333?-Vietnamese had a copyright infringement with the Dutch and either dropped one digit or added one and continued to produce), Spring rolls and some type fish. While I was waiting for the food, I noticed two different types of dredging operations on the river. This one was the "modern" way of retrieving sand from the river for construction purposes.  They had a diesel engine hooked up to the pump and would move the skiff around to suck up the sand. Runoff caused the water to be brown.

This picture shows the "old" way of dredging sand.

Standing on the same little pier jutting out from the restaurant that I took the "modern" way picture, I turned around to the East and caught these guys doing it the old fashioned way. That is - taking a shallow but broad little boat and a reed basket and diving to the bottom with the basket, filling with sand repeatedly until the boat side was only inches above the waterline and then rowing or pushing the boat to wherever they sold it. It caused me to think how lucky we are. The per capita income in Vietnam is less than one dollar a day.

These young Vietnamese were having a giggle at that crazy American taking pictures of sand dredging operations. By and large, the Vietnamese like Americans. We are richer than the Russians (or other "long noses" as they call any Westerner) More than 50% of the population wasn't even born during the war and know that their standard of living is tied to economic opportunities coming from the West. They all have access to TV's and cell phones and other Western technology and they simply are not going to be satisfied with working the rice paddies like their ancestors did. I predict that within 10 years they will be totally Capitalistic.


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