Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Phil and the movie

Funny that Frank and I write about Phil. I don't think that I ever saw an entire movie in Vietnam. It was not from want of trying but things seemed to always happen. Most of those things were broken projectors and broken films. By the time a movie got to Kontum it had been shown more than Gone With the Wind in Atlanta. There was also the occasional rocket/mortar attack. One night in Pleiku we were watching the documentary about Woodstock when One Round Charlie sent his basic load into the perimeter. The club officials stopped the movie and said everyone had to go to the bunkers. This was not met with general approval since the movie included nudity and we did not get to see naked American women often.

There is no doubt what Phil's favorite movie was. It was the Big Bounce starring Ryan O'Neal and Leigh Taylor-Young. The movie was written by Elmore Leonard so those of you who are fans of his, as I am, know that there was a liberal amount of irony in the movie. In one scene, after Taylor-Young had shot and killed her husband O'Neal asks her if she liked killing someone. She answers in a little-girl voice, "it was alright". Phil especially like the theme song and worked hard to recreate the music on his guitar. He would sit around in his room and pick out the chords until he got it right. This, of course, did not go over well with Gus who was always trying to sleep. At that time in my life I thought sleep was overrated but Gus was much more mature that Phil or me.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

My circutious route to Kontum

In July 1969 I was finishing Rotary Wing flight school when my orders were changed. At that time all aviation classes were TDY to the USARV Transportation Detachment in Vietnam. For some reason it was decided that there were too many infantry officers in Vietnam so, along with many in my class, I got orders to somewhere besides Vietnam. I was disappointed. I was not married and did not have a significant other. I had said my goodbyes and was prepared to go to Vietnam as either a slick or gunship driver. Instead I found myself at West Fort Hood. The unit, the 181st Aviation Company had twelve UH-1s in various models. Most of them were hanger queens and we were at the end of the food chain for parts. We did have one mission. We were re ired to pull Live Saver a week at a time. We were housed in flight operations 24 hours a day and were on call for any emergency at Fort Hood. Most of the time we used the III Corps CG's Huey because ours did not work. We got called often and it was an exciting mission. Trouble was we did not get the duty very often. I lived in an apartment with two of my best friends, Ron Beyer and Jim Scofield. They are still friends today. We really did not have to go to work because no one cared and even when we were in the flight shack all we did was swat flied, play cards and watch the C-141's land and take off from West Fort Hood. One good thing was that I got rea uainted with Charla who was taking courses at UT so she could teach in Texas, her home state. The whole time I was there I was calling DA trying to get out. I volunteered for Snake school, Chinook school, and Crane school just to get out. One day one of the other refugees from flight school was on the phone to DA and was asked if he would like to go to fixed wing school. He said yes, of course, and began to dance and celebrate. I was on the phone in a flash and was given the same deal. I was on my way to Kontum, although I did not know it at the time.
Fixed Wing transition was at Fort Stewart and Fort Rucker, respectively. At Stewart we did Birddog training and at Rucker we got instrument ticket in T-42. I had my problems trying to hover the Birddog and round-out the T-42 but eventually I transitioned. I was on my way to Vietnam but not just yet.
For some reason I was slated to go through the Air Force Jungle Survival School at Clark AFB in the Philippines. In order to get there I had to fly on a stretch DC-8 with a full load of dependents from San Francisco to Clark. I can honestly say that even though I have flown backwards in a C-141, sat in sling seats in DC-3's and C-130's and been shaken like a martini in a Chinook in turbulence in Korea, I have never had a more miserable flight. First, it must have taken 20 hours, second the screaming kids and their mothers made it impossible to get to the latrine, and third, I had a hangover. After landing in Hawaii and Guam we finally landed at Clark. We were met by the most wonderful sight. Jeepnees selling San Miguel. I have never tasted anything as good and to this day I consider San Miguel a cure-all. I will save a detailed analysis of Jungle Survival school for a later post but there were a couple of school teachers that made my stay at Clark memorable. I will also always remember the Air Force heroes who were stationed at Clark who flew into Saigon once a month to maintain combat pay.
When we left Clark we flew commercial into Saigon. We were not met by the military and we had to find our own way to Camp Alpha. Fortunately I was with some Vietnam vets who know how to get around and we hitched a ride to Camp Alpha and knocked on the gate. I carried dollars around Vietnam the whole time I was there because of the way we arrived.
At this point I was not sure if I was going to fly rotary or fixed wing. I knew I was assigned to First Aviation Brigade but that could have meant either. My first stop after Camp Alpha was Nahtrang and then from there to uinion. There I found out that I was going to be a Headhunter and there I met Arlie Deaton from North Alabama.
I will refrain from saying too much about the Beaver ride to Camp Holoway but suffice to say that there was and Evac hospital near battalion headquarters and the hospital had an officer's club.
My initiation to the Headhunters is somewhat a blur but I do remember several things. One was being dared to play Headhunter Puff (hey looks like you had fried rice for supper) and the other is volleyball. Arlie did love his volleyball. I think I was slated to stay at Camp Holloway until Arlie discovered that my talent did not lie on the volleyball court. This was due partly to the afore-mentioned Headhunter Puff but also the fact that I was not a very good volleyball player. So off I was to Kontum, Ervin C. Gustzweiller, Phil, Frank, and Doug.