Camp Holloway, Pleiku was my assigned home during 1963 and 1964. About the time my last week was crossed off on my shortimer's calendar, I received a letter from General Delk M. Oden. He informed me the Army had no replacement in my MOS and my tour was being extended until one became available. Well that wasn't so bad except I had already turned everything in and shipped almost all my gear stateside to my home. But plenty of things were going on and the number of missions were increasing and I wanted to be more involved in them. At times there was a lingering uncertainty of who the friend and who the foe was. Our main gate guards found sketches of our base and its defenses on Vietnamese workers leaving our base one day, and for me that focused an acute awareness everywhere I went until the day I left.
I loved flying and the hustle and bustle and adrenalin of an airfield or staging area when gearing up for missions with the steady grinding whine and whop whop whop sounds of the hueys. During my tour I volunteered and managed to fly in Hueys, C-123s, C-119s, C-47s, Caribous, the T-28, the Otter, and L-19 and a few other aircraft when on TDY and various missions. After I got extended I was restless and looked for even more missions to fly on. A couple of additional months allowed me opportunities as a crew member as I desired more involvement. I got to know a Vietnamese pilot who flew T-28s and his friends ran our base laundry and they would invite me to chat over dinner once in a while. I eventually flew in his VNAF T-28 on a combat mission with him. Toward mid to late 1964 change was in the wind and the assignment of new infantry door gunners to the air crews told me the operational tempo of the combat missions were picking up. I still recall that low drone of a distant formation of hueys; they could be heard for miles; and I wondered how we surprised anyone...many times we didn't...and they often surprised us. Contour flying (literally clipping the treetops) was practiced regularly and pilots used it approaching LZs to avoid being easy targets or to check for enemy ground fire. The enemy was well camoflaged and armed and waiting in the hills as we flew into LZs in valleys and along the river beds. Like others, I, like many, developed a tuned ear for the huey's distinctive sound. I can still usually pick one out even today before others hear them.
Some nights things were so quiet you could almost hear your own heartbeat. You could hear little rodents (rats), some not so little, scurrying around inside the walls of the hootches. Once in a while someone would wake up to find one of the rodents staring them in the face from on top of their mosquito netting. Some of the hootches acquired a mongoose to catch them, while others used peanut butter in traps, peanut butter and crackers worked really well. I saw a buddy in our hootch actually electrocute one of the vermin with a homemade gizmo made with wire, nails and paper clips...ha! Then there was that thick reddish dirt and dust, the soggy boots and the damp musty odors during the monsoon season, and the oddest wall of fog that slowly rolled in down the airstrip at night cloaking everything in its path, and then roll back out in the morning. The weather however was fairly predictable, and access areas around the base would become either thick mudholes during the monsoons, or blowing dust bowls constantly kicked up by the helicopters in the dry season. That didn't help maintenance guys working on aircraft in the open hangers and it even got into equipment in the maintenance sheds and vans. You had to close everything up tight and suffocate in the heat to keep that fine dust out of equipment.
I remember how absolutely pitch black dark the night got and you literally could not see your hand in front of your face. I came to enjoy and preferred seeing the moonlight and those starry nights. Little odd things happened in the darkness, like the night a young ARVN soldier crossed the runway at 02:00 in the early morning black of night near our aircraft carrying a noisy cooking pot...he came very close to meeting his God...those ARVNs did some really strange things at times...such as one staging area where I saw ARVNS using up their hand grenades to catch fish in a river before we airlifted them into combat and the LZ. Then there were the many sounds and smells that permeated the night air, the clatter of cowbells on the oxen, the drone of power generators, the foreign words faintly in the distance, the rattle of cooking utensils, the telltale footsteps on the PSP runway, and the smells of burning wood fires and the local foods and the pungent seasonings from perimeter ARVN outposts.
A beer hit the spot at our club on base or sometimes at the bar in town when it wasn't declared off-limits. The ice in town was tested by our medics as often being contaminated and we were told to stay clear of using it, and that's how I learned to drink warm beer. After about six months some of us took R and R in Hong Kong, although some of the guys told me Bangkok was a more exciting choice. But I really enjoyed Hong Kong and bought a great looking tailored silk suit, some gold and jade jewelry items, and shipped them home.
That whole time I spent at Camp Holloway will remain forever in my memories, even though many names have faded now, some things I just won't ever forget. I thank God for my still being here and consider myself extremely lucky compared to many others I knew and have met over the years who served in Vietnam. I won't forget my last night at Camp Holloway, the Vietnamese guy who ran the laundry gave me a ride to town in his jeep. We ate and we drank and we visited and I missed the last truck back to base for the first time, and of all nights for that to happen. The next morning my friend Kim stopped in to say goodbye, and then one of our guys drove me to New Pleiku airbase in our 3/4 ton truck, and I caught a flight out on a C-47 to Saigon's Tan Son Nhut airbase.
The last night I was in Vietnam a grenade was thrown into the sidewalk cafe across from my Saigon hotel where I was staying until my flight out. I was out on the 4th floor balcony where I just had dinner delivered and watched as white uniformed Vietnamese police chased some guy on a motorbike firing their pistols. I was glad I ordered out and didn't eat at the cafe where the grenade was thrown. I switched to the hotel in Saigon after my 35mm camera I took all my photos with was stolen in the military transient barracks at Tan Son Nhut. I was really hot, because that little 35mm camera had been everywhere I had, and then to have it stolen my very last week in U.S. military barracks. After a couple of days waiting around in Saigon l began to Iook forward to my flight back home. As luck would have it, I was selected as courier guard for the flight back an issued a sidearm, first one off and last one on at all stops along the way. I stood under the wing of the Pan Am 707 with a 45 cal. pistol and checked sequence numbers on locks as they loaded and unloaded mail bags. In Guam I watched B-52s roll down the runway and it rained so hard it was like giant waves were splashing from one side of the island to the other.
I remember the guys stationed at Camp Holloway were great and over the years I have only found two of my old friends. I think about those guys and how or where they are now...Austin, Brown, James, Krause, Poulin, Savarino, Spencer, Sowell, Wallace, Weatherman and others...often visualizng the youthful faces and those distant memories, sights, and sounds from so long ago in a place so far away.
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