95. Vinh Cam Ranh – Việt Nam

We had traveled just over 660 nautical miles, a near 2 days journey when we reached our new destination of this amazing assignment.  Because you see, in spite of some hair-raising predicaments which I had found myself in so far, I was really being amazed.

And now, to carry on about my last stop in Việt Nam, which of course at the time, I didn’t know this would be as such.  

So, in the Khánh Hòa Province of Việt Nam, Vinh Cam Ranh (the Vietnamese way to say Cam Ranh Bay) is beautifully situated on the southeastern coast.  And if I were to grab a jeep and drive north east out of Sài Gòn, I’d travel about 180 miles.

You know I gotta tell ya, I really was amazed when I learned of this extraordinary deep-water bay.  What makes it such a special place is that its waters are well, very deep as they are met, immediately off the coast.  

And then there’s the way it’s located at this particular inlet off the South China Sea; it seems to bring year-round protection from a temperamental ocean for anchored ships in the bay.

Notwithstanding there’s some protection assistance in that area from the peninsula jutting out from the northeast at the bay’s forefront as well.  And it was here we temporarily became part of the impressively expansive U.S. Naval sea and air base.  I’m pretty sure all of our Forces, some allied too I think, utilized the area.  

By now there was one thing I became accustomed to and that was listening for the sound of the heavy cable lowering anchor; that way I knew we’d arrived at our new home for however long -which at this point really seemed irrelevant- it would be.

Officially parked and dinner was served.

Early in the next morning I began feeling very, very sick; gut-wrenching stomach cramps and oh I just knew I wouldn’t be able to do the breakfast shift, to say the least.  

My co-worker/roommate Dan, quickly called upon our CS Phil, and he rushed to our room.  Taking only a couple of moments to look me over, he radioed the Captain.  Shortly thereafter, Skipper arrived at my bedside.  

He took his turn at looking me over, “Oh you don’t look so hot my friend,” he said with a slight grin, then added, “I’m gonna send you out for repairs!”  And with that he nodded to Phil who clearly knew what that meant.  

I was too busy clenching my fists and grinding my teeth to be laughing and carrying on with Skipper’s sense of serious humor as he left my room, “Now who’s gonna fix my breakfast just right and make my coffee?” he said to no one.

Phil called the radio operator and it was all arranged before I even knew what was coming; the Air Force Hospital had been notified of my arrival.  Within I’d say no more than half an hour, I was blanketed and strapped into a basket.  

I was alert enough to notice the cable (as in the only thing between my pathetic self and the chopper) only raised slightly up into the Huey and oh my goodness, if I wasn’t so distraught in pain, I quite possibly would’ve declined the ‘lift’ -no pun intended.

And there I was, dangling precariously (to me most certainly) in the sky, riding a freewind, airlifted to a waiting ambulance at the shore and they took me to the Air Force Hospital up on the hill.  And while quite simple a process this was in the eye of a professional, for me, all I can say is, what a ride, short and not so bad after all!

After I’d been loaded into the ambulance, I remember looking out of windows on both sides.  More than anything in all the surroundings, I took notice of the ever so many jeeps.  For whatever reason, this picture burned its image in my mind.

When I arrived at the hospital, staff was waiting to take me in immediately.  Ha, ha! star treatment must’ve been on the Skip’s good word?  Admitted immediately, no time was wasted sticking me with needles and drawing my blood.  Oh if I could only call Diana!

I was on an unplanned, mandatory mini-vacation of sorts …well it’s what I told myself anyway.  For whatever reason it took nearly 2 days to determine what was my ailment.  

And that, of all things, was food poisoning.  Rather interesting I thought as I hadn’t eaten for several hours before the pain began.  

Oh yes and I just want to add one more thing to this segment.  I remember at 5a each morning, if one is well enough (and able of course) to sit up, you sat up!   

A Colonel, possibly a General or the Base Commander would stop in to see the patients; a morale boost I’m thinking. 

And on the 3rd day I was well enough to surrender my mini vacation.  The hospital discharged me and I was promptly returned to my ship. Well, for nothing else, a good rest was had and there were no more Huey rides.

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91. “We’re Americans, Don’t Shoot!”

Day 5:  Sài Gòn.  Two of us, my cabin-mate (I’ll call him Dan) and I are busy sucking down a few ice cold beers in one of the bars and as was becoming the norm, flanked by local femme fatales.  Before we realized how late it was, already we had broken the curfew missing our boat back to the Trans Western.  

Desperate to get outta there we made quick inquiry for a way to return to our ship, to anyone who’d listen.  We needed someone with a boat who’d take us out to the anchored ships, for pay of course.  One Vietnamese man with very little English stepped up to the job.  We three made haste to his boat.  

So now we’re putt-putting through the dark waters under black velvet skies, studded with stars brilliant as diamonds.  I see little twinkling lights of the ships anchored all around the harbor.  

In my mind I’m thinking, how on earth are we gonna find our ship in all of this?  They seem so close to each other from a distance but as we get nearer, they’re all really far apart from one another.

Marines on constant patrol are no doubt hearing the putt-putt of the small gasoline engine of this little man’s smallish boat.  Suddenly there were two spotlights splashing us in harsh white light and our boatman quickly shuts off his motor; he definitely doesn’t want to get his ass shot off in any language, of that I’m sure!

Feeling the panic, Dan thinks quick and takes off his tee shirt.  He stood up and began to wave his white shirt, “Don’t shoot, we’re Americans!” he yelled out in fright.  I didn’t think twice and removing my shirt, I too stood up and did the same. ‘Don’t shoot, Americans, we’re also American!’  

We’re waving our shirts and they’re getting closer; upon reaching us, I’m guessing they relaxed only a small bit, assessing we are most likely harmless.  

They cuss us out. “What the hell are you guys doing out here after curfew …(then pointing the barrel of their guns at the boatman)… with him!?”  ‘We missed our boat outta town and … and we made a desperate decision’, I nervously explained.  

They talked amongst themselves for a moment and then ordered us to climb aboard their boat.  The Vietnamese man was also brought on board.  His little boat was tied up to theirs and after identifying us with our ID cards, we were transported to the Trans Western.  

Boy did we get an ass-chewing and that was just by the Marines who picked us up!  The Skipper had yet to have his go on us.  Upon arrival we had to of course, be re-identified to the guard soldiers on board our ship; up the rope we went.  

The patrolling Marines left with the little man still in their custody; I’m thinking most likely they escorted him back to shore.  This type of scene may have happened to others before us and most probably would occur again in the years to come.  

Dan and I made tracks for the mess hall.  All this excitement made for a great appetite.  A few of the Marine soldiers were down in the galley enjoying some grub.  

We made fresh coffee, tuna fish sandwiches with some crunchy pickles and proceeded to eat as though that would fix anything.  I tell ya, what a night!  To our immediate relief, the Skipper’s ass-chewing was not on tonight’s menu.  

Retiring to our cabin I was on autopilot until my head finally hit my pillow and I was able to think for a moment.  I was filled with gratitude that my butt was not blown to bits by the US Marines!  Or anyone else for that matter.

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88. Cash & Tailors

 

I climbed down a rope leading into the boat which would take us from our ship to the Qui Nhơn Harbor shore.  We didn’t tie up at any dock instead, the boat took us aground into the sand.  The trap/exit door opened up and we’d jump out onto Vietnamese soil.  We walked up the beach and into Qui Nhơn town.   

Being hyped up right from the start, I felt a little scared but it was certainly comforting knowing that I was never alone; we were always in one another’s company …mostly.  And as we walked, carefully at first, thoughts of what the Skipper and some of the Marines had told us, rushed to the forefront of my mind.

Absorbing the street scene crowded with men, women, children, the young and the old, I began to relax;  they were basically just people like me. There was plenty of street cooking which smelled amazing and lots of little shops and bars.  I felt eyes on me.

I’d see them waving in order to attract us into their shops.  Thinking of the families back home, I saw some things which interested me such as handmade trinkets, clothing, jewelry and the like.  

I detoured with a couple of the guys into one of these places, a tailor shop.  The tradesmen were Indians, like myself. Why I found this as a surprise, I do not know.

And perhaps we were obvious as new to the area because almost immediately, we were asked to join them in food and drink.   “Let’s talk, have something to eat and enjoy.”  They actually closed the shop for a couple of hours.

After a shared meal and hearing the stories of where we came from originally, how we found ourselves in this little corner of the world etc., they asked us, “What can we do for you … what would you like to buy?”

From these Indian tailors, I would buy a couple of slacks.  As measurements were being taken I asked,  ‘Aren’t you afraid to be here in this war zone?’  

The shopkeeper reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of cash from both pockets.  In his fairly decent English he explained, “Of course we’re scared sometimes but this is home.  If we must run suddenly, at least we have our money with us. My wife and kids do same. It’s how we handle.”   I remember thinking to myself just how fascinating living a life this way is.

After a much enjoyed evening in comforting hospitality of the locals, we knew it was getting late.  With the Skipper’s speech still fresh in my mind, it was definitely beach time.

Making my way there I remember looking at the sights along the way and thinking of the fun time ahead tomorrow.  At the shore we were just in time to hear a Marine’s voice blaring through a bullhorn, “Load ‘em up!”

Several of us to include guys from some of the other ships in the harbor, climbed aboard this fairly large boat and off we went.  Each various group would let them know which ship they had to return to. I called off the Trans Western.

Thank goodness for our Marines for in this dark night amongst all the boats anchored offshore, there was no way we ourselves would know which one was ours.  We arrived at our ship and quickly climbed up the rope ladder.

Myself and the other guys headed straight for the mess hall to raid the refrigerator and pantry for a late night snack before turning in.  The chef had tuna salad and fresh breads waiting to be turned into midnight sandwiches.

A full day it was and I was more than ready for some snuggling down in my bed.  That’s the sum of my first day in Vietnam. Not bad at all.

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