|Harry Chamberlain||Charley Shoemaker||Robert (Bob) Schnell|
|Donald Alston||Clarence Jolly||Frederick (Dan) Culbreath|
|John Davis||Joe Fitzgerald||Louis Wall|
|John Tuttle||Don Kressman||Bill Purcell|
I was stationed there in 65-66 prior to the establishment of the 1st Signal Brigade. We were know as a STRATCOM Facility at that time. I was a 32G/34D with the "Green Machine". Got out in '66 and went into the computer industry and am now a Communication Officer with the US Department of State in Mexico City.
My Sojourn at Phu Lam began in October of 1966 when I received an invitation from the Army to transfer from Ft Ritchie, Md to the MDRC at Phu Lam. Even though I had less than a year remaining I was able to make the trip. I arrived in country after a trip including stops at Hawaii and Clark AFB in the PI. I arrived at Ton Sun Nhut only a week or so after the VC blew up part of the air terminal. Quite a welcome to walk over the rubble into the main terminal area. There was a temptation to turn around and get back on the plane right then and there. This was at a point in time when the big build up was still a couple of months away and unless you were going to the replacement company the personnel there would tell you to contact your unit to come and get you. I finally got a call to Phu Lam and told them that a new SP5 was at the terminal waiting to be picked up. They said someone would be right out. Their definition of "right out" and mine must have been worlds apart since four hours later this 3/4 ton truck shows up. One of the people who picked me up was a SP5 Shotts, who was a character in his own right and will be dealt with later. The trip to Phu Lam was eventful, we made several trips to various watering establishments along the way, went by the Circle Sportif and race track on the way to the compound.
The first glimpse I had of Phu Lam was the big microwave tower and the bill boards for the tropo shots. The compound hadn't been built too long, the barracks were all one story huts. We had 40 foot and 70 foot guard towers, the 40 footers were used as high intensity light towers, the 70 footers were regular towers. I was a 32G with a secondary of 34D was initially assigned to the MDRC. I also had access to the crypto area in the main building since I was a 32G. At that time we had one circuit(data) to Clark in the PI, the rest of the circuits were low speed IBM terminals to various locations up country and in Saigon. We eventually upgraded to an IBM 1013 terminal to replace most of these circuits. Before I left in August of 66 we received the first Univac 1004 terminal. We had the line for this terminal installed almost two months earlier, thus we found ourselves in possession of a four wire full duplex voice grade circuit all the way back to McClellan AFB in California which was unused. A few quick inquiries found that McClellan had WATS lines, so we scrounged an FTA-15 put it on the circuit and had virtually unlimited telephone calls back to our families, that is until the powers that be discovered our little benefit. Then they insisted that it be terminated at the switchboard.
One of the interesting events that happened in the early days of Phu Lam was a requirement that all outgoing calls to the states would be monitored to insure that they were of an official nature. They provided a stack of forms which would be filled out to notify the commands through channels of the violations. To my knowledge the only person who was ever cited for making unofficial calls was Westmoreland, William C. Shortly after this citation was put forward the forms disappeared.
Weekly we were receiving additional personnel, it didn't take long before we were far above our TO&E. The basic equipment was lacking for these new people. I can remember the big bowl of pills on each table in the chow hall full of the anti-malaria pills. I also fondly remember the iced tea that had been sweetened with brown sugar because they didn't have any regular sugar. Made for an interesting taste to say to least. There was also a cut down 55 gal drum full of sand for the guards to clear their weapons. About once a week someone would eject the clip and forget they had a round chambered. Would surprise everyone when it went off. When I got to Phu Lam we had several 81mm pits. We had both HE and flares for them. Some smart individual thought it would be a good idea to get someone out to check the sighting of the mortars, the guys who came out took the HE rounds back with them. They seem to think we were a greater danger to our side than we could ever be to the VC. There was very little activity in the Phu Lam area during the time I was there. A lot of flare activity and AC-47 activity in the area from time to time. Plus the interdiction fire which the ARVN's would mount from their position down the road. We had to get them to hold off on their fire missions until after the movie was over. Since it was shown on the side of one of the buildings it was impossible to hear with the 155's blazing away. We sat up on top of the huts on the night that the VC decided to mortar the POL tanks at Tan Son Nhut, sort of like the 4th of July a little early.
It was during this time that we established a small club. If my memory has gone completely we were all assessed $5 to get it going. One of the first purchases was a couple of nickel slot machines. That solved our cash problems for the club. One of the big problems at Phu Lam was getting beer, someone would go down to the port and come back with whatever beer they had unloaded. On one occasion they came back with a pallet of "Tiger" beer, brewed and bottled in Singapore and promptly exported since no one in his right or wrong mind would drink that stuff. I fondly remember the Bier 33 and of course the Bier la Rue. That was the stuff that had the bits and pieces floating around inside. Wasn't great stuff but it did have alcohol in it.
I am terrible on names but SP5 Shotts sticks in there, he was confined to the compound since he accidentally shot a bar girls in Saigon - twice!! The only job that was open for him at the time was company armorer, later we found that by returning him to arms it meant they couldn't court marshal him for the shooting. On of the officers in Phu Lam was a Capt Alspaugh, knew him from an assignment on Okinawa in 1963. He came up through the ranks so was all in all a pretty decent type. One of the earlier articles on Phu Lam mentioned a CWO Ray Dahlstrom, I knew Ray as a SP5 back in FT Monmouth when we were going through 345.1 training(became 32G in the new order). Also had a SP7 Krumholtz who was an ADP programmer type. Another name that pops out of one of my last working brain cells was a SP5 Hardee, he worked in the MDRC as an ADP repairman. The weapons policy at that time was a bit loose, personal weapons, while officially not allowed, a blind eye was turned if you wanted to have a little something extra. I still have a picture of myself with my extra, a Thompson 28A submachine gun which I "purchased" from an ARVN for $25. I later traveled up country troubleshooting some of the trib data circuits and was glad to have it with me on several occasions. Saigon/Cholon at that time wasn't bustling with American troops. I could walk down many of the streets and not see another American. Of course up on Tu Do street there were a few Americans running around. I was there when they blew up part of the Metropole hotel. And also for what became known as the shootout at the Brinks corral, downtown the guards in front of the Joint US Public Affairs Office couldn't see the guards in front of the Brinks BEQ there was a corner of a building in the way. But each set of guards swore they saw someone throw what they thought was a grenade and run in the direction of the other. So they opened fire, result was a lot of ordinance expended with no one hurt. This happened early in the AM so no one on the streets. After that they tightened up the fire control a bit. Shortly after I arrived they converted from dollars to MPC, this confused the Vietnamese a bit, we did a little scam on them once. One of the guys went on R&R to Tokyo, he came back with a suitcase full of worthless MPC from there that had been changed out for a new series. The Vietnamese were only giving us 1000 Piastres for a $10 MPC note instead of 1180 P which was the official rate. Well most of this worthless MPC found it way into the bars of Saigon in short order before they found out that not all MPC was the same. Also when I arrived Navy Captain Archie Moore was in charge of the Cholon PX, booze and cigarettes were rationed but little else and there were no shortages to speak of. I can remember getting into a taxi after leaving the PX and the driver would be looking over his shoulder to see what I had purchased and what he might be able to buy at a profit to me. Alas, when the army took over the Cholon exchange when it was found that Archie Moore was banking more than his military pay the shelves started emptying of everything. From razors to shoe polish was unavailable except on the black market. Speaking of black market, until I left there was a thriving black market in just about anything and everything. The military was so paranoid about the black market that they sent an investigating team from the states to Danang to investigate and prosecute the people who were black marketing Kotex there. Seems that there were a limited number of women who were authorized exchange privileges yet there were many cases of Kotex going out the door each month. The investigating team had to go back to DC with their tails firmly wrapped between their legs after they discovered that the Marines couldn't get bore swabs for the 81mm mortars but who found that two Kotex held together with rubber bands would do just nicely. The NCOIC of the MDRC used to deal in $100 bills on the black market, he used to get well over 2000 Piastres/dollar for them. During this time the Vietnamese government tried to crack down on black market currency trading so they arrested one of the many Indian Tailors in town dragged him out to one of the posts at what was known as execution square and proceeded to shoot him.
Only remember one guy that was John T Stewart jr. and I found him after looking for 30 years. We talked on the phone some. He is like me he doesn't rember any body but me we were real close. I was there 1965-66 so was John. we put all the line in all the building for telephones and put in all the switching equipment.
I was assigned to the communications facility at Phu Lam, shortly after it was put into service. My in and out dates are: Nov 17, 1965 - Nov 12, 1966. During that time, we were known as the US Army Strategic Communications Command facility (7300). That designation continued at least through 1968.. With the facility designation, we did not have the regular army unit structure. We didn't have companies and platoons, just initial breakdown such as comm. center and internal comm. center unit structure, which included microwave, switchboard and tape etc. then other services such as motor pools, security, food service (mess hall) and quartermaster, were also part of the facility command, just mentioning a few from the OLD memory bank. As I recall, we were not in the MACV direct chain of command, although PACAF, had a very influential role in our Vietnam existence. Most of our functioning orders, came directly from STRATCOM CONUS, which in reality was the worldwide headquarters, naturally located at the Pentagon. Most of our off duty time was spent in downtown Saigon or Cholon and some of the other better or less known hangouts. During the first part of 1966 the fun spots in Tan Son Nhut, were placed
off limits to all forces serving in Vietnam. Before the restrictions, that was one of the more popular spots to hang out. You mention the memories from the time that we were there. I am very glad that since we all had various levels of security clearances that we have learned not to tell anything that might be of a sensitive nature. A group of us had gone into the Saigon area for an evening of drinking and other pleasures, when we realized that it was very near curfew time and it was best that we bed down where we
were or head back to Fort Phu Phu. Most of us doubled up in a taxi or cyclo so at that point, were separating with the intention of continuing the evening festivities back at the barracks. At most boarded the first available transportation, I spotted a cyclo driver resting very comfortable in the passenger portion of his three wheeled cycle. Being in a very jolly spirit, I decided that the driver and my partner could ride up front in the passenger seat as I drove. Although at first, he protested and my partner tried to convince me to let cabbie to do the driving, I was very well within the spirits and wanted no part of putting that cabbie in the drivers seat. Off we went, headed back to Phu Phu in time to beat the curfew. Through a couple of check points (without stopping) were headed. The three of us laughing all the way. Certainly as we passed the check points were very concerned that either the ARVN guards or one of ours would start firing. Fortunately, that did not happen. As we approached the stopping point just before the walk to the gate, many of our comrades were standing around talking. They saw the travel arrangements and the fun began all over. Naturally, we(I) became the talk of the evening and for a while, the talk of the facility. I guess you might say that we highjacked the driver and his machine, all in fun. At the end, we paid him and away he went laughing all the way.
Joe Fitzgerald mentioned a very fine "gentleman" 1st. Sgt. Wright. I have a letter (that I will also send to you) notifying us the precautions that we must take and or responsibilities during the Christian holiday observances. Fitzgerald mentioned how good a leader Wright was, it is too bad that he is too modest to pat himself on the back. I agree with him about Wright, he was a very personable man. As the troop commander, Fitzgerald was always ready to talk with you regardless of the nature of the conversation. If he needed to converse with you as the troop commander or a friend, he could do both very well. I can't think of anyone there at the time who could say anything harsh about him. He was "the troop commander" (captain) but he was also
knew how to communicate as a comrade. Throughout my entire stay there, I can say with a great degree of delight that with "ONE" exception, our leadership team was a pleasure to serve with.
I spent 22 years in the U.S. Army before I retired in 1979. I was fortunate to have run into several of the "Old Timers" from Vietnam through the years, but after 25 moves I have lost all their addresses and contact.
Its been a lot of years, but after I retired from the Army I went to work as a Civil Servant until my retirement in December of 1995, and now find I have a lot of time on my hands so I am very interested in what you are doing.
I was posted to Vietnam (Phu Lam), in January of 1965. PA&E was still building part of the compound, and most of us were living in the "Dong Kahn" hotel in Saigon at that time. I have many pictures of the "Guys" and the compound including the tornado that struck the compound causing some damages and completely destroying the village of Phu Lam. I could be helpful in constructing a history and would love to "chew the fat" with you and others. Feel free to pass my name and address to any of them. If you have the time and energy, please fax me your list of people so I can see who I know.. I also have a lot of pictures of the area around the compound and the personnel that were there during my two tours, 1965-1967. I have been actively seeking persons that were there during the spring of 1966 when I was reported "Missing in Action, Presumed dead" due to an aircraft incident. I have a case to be presented to the Veterans Affairs in Washington, DC on this matter as I was injured severely and am trying to get compensation for my injuries, but all my health records were destroyed when the VC burned the hospital at the "old rice mill" to the ground. As usual, the Government wants "eye witnesses" to an incident that happened many years ago.. or statements from persons that know of the incident. So far I have found only two, but the person that has personal knowledge is Quinton Gerds that worked at our "Talk Quick" secure voice facility.
5. JOHN THOMAS DAVIS 65 to 66
I remember the heat...damn, seemed like a cool evening would never come, and it never did. The smell of the fatigues still lingers with me. A mildew stench that wouldn't go away no matter how many times your clothes were washed. The odor was similar to a moldy load of washing left in a washing machine for a week or so.
Another recollection: the night sounds. Every night you could hear the small arms fire outside of the Phu Lam perimeter and the "whump, whump" of explosions over by Tan Son Nhut. Whenever "Charlie" got close to the site, we manned the 81mm mortar and fired off flares to light up the area. Used to see Charlie running like roaches under those 2 million candle-power flares.
We lived in Cholon when I got in-country as there weren't any barracks or messing facilities at the Phu Lam site.
Seeing Phu Lam'er Jolly's name was neat. He probably doesn't remember me, but I remember him. Sure wish someone on this 'net could provide a roster of Phu Lam'ers - a list of personnel who were stationed there... It's sure hard to remember people's names after all these years, but I remember Jolly, Dana Brewer and Jimmy Duncan.
I've got a November 30, 1965 full-page article which was published in the Stars and Stripes and tells about the Phu Lam facility at the time. It includes four photos: the huge billboard antennas, the switchboard (with a white Pfc and an African-American Specialist), the teletype section, and (of course) a picture of myself, Dana Brewer, and Jimmy Duncan manning an 81mm mortar. If I ever figure how to get the article into this network, you can all see it.
Keep me informed through firstname.lastname@example.org which is my son-in-law's address. He's
forwarding everything he gets to me at my home address which is:
After March-'65 when the build-up started we began to get a lot of chicken sh--. We had one inspection I remember, but tower guard duty was nasty with a m-14 --night scope--prc 10,and seemed to be on our one day off before rotationing to the next shift.12 on/12 off..the first 3 months of '65 we were STARCOM, then STRATCOM after 3/65..I processed in through MACV and passed the OIC hotel the day after it was bombed..I do remember Steve Babichuk..and a sp4 named Robbins from New York who was very strict Jewish and had to have permission to eat pork
John Davis is familiar also, think I lost some P's to him in a Dong Kong poker game.
The class of' 65 should remember the nightly supper runs into Saigon, maybe the pee-shooters on top of building at our MP's(drove them nuts)
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I would go to the repo depot, Tan Sanut, every morning I could get away and look over all the incoming personnel. I finally commandeered 5 medics and one ambulance. I sent in request for medical supplies and would get field dressings and D5W saline solution by the cases, however that wasn't what I wanted or ordered. The aid station was so new and I missed some of the routing proceders supply at Cholon didn't know who I was or where I was.
There had been two gates out to the main road. The inside gate was manned by USA MP's, the second gate was manned by Korean MP's, outside of that was manned by anyone that had the biggest gun. I remember one day I was in the guard tower inside the second front gate when I heard shouting. I dropped down behind the sand bags but peeked over the top. There had been a civilian Vietnamese riding a bicycle on the wrong side of the road and the Koreans were yelling at him to cross over and the White Mice were yelling at him also but what they were yelling was beyond me. The guy started riding faster so one of the White Mice pulled his revolver and shot. The guy on the bike went sailing off the bike and out off the side of the road, he didn't survive the trip, 45's have a way of doing that to a person you know.
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I remember starting our EM club, we all kicked in $5.00 to get it started. I used to ride into Saigon and pick up beer. I was bitten by a rabid dog my third day in country and had to take the shots, the day after we got the last shot, the results from the tests came back positive. It's a good thing we got them. I was bitten on the hand and another man was bitten on the foot right through his boot.
The time that still stands out in my mind was when we went down to Phu Lam for a christmas party, We saw a load of 5gallon pails of paint sitting all by themselves. They looked so crowded we decided to take some of them with us. While everyone else was enjoying the show, we were loading up paint. It wasn't bad enough that we missed the show, the next morning the rest of the paint was sent to us. It was our paint we were "appropriating".
Another time, someone sent a cement truck into our compound, I didn't know the navy had that much brass in Viet Nam, But we sure found out the next morning when the showed up asking about our brand new sidewalks. It turned out that the cement as for antenna bases.
I remember Charlie used to blow up the Ammo dump at LBJ the third Friday of the month. One time, red alert was sounded one of the guys and myself were in the shower. It sounded like static electricity and then a fog horn. We had to get to our bunkers as fast as we could. I grabbed my helmet, flackvest rifle and boots and headed across the open ground. about halfway across, I heard a machinegun open up. To this day I do not remember crossing the second half. All of a sudden I was in the bunker hugging the wall. Afterwards, people said all the could see were the cheeks of my a-and soapsuds flying. The static I was hearing was Puff and he was walking on four red legs ( spraying the perimeter.)
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