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Subject: Extra Duties


Author:
John Brown
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Date Posted: 11:13:28 12/01/05 Thu

Extra Duties

In the army everyone gets assigned extra duties, even when you are the
company exec. My extra duty was as Battalion Officer Paymaster. That
meant that every month it was my job to drive into Qui Nhon with an armed
guard and pick up about $80,000 in cash to pay all of the officers in the
battalion. Simple enough. Hah!

Two weeks after my arrival I was initiated into the world of pay officer.

You are first advised to make sure every last penny is in the stack
before you sign for it. MPC is is soft paper bills about two inches by
three inches on paper that is a chore to separate. The largest bill was
ten bucks if I remember correctly. I was put in a cubicle by myself and
advised to count the entire stash twice to make sure it was all there.
Any shortages were my responsibility. I was making about $292 per month
base pay at the time so any shortage I had to make up would be a real
hickey. So, I counted the bills once, and then twice. Thank heavens the
two counts matched.

Back the twenty or so miles to my hooch where I kept my loaded M14 ( we
hadn't been issued M 16s yet) close at hand and counted out each officers
pay twice and placed the bills into each officer's payroll statement. I
have now counted out more than $80,000 in small bills four times.

All I had to do now was deliver to each officer his cash and payroll
voucher. Then I found out where some of these guys were. There were guys
detailed all over I Corps. It was up to me to figure out how to get to
them.

After paying all the locals it was time for me to hit the road. I had a
jeep, a driver, a .45 caliber grease gun (I figured that even if I
couldn't hit anyone with it, I would sure scare the hell out of them) and
a pocket full of cash. I put a razor and toothbrush and clean socks in my
pockets and I was gone to explore the eastern coast of South Vietman. I
had no idea how long it was going to take me to pay these guys. I had
been in country two weeks, could hardly find my way to the latrine and
back and here I was, off to parts unknown in a war zone, at the same time
as the battle of Dak To, probably the biggest and fiercest battle of the
Vietnam War, was winding down a hundred miles away.

The first day I headed north up Highway 1, which, at the time was nothing
more than a dusty track which headed straight into no-man's land. The
road was closed to traffic at 5 pm every day. The VC owned it from then
until daylight. I was on a real adventure. The country was beautiful.
Rice paddies, palm trees, quiet villages. Didn't look like a war zone to
me. But that road was a mess.

We had a hundred kilometers to go to get to Bong Son and LZ English, home
to the !st Cavalry Division and a forward support detachment that was
part of my responsibilities and the home to a second lieutenant who had
to be paid. We passed by the road that led to Phu Cat Air Force Base, a
remote engineer company and several villages of various sizes. After
about an hour on the road I had been bounced around once too often and I
had to pee. Bad.

Here I was, out in the middle of nowhere in the Bong Son plain, nobody in
sight, new in country, totally ignorant of where I was or who else might
be there, no thought whatsoever about mines planted on the side of the
road, standing on the side of the road taking a leak. How was I to know
that we had stopped right in the path of an aerial assault by the 1st
Cav. So here I am, peeing on the side of the road, helicopters buzzing
over my head, and bullets starting to fly all around. What the hell do
you do in a situation like that. You can't just shut it off. So I did
what any good soldier would under the circumstances. I finished what I
was doing, climbed back into the jeep and got the hell out of there.

I made that trip many times over the next 11 months. That was the most
exciting trip of all. Later after the road was paved, the trip got
easier. It also got a lot scarier. The 7th NVA Division moved into the
area and you never knew what you were going to run into. I ended up
carrying an M-60 machine gun across my lap on many trips. Bridges were
frequently blown up at night and the road and shoulders had to be swept
for mines every morning before the road could be opened to traffic.
There were several places along the road where the elephant grass came
right up to the edge of the road (not good ) and most of the villages
were controlled by the VC.

I spent my first night on the road in a tent for the first time in
Vietnam. And what a night. The tent I got stuck in was about fifty yards
directly in front of an ARVN 155 mm howitzer. I think they put me there
on purpose. You know, new guy in town and all that crap. The damn thing
shot H & I all night long directly over my bunk. You cannot describe this
unless you yourself have experienced it.

The gun direction was changed after each round by what I would guess was
about five degrees. It would traverse about 45 degrees and then come
back about ninety degrees and then start back again. My bunk must have
been about dead on the center of the traverse. For about the middle
three rounds of every traverse, the muzzle blast would literally lift my
bunk off the ground. I had to hug the bunk for those rounds in order to
stay on it. The noise is indescribable. No one who has not been in the
army, marines or on a Navy ship with big guns can appreciate what this
experience was like. I did not get a whole lot of sleep.

When I first arrived at LZ English the first thing anyone noticed was the
grease gun. I was immediately informed that they were desired by everyone
and went for about $250. The army paid less than 40 bucks each for them.
I slept with it in the bed with me that night and then every night I was
gone to make sure someone didn't steal it from me. I never carried it
anywhere again.

The last officer to be paid was really in the boonies. He was assigned
to a forward base camp near a village called Duc Pho. It was not far from
a very famous village, Mi Lai, which wasn't yet known to anybody but the
locals. Getting to this place took some real effort. Duc Pho was about
another 100 klicks north of Bong Son on Highway 1 but it was not possible
to drive there. Highway 1 was not open to traffic for unescorted vehicles
going any further north than I already was. From here on I was going to
have to find air transportation. I was still carrying a pocket full of
cash.

My driver dropped me off at the LZ English landing strip and I found a
twin engined Caribou headed for Da Nang. The only flight north that day.
Da Nang was way up north. I had no idea how far it was from Da Nang to
Duc Pho but I figured I had a better chance of getting there from Da Nang
than from LZ English. They had an airbase there.

I and a few other brave souls boarded the plane, then unboarded. Seems
like one of the engine magnetos wasn't working. Bad. The crew chief
removed the mag and I got him over to one of our shops where we used
argon or oxygen to dry it out. By the time it was back together it was
almost noon. No lunch today.

Once again we lined up at the end of the runway to take off. Away we go.
Just as we lift off the mag gives up the ghost again. At least it waited
until we were airborne. It must have been 150 to 200 miles to Da Nang,
all over VC controlled country. We did it on one engine.

I hit the ground running when we landed in Da Nang. It was now late in
the afternoon and flights to such places as Duc Pho stopped at dusk. The
operations desk told me that there was a flight on the line leaving right
then for Duc Pho and I launched into a sprint across the tarmac. This guy
with a white silk scarf thrown around his neck was wandering around the
aircraft, I guess inspecting it. The Pilot? Looked like something right
out of a Jimmy Stewart movie. He gave me the ok to get in and I jumped
onto the rear ramp where several grunts were already getting comfortable
and we were gone. On another Caribou.

This pilot was either a new comer who believed all the stories he had been
told, crazy or a veteran who knew the score. To get to Duc Pho we had to
cross arms of the South China Sea and over land. Whenever we were over
water he climbed to altitude. But when we were over land……

We passed over an infantry squad going out on night patrol. One of the
grunts on the plane said it was his squad. Another guy said "How do you
know" to which the first replied "I could read their nametags." That
wasn't much of an exaggeration. The pilot put that thing right on the
deck over land. He figured that at such a low altitude, he would be over
and gone before Charlie could figure out where he was and take pot shots
at him. I guess it worked. Nobody took pot shots at us.

We all got our gear on the back ramp. The pilot advised us over the
intercom that he was not stopping on the ground. It was getting dark. The
plane hit the ground and barely slowed down. At the end of the runway he
did a 180, we all spilled out the back and he was gone.

Somebody gave me directions to the area I needed to head for, I walked
across the runway and got there just in time for supper. All day to get
100 miles.

After I ate I needed to find a pee tube. I was told where it was and to
be sure to use the flashlight. It seems the week before a visiting
officer had wandered out to the pee tube in the middle of the night and
didn't bother to bring a light. There was a viper coiled around the tube
when he siddled up to it and it got him on the foot. At least that was
the story I was told. With all the poisonous snakes that were around
that country it didn't take much to make me a believer. I took the
flashlight.

I never was sure what was the more dangerous, taking a chance of a snake
being coiled around the tube or sending a signal to Charlie where I was.
This LZ was in the middle of Charlie country and the perimeter was probed
on a regular basis. I caught a chopper to Qui Nhon the first thing the
next morning and I was glad to get out of that place. Before the month
was over, the lieutenant got transferred out and I never had to go back
there again.

I had been in Nam two weeks.

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Replies:
Subject Author Date
Re: Extra DutiesBill Dyer10:50:58 12/12/08 Fri


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