Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Letters home from Vietnam 1: Arrival

My buddy Schleifer and me --- out on the town (Saigon).

This series of posts is self-indulgent, but I've been thinking a good deal about Vietnam lately and decided this morning to dig out and read the letters I'd sent home from Saigon during the year I was stationed there. My late mother had saved them all; I'd never read them.

Everyone who is a non-combat veteran of Vietnam needs to make that clear early in the game so I'll start there. I was what some called a Saigon warrior, rarely if ever in danger, rarely leaving a fascinating city then suspended in an odd time warp between the Tet Offensive and its eventual fall. 

I'd graduated basic at Fort Polk, Louisiana, then completed training at the U.S. Army Intelligence School at Fort Holabird, in a Baltimore suburb, before alighting at Fort Leslie McNair, in Washington, D.C., for a brief stay. Then home on leave and off to Vietnam. My prospects were good. By this time I had a high security clearance and a high probability of coming down in a safe place. But still ...


Tuesday, 2 December 1969, 1:30 p.m., airborne between Sacramento and Anchorage, 31,000 feet

Dear Mom and Dad,

Well, this flight is barely three hours old and already we're getting tired of it. We left Oakland at about 8:40 a.m. and got to Travis AFB, outside of Sacramento, about 10 a.m. The terminal there is much like any large airport. It is a big air terminal for military personnel. We flew out of Travis at 10:30 and are due in Anchorage about 2:30 p.m. We have all had a pretty good chicken dinner and are looking forward to stretching in Anchorage. I am passing the time by writing letters to everyone under the sun. This will be a start-stop type of letter and I'll try to give you a fair account of the trip.

Our plane is by far the largest I've been on. It seats 251. It is a commercial charter jet and is identical to regular commercial jets, except for size, down to the eight or so stewardesses. I'll continue on the way to Japan.

4 p.m. Pacific Time, 6 p.m. your time, 2 p.m. Alaska time

We just took off from Anchorage, headed west toward Japan. This leg of the trip should take about seven and a half hours. It was getting dark in Anchorage as we left (the sun does strange things in this part of the world). We're climbing to 27,000 feet now and the sun is coming out again. We'll be following the sun west, so heaven only knows what shape the day will be in by the time we get there --- they just told us we'll be landing on Japan at 4 or 5 Wednesday afternoon (seven or so hours from now, Tuesday afternoon at about the time indicated at the top of the sheet). We will cross the International Date Line in two or so hours. That will put us in Bien Hoa at about 1 a.m. Thursday. They will be serving dinner in about two hours, so I'm going to try to get a little sleep.

10 p.m. Tuesday and/or early Wednesday afternoon

As you can tell from my writing we're in some rough weather right now. We're flying about a mile lower than we were from California to Alaska, so we go a little faster and hit a little rougher weather. We still have about two and a half hours before we get to Japan and everyone, including the sewardesses, is getting tired. The crew will change in Tokyo, but after a stop of about an hour and a half, we will have about six more hours. It sure will be good to get on the ground again and stretch a little.

3:20 Wednesday morning your time, about 5:20 Wednesday evening here, I think

Well, we just took off from Tokyo for the last leg of our journey. We're a more subdued group than we were earlier. I guess everyone dreads that last landing, but once we get settled in in Vietnam it will be  a relief. They will be serving breakfast soon, so I'm going to try to get a little sleep. I'll finish this in Vietnam.

9:35 a.m. Wednesday in Iowa; about midnight, or 11:35 p.m here.

Just landed in Vietnam. We had a fighter escort from Japan and came in here completely blacked out and in a steep dive. We are waiting in a big open tin terminal right now. After getting our luggage we will go by bus convoy to the 90th Replacement Detachment about seven miles away at Long Binh. It's hot here, but at least it isn't raining. We're all scared.

Friday morn, 9:20 a.m.

Well good morning. I still don't know where I am going to be yet, but will be in one of the 525th Military Intelligence sections. Right now we are staying at 525th headquarters in Saigon --- an old fashioned compound in the city. We just got back from taking jeep driving tests in downtown Saigon --- what an experience. This is a wild city; sure would like to be stationed here, but will probably be at a field unit somewhere else. We are going downtown to personnel at 10:30 to get things straightened out and should reach our units by tomorrow. I'm getting anxious to get to work. Right now, I'm satisfied with how things are going. So take care and don't worry. Don't write to this address as I'll send you my permanent one in a few days.

Love, Frank


Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your letter.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your service.

Kaye Graves Overton VanFleet said...

Frank Another great post. In your letter, your writing skills and descriptive words start painting an honest picture of the time. Just to let you know that letters sent home to love ones are something treasured. Unlike some you made it home and have the opportunity to read those letters written by a young man taking his hardest first steps in life. There are many, in our age group, who remember those letters and the tears of joy in receiving, and reading of those we love(d). Can't wait to read the next share.

Unknown said...

You described the very same trip I made in 1969, in total I made that polar trip five times, the reason for the uneven number is a leave I took that sent me the even longer way around via Thailand, India, Greece, Rome, Frankfurt, New Jersey and back to Alaska, Japan and Vietnam. One tour, two extensions and the war was over for me! I spent more time in Vietnam than any other place while in the Army. My entire stateside training and advanced training lasted from 23 Oct 1968 to April 19 1969 and included a 30 day leave and a one week leave, that was it. I was a "trained" Turbine Engine Mechanic and had never seen an engine running throughout my training. Three weeks of that "training" amounted to casual duty in a mess hall. Once I got to Vietnam and felt I was doing something that looked like what I was suppose to be doing, I stayed on so the Army wouldn't have another opportunity to put me in a motor pool in Colorado changing tires and spit shining door knobs.

Frank D. Myers said...

The old SNAFU at work again. The Army invested a lot of time and effort in my education, then once in Vietnam snatched me out of the intended path and plopped me down in a job college had trained me for --- other than a general knowledge of enemy weapons and Vietnamese geography. But truth be told I loved the job and the people I worked with, a majority of whom were Vietnamese civilians, RVN troops and the occasional demented but gifted Korean. The only thing I recoiled from was RVN lunch --- chicken soup with head and legs intact.