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Tom Fowler,
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As stated earlier, I was in Kontum only a few weeks. In May, I was selected for an advance party to go to Bong Song and build a base camp. This was several weeks of hot, grueling work. However, the base camp we were to build was already partially established; we were there to add to it. The group that was already there were members of the Army's elite 173rd Airborne Brigade. They pretty much stayed to themselves but from what I observed of them they were very professional, no-nonsense soldiers. From May through August we pretty much stayed behind the perimeter of our base camp and built it up, with one notable exception. Highway One, which ran the length of South Vietnam close to the South China seacoast, was nothing more than a two lane blacktop road. However, it was a vitally important transportation artery for the US and South Vietnamese forces and may as well have been an American interstate highway, judging by the high priority of maintenance placed upon on it. In the hottest part of the summer, our squad was selected to repair potholes in a 30 mile stretch of this road which ran close to our base camp. We used jackhammers, tar, and hot asphalt. I've always maintained that this was the hardest work I have ever done in my life. Hot asphalt at our feet and the summer sun above us caused me to lose weight off of an already lean body. For those of you who have seen Cool Hand Luke, the 1967 film starring Paul Newman as the prisoner on a southern chain gang, then you can understand what this duty was like. Only, we didn't wear chains. We didn't need to. If any of us were to go AWOL, where would we go?

When at base camp, we ate our meals in our mess hall over on the 173rd side of the base camp, or compound, as we usually called it. The trash area sat directly off the road leading to the front gate, and one day I was riding in the back of truck as we headed out to our job site. As we rolled toward the gate, I saw several Vietnamese boys literally crawling through 55 gallon drums of used fry grease, looking for any solid food residue they could. They looked up at us and smiled, their hair and faces filthy with rancid fry grease. The image of these starving, desperate children haunts me to this day. I mentioned the perimeter earlier. My military occupational specialty was combat demolitions. (I made E-5 NCO rank by passing the promotion board test in this field before returning to the States). While I was in Vietnam, I set up many different kinds of mines and booby traps along the various perimeters we would set up at the sites we worked at. Dad once asked, "Did any of the mines you set up ever kill anybody?" I truthfully told him that I did not know. He replied, "That's probably just as well."

The hardest part of my tour began in late August when our platoon headed for the field to build a bridge. The plan was to get this bridge, a two lane, medium size bridge spanning a small river, built before the monsoon rains would commence in the middle October. We did not make it. For one reason or another, (materials did not arrive on time, lack of manpower, or, the reason I have always felt was the main factor: The powers that
be were way short in their estimation of how long it would take to erect this bridge), we fell short of our estimated time of completion. The bridge was only partially complete by the time the rains hit.

And, hit they did. Tropical monsoon rain is not like rain in most areas of North America. I was constantly reminded during that Fall of 1969 of the Biblical story of Noah and the great flood. We were camped out on a dry rice paddy close to the bridge site living in tents and sleeping on cots. During the dry season, this was not too bad.

However, the consistency of the soil in the rice paddy was such that, when water mixed with it, it changed from a very hard, brick-like surface and became a filthy, (Vietnamese fertilize their rice paddies with human excrement), smelly soup-like substance that was very sticky. Often you would be walking along on what you thought was solid ground and the next step you took would sink your foot a foot or more into the ground.

Before I continue, let me relate a short human interest story. Around our campsite, a small Vietnamese boy began hanging around and did odd jobs for soda pop and candy. He was friendly, always had a smile on his face, and we all liked him. I would guess that he was around ten years old. One day, another boy showed up offering to do similar errands, providing competition to our original young friend. I was taking a break just before noon when I heard a blood curdling yell. The boy we knew well had taken a knife and sliced a several inch gash in the second boy's leg, deep enough to where the boy's calf muscle was projecting out of the skin. Our medic quickly sewed him up, and we sent both boys away for good.

This was another lesson to me in how desperately poor and downtrodden most Vietnamese civilians were, particularly the ones in the remote locations I was stationed at. Pretty young girls, as young as 11 or 12, would sell their bodies, and young boys such as the one we knew were willing to knife their rivals over a roll of Life Savers or package of chewing gum. To this day, I think of this often and am grateful that I and my loved ones live in the Land of Plenty. Next >>

Jim Schueckler
"Soon we were heading towards the mountains with a Huey full of mail, food, Christmas cargo, and two American young women."

Tom Fowler
"Fortunately, the firefight, such as it was, did not last long and nobody inside our company area was hurt."

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The average cost per B-52 mission during Vietnam was $41,421, with an average of 27 tons of munitions dropped.
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