Let me introduce Joseph Welsh.  He served in Vietnam 1967- 68 and was stationed at The 8th Radio Research Field Station, (Trai Bac Station) located on Highway 1, Phu Bai, Vietnam (Republic Of).  They were co-located with HQ 3d MARDIV and across the road from the Hue-Phu Bai Airport.



Joe, in his room sometime during Tet ’68.

Red X: marks where my room was.
(There were 5 – 6 people to a room.)
Blue X: is the Operations Bldg., where I worked (Usually Swings).
Green X: marks Star Bunker 3, my Alert Station.
(I was an ammo bearer. We had the 3.5 in. rocket launcher [Bazooka]
and a whole conex container full of white phospherous rounds for it.
We were supposed to take out the MP’s bunker, next to the main gate,
if it were to be overrun.)
Yellow X: is the Mess Hall (In today’s Milspeak, the “Dining Facility.”)


Aerial Photograph of the 8th RRFS, Phu Bai, RVN, ca. 1968
Joseph has a blog (MUSINGS) that he’s maintained since 2009.  Not all his articles are about his time in Vietnam, but he did offer me my pick of those he had posted for republication here. Enjoy!

Shortly after my arrival at the 8th RRFS, Phu Bai

I got word that my wife needed a power-of-attorney. The nearest JAG office was forty-some miles away, at Da Nang AFB. Was given leave to go down and conduct business and told to then hurry back. Hitched a ride on a Huey and found my way to the JAG office. . . quonset hut with air conditioning, little white picket fence, flower garden, lovely young Vietnamese secretary. I did all the necessary paperwork, grabbed lunch, returned to pick up the finished document, ran to catch a flight north but had missed the last flight out. Today, I don’t know why I didn’t request AF transient quarters but instead hitched a ride downtown on a passing deuce-and-a-half.
I was searching for “army” units to find a place to bed down. I came upon a large compound belonging to the First Logistical Command. Made my way to the orderly room and requested a bunk for the night.(Because we performed a classified mission, I had been told to not disclose my specific unit. Since I was wearing a MACV patch, I told the 1SG that I was from MACV-J2. That was as high as one could go in the intel field in Vietnam.)The MACV Patch

Got my bunk. In fact, got an entire hooch to myself. . . and I was a mere PFC! The 1SG even sent the orderly room clerk (a SP4) over with a jeep to give me a tour of downtown Da Nang. I toured (saw the oldest tree in the country), ate, went to sleep. Next morning, the same clerk woke me and escorted me to breakfast then drove me back to the airfield. I caught a ride on a 123 and was back at the 8th in time for swings.  I’ve often wondered just who they thought I was. . . and what shenanigans might’ve been going on inside that First Log compound.

American Icon …

An ice-cold Coke. Funnily enough, when I think of that icon I’m remembering Vietnam.July 1967 …
110 in the noon-day sun …
work detail (repairing the trench line) …
metallic-tasting warm water in the canteens.
The NCO in charge leaving us …
going to the EM Club …
returning with a case of Coke …
a bucket of ice …
sleeve of paper cups.
Break time!
Sucking down Coke over ice …
guzzling Coke on ice …
cold ‘n wet.
Coke on ice …
on a brutal hot day.A memory carried for more than 40 years.   Don’t drink much soda now.  Never did drink much to start with.  Probably wouldn’t be drinking it nowadays at all… except for that memory of Vietnam.  (I’ve become diabetic.)  Nothing else has ever tasted quite as good since.  Despite what the Docs say … every once in awhile, I just gotta have… a Coke!


A memory surfaces …

The 8th RRFS, Phu Bai, Vietnam, ca. 1967 …
me, pulling LN Guard … assigned to watch a couple of local PA&E plumbers do work in the HQ Company latrine. (The old French-style buildings.) The plumbers had dug up a drainage pipe near the entrance. I was standing in the doorway watching. MPs were up and showering, getting ready for swings. House-boys and house-girls were working away, cleaning and doing laundry.
One MP (name unknown) had just exited the shower and was standing at the wash basins, getting ready to shave … in the buff. He was big, 6’3″ maybe, red-haired, lots of freckles. The facilities had been built to accomodate a much shorter folk than we Americans. The red-headed MP’s “equipment” was lying in the sink as he shaved. Moving down the line of basins was a young, pretty house-girl. She was intent on her job of cleaning the sinks and completely ignored the naked men surrounding her. When she reached the sink being “occupied” by our MP, she merely picked up his “equipment”, wiped the sink beneath, then dropped it back in place and, walking around him, continued on with her job, nonplussed. I’d seen what was coming and was watching the MP for his reaction. Thought he’d cut his throat the way he jumped. He’d had no idea she was there.  I laughed ’til I almost peed my pants.

Late summer:

Had been there a short while . . . perhaps 2 months. Was beginning to feel confined. We weren’t allowed off the combat base. A ration convoy was being put together. I volunteered . . . wanted off post, badly. We had to be fully armed, but nobody said with what. I decided to forego taking the -14 and borrowed a .45 pistol from a machine-gunner friend. (Note: I had no idea how to operate said pistol. How fucking stupid was I??) We rolled out the main gate early one morning and turned north, towards the city of Hue. After traveling for about 30 minutes the truck I was riding in began back-firing and jerking and then stopped. The convoy kept going, per SOP, and we three found ourselves stuck on Highway 1, in an area away from any villages or U.S. forces. Me, armed with a pistol that I’d never even held before and two other nervous ASA’ers armed with their M-14s and 80 rounds each. After an eternity of time, along came the maintenance trail. They fiddled with our engine and after a time we were rolling again. We wended our way through paddys, villages and farm country until we reached the shore of a large body of brackish water. On the shore was a small village and our trucks were all parked there, on the beach. Out on the water, about a quarter mile,  was a US Navy self-propelled reefer barge. A “Mike Boat” (landing craft) was ferrying the trucks, one at a time, out to the barge, where they were loaded then returned to shore.

Since my truck was now last in line, I had a goodly bit of time to explore. I wandered through the village, taking in all the strangeness and tranquility and poverty. A little girl caught my eye. My guess is that she was about 10 – 12 years old. She waved me over, then offered me a slice of watermelon. It was a brutal hot day. I accepted. I was struck near dumb. Here was this child who had nothing, offering me something . . . for nothing . . . out of compassion. The melon went down smooth. Tried to talk with her but she spoke no English and I was mono-linguistic. I was then called over and ordered to go out with the next Mike Boat to facilitate the transfer of foodstuff. It was getting late. Once aboard the barge we labored long and hard, shifting crates of vegetables (To include a deck cargo of heat-rotted potatoes that the navy insisted we take because they were ours and “sorry, there was no room in the cooler for them, and we know we’re three weeks overdue but regs are regs . . . and there’s a fuckin’ war going on!”) The hardest part was moving the frozen meats up from out of the freezer compartment. I stood on a crate and passed each piece up, through the open hatch, to someone there, waiting for it. This went on for about three-quarters of an hour. It would have been a good workout for a weight lifter in a gym. I was whipped afterwards. Went up on deck and lit a cigarette. Local kids, in round caracle boats, had swarmed the barge and were yelling (begging) to the GIs on board. Somebody had opened a crate of oranges and had begun tossing them into the water to watch the kids fight over the fruit. Some of the fights were downright vicious. Guys were taking bets on which kid would get to the orange first. I found this to be repugnant behavior on the part of well-fed Americans.

Soon, the transfer of foodstuff was complete. We formed convoy on the beach and prepared to drive off. I was, once again, in the back of a truck. This one happened to have a couple crates of oranges on board. As we passed through the village, I spied the little girl who’d offered me the melon slice. I waved at her, then heaved a crate of oranges out towards her and yelled “Thanks.” She waved back . . . that’s the last I saw of her.

I’ve remembered that little girl through the intervening years. Wondered if she survived, grew up, got married, raised a family.
I dearly hope so . . . hope her life was peaceful and uncomplicated.


Officer doesn’t have a clue…

This cartoon may be from the current conflict but back in Vietnam, at the 8th RRFS, Phu Bai, this actually happened.

It was the tail-end of the ’68 Tet Offensive. The NVA was mostly beaten but there was a persistent VC mortar crew who would hit us with 5 – 6 rounds, maybe once or twice a week. It was ALWAYS 5 – 6 rounds, then they’d have to dee-dee because of counter-battery fire. This one afternoon they dropped rounds on us again. The siren sounded and the barracks quickly emptied out. There were guys in towels, having come straight from the shower, guys half dressed, dragging their field gear behind them, guys in full TA-50 and uniform. This was normal. After about 30 minutes, myself and another SP4 (Can’t remember his name.) were standing in the trench line adjacent to Star Bunker #3, waiting for the all-clear to sound. Both of us were shirtless, wearing trousers, flip-flops, flak jackets and TA-50 gear. Our helmets rested on the trench edge, our weapons were slung. Around a bend in the trenchline came a frog-hopping  Lieutenant Colonel. We’d never seen him before. He frog-walked to where we were standing, looked up at us through a pair of those black GI issue glasses, and demanded to know what it was we were doing, just standing there. Where was our duty station?  Where were our proper uniforms?? Why weren’t we paying attention to the perimeter wire??? … and on and on. We looked at each other, then down at him (Trying hard not to laugh.), as he squatted there. I explained that the attack was over and we were waiting for the official “all clear” to sound. I further explained that we’d hurried to the bunker quickly, that there had been no time to get properly dressed, there never was and that this was the norm for daytime alerts. He nodded at us, saying, “Oh … okay.” He then allowed that he’d let our appearance pass but we were to be in the proper uniform next time the alert was sounded. He then frog-hopped away, down the trench line towards the bunker.
Thank you Joseph Welsh!  If any of you would like to read more of Joe’s prose, this is the direct link to his home page:  http://jmawelsh.blogspot.com/

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