My original intent was to publish George’s poem…further down in this post, but when I asked him for a summary of his Vietnam experience, I found it just as interesting and included it here too. Meet my guest, George Nunnemacher, Combat Military Policeman, United States Army, Vietnam (in-country January 1968 through December 1968), assigned to 272nd Military Police Co., Phan Thiet Detachment, LZ Betty, Phan Thiet, Binh Thuan Province, Vietnam. George believes that all VN Vets will relate to his poem in one way or another.
Upon completing Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training at the US Army Military Police School, Fort Gordon, GA, I arrived in Vietnam and reported to the 272nd MP Company Headquarters in Nha Trang. After 2 days, myself and two other new arrivals were ordered to report for duty in our platoon at LZ Betty, Phan Thiet, which was a field unit attached to the infantry unit there. This was approximately one month prior to the start of the 1968 Tet Offensive. My initial duties at LZ Betty included working the checkpoint at the entrance to the LZ and performing guard duty at the POW Compound where suspected Viet Cong prisoners were held. Being new to the unit and these duties, I was often assigned to work with more seasoned MP’s who had been there for some time. Ray Brooks, who had been there for many months, was one of the MP’s who assisted with my on-the-job training. Later in my tour, I was assigned to other duties including town patrol in Phan Thiet and as NCOIC of a gun jeep.
When I first arrived at LZ Betty, 101st Airborne (3rd Batallion, 506th Infantry) was moving in to take over for the 1st Cavalry unit which was being reassigned to a different location. The scuttlebutt from the 101st was that the 1st Cav had been extremely lax on the security of the LZ, and that Vietnamese civilians working on the LZ as barbers and hooch maids had compromised our security. This seemed to come into play later during the Tet Offensive.
The initial Tet attacks began in the early morning hours of January 31, 1968, under cover of darkness. We began receiving incoming mortar fire with massive explosions all around our platoon area. It was shock, surprise and mass confusion as the Tet holiday in previous years had been accompanied by the relative calm of an unofficial truce between American/South Vietnamese forces and the Viet Cong.
Whether because of the aforementioned lax security of the 1st Cav, or just plain luck, the enemy managed to hit the ammo dump of South Vietnamese artillery unit which was present on the LZ for training purposes. This caused the explosion of large artillery shells that were stored there. There was shrapnel from these exploding rounds flying everywhere and it felt like the whole world was exploding around us. Specialist 4 Chuck Robena, Specialist 4 Raymond Brooks and myself were detailed to secure the POW Compound. We had to get several Viet Cong prisoners into a bunker for their safety before we could take cover ourselves in an adjacent bunker. When we finally dove into the bunker I was shaking uncontrollably, dropped my M16 and had to feel around the dirt floor in the dark to find it. We kept a close watch on the prisoners in the other bunker and managed to prevent any attempt at escape. Specialist Robena was later killed by hostile fire from our west perimeter on February 25, 1968.
As the morning light arrived we were able to get a glimpse of the damage from the attack. I had been quartered with two other MP’s in a hooch constructed of wood and sandbags covered by a corrugated tin roof. This hooch and several others, along with the PMO, had been totally destroyed by mortars and/or rocket fire and there was nothing left. I managed to save my fiance’s high school graduation picture which somehow survived and hangs on my office wall today.
The west side of our perimeter vulnerable because it was bordered by a Vietnamese cemetery. The large tombstones and four-foot high dirt mounds in the cemetery provided excellent cover for the enemy to approach our perimeter undetected and launch an attack.
For the next month or so, we experienced intermittent enemy attacks on the LZ including mortars, RPG’s and small arms fire. Tensions were high as Military Intelligence received information that local enemy forces in the area had possibly acquired Russian 122 MM rockets. This had everyone on edge. We received mortar fire almost every night during the month of February. Some of the mortar fire came from sampans in the South China Sea on the east side of our LZ. We could see the tube flashes, but by the time our choppers got up and out there the enemy would stop firing and blend in with hundreds of other fishing boats. Sometimes we would receive only a dozen, or so, mortar rounds as harassment fire doing little or no damage, but it would put everyone on high alert, at the ready and on the perimeter expecting a ground attack. Supply shipments and our mail were often delayed for several days as a result of damage to the LZ’s only runway.
Later that month several of us were detailed to provide nighttime security at the MACV Compound in downtown Phan Thiet. Intelligence reports indicated there might be an attack on the compound and extra security was needed. Fred Zimmerman, Sam Bridgers, Ray Brooks and myself were positioned on the roof of the MACV Building with only M-16’s and an M-79 grenade launcher. We spent a couple sleepless nights on that roof and worried about having enough ammo in the event of an attack, but fortunately, it never came.
There were numerous attacks and other incidents during the month of February. In addition to our duties on the LZ, we resumed jeep patrols in and around the city of Phan Thiet. Weeks of long hours and little sleep took a toll and made it seem like the month would never end.
After the Tet attacks, we experienced only intermittent contact with the enemy, a few mortar rounds directed at the LZ or occasional small arms fire on the perimeter, but nothing that compared to Tet. I completed my tour and returned home to Pennsylvania for a one-month leave, after which I reported to Fort Dix, NJ, where I spent my last six months in the Army pulling regular MP duty including traffic control, accident investigation and normal patrol duties. I was promoted to Sergeant E-5 prior to completing this last assignment.
A poem by George Nunnemacher
You just completed AIT, now you’re in-country – a cherry, FNG.
You hopped a ride to your new AO, on a Slick, a Chinook or maybe a Caribou.
You were an Airman, a LRRP, a deck Ape or an MP,
A Jarhead, a Grunt, a Wing-Wiper or Seabee.
A pilot, crew chief or tunnel rat, Or a boonie rat wearing a boonie hat.
You lived in a Hooch on a hot LZ, down in the Delta or up near the DMZ.
Slept in a rack on Sub or Tin Can, in an old French bunker, or on bags filled with sand.
If you were lucky, you didn’t end up in the bush with a Butter Bar,
For then you would surely end up FUBAR . (In need of a Dustoff.)
Night was the toughest – standing guard on the wire, enemy sappers and mortar fire.
Victor Charles (Charlie) was more than hard core…
He would even sneak up and turn your Claymores.
But when the stuff hit the fan, and the going got rough,
You called in the Zoomies, Spooky or Puff.
You rode Quad 50’s, Dusters or APC’s,
And you worried about AK’s, B40’s and RPG’s.
Willy Peter, Booby Traps and M79’s,
Punji Stakes, and those home-made Land Mines.
You bought Saigon Tea with MPC…
The price, I remember, was about 500 P.
There were good times too, and sometimes even fun.
And to Mamasan and Babysan, your cash was “Numbah One”.
You were gung ho, young and stupid, …. You took chances, and how.
But if you only knew then what you know now.
You were “tight” with your buddies…. That’s how you stayed alive.
Booby Traps, Snakes and Malaria – how the hell did you survive?
On a short timer’s calendar, you counted down to DEROS.
Having no desire to become another one of those heroes.
Ten Days and a Wake-Up, your tattered calendar unfurled.
Then finally, finally you head home on that big Freedom Bird.
Of course, after all this, there was only one more reason to fret.……
Because, remember Bro’s, Jody was there when you left. (Your right).
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i lived it. tet 1068 lz betty west perimeter i still shake today
George, excellent article. Hope all’s well?
I really enjoyed reading your poem, even though I didn’t do Nam, wasn’t even a vet. I was in college, haha!
In recent years, my daughter married the son of a LRRP, and I learned to appreciate the gumption of those long range recons.
I had no clue what a boonie hat looked like, but I appreciated the phrase because I live in a mountain town in North Carolina—Boone.
. . . found myself laughing at your Butter Bar and FUBAR, even though I didn’t know what the hell you were talking about.
Your poem is piece of history, as is evidenced by certain memories and phrases:
. . . Charlier sneaking up and turning your Claymores
. . . we can imagine what Zoomies, Spooky and Puff were (a magic dragon?) haha!
I’m really glad, George, you had some “numbah one” to spread around while you were there.
I’ve heard or read a little about the dynamics of that “short timers” status. . . and a few sad tales of last-minute tragedies.
Cutting to the chase. . .glad you made it to that great Freedom Bird in the sky!
Thanks, George, for sharing your poem with us.
Even more importantly, however: Thanks for sticking your leathernecks out, putting yourselves on the line for our great nation, which is still, always was and will be again —thanks to the bravery of those who are willing to serve— great!
By God’s grace these men survived, thank the Almighty for His presence with these Veterans and Heroes. Love to all who survived and love to those that didn’t.
Very well written! Really enjoyed it!
I arrived at LZ Betty-Phan Thiet shortly after the guest author as an Army SP4 and spent the rest of my tour there. Some good time, some bad. I came home intact. Others did not.
George was a High School Classmate. I am was in AF in Vietnam 70/71. Vung Tau and Cam Ranh Bay. C7 Caribou Airframe Repairman.
Thank you for posting this,what a great piece.
wow! i was on lz betty late 1969. great to see those pictures.
After just getting in country, this FNG might do better to keep his judgments of a First Cav unit being responsible for an RVN ammo dump being blown up a month later during the Tet Offensive while the 101st Airborne was on perimeter guard…
You’re right, Maz, I was an FNG- but I wasn’t trying to be judgmental. Just relaying what the guys from the 101st said. Perhaps it was just luck, but the VC also took out several of our choppers behind big revetments, two of our 50 cal’s and our generating station. The feeling was that locals working on the LZ must have paced these locations off.
I was in the 545th. M.P.Co. and had similar experiences at An Khe and the tea plantation Katacka in Nov of 65