I have been glued to the TV every night watching THE VIETNAM WAR by Ken Burns on PBS. Below is a post from my personal blog that originally ran in March of 2016. This conversation with my father was a huge reason for me starting Red Artichoke Stories. I hope you enjoy, Lori
My parents have been visiting for the winter. I’m grateful they are here. My mom has been a laundry fairy. My dad has been fixing small things all over the house. They are only going to be here for a couple more weeks. I’m going to miss them when they head home. And not only because they have been doing small things to make my life easier. My father turned 70 last year. My mom struggles to get around. I don’t know how many more times they are going to be able to make the trek out to Utah from Wisconsin. My kids have had a chance to get to know their grandparents better on this trip. And my parents have had the chance to see many of my kids’ school activities and sports events.
One of the activities my parents have done to keep themselves occupied, while my family goes on with our usual life, is to try some new restaurants. Today they tried Jasmine in Holladay. They tell me it was a huge menu with really wonderful Asian food. My father was telling me about their lunch, and it led him telling me about his tours with the Army in Vietnam in 1966. I listened closely, because as I told him when he was done talking, I had never heard those stories before in my life. He replied with, “I don’t like to talk about it.”
My father was on a non-combat tour. However, what he told me tonight scared me. I can only imagine what the combat tours experienced. Actually, I hope to talk to some vets and ask them about their tours, but for now, this is my father’s story.
1966, my father was stationed on a base in Vietnam. His assignment was water purification. As you can imagine, it is a seriously important job. Clean water is a must. The base had many Vietnamese living on it. He told me that the civilians had jobs such as KP and other clean-up work, and in their free time, they set up tents and booths to sell wares and other items to the military stationed there. It was like a little city within the base.
Inside the base was a civilian airport. Pan Am would fly commercial flights into the base. The base was surrounded by VC. (Viet Cong) The VC would shoot at all of the planes that landed. My father told me that when he first flew into the base, the plane was shot at, and they could see the bullet holes on the outside of the plane after they landed. The planes, as they took off would have to get altitude very quickly, and they left the runway, almost vertically, so that they would not get hit by snipers. He said that from the ground it looked like the tails of the planes almost hit the runways on takeoff. Can you imagine being on one of those airplanes? Can you imagine how good those pilots were?
There was life just outside the base. The military personnel were given time off base. Just outside the gates were rows of restaurants. Just outside the gates were the Viet Cong.
One day, my dad and some friends went to get some dinner. They finished and walked out to head back to base. About 10 seconds later, a VC rolled by and threw a grenade into the restaurant they had just walked out of blowing up everything and everyone in there. They narrowly escaped.
My father spent most of his time on the base near Cam Ranh Bay. During his two half tours in Vietnam, one year total, he only left the base for a mission once. He and his unit were called to a base up the bay to assist with the building of an airstrip. They loaded five trucks filled with water purification equipment and other rations onto a boat. When they arrived at their destination they unloaded and drove to the base. He told me that they had a troop of Korean soldiers with them as lookout and protection. His unit was told that if an alarm was signaled they had 15 seconds to get into their holes or they needed to stop dead in their tracks because the Korean troop would shoot at the next thing that moved. They were there a couple of weeks and everything was quiet while there.
When the job was done, they headed back to the boat. The base was on a ridge and the boat down below in the bay. When they got to the boat, they were instructed to load the trucks on the boat quickly because the tide was on the way out. As they loaded the boat, the base was attacked. He said the sky lit up like fireworks. When the last truck was loaded, it weighed down the boat and it was stuck on a sand bar. In order to get out to water, the tugs had to pull, but the tugs couldn’t get close to the boat because of the firestorm on the base. A helicopter was called to take the tow ropes out to the tugs. At that time, the waves started to kick up, and they were breaking big over the side of the boat. The helicopter dropped a few ropes over to the tugs, but the ropes broke. On one attempt, they almost lost the helicopter when a wave broke up and sucked the rope down, pulling the copter. One of the men on the copter was able to cut the rope before it pulled the copter under the wave.
During this time, the gunners on the boat were on post waiting for any of the firestorm to leave the base and turn toward them.
Luckily, the tug was finally able to get a rope and pull the boat around enough to get it moving on its own.
I’ve been alive almost 48 years. This is the first time my father has ever told me Vietnam stories. Over the years he would tell us about some of the cultural things he encountered, but never anything scary. What he told me tonight was scary.
My father, spent the next 25 years in the Army National Guard. He had a few times that he was called to active duty during my childhood. I’ve always been proud of his service to our country and protecting our safety. Tonight, my pride has increased.
Thank you, Daddy. I love you.