After a few minutes, Liz went back to her brothel, and came back with a folding table, and a pot of tea, and we had an impromptu farewell party.
0545, and Prumven, my faithful driver is there with the jeep, and I load my two bags, say goodbye to my new hoochmates, the province senior advisor, Liz, and my new sergeant. The Sergeant of the night's guard opens the gate, flips me a highball, and we turn left, going SW on QL-IV towards the Soc Trang Army Airfield.
Good bye Soc Trang!
Prumven drives up to Tiger Ops, the 121st AHC is providing the command and control ship this morning, and a sergeant said take off is scheduled in about 15 minutes. We move out to the runway, and there they are, a bunch of Hueys, in their revetments, warming up for the day. The smell of chopper fuel, the whines of engines starting, and the gentle "whop, whop, whop, whop," of about ten choppers getting ready.
Major Mong and his staff are there, and they present me with an black enameled "painting" of a Vietnamese scene of farmers working in a rice paddy. It is engraved, with my name, 21st Engineer Battalion, and January 1968 - January 1969. Major Mong also gives me a scroll with the division patch on it (looks like a Brasso can), the RVN flag, and signatures of Major Mong and his staff.
Then, it's goodbye, and we lift off, moving to the runway, turn around, nose down, and up we go. Past the Tiger's Tail (a grove of trees leading south from the airfield, alongside QL-IV, for about half a mile) and out over the paddies. Whew! No snipers in the Tail today to shoot unwary choppers.
We follow QL-IV, which has no road blocks, no "tunnels," no blown bridges; down to the Bac Lieu runway. We land on the new helipad we built three months ago, and I go over to our company and get them to drive me into the 21st Infantry Division MACV Compound.
I drop my bags at the S-4 advisor's office, and join the staff for breakfast in the mess hall. What a difference, Bac Lieu is even further down the pipe line from Saigon, yet their mess hall has more variety, and eats better than the MACV Compound in Soc Trang.
After chow, I report in to the Senior Advisor, and he apologizes for making me come down, and tells me that Major General Nghi wants to see me for lunch at Noon. He laughs at my telling him the deputy battalion commander thinks my interpreter is a VC. The SA thinks he is a wimp! I fill him in on the problems with the American Engineer Unit moving into the Soc Trang Airfield. We shoot the shit for awhile, then I am left to kill time until lunch.
I checked in with the S-1 Advisor, and he finally has orders for me to dispose of SSG Bell's stuff - after five months! There is only a box of it, but I have to turn it in to the supply room at MACV HQ Co in TSN. He also tells me that I have been approved to receive the Bronze Star, no V device because I didn't do anything extra brave; and the air medal, both of which will be awarded at Fort Belvoir!
Lunch is down in the Vil with MG Nghi, the division commander; Col Wallace, the senior advisor; and Major Mong, who has come down by jeep! The General speaks excellent English, and we talk about my tour, and he asks what I feel about the ARVN efforts. So, I told him that I couldn't comment about anything but the combat engineer effort.
My feelings are that the 21st Infantry Division Engineer Battalion certainly knows combat engineering. They know how to use demolitions, how to clear road blocks, how to fill in craters, how to build Eiffel bridges. They do well with the construction projects they are given with a big lack of equipment. I mean, C-130s land on the Bac Lieu runway, which we repaired and extended a year ago.
I also tell him and the senior advisor that the engineer battalion doesn't need a combat engineer advisor; but they certainly need assistance in maintenance and repair of ordnance vehicles and engineer equipment. I know Major Mong doesn't want to hear that, and I suspect it causes some loss of face!
That afternoon, I found that some of the supplies needed to fortify the advisory compound's defensive positions against the B-40 rocket have come in. So, I spent the time showing the S-4 advisor where and how the defenses should be built.
After dinner, we go to the bar, which is in a separate hooch. There I find a beer mug with my name on it, which is given to me along with a Paddy Rat certificate that shows an individual with his head in rectal defilade. I'm not sure exactly what it means, but every departing advisor is given one. [Now, looking back thirty years later, I wonder if it might have been some unnamed advisor's attempt at portraying our look at the Vietnam War.]
As during my first couple nights in Bac Lieu a year ago, I am assigned a hooch for overnight. They are small huts, really, with two beds in each. The latrine is in a separate building, but there is a sink in each, with cold running water. The colonel and lieutenant colonel's each have a separate hooch. No one is sharing my hooch, and I hit the sack fairly early, hoping to get a good night's sleep!
KABOOM! KABOOM! I am under the bed in a flash! It is 2330! I think it is outgoing fire from the ARVN 105mm arty stationed next to our compound, but I am not really sure until I call the DTOC. The bastards shoot all night, every night, at odd intervals. I am told this is designed to keep the VC away!
Oh, well, five and a wake-up.