Friday, August 12, 2011

Diary Entry 118: Saigon, Sunday Night, 16 January 1966

                                                                    Sunday Night, 16 January 1966

General Creighton W. Abrams, Jr., U.S. Army (Image courtesy U.S. Army)

The briefing went pretty well this afternoon for General [Creighton W.] Abrams [U.S. Army Vice Chief of Staff]. And right after it was over, I just sent the charts back to the office and took the rest of the day off. There wasn’t too much risk to it as General Crowley had departed for Honolulu at 1:30 p.m.

Lieutenant Colonel Price who works in J-4 (and who was another briefer) and I went first down to the Hong Kong BOQ and celebrated everyone’s departure and the Vietnamese New Year (Tet). Then we decided why not go out and have a good meal and relax for a while. So we discussed the relative merits of various places to eat and ruled out all the places like the My Canh (floating restaurant that always gets bombed) and finally decided that the Majestic Hotel was probably the best of the lot as well as the safest. After we changed clothes we decided to stop by the Rex BOQ and see if there were any other people we might see and like well enough to go with us. We ran into Grady and asked him if he wanted to go but he said he was out of money and in spite of our willingness to buy him a dinner, he continued to decline and we went on our way.

It was a Royal feast. I had a green salad, hors d’ouerves, French onion soup with baked cheese, filet mignon well done, and apple pie. We decided that since it was the Vietnamese New Year we might as well make it an occasion and share a bottle of good French wine. This isn’t done very often over here as wine costs a fortune because it is considered a luxury by the government and is highly taxed. I think the bottle of wine we bought cost $1200 VN which is roughly equivalent to $10.00 US.

At any rate, it was a real pleasant evening. The Majestic overlooks the Saigon River and it was real relaxing to sit on the top floor and watch the ships working and the lights winking out in the harbor.

After dinner we went in the bar and listened to the singers and the band for a while and then called a Navy radio taxi to take us home. It felt real good to go out for a change. Now I’m back at the Vinh Loi Hotel and wishing I were home instead.

Tet is roughly the same as our Xmas and New Year’s combined. It is time for the Vietnamese to throw firecrackers, visit each other, exchange gifts, and otherwise have a good time. The New Lunar Year (this Old Year is the Year of the Snake---the New Year is called the Year of the Cracker) does not officially begin until 21 January but they start celebrating early and are throwing firecrackers all over the place tonight. Last year it was the vogue to give friends a snake as recognition of the name and patron saint so to speak
of the year. This year they will give each other crackers. They have Tet cards just like we have Xmas cards and we have been informed that we should give Tet cards to people like our driver, office boy, maid, bellboy, and the like. Not to do so is an insult to personal servants. And if you are a benevolent master, you will enclose $100 VN in each card so given. I already have the necessary Tet cards and tomorrow will get some money changed so as to make the proper representation and appear benevolent!

On 21 January we are supposed to stay off the streets so I reckon to go to work real early and stay there later. Can’t see locking myself in this hotel room all day. At the office I’ll at least be able to walk around the compound.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Video: U.S. Army Staff Film 66-30A and Port Conditions at Saigon, Nha Be, and Vung Tau

This is a fascinating U.S. Army staff film from 1966.  It depicts the world Clark lived in during his MACV tour of duty.

At 8:50, Colonel Richard Aronson, commander of the U.S. Army 4th Transportation Command (Terminal Service), describes port conditions at Saigon, Nha Be, and Vung Tau. 

At 15:10, General Harold K. Johnson, Army Chief of Staff, can be seen; at 16:40, General Frank S. Besson, Jr., commander of the Army Materiel Command, can be seen briefly.

Diary Entry 117: Saigon, Sunday, 16 January 1966

                                                                   Sunday, 16 January 1966

I did not write last night as it was late when we finished up work and finally got our supper. It was even later after I visited a little while with Grady and Lieutenant Colonel Eckels who now lives next door to me and who also works in J-4. I felt kind of bushed, and knowing that I had to be at work bright and early this morning, I just went right on to bed. Feel very badly that I have not been real regular with writing in the past two weeks. But we seem to be in utter panic or frenzy in getting movements of stuff done. Some relief is in prospect the next two weeks as General Crowley will be back in Honolulu for a conference. Most of the work has been involved in preparing lots of fact sheets, talking papers, position papers, and other written items prepared just for this conference.

The briefing for General Westmoreland went off quite nicely, although I didn’t sell him all of my ideas. I have another briefing laid on for Lieutenant General [Joseph H.] Moore, commander of the 2d Air Division, on the same subject. Later today I must give a briefing to General [Creighton] Abrams, the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, on another subject.

On the way to work this morning one of my co-workers said that he may send for me to come to the Hawaii conference if things get real hot on discussions of certain areas. I told him with friends like that I don’t need any enemies as such an event was likely to interfere with a trip back to the States if Niederman were to send for me any time during the period they are in Honolulu. So maybe he got the point and no one will be sending for me. A trip to Hawaii would be a pleasant thing, but I think a trip back to the States is outstanding!

I [previously] called the Alaska Barge people to ask about status of the tows and also about the type of communications gear they acquired. I got a letter from Mr. Fred Dunham, their Seattle manager and former TC colonel, in answer to that phone call. His reply is heartening on the trip back. I am going to write Niederman today or tonight, bringing him up to date on certain things we are doing for MSTS here and asking if he has a fix on the probable date that contract negotiations will start.

After I come back from the States, I would like to take a 4 to 5 day TDY [temporary duty] trip over to Thailand to explore land lines of communication leading toward Laos and then fly over the northwest thumb of the country to get an appreciation of terrain over there. Later I hope to get to Taipei to look into prospects of establishing a support area there. And then I would like to take a 3-day trip to see the Chief Western Transportation Officer at Tachikawa Air Base outside Tokyo just on a liaison basis. By then I should have seen all that I want to see have done all the traveling necessary for a general appreciation of southeast Asia.

Lee Surut called me yesterday from Bien Hoa to inquire about his transport back to Honolulu to see Trudy on 2 weeks' leave. He comes back here at the end of the month and of course is looking forward to getting out of here for keeps in May. I was supposed to meet him out at Tan Son Nhut this morning at 9 a.m. to talk for a while and see him off. But this Abrams briefing came up later on and I could not get Lee back on the telephone (communications are atrocious here) and he probably thinks I’m a fink for not being there.

About 5 November a lot of surface mail had been collected for shipment back to the States. A total of 91 or 92 CONEX containers full of packages where booked for shipment on the Willamette Victory for movement back to the States, and this mail was loaded on 9 November at Saigon. Then through a series of unfortunate incidents, the Willamette Victory was routed to Da Nang to pick up an urgent shipment of aircraft to go to Subic Bay in the Philippines. Then it broke down and had to go to Manila Bay for repairs. After repairs, it was sent to Okinawa to pick up vehicles urgently required in Vietnam and then proceeded back to Saigon. At Saigon, she was loaded out again with AM-2 construction matting also urgently required at Cam Ranh Bay. A visitor just passing thru Cam Ranh on an inspection happened to board the ship and discover what was in the CONEXes. He had enough rank to get people hopping and arrangements were quickly made to fly all of the mail back to the States from Cam Ranh Bay. I hear the last shipments went out of there about 9 January.

Operation MATADOR was not very successful as they made no significant contact with the VC forces which had just vanished into thin air. [Ed:  During the first half of January 1966 the 1st Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division conducted Operation MATADOR to find and destroy the enemy in Pleiku and Kontum Provinces. During this operation, the 1st Cavalry saw the enemy flee across the border into Cambodia, confirming that the enemy had well-developed sanctuaries and base camps inside that country.]  All the caves and tunnels were destroyed and some supplies captured. As far as secrecy is concerned, it is not very effective over here. Movements of troops can be routinely observed from one location to another, a good bit of coordination is required between the Vietnamese and the US and thus much information may be leaked, and of course when aerial recon is made by everybody and his brother to look at the area of operations, it doesn’t take a genius of an intelligence officer to predict what is occurring. It seems to me that the secret of success lies in conducting swift operations on a unilateral rather than a joint or combined force with minimum reconnaissance and maximum violent execution. The Marines have been very successful in conducting operations in this manner. And sooner or later we are going to have to push inland and get off this coastal bit.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Diary Entry 116: Saigon, Friday Night, 14 January 1966

                                                                  Friday Night, 14 January 1966

Thank goodness it's Friday and Sunday isn't very far away.  Glad it's Friday so I can cross one more week off my calendar; pleased that Sunday is near because General Crowley will be leaving that day for a conference in Honolulu so perhaps will get two weeks to rest up before he comes back.  And maybe by the time he gets back Mr. Niederman will have sent for me and I'll be able to goof off 15 or 20 days in the States.

Very busy here last couple of weeks. Did I write that General Besson was over here and that I briefed him? Believe I did, so won’t write about that. Yesterday briefed General Westmoreland on a concept for passenger airline operation which he approved in general but not exactly as I hoped. He kind of equivocated in his decision, so I didn’t much care for it. On Monday I brief Lieutenant General [Joseph]Moore (USAF), commander of the 2nd Air Division, same subject.  He probably won't buy off on it completely, either, as the concept is a little controversial.  We'll see how it turns out.

United States Embassy,  39 Ham Nghi Boulevard, Saigon, South Vietnam, 1966.  (Photo courtesy Richard P. Clark, Jr. collection)
This morning I visited with Mr. Henry Cabot Lodge [U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam] to discuss a mutual Embassy-MACV problem in the ports.  He was quite gracious but I didn't come away with what MACV needed and wanted.  Well, maybe I'll get fired tomorrow for failure to be persuasive enough with him!

Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., 1966.  (Photo courtesy White House)
This afternoon was spent with the U.S. Operations Mission which tried to get me to agree with their thesis that MACV was unresponsive to the State Department in logistic support.  Of course, I would not agree.  Would not concur in their message until they say the truth.  Where the military has not supported them, I'm very willing to see it stated.  But so far they can't come up with a single instance where the military had fallen down.  Felt real proud that General Crowley gave me the authority to concur or non-concur based on my own judgment.  Conducted myself with diplomacy and tact.  We meet again tomorrow to try to resolve the differences.

Heard nothing from Gonzalez in response to the letter I wrote him.  Have lined up an impressive list of generals to help me out on my assignment just in case the [Officer Personnel Office, Transportation Corps] Branch insists on Washington.  Have a number of alternatives also to submit to the Branch in case the forthcoming assignment does not please me.  Having completed 17 years of service and with a possible retirement just a short 2 1/2 years away, I'm willing to use all the influence and power that I can get to support what I want.

Strike Command headquarters is located at MacDill Air Force Base at Tampa, Florida.  It is commanded by a full general (Army) and has 150 colonels, 150 Lt. Cols., and 150 M/Sgts. from all services assigned.  That is all.  No privates, lieutenants, or captains.  It is a planning headquarters for worldwide operations.  So far as I know, there are no quarters on the post for lieutenant colonels, but that is all right with me.

Know for a fact that there are 2 vacancies for lieutenant colonels of Transportation Corps in the Plans Division of J-4 of STRICOM, so maybe I can get one of them.  Of course, if I get back to the States on the contract negotiation, I intend to have the orders read Washington, D.C. also so I can inquire personally in what the Branch has planned or decided. 


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Diary Entry 115: Saigon, Monday Night, 10 January 1966

                                                                      Monday Night, 10 January 1966

General Frank Schaeffer Besson, Jr., Commanding General, U.S. Army Material Command.  (Photo courtesy U.S. Army)
 Home late again tonight so things are back to normal again. Result of General Besson’s briefing yesterday: My part went so well that right after it was over General Crowley decided that I should replace the regularly scheduled J-4 briefer for General Westmoreland tomorrow, Tuesday 11 Jan. Although it was made clear that I already was in preparation for a special briefing for him on Monday (today), General Crowley said never mind, he would get the dates changed. He was as good as his word and today’s scheduled briefing for passenger airline service was slipped to next Thursday and now I have to talk to COMUSMACV tomorrow about general logistics. As one might imagine, the regularly scheduled briefer has got his nose all out of joint and isn’t very cooperative.

Anyway, his briefing is not in my words and I’d change it anyway, so that isn’t important. Last night and all day today I’ve been working on an outline which is all I have. But that does not bother me. If can think fast on my feet, I’ll be okay. And Leavenworth gave me plenty of practice at that.

Say! General Besson paid me 2 compliments on my briefing. First, when it was over I asked if he had any questions and he said no. This seemed to amaze everyone as he has a reputation for asking some pretty hard questions. Secondly, today he asked for a script of my briefing and many people were surprised to learn that it was given from an outline only, was tailored especially for him, and that no verbatim record of a speech was in existence. Well, I spent a good part of the day trying to remember what I said yesterday so as to provide a verbatim record of what I said to him. Finally prepared a 12-page script but am not sure it is at all accurate. Simply don’t remember what I said to him except the headings on the outline.

Incidentally, just before I got my latest job [Special Assistant to the J-4] with the Boss (General Crowley) we got a new officer assigned to Movements Branch of Transportation and he still thinks I’m his boss. His wife and daughter live at 1257A Federal Drive [in Montgomery, Alabama] and his name is Major John Nightingale. An Air Force officer. He works hard and I like him.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Diary Entry 114: Saigon, Saturday Night, 8 January 1966

                                                                    Saturday Night, 8 January 1966

Joe Btflsk.  (Image courtesy Al Capp)

Do you remember that character in the "L’il Abner" cartoon by the name of "Joe Btflsk?" He was the little guy who always had the black cloud over his head. I must be that guy in real life. Tonight Grady and I were going to go out on the town and have a big dinner at the Majestic Hotel and then go to see a couple of night clubs. Just about the time we were getting ready to go the VC set off a bomb about 2 blocks away from here across the street from the hotel, so we decided not to go out after all. Grady says he’s been over here too long and is so close to rotation that he doesn’t take any kind of
chances. Although I’m tired of peanut butter and crackers, just don’t have very much interest in going out now. Need to think about my briefing for General Besson which is scheduled for tomorrow.

Grady hasn’t heard anything more about Jo Ann and John so he is a bit upset. Thought a night out might help him get away from worry for while. We came back upstairs and talked for a bit, but the talking didn’t seem to do him any good, so I came on downstairs to my room. I sure hope he gets to leave early and go back to see about his family. He is very upset about them.

This morning called the Alaska Barge Company in Seattle to find out what the status of the movement to Vietnam was. In the process, I asked Mr. Lou Johnson, who is the legal counsel of the company, what it looked like for negotiations on cost and service.

Lou said that he had talked to Niederman the day before and Paul was pretty busy on some other projects at the present time and that negotiations were "several weeks away." From what Lou said, it is my guess that negotiations will be held in late February or early March, but I could be wrong. The only ray of sunshine Lou gave was that Niederman had expressly stated that he required me as a consultant on Vietnam
operations. And the president of the company, Mr. Bullock, also insisted that I come for the talks. Imagine that! Both sides trust me!

With the input of US forces, US contractor assistance in construction, and the increased US economic assistance, the good days of life are rapidly coming to an end in Vietnam. According to the State Dept., the military is destroying the Vietnamese economy. Am convinced that changes are on the way. We (military) have already been informed to expect at least one roommate, perhaps two, so as to tighten up on the
housing. Very soon expect to see the combat pay for those of us in Saigon to go by the wayside. Then next will come field ration messes so the government can stop the cost of living allowance and also take away the ration money. The diplomats are on a campaign to severely restrict the military here. Sure glad I’ve got less than 5 months to go.

Well, it is just about assignment time. Reckon I’ll be getting some orders this month or next. Wonder what they will have for me and what to anticipate. What are the alternatives:

Possible selection for the Army War College, National War College, or Industrial College of the Armed Forces. These are remote.

Possible selection for attendance at the Armed Forces Staff College. If selected, I might turn it down, might not.

[Department of the Army staff duty in] Washington, D.C. Highly probable, but will try to get it changed if I can.

Strike Command at McDill Air Force Base, Tampa, Fla. Barely possible. Much depends on how much influence Gonzalez will be able to exert.

Well, I’ll just cross the assignment bridge when I get to it. Believe I can get General Crowley, General Reichel, and others to intercede for me.

A number of people are interested in my [CGSC] Pearl Harbor study, particularly General DePuy, the J-3 of MACV. Well, I’d better get with the program and review my briefings
for General Besson and General Westmoreland.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Diary Entry 113: Saigon, Friday Night, 7 January 1966

                                                                           Friday Night, 7 January 1966

This is briefing week for me. So far I’ve been on the platform for briefings to [Brigadier] General [John D.] Crowley [Assistant Chief of Staff for Logistics (J-4)], the Deputy Chief of Staff ([Major] General [Richard S.] Abbey [U.S. Air Force]), the Chief of Staff ([Major] General [William B.] Rosson), the Deputy Commander ([Lieutenant]General [John A.] Heintges) and the J-3 ([Brigadier General [William E.] DePuy).   Sunday I must brief General [Frank S.]Besson (four-star) who is commander of the Army Materiel Command and who was formerly the Chief of Transportation. On Monday I must brief General [William C.] Westmoreland. The bad thing about all these briefings is that they are all on different subjects.

Seems like I spend all night studying up on a new subject so as to be ready the next day only to go through the cycle again the next day. For example, the briefing for General Crowley was on how some surface mail shipments got messed up (more on that later).

For the Deputy C/S and the C/S, it was on what we should or should not say to CINCPAC and Mr. McNamara about delays of shipping in South Vietnam.

General Besson is interested in the status of Army boat terminal service, and truck company operations all over this place.

The boss, his deputy, and the J-3 want to know what should be done about a high-speed passenger airline service in the country. And somebody else (don’t recall who) wants a briefing on whether or not it is more advantageous to contract the R&R flights to Hong Kong and Bangkok or fly them with Air Force planes. Haven’t even thought about that one yet!

No matter how you measure it, I seem to stay too busy all the time. If I had it to do all over again, think I’d just be a very mediocre officer and then no hard jobs would be given to me.

In the meantime, all sorts of exciting things are happening and can’t get a few minutes off to get out of Saigon. The 25th [Infantry] Division from Hawaii is beginning to stage into Vietnam. Would like to have been at Pleiku to watch them land. The 173d [Airborne Brigade] is on an operation in the Delta and in my old job, could have found an excuse to go on one of the air resupply missions.

Read in the paper that the VC are throwing bombs and grenades all over the place, but I have not heard any. The paper today said the Secret Police captured 3 VC with 275 lbs. of plastic explosive which was on the way to a US BOQ near where we work. Sure glad they caught them.

Four of the fellows in my former Movements Branch will go to Bangkok for a conference from 10 to 19 January.  If I’d stayed put, it would have been a nice trip to get away from here for a while. However, I was offered a chance to go to Honolulu for a conference on 10 and 11 January but turned it down as don’t dare want to miss out if Niederman sends for me at that time. Right now, just can’t afford to be gone as the word from him may come in any time. Am going to call the Alaska Barge people in Seattle tomorrow to find out the status of their movement to Vietnam, so maybe I can find out
something from them.

The reason for the briefing on mail to General Crowley: On 10 November some idiot loaded the surface mail packages (91 conex containers or about 273,000 lbs. of mail) on the Willamette Victory whose next stop was Da Nang. At Da Nang, the ship almost ran out of fuel and was sent to Subic Bay in the Philippines for bunkering. Then it was routed back to Vietnam with a load of planes. Then it went to Japan for repairs, later to Okinawa for trucks destined for Cam Ranh Bay. At Cam Ranh, someone finally discovered the 91 big conex containers with mail. They were immediately off-loaded there and are being flown back to the States as fast as we can scrape up MATS [Military Air Transport Service] airplanes returning to the States. Guess some Xmas presents will get there after awhile.

Talked to Grady [Cole] on the phone today. He wanted to know if I could do anything to get him back home early. Jo Ann [Cole, his wife] is in the hospital with an infection of the inner ear and John Cole [his son] is in the hospital with a cut-up head and face as a result of a car wreck. Still trying for him, but in times of emergency people forget the Red Cross as a rapid means of assistance.

So maybe my briefings aren’t problems after all in view of other people’s troubles. But in the meantime, I’d better quit writing and practice speaking!