Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Diary Entry 7: Saigon, Saturday, 12 June 1965

                                Saigon, Saturday, 12 June 1965

            Well, today has been a pretty nice day as compared to yesterday.  Nobody from the office bothered me and they let me attend the scheduled briefings without interruption.  The briefings were well-organized, and I found them interesting, even though the day lasted from 0715 in the morning to 1820 at night.  I have an extra copy of our schedule for the briefings, so I’ll enclose it and will cover some of the more interesting points.
           
The personnel management officer briefed us on assignments and stated that under no condition would a legitimate assignment be changed.  Some people groaned about that, because they were hoping to get out of a field assignment.
           
The provost marshal presented one of the more interesting briefings.  Black market activities are pretty rampant here in the sale of PX merchandise and the MPs don’t like it.  Guaranteed to get an offender a General Court Martial.  The VC try to pick off lone Americans or those in groups of more than 2.  They tried to bomb a Navy bus with 40 men on it today.  In February, the VC sneaked into MACV II (where I work) headquarters and successfully put a bomb in [Brigadier] General [John D.] Crowley’s office over the light fixture.  The general left the office 5 minutes before the explosion, though 1 captain was seriously injured.  The VD rate is quite high here, approximately 10% of all officers and EM contract VD within 2 months of arriving in the country.  Names of officers infected are reported to General Westmoreland thru channels from the medics. 



"Pellets from VC Anti-Personnel mine explosion.  This Claymore had been placed in J-4 headquarters by a VC infiltrator.  No one was killed but a sergeant clerk suffered hearing problems.  The explosion took place on 20 January 1965."  (Artifact and information courtesy Thomas Pollock Collection, The Vietnam Virtual Archive, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas.

While Saigon is fairly safe, no one may leave the city by any means other than US aircraft and travel must be approved by J-2 on an individual basis.  In addition to VC, one also must watch out for the “Cowboys” who are a bunch of hoodlums like the gangs in New York and Chicago.  They prey on lone US people who wander off the beaten track or into the wrong area.  I guess there are lots of things to be careful of.

The chaplain gave a good briefing.  He told us that people coming in here could get VD for about 100 piastres (about $1.25), but you better be willing to pay the total cost in God’s eyes if you were so inclined.  I volunteered to participate in chapel activities.
           
The medical briefing was also interesting, and I won’t go into details, but there are some diseases that they have a hard time of curing.  We are not to drink unpurified water, eat any local vegetables, fruits, or meats.  We should pay the room boy to buy us purified water to drink and to shave with, but this is not expensive.  It only costs around 10 cents a day.
           
Some things are expensive, some things are cheap.  You just have to watch out for your money.  Laundry is cheap (about 31 cents for a khaki uniform), but US food can be expensive.  Pays to eat scrambled eggs, toast and bacon for breakfast (45 cents); a sandwich for dinner (40 cents); and a good meal at night ($1.50) which goes up to $2.00 on Sunday night.
           
Riding around in Saigon works out better than a ride at the carnival.  You are kept in a perpetual state of fear and excitement.  The Vietnamese were taught to drive by the French who are crazy drivers.  Not recommended for patients with weak hearts.  You expect a collision at every intersection!
           
This place is pitiful but also wealthy and beautiful.  There is poverty and there is great wealth.  But no one appears to be starving.  They don’t have any Vietnamese bathrooms in this country (except the rich) and it is hard to get accustomed to what you see here.
           
 I live in the Majestic Hotel, at 1 Tu Do Street.  Translated, that means the street of bars.  And that is what the street is for about 4 or 5 blocks uptown---one bar or another.  Many GIs from the 173rd Airborne Brigade walk up and down Tu Do Street, so it is generally avoided by officers.  We walk from here to the Rex Hotel (where there is a US mess hall) by way of Nguyen Hue which translated means the street of flowers because of the many flower shops which adorn the way.  It is quite pretty with all the different flowers for sale.  We try to walk a different route every day at a different time so that we don’t develop bad habits.
 


Tu Do Street, the "street of bars," Saigon, South Vietnam, 1965.  (Photo courtesy Richard P. Clark Collection)
  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Grady is supposed to come over in a few minutes to take me out to dinner at the Rex, so I’d better stop now.
 


The Rex Hotel, 147 Nguyen Hue, Saigon, South Vietnam, 1965.  (Photo courtesy Richard P. Clark Collection)





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