Monday, March 7, 2011

Diary Entry 40: Saigon, Tuesday Night, 3 August 1965

                         Tuesday Night, 3 August 1965

Back from Da Nang all in one piece!  Got back to Saigon last night about 10 p.m. but was just too worn out to write when I got in.  Went to sleep right in my dirty old fatigues.  We programmed the flight back at night on purpose because it is a long way and mostly over VC jungle territory.  They can’t see too well way up in the sky at night.  Seemed the best time to travel. 

Brigadier General Frederick Karch, U.S. Marine Corps (Photo courtesy U.S. Marine Corps).

The purpose of the trip was to see General Walt, USMC, who is the Naval Component Commander for MACV.  We told him that we came up to see how we could help him out with certain problems, but we came away from Da Nang with his name signed to a piece of paper---which was the real purpose of our visit up there. [Clark and Hurow got Walt to sign a document that committed the Navy and Marine Corps to provide logistic support for all troops in I Corps in northern South Vietnam.] Visited also with General Karch, who commanded the first Marines to land in Vietnam.  I was very much impressed by Gen. Karch.  He is an outstanding man. 

Major General Lewis B. Walt, U.S. Marine Corps (Photo courtesy U.S. Marine Corps)

The Marines are very persuasive, and I think every one of them is a born PIO [Public Information Officer].  They will talk you out of your shirt if you are not careful, and they are masters of psychology.  They even talked hard old me into going into a partnership with them on a special operation---“Operation Harelip,” [Operation Cleft-Lip]  in which I am now a senior partner. 

I previously wrote about a little girl who had polio who we flew to Saigon from Da Nang for treatment.  Well, it just happened that the [Navy] chaplain and [Navy] doctor who pushed that trip and who talked very desperately over the phone with me looked me up soon after arrival to express thanks for the transportation.  Well, as soon as they built my ego up to the point where I had a swelled head, the chaplain and the doctor invited me to take a jeep ride up to a new village recently secured by one of the battalions. With a puffed-up head, I consented to go along and that is just exactly what they set me up for with all the profuse thanks.

Never knew it before, but there is a great number of harelip deformities in Vietnam.  Every 4th child born alive in the northern part of the country is a harelip.  Many are just terrible cases of harelips where there is almost complete destruction of the upper lip.  Well, I reckon the doctor and the chaplain must have rounded up all the harelipped children within a 100 miles so as to make an emphatic impression on me.  There were so many that my heart just went out to them.

Navy Lieutenant James J. Zelko, U.S. Navy Medical Corps, left, a doctor with the 2d Battalion, 3rd Marines, holds Do Thi Suong, who will have surgery on her cleft lip.  The Marine-sponsored program sent six children to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Saigon, where Lieutenant Commander Bruch K. Defievre performed the operation.  The eight-month-old baby's mother, Nguyen Thi Huong, smiles her approval.  (Photo courtesy U.S. Marine Corps)

As I suggested before, this was a set-up.  The doctor-type Marine [Dr. James J. Zelko] has a doctor friend (US Navy) in Saigon Station Hospital who is an eminent plastic surgeon [Dr. Bruch K. Defievre].  This guy had already agreed to do one operation a week if the Da Nang Marines would arrange to get the child back to Saigon.  So enter the missing link---me. So the chaplain and the doctor talked me into signing a piece of paper for them, saying that one Vietnamese child each week (accompanied by a relative) will be flown from Da Nang to Saigon as priority.  And they also get flown back as priority after a week’s stay in the Station Hospital [U.S. Naval Hospital], where the plastic surgeon corrects the defect.  We agreed to name it “Operation Harelip.”  The Hearst Newspaper columnist [Dickey Chappelle] in Vietnam was present, and she is considering writing an article on it.  While I know that what I agreed to is not authorized in regulations, just say that the Big Book of Law overrules any regulations we have.  Sure hope the operations all turn out successfully.  I told the chaplain and doctor that they are born bandits!  Thought I was too tough to be talked into something like that, but I’m not as tough as I make out.

Dickey Chappelle, foreground, the Hearst Newspapers correspondent at Da Nang who considered writing a story on Operation Cleft-lip, July 1965.  (Photo courtesy U.S. Marine Corps)

Today I went down to Tan Son Nhut and watched airplanes operating.  We have a few management problems to solve with the airlift.  So most of my day was spent trying to find answers to questions.  

Oh yes!  Let me finish talking about staying with the Marines.  This doctor and chaplain got me up to this village pretty early but they kept me there pretty late, so we couldn’t drive back that evening after dark. So through force of circumstances, I was forced to spend the night with the battalion CP.  Didn’t sleep much. They kept shooting artillery and calling in air strikes to the point where I was real happy to leave there the next morning.  Getting too old to miss my sleep, but it was a valuable experience.  We live pretty good in Saigon and tend to forget how uncomfortable it is in the field where there is no shower, no bathroom, and no bed.  Brings you back to reality.  And it makes me want to work harder for the troops.  

Major General Stanley "Swede" Larsen, U.S. Army, sleeping during flight from Nha Trang to Pleiku, November 1965.  (Photo courtesy Stars and Stripes)

Today I briefed General Larsen who was my CO in the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment at [Fort] Bragg.  He is here to command a unit.  He’ll probably make his 3rd star over here.  He offered me a job with him any time, after I’d completed the briefing.  Nice guy.

No comments:

Post a Comment