Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Diary Entry 110: Saigon, Friday Night, 31 December 1965

                                                                        Friday Night, 31 December 1965

Happy New Year!---Almost. It isn’t quite midnight so really can’t say that yet. It’s a few minutes past ten. And I don’t believe that I’ll stay up to see the New Year come. Am tired and the sleep will do me good. I hope to sleep late tomorrow.
The curfew has been extended until 2 a.m. tonight so that the US can celebrate the New Year. All the clubs are putting on special affairs but I just don’t feel in a partying mood this evening.

The VC blew up a BOQ in Dalat today and blocked the highway from Saigon to Dalat in a number of places. We heard no one was killed but several were wounded by the blast. Just don’t understand how they do it every time. Just Thursday the VC killed an editor of one of the newspapers in Saigon right in the middle of Cholon at noon and got away.

My new job [Special Assistant to the J-4] is very interesting but the pressures are still pretty heavy. By now I think I was selected for the job because I write reasonably well and convincingly. Am the author of most of the "hot" messages which go to Mr. Mc, Admiral Sharp, and others. You can’t afford to be careless or make a mistake and you must be quick-witted. Oh, well, only 5 more months to go. If I can keep a sense of humor then I won’t lose my sanity and if I can continue to relax once I leave the office, perhaps there won’t be any ulcers either.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Diary Entry 109: Saigon, Tuesday, 28 December 1965

                                                                  Tuesday, 28 December 1965

Yesterday, 27 Dec, the week started off with a thrill if you can call being nervous a thrilling experience. At 6:30 a.m., I was debating whether to get up and get dressed or to stay in bed for another 5 minutes. At that moment the VC and MPs and Vietnamese police in front of the hotel decided to have a shootout. That decided me. I got up right away, like the fastest man in the world, and ducked into the bathroom.

After 15 minutes of silence and no explosion, I got shaved and dressed in jig time and went to work. Either no one knew what it was all about or else they aren’t talking. But last night the street was all blocked off when I came home from work, and we had to get off the bus a block away. Tonight the street is open again, but no one seems to have any knowledge of the shooting yesterday morning. And I wasn’t about to go look over the balcony to see what was going on!

The VC also set off a Claymore mine at the Special Services marina, wounding 4 GIs. Last night I even had supper with Grady to see if he would tell me anything about the shooting, but he either doesn’t know or he isn’t telling the truth.

This morning, 28 Dec, shortly after we arrived at work at the MACV II compound we were all evacuated from our building as a bomb was found wired to the water tank of a toilet in the officers’ latrine. After the Ordnance Explosive team searched the area we went back to work. I understand the bomb was wired to the handle of the commode so as to explode when someone flushed the toilet. The humor is grim, but can’t you imagine how surprised some officer would be if he had used that toilet! He really would have thought he had real diarrhea! Ever since this morning, we all check the commodes for booby traps when we go to the bathroom. That just shows you we have at least one VC working in our compound and they are able to bring in explosives in spite of the fact that each Vietnamese is searched thoroughly upon entry to the area.

Before leaving the office tonight, I placed a call to Washington to talk to Mr. Niederman about the trip to the States but since it was only 7:30 a.m. [in Washington, D.C.], he was not then at work. So I said what the heck, might as well have the operator ring OPO [Officer Personnel Office] so I could talk about my assignment. Major Gonzalez [a former classmate at CGSC] answered the phone and we had a nice conversation. He said I was still scheduled for an assignment in DCSLOG [U.S. Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics] but he would see what he could do to help me and asked if I would like an assignment to the Strike Command in Tampa, Fla. And I said like: "Yeah, man!" So I’ll write him this week to see if he can engineer something for me. Gonzalez said I could get a command (battalion) at Ft. Eustis, Ft. Lee, Ft. Bragg, Ft. Benning, Ft. Carson, Ft. Riley, or Ft. Lewis, but if I took it would be back over in Vietnam in less than 6 months. Told him that was just a little too short of a time to be back home before having to come back and get shot at. Even if I can hide out in an assignment for 3 years in the States, the situation looks like nearly everybody will have to pull a second tour over here. TC officers in Germany with only 2 years on duty over there have been alerted for assignment directly to Vietnam. And others are coming from places I can’t mention. Well, maybe they will get like they did between my tour in Alaska and this place---keep me in schools so much that I won’t have to come back again.

Finally got through to Mr. Niederman. He said the company [Alaska Barge & Transport] had been so busy getting equipment together that they had not had time to get things in order for contract negotiation. But he also said to rest assured that he would call for my services when negotiations start either in the latter half of January or first half of February.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Diary Entry 108: Saigon, Sunday Night, 26 December 1965

                                                        Sunday Night, 26 December 1965

The day after Christmas and it was work as usual for us over here. The VC ended their truce about 9:30 p.m. last night, so most everybody was back at work today. I got off a little early this evening and after supper at the Hong Kong, came back here to take down my Christmas tree and decorations.

I noticed there are lots of people out on the street last night and tonight, but haven’t heard of any bombings or grenade-throwing. Perhaps the MPs and the Vietnamese police have it under control right now.

With Xmas now gone by, the next holiday coming up is New Year’s. Think I’ll call [Lieutenant Colonel] Lee Surut and ask him if he wouldn’t like to come down to Saigon for New Year’s eve and day. He has not come to Saigon since he came here in May.

Hope to hear something on the possibility of going back to the States this week. If Mr. Niederman doesn’t write, I reckon to call him up and see what he knows. He hasn’t been back there very long (he left here on the 12th) so I'm just anxious to learn something.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Diary Entry 107: Saigon, Saturday, Christmas Day, 25 December 1965

                                                             Christmas Day
                                                             Saturday, 25 December 1965

Well, Merry Christmas! Here in Saigon it is almost noon now which makes the time about midnight on Christmas Eve in the States.

I woke up real early this morning (at 3:30) and tossed and turned in the bed for a couple of hours before falling back to sleep. I got up in self-defense at 7:30 only because the air conditioner power was cut off (all air conditioners are cut off from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. in hotels and BOQs) and it was just too hot to stay in bed any longer.

Caught a taxi and went to the Hong Kong BOQ for breakfast and then came back here to open presents, and I had a good time.

Fred and Jo Ann sent fruit cake and nuts. Brother and Ann sent sox and pecans, Mother and Dad sent lotions, peanuts, wash cloth and towel and preserves, Jean and Melody sent cookies, marshmallows, and pecans. My maid brought me flowers. And my dear family sent me sox and pecans, lounging shoes, eats, and lots of underwear and shirts. But the best present of all remains the picture they sent. [1]

Wouldn’t trade it for anything. I just look at it and thank God for being so good to me by giving me such a wonderful and lovely family.

At 2 p.m. today I am going to go over to Lieutenant Colonel Knight’s place for Christmas dinner. He’s going to have about 20 people come over for turkey and trimmings. I thought it was real nice of him to do that and am glad he numbers me as one of his friends. He is an Army officer on duty with the State Department. The only difference is that officers who are so detailed draw State Department salaries, so they make a good bit more money than they normally would. And of course the State Department lives a whole lot better than do the military services. Most of the State Department people I know here don’t have a college degree, are a good bit older than I, hold less responsible and less demanding jobs, and on the average, probably are paid about $10,000 a year more than Army lieutenant colonels. Mr. Bellican, the Assistant Director of the AID (State Dept) program here, offered me a chance at a position as an exchange officer from the Army, but General Crowley just laughed at him when he suggested it. Well, at least the Boss likes me, so that’s some consolation.
Tonight expect I’ll write some overdue letters to Mother and Dad, Harry Brockman, and others who have written. And then I think it would be kinda nice to go to bed and read a while. Haven’t had much time for that, and I got a couple of pocketbooks in a Christmas Star package from the States.

Oh, I didn’t mention that package. Some people in Indianapolis sent a package to a "GI in Vietnam." And it was delivered to me earlier this week. In addition to the pocketbooks, the package included a towel, soap, popcorn, a flashlight, knife, shaving cream, and razorblades. If I knew who sent it, I’d send a thank you note, but all it said was "From the Americans in Indianapolis who appreciate your sacrifice this Christmas." Maybe I’ll write a thank you note to the Mayor of Indianapolis.

And perhaps I made a few kids happy today. Received a report that all the airplanes scheduled out of Hong Kong for our Toys for Tots landed as planned. I hope all the little orphans in Da Nang, Qui Nhon, and Thu Duc had a happy time. Wish that I could have been there to watch their expressions. Thought about going up to the Mission des la Notre Dames at Thu Duc early this morning to watch the package-opening, but it is in an area where the VC captured 4 US men from a construction firm last week and I decided that discretion is the better part of valor. Will go up to Thu Duc and talk to Sister Florida after things kind of quiet down around here.

[1] Fred Clark is Clark's brother; Jo Ann Clark is Fred's wife and Clark's sister-in-law; Brother is Norvelle Clark, Clark's brother; Ann is Brother's wife and Clark's sister-in-law; Chief Petty Officer Jean Clark is Clark's brother; Melody is Jean's wife and Clark's sister-in-law.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Diary Entry 106: Saigon, Friday Night, 24 December 1965

                                                                      Friday Night, 24 December 1965

Here it is Christmas Eve and the radio is playing seasonal songs one after the other. They only started playing them yesterday and I’m glad they waited until the last minute to start them, because all they do is remind me that this is not a very merry Christmas.

They are lifting the curfew tonight at midnight so those who want to can go to church services. I hear by the grapevine that the curfew will be permanently lifted on Christmas Day. Don’t intend to go out anywhere tonight. Will eat something here when I finish writing and then I think I’ll go up and see [Lieutenant Colonel] Grady [Cole]. That’ll give me someone to chat with on Christmas Eve.

General Westmoreland issued an order preventing any offensive firing by US troops for a 30-hour period beginning at 6 p.m. tonight. They can do only defensive firing. And it is strangely quiet tonight. This is the first night I’ve been here and not heard artillery. Guess both sides decided to take a few hours off for Xmas. Wish there was some way for this to come to a peaceful conclusion over here, but that looks to be a long way off.

Still haven’t opened my packages yet although am sorely tempted to do so right now. Might pick up my spirits some. But I’ll wait a while anyway.

Just took a break and went up to see Grady. He was writing a letter home. So we had a drink together and talked for a while. Grady says he isn’t enjoying this Christmas as much as he has others in recent years. He’s a short-timer now and will be leaving here in less than 60 days. Well, my willpower just wouldn’t hold out. Opened one of my presents---the best one---the picture of my family.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Diary Entry 105: Saigon, Thursday Night, 23 December 1965

                                                                       Thursday Night, 23 December 1965

We’ve been going through all sorts of gyrations again with high-level visitors: General [Harold K.] Johnson [U.S. Army Chief of Staff] and General [Earle G.] Wheeler [Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff]. As usual, they put us through a wringer by asking for a good bit of information which was not readily available and we had to get cracking. They have now gone up-country to visit units so we will have a breather---until they come back to Saigon and ask some more questions. Everybody is so interested in this place that we are getting visited to death. Of course, it is all well-meaning and they all want to help by coming over for a first-hand look, all of which consumes the time of the staff. Oh well, this too shall pass!

We are still swamped with all the Christmas gifts from the USA. It is a wonderful expression from the folks back home, but it covered Tan Son Nhut airbase up so much that is has interfered with regular mail delivery.

Well, I know it is Christmas time mostly because I can read the calendar. But we here don’t feel very Christmas-y. We are still under intensified guard and rigid curfew which makes us feel a little bit apprehensive. It is quite hot here so this in itself makes Christmas seem some distance off. And finally, the Vietnamese don’t celebrate Xmas since most are Buddhists and their big celebration is TET which is equivalent of our New Year. This comes in February. So all in all, no one over here has much of the spirit that is prevalent back in the States. This just isn’t the time and place to have a Christmas. So next year, I am going to enjoy Christmas time as much as I usually would in order to make up for missing this one.

Had dinner with General Crowley tonight. We are involved in a hassle with the construction contractor [RMK-BMJ,  a consortium of contracting companies known collectively as: Raymond International, Morrison-Knudsen, Brown & Root, and J.A. Jones] who is trying to get his own barge contract in spite of the one which we just consummated. It looks like we will go back-channel to Washington to knock this in the head before it gets started. We had onion soup, salad, cheese, cold cuts, tea, and coffee for the meal. Most of the meal we figured ways and means of cutting down the contractor and ended up the evening by deciding to do some research to undercut the basis for the contractor’s request for separate barge capability. Guess who gets to do the research tomorrow morning to have on the boss’ desk at 8:30? So I’ll set the alarm real early.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

From The Editor: MACV and Operation Christmas Star, December 1965

U.S. Army Staff Film Report 66-2B, December 1965.  Footage of Operation Christmas Star.

On 20 December, Clark wrote in his diary, "People in the US are just too generous. Operation Xmas Star is in full swing now and honest to goodness we are just covered up with packages at Tan Son Nhut. Don’t know what the Transportation Division is going to do to get all of them delivered to units up-country by Xmas Day. Operation Christmas Star is in addition to the usual mail traffic (6,000,000 lbs. so far this month). Somehow or other the Americans will figure out a way to get it where it belongs."

During November and December 1965, American citizens and civic organizations indicated their support by sending tons of Christmas mail and gifts to U.S. servicemen in South Vietnam.  MACV initiated a massive airlift nicknamed "Operation Christmas Star."  MACV postal facilities handled 6,429,216 pounds of incoming mail in November and December.  U.S. personnel, including Clark, received more than 1,500,000 letters and 100,000 packages.  General William C. Westmoreland, the MACV commander, said that although it posed "an additional burden on our internal logistics system. . .it was exceptionally worthwhile." [1]


[1] MACV Command History, 1965, p. 274:  Letter, General Westmoreland, 4 January 1966, Subject:  Michigan Christmas.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Diary Entry 104: Saigon, Monday Night, 20 December 1965

                                                                       Monday Night, 20 December 1965

Worked late tonight trying to find out how the [Alaska Barge & Towing Co.] barge loading is coming along on the West Coast. Finally got through by phone about 9 p.m. and learned that one barge left the coast on 18 December and the balance will depart on Christmas Eve. Thought to myself, that sure is a heck of a day for people to have to put out for Vietnam!

Curfew is still strongly enforced here. A grenade was thrown yesterday not far from where I work; a police station right in Cholon was attacked by a VC squad; and there was heavy fighting about four miles out of the city. Artillery sounds pretty heavy on the outskirts now. Came home from work in a military taxi with an MP guard for protection. Sure wish they would let people in Saigon carry weapons, but I reckon the authorities are afraid of someone creating an incident.

Still no word on the barge contract negotiations. Sure wish I’d hear something to plan on. It is pretty sure not to be at Xmas time, so expect it will now take place in January. Was hoping against hope for a nice Xmas present like a trip home, but I’ll settle for a late Xmas in January---hopefully!

People in the US are just too generous. Operation Xmas Star is in full swing now and honest to goodness we are just covered up with packages at Tan Son Nhut. Don’t know what the Transportation Division is going to do to get all of them delivered to units up-country by Xmas Day. Operation Christmas Star is in addition to the usual mail traffic (6,000,000 lbs. so far this month). Somehow or other the Americans will figure out a way to get it where it belongs.

Speaking of giving, I have contributed a little bit to the congestion myself in conjunction with some other people. Back in November I agreed to help other officers to get toys for orphans brought in at Xmas to Da Nang, Qui Nhon, and Saigon. I agreed to scrounge up the air transportation if the others could raise the money. Well, they are better men than I gave them credit for. These guys gathered up over $120,000 and sent buyers to Hong Kong to buy up toys. Now I am jumping around to find 3 C-130 airplanes to transport it all back. Fortunately, I still have a few friends in my former airline and 360,000 toys will be moved to Vietnam in the next few days. And maybe some kids will believe there really is a Santa.

I thought I’d go to Qui Nhon or Da Nang to watch the gift giving but have changed my mind as the VC have shot down 2 planes headed in that direction in the past week. After discounting that, I thought I might go up to my favorite orphanage near Bien Hoa and watch the sisters give out presents, but the VC just kidnapped 4 construction workers near there today. In view of the anti-American campaign going on now, it is prudent to stay close to protection. So I’ll just have Xmas here in my room. Am sure my friends will understand why I didn’t come. After all, I could have been in only one of the three places anyway. Best not to go to any of them so that no one can say I have a favorite.

Diary Entry 103: Saigon, Saturday Night, 18 December 1965

                                                                         Saturday Night, 18 December 1965

Things have kind of hotted up here in Saigon. All US personnel are under a strict curfew where we can only be at our work or in our quarters beginning today. They are expecting some action apparently as our guards have greatly increased around the hotel. And they are all nervous. A few minutes ago a truck broke down nearly in front of the hotel and police and soldiers rushed all over it. Reckon they thought it might have a bomb on it. The MPs and police are so nervous that if the VC don’t shoot up the place, our own protectors are apt to have a shoot-out with each other!

I just went up to Grady’s room to talk to him and see if he knows anything about what is likely to happen but he wasn’t there. Reckon he is out with the "spooks" or the Vietnamese special police as that is where his job is. Maybe I’ll get to see him tomorrow evening after work.

Tomorrow I am on duty at the office, so perhaps I can get caught up on some things which need to be done. Sunday is often a good day as the phones don’t ring quite as much as they do during the week.

The radio just announced that some VC just threw a bomb at the Ambassador BOQ (which is right across the street from the Brink BOQ which they [the VC] blew up last Xmas Eve. They have had that area all blocked off for about a week now. Guess they were expecting something. The radio said 4 or 5 Vietnamese were injured but that no US people were involved. Well that is the way war goes. Reckon I’ll just sit up a while and see if any excitement develops. If I hear the MPs out front start something, I’ll dive under the bed!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Diary Entry 102: Saigon, Friday Night, 17 December 1965

                                                                         Friday Night, 17 December 1965

This has been kind of an easy day for me. All I had to do was scrounge up some helicopters and airplanes for some Visiting VIPs from the States and work over a few messages we want to send back to Washington. One of the better days I’ve had to spend here. Tonight I even got off from work at 6:30 p.m. which is a decent hour. Had my supper in the room as the VC are on a stepped-up terror campaign against US personnel. They tossed another grenade today in a US compound near MACV I headquarters. These are good times to stay off the streets.

MACV I Headquarters, 137 Rue Pasteur, Saigon, South Vietnam, 1965.  (Photo courtesy U.S. Army)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Diary Entry 101: Saigon, Thursday Night, 16 December 1965

                                                                      Thursday Night, 16 December 1965

Well, about the best way to describe Saigon is to say that everybody is pretty shook up in town. This morning I overslept and got to work 15 minutes late to learn that bombs had been set off this morning in 3 compounds and a police-MP station was overrun by VC right smack in the middle of town last night. Leave it to me to not be knowledgeable on what is going on.

Amid all the gossip about the VC activity, it was difficult to work today. Security control was so tough that it was hard to get to the office this morning. Many streets were blocked off for several blocks around us. There is a rumor that the VC are going to try a repeat of last year’s Xmas Eve bombing. Other key places are also cut off to traffic. Reckon the Metropole Hotel bombing had a profound effect on the security people here.

The Viet Cong used 250 pounds of plastic explosive and detonated a truck bomb outside the Metropole Bachelor Enlisted Quarters on 4 December 1965.  U.S. troops and aid workers sift through the wreckage in search of survivors of the terrorist attack.  (Photo courtesy Stars and Stripes)

Americans in Saigon have been advised to NOT be on the streets on the 19th, 20th, 23rd, 24th, 25th, and 31st of December. They are expecting something big on those days. Well, they won’t have any trouble with me. In fact, they may even have trouble getting me to go to work. I may just camp out under my bed to take full precautions!

Spent most of the day working on a "nasty" message to the Navy [MSTS, Far East] on coastal shipping support. The other day I wrote a similar message on aircraft support which shook the Air Force all the way back to the Pentagon, but we got additional support [C-130s] into Vietnam before dark last night.

I like my new job [Special Assistant to the J-4] very much. It cuts through the red tape very effectively. I deal directly with General Crowley on any logistic matter that comes to my attention or in any area he directs me to. Am glad to be rid of the other job [Chief, Movements Branch, J-4] as it seemed to be getting the best of me. There were so many people you had to go through that I felt nickled and dimed to pieces.

As usual, I am tired out tonight. Sometimes I wonder if it is worth it to work so hard, but of course I know that it is. Everybody has got to do his best over here if we want to win this thing. Reckon every little bit helps.

Everybody in the US must be sending packages to Vietnam. We are just smothered with packages from well-meaning Americans. The problem is that all the extra stuff sent to "A GI in Vietnam" is interfering with regular mail service to Vietnam. We have not been able to get out from under the packages to get the regular mail sorted out in a week.