Culture Shock
by John Blevins

One of the things that affected me most when I first got to Viet
Nam was the sudden culture shock, one day I was in 20th century
America and less that a week later I was living among primitive
tribesmen, not even speaking their language and depending on people
I did not even know for survival. I never saw a US soldier in the field
the whole time I was in Viet nam, just myself and usually one more
American and a bunch of Vietnamese or Cambodes. Sometimes I felt
that I was being a sacrifice to show the VNs that Americans would die
along with them.

   My camp Tuyen Nhon was located in IV Corps, near the
Cambodian border, near what was called the parrots beak or some call
it the fishook, the nearest point of Cambodia, where the VC/NVA were
supposed to have a sanctuary, to Saigon. B-52s bombed around the
clock in Cambodia the whole year I was over there, they were far
enough away that the noise was not too loud but I remember the
crockery rattling constantly from the bomb blasts.

   As I stated in my E Mail, each camp had a parallel administration
composed of the VN SF (LLDB). Their main purpose was to keep an
eye on what the Americans were doing and to extort the troops we
hired to help us. In my opinion all the VN military I ever came in
contact with had as their aim, not to win the war, but to make as
much money as they could off of it. The LLDB in our camp and I
believe in every other camp, extorted money from all the fighters, sold
leave time, controlled the food, collected burial expenses and death
benefits that was supposed to go to the victims family and generally
everything in camp came with a price that the VN military collected.
We had 3 revolts of the VNs in our camp,  all over the LLDB not getting
paid off like they thought they should and ordering the troops we had
trained and paid for to turn their guns on us.

   We tried to train the CIDG as well as we could, given the
constraints of time, but at best they were still poorly trained. The
soldiers were not inspired to fight for their country, they were just in it
for the pay and whatever else they could milk the Americans for.
When Special Forces really wanted a good group of fighters for special
missions, like SOG or Mike Forces they rarely depended on the
Vietnamese to supply the soldiers, but relied on ethnic Chinese(Nungs)
Montagnard or even Cambodian soldiers to provide the bulk of the
fighters. Even in my camp the Cambodes could be relied on more than
the Vietnamese. The weapons they had were obsolete, such as M1s,
carbines, .30 cal machine guns, BARs and even some Thompson Sub
machine guns. These weapons were made for US soldiers and given
to the Vietnamese, who were of much smaller stature than Americans,
they were quite a load. The VC/NVA we were against all had AK-47s.

   The Camps were so isolated the US military could not supply us
with food, so we were paid $70.00 a month to buy food off the local
economy. The local economy could barely feed itself, so we kept
some one off site at all times trying to arrange food for us. This also
gave the food gatherer a needed break from camp and a bit of R&R.
He would generally be supplied with a bunch of captured weapons and
VC flags, etc. and the normal drill was to approach some rear echelon
mess sergeant, give him a tale of woe and trade him the captured
weapons for chow. After collecting this stuff for a week or ten days,
he would arrange for a chopper or other aircraft to bring it to camp. My
camp Tuyen Nhon was pretty lucky as we had a pretty good airstrip
that could take most aircraft. We actually ate pretty good at our camp,
not so in every camp though.
 
   The VNs kept tapping into my electrical wires with commo wire, light
bulbs, radios etc. and ruining the system. I finally figured out it would be
cheaper to give them what they wanted. I got $50.00 for the Team Commander ,
went to Moc Hoa got some electrical supplies and rewired the whole camp. The
VNs were pleased that I had wired their barracks, installed lights and
switches, wall sockets, etc. I had it arranged that when we got hit I could
throw one switch and darken the whole camp, except for the TOC(Tactical
Operations Center) mortar pits and radio shack.

   We were close enough to Saigon that we got pretty good TV reception. On
Thursday nights the Dean Martin show came on at 8:30. No matter where you
were in IV Corps and I suppose other areas too, all the radio operators would
get on the air and key their mikes to sing along with Dean as he sang his
theme song, "Everybody loves somebody Sometime".

   Mortars contain little bags of powder or wafers to propel them. The
distance you were firing called for a certain angle and amount of powder. If
the ranges were short, you stripped bags or wafers of powder of the rounds
and threw them on the ground. After every attack we would have to Medevac
some VNs who could not be convinced that the bags of powder or the wafers
could not be used to cook with. Some one came up with the idea that only US
choppers could be used to Medevac US personnel, and only VN Choppers could be
used to MedEvac VN personnel. I felt sorry for the VN wounded as US personel
could be evacuated in a matter of hours, but the VN evacuation of their
wounded took days or more likely, never at all.

All the LLDB had some kind of racket going to get money from the Americans
thru the CIDG, padding the payroll was one way. We tried without much success
to insure that we were not paying for people that no longer existed. A lot of
the VNs and the Cambodes did not have good papers. One of the ways we tried
to get around this problem was to issue a rifle with a serial number to a
particular individual and make him produce that rifle to be paid. Our
executive officer came up with a scheme once that photographed and
fingerprinted each CIDG soldier and gave me all the records to take to Can
Tho. He worked on this for months. As the aircraft I was on circled Can Tho
before landing, I was standing up looking out the window. The next thing I
remember I am waking up as I am being put into an ambulance. The Docs could
not find anything wrong with me and surmised that I had an ear infection that
at higher altitudes caused my ear canal to swell up and cut off oxygen to my
brain, causing me to pass out. Sounds as reasonable as anything. I was put
into a hospital bed for overnight observation and went to sleep. Sometime in
the night I sat bolt upright, realizing that I did not have the briefcase
with the records. I went down to the Operations Desk on the airfield and
found that someone had turned it in. Whew!

   The team members kept busy in the camp and surrounding area, when they
were not on an operation. The medics always had more medical problem with the
locals than they could handle. The engineers were always building things to
make life easier for the locals and us too. The intelligence sgts were trying
to gather intelligence on the local VC/NVA activities. The weapons men were
training the troops and the Team Sgt was trying to coordinate things with the
team while the officers played politics with the LLDB and local politicians
and planned operations. As the radio operator, my job was to maintain
communications with higher ups and make sure that the radios taken out on
operations were 100% reliable, no easy job, given the heat and humidity of
South Vietnam. I also kept the electrical generators going and maintained the
wiring in the camp. The Americans had the best in radios, the Vietnamese were
given obsolete radios from previous wars.