In a letter dated March 15, 1965, I wrote: Meanwhile, freshly returned from five days Rambling and Rumination in Hong Kong, I seem to be assigned to Phuoc Vinh again, which, you may remember, was where I was July-October of last year. There are over a hundred Americans here now, as opposed to thirty-five in July. Main annoyance is that work and guard schedules seldom allow more than three or four hours of uninterrupted sleep. Not that one actually has to do much, just keep getting up at all hours.
There was no more room in the American compound now, so I was given a bunk in a small building called The Hooch, which was in the ARVN compound not far from the commo shop. I only went over to the American compound for meals or to go to the day room.
On the morning of March 22 there was an explosion near The Hooch. It turned out that a young ARVN lieutenant had stepped on a mine in the minefield that surrounded the compound. He apparently was trying to take a shortcut, to avoid walking an extra 100 yards to the entrance.
This is a sketch map I made at the time showing where this happened, and where I lived and worked from the middle of March to the end of May, 1965.
With DEROS approaching, my letters got increasingly shrill:
After all those Americans got done in during January and February, MAC-V sent a committee of officers around to all installations to check on security, find out first hand if all the Americans are in safe places. After the committee had left, a Captain and a Major stood trembling at attention in front of the Colonel’s desk: they were suspected of having told the truth to the committee! (Fortunately they had witnesses and could prove they hadn’t done such a thing.)
In a letter dated April 5, 1965, I wrote: The other day the strangest thing happened here: it rained. A real thunderstorm, with winds first that blew up large swirls of dust, then thunder and lightning and a good downpour that cleared the air and settled the dust for the first time in months. [. . .] It rained once in December, not at all in January or February, twice in March and now once already in April. April is supposed to be the hottest month of the year, not that the others are much cooler.
Meanwhile they kept bringing in more and more Americans to Phuoc Vinh. In a letter dated April 26, 1965, I wrote: Things are rather well arranged in Phuoc Vinh right now. We have more radio operators than ever before, so many that we are only working one eight-hour shift every two days. This is fine for me since it leaves me plenty of time to write and study, but not so fine for some of the others who can’t quite figure out what to do with themselves.
One day towards the end of May 1965 we heard some shooting from the direction of Phước Vĩnh town at about one in the afternoon. Those of us who were not on duty and had no particular assignment got into the sandbag emplacements to “await further orders”.
Gradually the shooting got more intense, and after a while there were mortar rounds flying over our heads. We were perplexed by all this. Who was shooting at whom? Which ones were the Viet Cong and which the ARVN?
From our colleagues who were on duty in the commo shop we eventually learned that there were no Viet Cong involved at all. A fight had started in town between members of two different ARVN units (some said between South Vietnamese soldiers and Cambodian mercenaries), who began shooting at each other first with hand weapons and later with mortars.
After a while a small ARVN helicopter with a huge loudspeaker started circling the area, perilously low, with a strident message in Vietnamese blaring out of the loudspeaker. This was supposed to be telling everybody to stop shooting at each other, but one of the translators later confided to me that someone had put the wrong cassette into the cassette recorder, so the actual message was: “Farmers! Rally to the side of the government of the Republic of Vietnam and we will give you pigs and bricks to build pigstys! “
I don’t know if there were any casualties from all this shooting, but after about two hours the shooting stopped, and all was quiet again.
A few days later, on May 31, 1965, I left Phước Vĩnh with all my gear on an HU-1D helicopter, which was newer and bigger than the HU-1B machines we had been using up to then. On the same day, American combat troops were brought in to Phước Vĩnh and started digging in around the perimeter.
Next stop for me: Xuân Lộc