Friday, March 21, 2008

Nha Trang, RVN part 2

Climbing into C-130 that early July morning I got my first real glimpse of Vietnam...miles, and miles of forests, that was the view was from the open hatch of that lumbering airplane as it headed east and north up the coast of South Vietnam. It was around noon when the plane landed at Nha Trang's combination concrete and laid metal runway. I had made it this far!

I would settle in Nha Trang for the next 6 months, and as I look back, it would be my favorite time in the Air Force, the time I actually transformed from the small town teen into someone who actually challenged authority and thought for myself. I was assigned to day shift(A Flight) Law Enforcement, Phil Lange was my NCOIC, and Melvin Sloan was my flight supervisor. Staff Sgt Sloan was a tall black man who had served nearly 20 years in the Air Force, this was a man I respected and became close with, despite our differences, those being, he was black and a "lifer" and me being lily white, with no intentions of staying in past 4 years.

The 14th SPS had good sleeping quarters, a base outdoor theater across the street from our barracks. In addition, as SPs we had our own little movie house where we consumed drinks and snacks while watching the latest movies or TV...this is where I would watch our home area hero, Neil Armstrong, step foot on the Moon. Basically I spent the 6 months drinking beer, working on my tan at the beach, or heading to the red light district for "entertainment" Despite a war zone, it was indeed good duty, at least for this 20 year old kid from western Ohio, via the beaches of southwest Florida.

Things went fairly smooth for my tour at Nha Trang, we did have one nasty rocket attack in October 1969, and a few mortar shots fired into the base.....but nothing serious, being surrounded by the Green Berets at Camp McDermott didn't hurt in that regard....we were well protected, mountains on one side, beach and sea on the other, and the Army Special Forces next door.

In late November came the bad news...The 14th was disbanding, they were sending most of us out...I watched guys I hung with leave for other various bases or home. Johnny Claflin went to Phu Cat, Harry Beven headed back to Philly, where he would become a veteran police office with the PPD. Marcus Payan would head back to the states, and end up in Federal law in El Paso. Melvin Sloan, Bruce Thompson, and Phil Lange would head back home, or to other bases stateside...most of those guys I have contact with today, many have joined the VSPA:

Late in 1969 there were two tragic aircraft accidents at the base. First in October, a fighter jet barreled off the wrong end of the runway near the main gate. The pilot ejected and survived, however, a couple of Army guys in a ton and a half were killed as were several civilians walking along the beach roadway. Just before Christmas, while on LE duty, we received word that an Air Vietnam Airliner had a small explosion on board, and was would try a emergency landing at Nha Trang. Our jobs as SPs was to make sure the rubber neckers and picture takers were far enough from the runway to keep them safe, and away from the possible carnage. We secured the runway despite some harassment from a couple of Army Warrant Officers who tried to "pull rank", needless to say, that didn't work, Hell, we were in charge!

The plane was carrying about 75-80 passengers and crew, the landing gear was lowered by hand because of the damage. The crew made one "touch and go" landing attempt before turning and making the final attempt...the plane hit the runway hard and slid down the runway, before taking out part of the local elementary school house and several houses at the end...(in my original story I had stated no one on the ground was killed, but this was wrong), about 10 civilians, including a couple of students on the ground were killed, as were a dozen or so on the plane....more than 25 total if I recall correctly. The Air Force Fire Protection guys earned their keep that day, as did the 14th Security Police....looking back, it's a sight I shall never forget.

A few days before the December 22nd plane disaster I had received my orders to transfer out of Nha Trang....I would ship out 12/27/69 for Saigon and Tan Son Nhut, going from one of the smaller Security Police units to one of the largest in the world. The 377th SPS at the Saigon Airport and Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base....instead of A Flight LE, I would work overnights, C Flight Security, manning the towers, walking the flight lines, and eventually driving the coffee Jeep on Blue was good duty, not much Chicken Shit to contend with, although some of the gung ho types tried their best.

Funny thing is, I can remember a dozen or more names and faces from Nha Trang, but nary a hand full from the much larger unit. Nha Trang was indeed my favorite duty station, and if given the option, I probably would have spent the remainder of my enlistment there...but that was not to be, and after my stint with the 377th at TSN, I would head to Griffiss AFB, New York....but that is another story.


After working for an hour or so yesterday at Greenville, I headed north to Fort Wayne, and met up with my buddy Rick at the Allen County mentioned before this place has one of the largest Genealogy sections in the nation....and folks come from around the country to do research. It had been 5 years or so since I last visited, and I was impressed. As for me and Rick, two outdoor guys in their late 50s sitting around doing hours of research in a Public Library....who would have thunk it?

Rick is doing some good research, as for me, I had done the bulk of Houseworth Genealogy,

between 1999 and 2002, it now comes in dribbles and spurts, but even yesterday I found a few items I didn't know and will post them on the Ancestor blog.


Easter weekend is upon us, we will have sister Marty's family over Sunday, meanwhile March Madness had descended on us, and I have hit between 14 and 15 of 16 on my various "brackets"...a good start, but if Duke had not pulled that game out, 71-70 over underdog Belmont last night, I could have chucked them all in the trash. Meanwhile yesterday, youngest son Hal finished up his Senior Year at Wright State University in Dayton....he will take a few months off, then in August begin his Masters Program in High School History....down the road he hopes to teach HS History and coach baseball....but that is a year or more off.
photos-Me and my trusty Jeep in September 1969, Nha Trang Beach as it looks today, Payan, Bevan, and Sgt Ky of the South Viet QC at the Nha Trang Main Gate in October 1969, and Me(R) and Harry Bevan in August 1969 on patrol(or goofing off).
Say a special prayer for Jeff's(FHB) family, just found out his father, whom he wrote about often on his blog has passed away this week.


Buck said...

Once again, Pat: great photos and narrative. Thanks!

Mushy said...

I thoroughly enjoyed the last two posts...good stuff with photos.

Thanks for sharing with us.

Have a wonderful Easter weekend with the family.

Americaneocon said...

Good luck on your teams, Pat, and have a great Easter holiday!

Stu Steinberg said...

Pat--I am a service officer for Vietnam Veterans of America. I have a VA client who was with the 54th Signal Battalion at Nha Trang from May 1969-May 1970. He told me about the two plane crashes. I am looking for people who can tell me what it was like at Nha Trang during the time you were there in terms of incoming, ground attacks and so on. He also pulled a lot of time on the perimeter and I am interested in what it was like on the perimeter, as well. My email is Love your web site. I was with three Army EOD teams in 69-70. Qui Nhon, An Khe and Phu Bai.

Stu Steinberg

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Robert said...

I was there in Nha Trang from 1967-1969
in Navy on PBRS-river
patrol boats. I arrived in Cam Ran and was soon transfered to Nha Trang.I will never forget those days.

Robert said...

I would like to hear from any one who was stationed in Nha Trang
as I was, I was in Navy on river patrol boats from 1967- 1969.
e-mail me at

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