Det. A Memory - Water Skiing On the Song Dong Nai River

My name is Dan Newell. I was with Det. A from 10/67 to 10/68. Det A at that time had a very nice club. It had wood wall panels and a very nice bar. There were two Vietnamese girls who tended bar and the club manager was an SP5. I don’t recall the girls names or his name and I don’t recall that he had any other duties. He would go to Saigon periodically to pick up supplies. We always had plenty of beer which I believe cost .10 and there was generally something to eat except the day or two before the trip to Saigon. Because the club was so nice, we frequently had visitors. There was a Special Forces unit that lived in the same compound as the officers. The Saw Mill compound was on the Song Dong Nai river. There was a chain link fence along the river and it had a boat gate and small boat launch. There was an old row boat sitting by the boat launch. It was probably there from the saw mill operation. The Special Forces guys noticed the boat and suggested that they could get an outboard motor and water skis if we provided the boat and agreed to share it with them. In a few weeks they showed up with the motor and water skis. I recall a Sunday when I decided that I would give water skiing a try. After failing to get up on the skis after a few tries, I eventually got up when the thought then hit me that there may be a VC sniper sitting on the far bank waiting patiently for the stupid GI to get up so that he could shoot him, adding a little joy to his otherwise dreary existence. I let go of the rope, got back in the boat and called an end to my water skiing adventures.
Pasquale_Ross_Skip_Hurt_Dan_Newell2.jpg
Pasquale Ross and Skip Hurt enjoy a boat ride on the Song Dong Nai. photo by Dan Newell


Reflections & Recollections
James W. Varley, Imagery Interpreter, Det A, June 66 - April 67

I came to Vietnam from Europe specifically Germany and England. At the time, I got orders for Vietnam I was on temporary duty in Bavaria. Suffice to say, life in Europe was pretty good. I was part of the 2nd MIBARS which had detachments in Germany, France and England. Ironically, none of the folks I served with in the 2nd MIBARS, who ultimately served in Vietnam, ever got to Detachment A during my time.
My 1966 arrival in Vietnam was a bit of a culture shock. I flew the same route many took Travis AFB to Hawaii, a stop at Clark AFB in the Philippines and then into Saigon. The first thing that hit me was the high humidity. After awhile you learned to live with it but I don't know if you ever get use to it.
Originally, I was to go Nha Trang but ultimately ended up in Detachment A in Bien Hoa.
Vietnam was to me a daily tragedy in many respects. I grew up poor, but never experienced such widespread poverty that I witnessed in Vietnam. There appeared to be absolutely no safety net for the poor and disabled and I really felt sorry for the people being torn between two factions and beliefs. There were many who supported us and had to live with the repercussions after the U.S. pulled out. Far too many had nowhere to go for so many years.
When I arrived the detachment was housed in tents on Bien Hoa Air Base. While living in tents without running water was no luxury, it wasn't an impossible life. Living conditions may have been a bit crude, but many had it far worse. One experience during our tenure in tents involved a unit member who acquired a monkey. Well...the monkey got out of the cage one day and went inside one of the tents. Without being too descriptive, I can tell you that monkey left quite a mess and some strong odors.
The decision subsequently was made to move the detachment into a former sawmill . It wasn't like any sawmill I'd ever seen in California's Sierras. This one was two-story made of concrete with white plaster walls. Detachment members worked hard to make it livable, providing running water and showers. Unfortunately, the sawmill was relatively isolated from other U.S. military units and I think that made us vulnerable at times. Fortunately, there was a Vietnamese patrol boat unit near us.
I have fond memories of Sander Hayden (who I once saw stateside.) Sander (or Sandy) really wanted to go to Europe. Yet every time his tour was up he got orders for Fort Bragg so he extended his time in Vietnam saying that any day in Vietnam was better than a day in Fort Bragg. It also was Sandy who slept through the 1967 attack on the fuel storage facility, outside the sawmill.
In Detachment A there were a handful of good leaders - Bill Amborn, Tom Crosby and CWO Oscar Bennett. And there were many quality folks among the rank and file who did what was right on and off duty. While I made it a point not to get close to very many, on balance they were good people.
Unfortunately, for several months there was a clique of sergeants who for whatever reason seemed to do whatever they wanted without any accountability. In a war zone you are suppose to get your damaged or worn out clothes and boots replaced. Yet every time you checked with supply, they "were out of stock" or "had it on order" even though supplies arrived on a regular basis. After awhile, you saw where those supplies were going--certainly not to the troops.
I'm delighted that none of those people appear on the reunion or alumni lists.
Every negative experience can be positive if you learn from it. For me, those positives include not repeating those negatives when I moved first into middle and later senior management. I also learned the benefits of always hiring folks who are better and smarter than oneself.
From a global perspective, too many good people lost their lives. Fortunately, many more good people came home. The Vietnam experience planted in me a seed of cynicism that was nurtured by more than 20 years in the news business and today still exists. But it also left me with a strong appreciation of life. More than four decades later, I consider every day I awake with a strong heartbeat to be a bonus. Like any life-changing experience the times were not all bad in fact many were good or at least tolerable. I thank Charlie Slaughter (who I also saw stateside) for finding me (and for saving my life once when alcohol clouded my alertness). We'll see how the 2010 get together goes for what will be my first reunion.


**Detachment A and the Forgotten Tet 1969 Offensive**Dwight H. Gates, Det A II, 9/68 - 3/70


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