An American Child in War-Torn Saigon
I read Sally Bush Lynch’s article with interest (“Perspectives,” April 2007). What a surprise that there was someone else like me there at the time! We arrived in Saigon in 1963 when I was 6, and left—without my father, foreign officer Gustav Hertz—in 1965.
I don’t remember being afraid to go anywhere and I regularly went down the street by myself and around the block behind our gated house to play with American kids living back there. My father, a spontaneous “free-spirit,” intensely compassionate and interested in everyone and everything, would frequently take us out on weekends in the car on expeditions, as he called them, to rubber plantations, deserted villas, a big grass landing strip, temples, restaurants and markets. It seems we went everywhere. My father believed in immersion and in “doing as the Romans do.”
I remember well the day Ngo Dinh Diem fell. Our house was a stone’s throw from his residence. That evening my father and I sat on our rear balcony in the twilight listening to the heavy trucks and the artillery. Dad calmly listened and described to me the sounds we were hearing. In retrospect I suspect Dad knew what was happening.
My father met often with the countryside’s chieftains. On February 2, 1965, Daddy rode off on my brother’s motorcycle and we never saw him again. A few days later a note in Daddy’s handwriting arrived for my mom telling us he’d been captured by the “National Liberation Front.”
Shortly thereafter, President Lyndon B. Johnson escalated the war, and American dependents were ordered to evacuate. I got terribly sick with measles and chicken pox simultaneously, and was quarantined and unable to leave Saigon for six weeks. My mother gamely remarked that she had the underwear section all to herself at the PX.
Even with this extra time staying behind, my frantic mother was unable to find my father. My spontaneous father had not told Mom where he was going that day. The Americans even emptied my father’s camera hoping to find a hint in his photographs of where he might have gone.
We finally left Saigon and returned to our home in Virginia. My French-speaking mother became pen pals with Cambodia’s Prince Norodom Sihanouk, who was friendly with both the Americans and the North Vietnamese. Eventually from him Mother learned that my father died of malaria in a holding camp in 1967, and we received his watch. However, my family had heard many rumors and news stories, and had even gotten late-night phone calls from crazies with “news” of my father. Without a body, we still really didn’t know what to believe.
It took years of effort by government agencies and the military to interview local Vietnamese, identify where my father had been held just outside of Saigon, retrieve remains, conduct DNA testing and verify the findings. About six years ago, we gratefully received my father’s remains and he is now buried in Leesburg, Va. After a lifetime of not knowing my father’s whereabouts, he is home. Oddly, Dad returned February 1, 2001, the eve of the day he disappeared in 1965.
Tina Hertz Evans
FSB Thunder III, Revisited
I recently read the article about the battle of Thunder III, written by Tim Long (October 2006), in which I was mentioned. This made me think about doing something I have been thinking of doing for a while now. I hope you will give me this opportunity to thank two heroes.
Sometime in October-November 1969, a Spc. 4 Johnson and I (Spc. 4 James Massengill)—both of Recon/Flame PLT, HQ Co., 2-2 Mech Inf, 1st Infantry Division—left Dau Tieng, Vietnam, en route to our division depot. We were returning an experimental model “track” when the thing started running hot. It was to be used to service our “zippos” (flame tracks). We had to get out of the convoy we were traveling with and drive at a very slow pace. Meanwhile, we were trying to reach our company via radio to advise them of our situation. We did not manage to contact them, but someone did intercept our transmission and stated they would send help. I wasn’t sure it would happen, because I knew how easily things could get mixed up sometimes.
We drove as far as we dared without blowing the engine and stopped in a small town that was not along Highway 13 or any other named highway. This was approximately 15 miles from Cu Chi, location of the 25th Infantry. All we had with us were two M-16s and a 50-caliber ammo box full of grenades and fully loaded M-16 ammo clips. But strangely enough, some ARVN soldiers (about 15 of them) showed up. Man, was I glad to see them, and I thought our troubles were over, but they were about to get worse.
After friendly greetings and picture taking, they advised us that they couldn’t stay and wanted us to leave the track behind. Since we were not about to just leave a valuable piece of equipment for the enemy to get and use, they left us there.
Soon it started to get dark, so I went to retrieve my M-16 from behind the driver’s seat of the track. Well, surprise! It was missing. After thinking back, I remembered hearing the door of the track close while the ARVN soldiers were there. I couldn’t believe that they had taken my weapon and left us like that. I should never have let it out of my sight; that was the first and last time.
We were trying to assess our plight when two Army MPs of the 25th Infantry Division showed up in a jeep. They contacted their command for advice. They were told to bring us in with them, but we refused to leave our track there. At the time, we felt it was the right thing to do. The 25th ID Command advised that due to the lateness of day, it would be impossible for them to get anyone to us before dark, and the area was known for VC activity after darkness.
The young MPs (we were all about 19 years old) had an M-60 on their jeep; they volunteered to stay with us through the night. They knew (and were told by their command) that we were probably in for a rough night and might not survive, but they stayed to help us.
I’ve written this to say thanks to those two very brave and dedicated MPs. I don’t remember who they were, but if they read this magazine (I’m sure they do) I hope they will remember this. And if they do remember, I would like to tell them this: I am forever indebted to you. Every time I watched my son run a touchdown or score a hoop when he was in high school, I knew that he was here because I survived the Vietnam War, due to friends like you guys. A million thanks to you and may God bless you.
By the way, Spc. Johnson and I were finally rescued by six APCs from our recon section. The message had gotten through and swift action was taken. I thank you. Noli me tangere.
James R. Massengill
I read the article on the attack of FSB Thunder III with great interest, as I was there as a member of Battery A/2-12th Field Artillery. I was the assistant gunner on Gun 3, and I distinctly remember that night and the following morning as I walked around the base. I remember the leg in the wire, the charred bodies and seeing the dead being buried.
As a side note, I would like to comment about the New Hampshire National Guard. I was infused into A Battery, 3-197, in April 1969. It was customary to replace Guardsmen with Army regulars or reservists in order to “dilute” the unit, and those Guardsmen were then assigned to other units that were spread out all over South Vietnam.
The changeover to A/2-12 was merely a change of colors, as all the equipment stayed, to be manned by the remaining personnel. On Tuesday, August 26, 1969, the National Guard departed Thunder III. There were about 25 of them in a convoy headed south on Highway 13, and just north of Lai Khe, one of the trucks detonated a land mine, killing all five men riding in the back, including Gene Beaudoin, who was in my gun section.
On October 7, 1969, we held a memorial service for those Guardsmen at Thunder III as we dedicated “Hampshire Field” in their honor. To this day, few people seem to know that the National Guard served in Vietnam. The 3-197 served with great honor and received many commendations. Their story must be told.
New Castle, Pa.
General Ngo Quang Truong
I was sad to read about the death of General Ngo Quang Truong in the June 2007 issue.
I was assigned to MACV Advisory Team 3, attached to the 1st ARVN Division in Hue, in 1967 and ’68. I had limited contact with General Truong as I served both senior advisers (Colonel Peter E. Kelley and Colonel George O. Adkisson). General Truong was not only a superior ARVN officer and an intelligent leader, but also a nice man. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family.
James M. Mueller Jr.
Khe Sanh Airstrip
In response to the letter by Peter Brush in the April issue claiming the old metal airstrip at Khe Sanh was torn out by Seabees in July 1968, the metal airstrip was definitely not torn out after the Marines left the Khe Sanh Plateau.
I was with the first group of about 40 men from the 101st Airborne Division who landed on the old runway on January, 29, 1971, to start reopening Khe Sanh as a staging site for Operation Dewey Canyon II (later named Lam Son 719 by the ARVN). The group of choppers I was with flew directly from Camp Eagle and Camp Evans to Khe Sanh. We got off the choppers on the old runway near the helicopter revetments that sat off to the north side of the west end of the old Marine runway. There were many damaged sections of the metal runway, but it was not removed. There were still the remains of a couple of wrecked cargo planes off toward the west-northwest side of the runway. The runway was oriented basically east to west, and was about 3,200 feet long.
Engineers and equipment started coming in the morning of January 30 and immediately began leveling ground for a longer 3,800-foot runway south of the old Marine runway. The engineers worked around the clock, and on the afternoon of February 4, the first C-130 landed before the interlocking aluminum sections had been put down. As I remember, it sank into the ground a little and it seemed to have trouble getting back out.
It was soon afterward that the entire 3,800 feet of new runway was decked with aluminum. The new runway was also wider than the Marine runway. I have pictures of Cobra gunships lined up on the old runway just east of the revetments and also of the first C-130 that landed on the the freshly decked runway. The old Marine runway was still in place when we left in April 1971.
Harry “Jack” Bickel
Death on the Airwaves
Today I received copies of the June issue of Vietnam Magazine, which contains my article (“Death on the Airwaves”). Unfortunately, several mistakes were introduced in the editing process. First, the battle took place near the tri-border area, nowhere near Saigon but slightly north of where the more famous Ia Drang battle was fought.
The caption for the center picture on P. 56 is incorrect. John Mucci was not a captain but a specialist 4th class, a radio-telephone operator.
Finally, the caption for the right-most picture on P. 58 is incorrect. That is not me in the picture—I don’t know who it is.
Thanks for the copies, and I’m glad to have contributed this article.
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