155th Team 5
HOLLYWOOD COMES TO BAN ME THUOT It is August 19, 1966 and I have been Stage Coach 6 for a grand total of nine days. This day began as usual, up early and off at first light to some unknown place on a mission now forgotten. I returned near dark and thankfully there was no welcoming committee waiting for me in the corral. I did my usual things, checking with the office and inquiring about mail from home, etc. before going to the Officers Mess for dinner. In the normal course of conversation, someone mentioned that the famous Arthur Godfrey had visited the camp that day and everyone there had really enjoyed his visit. I was told that he had been initiated into the Stage Coaches at the O 'Club, (including the flaming drink), plus had a tour of the compound and the guard bunkers. He spoke to a lot of the troops and left a favorable impression on every one he met. I think it was the Operations Officer, Jim Hayes, who said to me "Oh, by the way, the Falcons have invited Mr. Godfrey back tomorrow morning for an orientation flight in one of the gun ships." My thoughts were - "How do I explain to my superiors the decision to let a civilian fly a helicopter, even worse a gun ship?" What if there is an accident in the flight or in the firing of the rockets? On the other hand, what will be the effect on the morale of the pilots if I say no since I have only been here nine days. Then I say to myself, "What can they do to me if any thing goes wrong, ship me home?" I decided to put the burden on Jim Hayes to make sure nothing went wrong. " Jim, you will have Mr. Godfrey escorted by two gun ships, followed by a slick. The Flight Surgeon will be on stand by with the Med Evac Crew. The top gun will be Arthur's co-pilot." ( This was the Instructor Pilot for the Falcons and I apologize but I cannot remember his name.) With these preparations completed, I retired for the evening. At 11 PM, I received a call from my friend, the Senior Army Advisor from down town, and the conversation went like this. "Bo, I know that you don't report directly to me and I can't direct you in regards to the flight for Mr. Godfrey, but, if I were you I would not authorize the flight". Boy, how do you respond to this since I know that he is on the list for promotion to BG and could create some problems. My answer at the time was to thank him for his advice and, since I had not made the final decision, I would seriously consider his advice. After some reflection, I decided that he was most likely covering his "posterior" in the event anything went wrong. I am not sure if I slept any that night. Next morning the visiting entourage arrives right on time. All the plans were in place, crews were ready and I had not made a final decision. I approached the lead vehicle and asked "Mr. Godfrey, do you know of any regulation or directive that would preclude me from approving this flight". Arthur turned to an Air Force full Colonel and asked, "Charlie, is there any reason that I can't fly in these helicopters?" The Colonel said "No, Arthur, there is no reason that you cannot take this flight". Was I relieved to hear those words and from a full colonel. My immediate response was "Have a good flight!!" The flight was to an area west of Ban Me Thuot where there was a lake the Falcons used for training. I also understand that the slick dropped a 55 gallon drum into the lake and Arthur had a few tries at hitting the barrel. After the flight, Mr. Godfrey and his entourage spent several hours talking with the officers who were not on flights that day. During these two days, Mr. Godfrey revealed to the group that on his famous round the world flight with a couple of other famous pilots, they almost ran out of gas on the first leg of the flight from Seattle to Alaska. With all their experience , they forgot to check the fuel before takeoff. Each thought that the other had checked the fuel. Needless to say the morale of the officers was extremely high when they put the black cap on Mr. Godfrey's head, initiating him into that exclusive group called the Falcons. (Reflecting on this and other incidents, after these 30 years, I have determined a definite pattern of conduct on the part of the officers and men of the 155. That was to put "the Old Man on the spot" as was done here in the Godfrey gun ship checkout. Incidentally, they never offered to give me a flight in a gun ship!! And I never got a black cap!!!) HOLLYWOOD COMES TO BAN ME THUOT ---AGAIN!!!. Day in and Day out, our crews have their flight missions and when they arrive back in the corral all they want is some peace and quiet. Some time to get the mail and relax. I was no different. November 7th was typical except that I arrived a little early, around 4 PM. As I walked down main street from the corral, I saw this group approaching not unlike a scene from the movie "High Noon". I recognized most of the group but one person in the center I did not know and I had the feeling that something unusual was about to happen. As the group got closer, those, whom I recognized, stopped a short distance away. The one very small person, who I did not recognize, came straight up to me and said "I understand that you are the person that I have to see to get a drink before 5 o'clock." The Army teaches you all the tactics in the world about defending against potential enemies, you learn how to operate an airplane or helicopter in an emergency, but no where in all the regulations and army manuals do they teach you "WHAT TO SAY TO MARTHA RAY!" Once again "I had been set up", and I could hear the group chuckling to themselves. What could I say to this famous movie star except that I thought it was a great idea. I knew that she outranked me inasmuch a she was a Lt. Colonel in the Army Nurses Corps and with her influence she could tell General Westmoreland where to go. Her visit was another great morale booster for the men who were able to spend a little time with her. I don't know how or why she got to the 155 that day but I can still remember that meeting. Gene Grimsley probably has an "I can top that" story when he relates his experience on a flight to transport another Hollywood type somewhere. In this case, the Hollywood type jumped into the "drivers seat" and said "You start it, I'll fly it". You have to admit that this is a bit unusual, but, "WHAT DO YOU SAY TO DANNY KAYE." Gene said he told the Co-Pilot to crawl in the back and away they went. I didn't inquire as to what sort of pilot Mr. Kaye was but later I found out that he owned his own helicopter. These visitors were a lot of fun but I heard that some Hollywood types were not friendly at all. It seems that James Drury "The Virginian" on his visit to the Advisory Group was really unhappy when he got the heel of his cowboy boots caught in the bar rail. The Officer that told me this also said that Robert Mitchum wasn't any better but Charlton Heston was real friendly and spoke easily with everyone. Mitchum put the Special Forces in a spot, similar to my situation with Arthur Godfrey, when he tried to get them to take him on a patrol. A General got involved and put a stop to Mitchum's desire to get out in the field with the troops. DUST, DUST, DUST, EVERYWHERE, WHAT'S A GUY TO DO? The old guys remember all the dust and maybe the new guys do also. I had seen some 55 gallon drums at Camp Holloway that contained that thick black stuff called tcp, pcp, or something like that, which was used to suppress dust. For some reason, I didn't think to request it through channels but expect that we would get the same treatment as we got for everything else we requested. I had seen some barrels at a supply dump in Holloway near the refueling area. I asked the flight crews to stop by and bring some home. I am sure this made them happy but everyone made an effort. Did you know that each one of those barrels weighed at least 360 pounds. I saw that this was going to take a lot of trips and I am sure the morale was going to suffer if it went on too long. But what is the "Old Man" to do? We needed to try something to suppress the dust. I am not sure that many of us observed the three or four men that were always in the corral. They were from the 255th Quartermaster Company and were responsible for our POL and the ammo dump. I made it a habit to wander through the area when I could. I often went to that area of the corral because it was quiet, when no choppers were around, and I could escape being trapped into another scheme which could cost me my job. During one of these trips, I asked the corporal in charge if he knew where we could get some of those fuel bladders that other posts had. He said that he could get us one if I wanted him too. I was amazed but took him at his word and within days we had our fuel bladder with four hoses in a grassy area of the corral and didn't have to fill out dozens of forms to send through channels. We no longer had to maneuver the fuel trucks through the corral around the chopper pads and was able to reduce some of the dust problem in the Corral. Now maybe the barrel importing program might work. Later on one of my walks, my friend, who I like to remember as the Little Corporal in charge of POL, informed me that his boss from Cam Ranh Bay was scheduled for a visit. The boss was a full colonel on the list for BG (seems everyone was on the list for promotion but me.) I made a mental note to meet the Colonel if I was home on that day. Who knows what would happen when the second in command of the largest supply depot in Viet Nam pays you a visit. Sure enough, I was informed that the Colonel had arrived and, of course, I immediately headed for the Corral. I introduced myself and expressed to him how fortunate we were to have the men he had assigned to us, which was no lie. He responded that his men had told him that they were well treated and that they liked their assignment. (I am not sure that I could have done what they did day after day, out in the Corral in the hot sun or heavy rain, but that is what they said.) In parting, the Colonel, soon to be BG, uttered those magic words, "MAJOR, IS THERE ANYTHING I CAN DO FOR YOU?" My immediate response was "Sir, do you suppose we could get some of those barrels of black stuff?" He said " How Many?" And I said "40 or 50 barrels." He said "Corporal, don't let me forget." Within two or three days, we had those barrels delivered to our back door by an Air Force plane. I can still see those civilians, dipping their homemade drip cans into the drums and spreading that black stuff all over the Corral. I hope the Little Corporal knows how much he and his crew meant to the 155. Looking back on this, I wonder what else I could have asked the Colonel for but at the time "DUST WAS ON MY MIND". INITIATION INTO THE SACRED ORDER OF STAGEDCOACH Many of the rules and procedures that were observed at the 155 were hand me downs from the Commanders before me. One ritual was the initiation of officers at the O'Club. A short, almost harmless exercise that most surely would be not "Militarily Correct" in the modern Army. I don't remember all the details except there was a flaming drink. The test is to have a steady hand and drink the drink without the flame going out. Often the discharge of a fire extinguisher, in the close vicinity of the initiates rear, would cause a jerk, the flame would go out and the initiate would have to start over. We received an influx of "-NGS" in November and December and their initiation had to be delayed because of our "flying hour test" by Battalion. We were given a break on missions at Christmas and on Christmas Eve we scheduled the initiation. There were so many "_NGs" that they outnumbered the old guys. There was considerable resistance by the "-NGS" and a couple of the old guys took an unexpected dip in the pool. The "Old Man" had to take charge to quell the mutiny. I directed the senior "-NG" to take charge of all the new guys, and have them to fall in outside the Club. I had no idea where this was going to lead. The senior officer was a Captain, known as the Doctor(Captain Gary W. Seltzer had replaced Captain Paulk). Captain Seltzer had recently sprained his ankle while jogging, and was wearing a cast to his knee. I directed that he face his troops to the left and give the order forward march. It was rather interesting since I am sure he never had to drill troops before and his voice didn't sound like one of the drill sergeant we all remember. The route of march was to a point parallel to the shallow end of the pool. When they reached center line of the pool, I directed him to order the troop to make a column left which would take them into the pool. I was surprised when they all kept marching into the pool, including their leader with the cast.. The formation was then, ordered to stand at attention in the shallow end of the pool and could only get out if they took a swig or two of "Dr. Bourbon's Cold Medicine" This quelled the riot and every one had a big laugh. I often wondered what the enlisted men thought of all these antics but from the reaction of the officers, I bet everyone got a big laugh. The next initiation, my last one, found me being given a free ride to the pool, probably by those who had to take the Doctor's orders in December. INITIATION INTO THE MONTAGNARD TRIBE. October 23. I was invited along with the Exec., Tom Ingram, to visit some Montagnards at their village. They were a small group called Radai (pronounced ROD-DAY) and lived just across the street from the airfield. One member of this group worked part time as a bartender in the NCO Club and he spoke English very well. We arrived there at about 11:30 AM and were ushered into a recently constructed building with cement floor and a tin roof not a normal structure for the Montagnard people. They had recently killed a pig and had prepared quite a few dishes of food to share with us. They have a tradition where they sit on the floor near big pot filled with a kind of rice wine which they drink through a long straw. The straws were passed around and we all drank some concoction through the straw. (I have a picture of Tom and me sipping on those straws.) As the mixture is siphoned through the straws, one person adds water to keep the pot filled. After everyone has had about a cup they begin the chant of sacrifice. Later the food is served and more wine is available. We were given gifts, one a wrap that the ladies use for carrying loads, children, etc., plus a brass bracelet which is their symbol of friendship and recognition that we had participated in the ceremony. I don't remember much about the taste nor do I recall what Sgt. Nabors told us about the ingredients but we survived and I think we made friends with our neighbors.. I still have that bracelet on my dresser to this day. We presented the village leader with a pipe and some tobacco in appreciation for inviting us. These were very poor people and yet they invited us to share food with them. I wish that we had been able to give them more. One Sergeant near Pleiku wrote to a VFW club and requested that they send him pipes. They gathered up old pipes from the members and shipped them to the Sergeant who used them to break down the barrier of mistrust when they took medical teams through the villages. We planned for a Christmas party for children which will be in a later comment on holiday activities. Sgt. Nabors came to me shortly afterwards with a request from another Montagnard group leader. The request was that his daughter be given a job on the base. We did hire her and she worked in the Officer Mess. She was a pretty young lady with darker skin than some of the other civilians on the base. DEDICATION OF CAMP CORYELL. As I had mentioned, we were tasked for a lot of single ship missions during this time and October 30th was no different. Warrant Officer Michael N. Coryell with Warrant Officer Wilmer J. Willingham, Specialist John W. Wood, and Private First Class James L. Walker were assigned to fly re-supply missions to Infantry units in the hill country along the Laotian border west of Pleiku. We were all aware that we should attempt to clear terrain features by at least 1000 but preferably 1500 feet. The report I received was the pick up point for the supplies was in a valley and the tendency was to climb out toward the hills. An American s infantry squad on the crest of the hill observed machine gun fire from down the slope, at some distance from their position. They also reported seeing the Helicopter crash. By time they got to where the machine gun fire had come from, the enemy unit had disappeared. This was a severe blow to the Company and to me. It was the first loss of life during my time as commander. After this event, the Officers of the Company asked permission to name the base after Michael and this we did. On February 4th, 1967 we had the official dedication ceremony and naming the base in memory of Michael N. Coryell. Colonel Marr, Group Commander, made the dedication. Also present were Lt. Col. Smithey, Battalion Commander and Colonel Johnson, Senior Advisor at Ban Me Thuot. From then on our home was officially " CAMP CORYELL". OTHER HAPPENINGS AROUND CAMP. Two dog handlers got careless and allowed their dogs to get too close to each other. One handler got nipped, not too seriously but they were reminded that the dogs were dangerous. One other incident involved on of the guards or dog handler who forgot to empty his weapon and test it before entering the tent. Once inside somehow the weapon discharged, luckily upwards. I was adamant that his leaders administer some disciplinary action to reinforce in their minds of the requirement to follow the rules. Some action was taken and things returned to normal. I didn't envy these fellows who walked outside the berm, night after night. I would often watch them from the safety of the berm during my strolls through the compound. BOOBY TRAP IN CAMP. A short timer crew chief was the victim of a booby trap in the barracks. When this occurred, we immediately ushered all the indigenous personnel off the compound. Investigation revealed a hand grenade rigged with nails similar to the booby traps set by special forces had been stored by the crew chief who intended to keep it as a souvenir, I suppose. After he was treated by the Flight Surgeon, he told us that it was his fault. He had gotten the grenade from one of his visits to a special forces camp. The grenade went off when he removed it from his duffel to show the others. I don't remember the full extent of his injuries but I think they were limited to his hand. I had Sgt. Nabors bring all the Indigenous personnel to the street in front of the CP where I personally(with help of the interpreter) explained what had happened and apologized to them for all the trouble that had been caused. NOISE IN CAMP. I made a big point that the flight crews should get their sleep and not party and play cards all night. Everyone obeyed this as far as I know, since the clubs were closed, music was turned off and quiet reigned after mid-night, except once. One of our enlisted crewmen had a bad night and was making quite a fuss, running back and forth, shouting unintelligible words. Since I didn't want to get involved in a disciplinary problem, I suggested to the man's platoon leader that they control him, even if they had to tie him down. This they did, to the light pole across the "green-belt" in front of my tent. I am sure that this would not be accepted in today's modern army, but it sure worked this night. It wasn't long before the sounds died down to a quiet hum and I decided it was safe for me to talk with him. I asked him how he felt and he said very tired. I then asked him if he wanted to go to bed and he agreed that that would be a good idea whereupon I untied him and away he went. I only remember that he was an excellent crewman and had been in no trouble. The incident passed without further comment. A VISIT FROM THE MADAM. As you entered the main gate, you passed several small shops set up to sell souvenirs. When I became Stagecoach 6, I found that the owner was the Vietnamese Army Finance Officer of the 23rd Division which made me wonder about the source of his money. I did buy some thing including place mats and book marks woven by the Montagnard people in their traditional colors. One afternoon, while I was tending to business in the Office, I received a call from the Main Gate saying that a lady was at the gate and wanted to see the Commanding Officer. I told the guard to let her in and was surprised to see a chauffeur driven French car drive up in front. A beautiful lady in the flowing dress that the Vietnamese are famous for, stepped out. I invited her to my office and we talked. Her proposal was to construct a building and operate a hot bath and massage parlor. This was a tempting offer but I told her that I would have to study the proposal. I didn't know much about her but understand she operated a similar business downtown., On 1 Feb, the steam bath and massage parlor opened so somehow the request was approved. This subject falls under my current "disease" as diagnosed by Bob Alberts, CRS and I can not remember ever approving the proposal.. THE RAT PATROL Each day some civilians would show up with buckets of water and go through out the camp picking up all the traps that had been put out the previous day. These traps would have one or more rats in each one. The rat patrol would put the rats in the water so they would drown and after resetting the traps they would depart. This was apparently their major source of protein in their diet and helped us in keeping our place a bit more sanitary. OUR AUSTRALIAN VISITOR. At some point in time, after the CROSS BOW INN dedication, I got a request to provide quarters for a Lady from Australia who had angered the Senior Advisor at the Bungalow and needed a place to stay. It was in the evening and there was no other place for her to go. The Doctor's office was "volunteered" since there was a Medical Corpsman on duty at night and would be designated as the guard. I made one other requirement and that was the lady be escorted when she was away from the Doctor's office. This duty fell to WO Kenneth F. Acker, who was grounded for a few days. All went well and the swimming pool was a popular place when the young lady went swimming in the gear loaned to her by Ken. It seems that Ken only had white shorts and white tee shirts which became transparent when wet. At the end of her stay, she offered to give a show to the troops at the CROSS BOW INN for free. I felt a bit uncomfortable but agreed with the stipulation that each person pay a dollar. The performance was a strip tease act and was tastefully done. The 96 attendees gave her a big ovation. I was a bit surprised that there wasn't a larger group but guessed that the word hadn't gotten around, which would have been quite unlikely. I decided to wander through the Enlisted living area and heard people in several of the tents. I glanced in one of the tents and saw a movie screen. I had not realized that anyone had home movies and stood for a moment to see what movie was being shown. This was also the first time that I knew that the troops could get movies with scantily clad ladies as performers. I did not mention my observation to anyone and I suppose that was the reason more troops did not come to see our AUSTRALIAN FRIEND PERFORM. THE LONG ARM OF THE LAW REACHES VIET NAM. No matter where in the world you are, the agents of the CID would find you. On Sept 28, I was interviewed by an investigator from the Criminal Investigator Division of the Provost Marshall's Office. It seems that, ten months before in November 1965, my wife departed Columbus, GA to her Parent's home in Fremont, CA. She collected travel pay for her and the children at that address. This was a temporary stay until an apartment became available. The CID checked with the local Post Office to see if Mrs. Robert Atkinson was receiving mail at the address she gave when she applied for the travel pay. Of course the Post Office said that no mail addressed to Mrs. Atkinson was being delivered to that address. This investigation was pursued even though my wife was receiving an allotment plus a savings bond from the Finance Center in Indianapolis at another address in Fremont, CA. This inquiry followed me from Indianapolis to Fort Benning through 8 endorsements, from Fort Benning and several Aviation organizations, to Ban Me Thuot. Sure seems that there could have been a better use of tax payer money than was done in this "Criminal" search.