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Do not interfere with an army that is returning home. When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard.

-- Sun Tzu
Arrival in Country11986 Reads  Printer-friendly page

VietnamI think it is safe to say that everyone's first impression upon arriving in country to Vietnam was unique to that individual. It would be dependent on a persons' expectations and what his life experiences were subsequent to arrival, as-well-as, the time and place you came in country. Even so, I expect that some common chords are shared in each.
My expectations grew out of war stories as told by my father and my uncles, and from the war movies (e.g., Sands of Iwo Jima and Battle Cry). Further, my expectations came from Staging Battalion at Camp Pendleton. There we were given a small amount of Jungle Training, Vietnam Orientation, and SEAR(sic) training. The Mock Vietnam Village was not too bad, and the class on Vietnam Orientation helped me understand certain customs that helped me avoid a few ugly-American mistakes (i.e., such as patting a child on the top of the head - a no no).

I cannot remember just what I thought as we flew to Nam, but I do know that the closer we got the more I knew I really wanted to be at home. Nothing was to prepare me totally for what lay ahead. As we approached the Da Nang airfield I noticed what I thought were hundreds if not thousands of "bomb craters" scattered all over the place. These so-called "bomb craters" in-fact turned out to be circular graves with a few real bomb craters (or should I say rocket/artillery craters) scattered in between. I guess that I expected that after a couple generations of war in this land I thought there should be more evidence of such. In our culture we are neat and tidy when it comes to our dead. We bury only in "cemeteries" and they are almost always tucked away, never a constant reminder of our own mortality. Graves and graveyards were to play some roles in my personal Vietnam experience, but that's another topic. They were always before you.

As the plane landed and the back door opened I was met with the First Order of Reality in Being in Vietnam. I was immediately hit with a blast furnace that screamed "Welcome to Vietnam." Heat and humidity, I am real surprised that the subject has not gotten more attention from our so-called scholars. I lost forty pounds in Nam and I was not that over weight when I got there (I found each and ever one of those pounds and quite a few more a few years after getting out of the Corps). My tarmac scene was not much different than that shown in the movie "Platoon." There were people off loading and people getting on planes that were young but had that old persons 1000 yard stares. I do not remember them loading body bags on, but there could have been.

It took awhile before I got my orders as to which unit I was to report to. While waiting for orders we were fed plenty of new guy cherry stories (i.e., like most of our American KIAs come in the first and last 30 days of out tour -- this one seemed to hold true to some degree in the units I was in). Towards dusk, they loaded me and a guy I had gone to Ft. Monmouth with into a half-ton and drove us to Hq. Co., 1st (Amtracs) Amphibious Tractor Bn, 3rd Marine Div. (reinf) - on the west side of Hill 292 and the Big PX (though it wasn't that big back in September 1966) just past Dog Patch and Four-Corners, tucked in next to a Navy POL, a Company of 3rd Tanks, and across a field from an ARVN Boot Camp. You could not get more "rear-area," but I surely did not understand that until I moved up to a line company about a month later.

I was yet to learn the smells of Vietnam and war, the sounds of out going and incoming, the 95% Dear John rates, paralyzing fear and at times a total lack of common sense that fear can provide, the tears that flowed for the first dead Marine I helped carry to a chopper and the total lack of emotions I experienced when I helped carry the body of childhood friend at the end of my tour.

Things that first caught my eye was the awe and shear beauty of Vietnam. My first impressions were pure and innocence. People here seemed either very young or very old. Rarely did they seem middle-aged. I saw a child of maybe forty pounds gracefully directing or riding huge water buffalo, a small girl, maybe five years old, carrying an infant on her hip. My head turned at the sight of young ARVN men walking together holding hands (homophobia was something I had not yet learned to deal with). I was also amazed at old women carrying heavy loads balanced on the ends of long poles and the shear industriousness of the Vietnamese (it seemed that uncut sheet metal of beer cans was used for everything (siding on their homes to the hinges of the footlockers), and the rice straw that filled the mattresses that I was to sleep on for thirteen months.

I spent my 20th and 21st birthdays in country. I arrived a real cherry. I left a ***** old man. But I am getting younger now.

I would be interested in hearing what any of youzz guyzz arrival was like and something about your first impressions.

Roland Kunkel
USMC 1/65-1/69
VN 9/66-10/67
Note: by Roland Kunkel


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Re: Arrival in Country
by Anonymous
on Jun 05, 2002

Re: Arrival in Country
by Anonymous
on Jun 05, 2002

We left from Seatle and flew to Toyko. They appearently didnt want any baby killers on their tarmac because we had to stay on the plane while they refuled it. We picked up some Japanese stews and flew another five hours to Cam Rahn Bay.Upon reaching the coast of Vietnam we could see contioous flashes of light twords the ground, proubably lightening, but to a nineteen year old away from home for the first time they looked like explosions, what the ***** am I doing here! We landed at Cam Rham and when they opened the plane door the heat and the stench were over powering, what the ***** am I doing here! After being processed we made our way to the chow hall dont remember what they were serving but Isure didnt eat any of it. Then someone suggested we try to find the EM club if they had one. What place it was a giant tent with tables and chairs a stage and a make shift bar that served anything a little alcoholics heart could desire, real beer not 3.2 and any kind of booze imaginable. On stage was some blond Austrailian bimbo singing off key but giving everyone plenty of tits and ass shots. Everyone was eating it up. Dont remember how I got backto the hooch that night but woke the next morning to 95+ temp and 1000% humidity spent most of the morning pucking my guts up,what the ***** am I doing here! We then boarded a c7a caraboe for the ride to Nah Trang. When we got there itwas about noon the temp was135 and humidity by that time of day was2000%, what the ***** am I doing here! Nha Trang was a beautiful place had it not been for the stench, allthe garbage laying around and the war it would have made a great resort. I have to admit that my tour was pretty much a cake walk compared to most guys ,proubably the only guy safer than me would have been Al Gore. Cant say that I would ever want to go back for a tour from what I gather Vietnam is still the armpit of the universe but what a first immpression!

Re: Arrival in Country
by Anonymous
on Apr 21, 2004
I think, half of my side of the plane was in tears. crying, choked up, While the other side of the plane, couldn't keep from laughing, rolling in the aisles. I thought what in the heck did I get into. The stewaresses probably thought it was a plane of loonie's.
It was like you said, 99 degrees at midnight in Saigon; when we arrived. Almost like dusk, with flares, rockets popping, old timers screaming get your butt in gear, keep your head down, don't stop, run run run on the tarmac.

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