Welcome to Chu Lai

February, 1970. We arrived at Da Nang late in the afternoon, too late to transit to our final destinations. Driven to a transit barracks, 2nd deck. I grabbed an upper rack next to a door to the outside. Not sure of what happened next, I kept my clothes on, but tied my boot laces together with my glasses inside. While all of us were trying to settle in, grab some shut-eye, we could hear sounds of artillery somewhere in the distance, coupled with occasional small arms fire. I had just begun to doze when I heard the sound of incoming 122 rockets. I hit the deck, grabbed my boots, and flew through the door, jumped to the stair landing midway down in one jump, and on the ground. While I was jumping down the stairs I saw at least three 122 rockets landed in a field directly behind the barracks. We crammed as many of us into bunkers, and waited for whatever happened. After what seemed like hours, somebody sounded “All Clear,” and we returned to where we had been when the rockets came in. I don’t think there were any casualties. Not many of us got any sleep that night, and we spent most of the rest of the night trying to figure what kind of defense we could mount if the VC came at us, as we did not have any rifles, pistols, ammo, grenades, or even knives.

Nothing happened during the rest of the night, and we were sure glad to see the sunrise. We were eventually taken to a chow hall, then broken up and dispersed into groups for further transfer to our ultimate destinations. I was sent back to Da Nang, where I was sent to a C-130 destined for a place called Chu Lai. After we landed there, I was directed to several admin groups, finally stopping at one for a MATCU (Marine Air Traffic Control Unit. I was told that I was assigned to one of 2 watch groups who worked 24 hour shifts, but I would have to stay at the hootch my section called home until tomorrow, as they were on their watch. I eventually hit the rack for some sleep. While listening to the sounds of jets and artillery and small arms fire, I just lay still trying to process all that I heard. Sometime later, a gecko lizard decided to loose his grip in the rafters above me. He landed square in my face. It was a good thing I was the only one in the hootch because the would ha seen me race from one end of the hootch to the other without touching the floor. I eventually calmed my racing heart back to a more normal rate. As I was trying to sleep, the “Incoming” siren sounded, and I heard several nearby explosions. The squadron guide who escorted me around earlier had pointed out a fighting hole I was supposed to take cover there and remain there until the “All Clear” was sounded, or until I was relieved. I grabbed my rifle and 782 gear that had been issued to me earlier after my arrival and prepared to defend huge POL tanks, all by myself. After loading my rifle and magazines with ammo, I settled in to wait. I spent the rest of the night alone in the fighting hole, hoping the POL tanks were not hit, and planning what I would do if they were. I never heard the “All Clear,” but figured all was OK as my watch crew arrived and went to their respective racks. After introducing myself to the Sgt. in charge, and sharing some important “Scoop,” he said, “By the way, welcome to Viet Nam.” I already felt like a veteran.

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