Photos and comments courtesy of:
Lt.Col. Phil Garey
Commander of the 35th Headquarters Squadron
at PRAB (8/1/69-5/1/70)
Me in front of Orderly Room at PRAB.
I planted that Banana tree. (1969)
Me in front of the troops at Hamilton AFB. (1961)
I had been stationed at Hamilton AFB in California for about 18 months as
Hq Sq Commander. Easy duty except that I was there on a Humanitarian assign-
ment. My mother was dying of cancer. When she died it wasn't more than a
couple of months until my orders for Vietnam came through. I flew to McChord
AFB in Washington and spent a couple of days processing, then hopped aboard
a contract transport and off we went. Up over Alaska the pilot announced:
"A new first for B---- Airlines. We're low on fuel so we're going in to King
Salmon to gas up!" We landed and refueled and took off for Japan. Got to
a terminal there and sat around for a few hours then left for Cam Ran Bay.
So good bye to the pleasant climate of Marin County (Calif), and
hello to Vietnam. I well remember my arrival at Cam Ran Bay in late
July, 1969, arriving about 0100. I'll never forget that hot fetid
smell when they opened the cabin doors and we staggered out into the
sweaty night! What a shock after the mild climate at Hamilton AFB!
A couple of hours of briefing and so on, then the wait began. The waiting
room consisted of an open building with toilets that were overflowing
with sewage. All benches were taken by Montagnard soldiers and their
families and ducks! My first exposure to our allies. Seemed tiny but
soldierly. It was about my last contact with Vietnamese soldiers too.
It seemed like it was up to me to find my way to Phan Rang AB, the
transport people weren't any help. I called several times to my new
base about 25 miles south and finally they got me on a C-123, the
workhorse of the USAF. We flew at low level and were hit by small arms
fire. No damage of injuries. The crew was pretty nonchalant about it.
View from Officer's club hill, my trailer area in lower right. (1969)
We landed in the heat of the mid afternoon sun that was hot and
desert! Looked like southern California. My sponsor met me riding
a bicycle! Me and two bags and him with a bike! Seemed as though
transport was very limited due to a breakdown of vehicles, caused
by blowing sand. The Vehicle Maintenance people worked as hard as
they could but shortages of parts and equipment were too much.
Ground transportation was a constant problem during my stay.
I checked in at 35th Headquarters and was assigned a room in
the BOQ. It was bare minimum, hot and seemed filled with insects.
My sponsor had disappeared so I was on my own. I was too tired
to think about a meal and had no idea where a mess was or even
the Officers Club, so I laid down and went to sleep.
I'm leaning on a borrowed jeep in front of 35th Hq Sq Orderly room. (1969)
Sometime later the sirens went off and I figured it was an attack. I had
noticed a shelter down the road and headed for it. There were already
two people in it. Turned out they were Chaplains. We chatted and they
offered me a bottle. I figured: "Not with a war going on!" Little did I
know. Anyhow, the alert ended and my comrades had passed out, so I left.
Here I am in front of 35 Hq Sq Orderly Room. (1969)
In the next few days I met the Base Commander, the Wing Commander,
and most of the staff. Not my First Sergeant though. He was a short
timer and was spending his last few days at the beach. At first I
was angry, but then thought, "what the hell." I met him for a few
minutes before he got on the home bird. Then my new First Sergeant
came to the base. He was a TSGT and I thought "Holy mackerel, a TSGT,
and I've got over a 1000 men and most of the senior NCOs on base!"
His name was Boyce J Kelley, known as BJ. No experience as a 1st
Sgt. He learned fast and was one of the best 1st Sgt I've ever worked
with. However the senior NCOs respected him for the position and
ignored the rank. We're still in contact. He retired as a CMSGT.
Most of the senior NCOs lived in quarters near the flight
line, but our squadron barracks was up the slope away from
headquarters. They were typical tropical 2 story barracks with
screened louvers and divided into cubicles. Latrines were in the
midst of all this. There were no concrete walks in between so
when the rains hit, and hit they did, mud was over everything.
Later, when the base ran out of water, the latrines got worse.
Remember this: the base was like a small city. It had a water, sewage,
and electrical system. The water got contaminated from the Phan Rang
River and we couldn't get a filter system. Sand would wear pumps.
Result: very little water, maybe 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours
in the evening. This wreaked hell with the sewer system. No way to
flush! The base tried hauling drums around then we were supposed to
bucket flush the toilets. Doesn't work, too much solid, not enough
liquid. This was over period of a few months in 1969-1970.
It was even worse for the guys working on the line. Hot dirty and
everything that goes with aircraft maintenance. Come off a 12
hour shift and no way to clean up. The Security Police patrols
had it as bad, out on the towers and at night on the K-9 patrols.
Perimeter Guard Tower with concertina wire in front
of fighting position. Unknown Photographer. (1969)
Another problem was cooking and washing dishes in the dining halls.
Lack of water! PRAB used every paper plate and plastic fork in the
far east and then began flying them in from Hawaii! It was
eventually solved when a Colonel from Ton Son Nhut came up.
Colonel Jack Goodman was a civil engineer. I had been at his
promotion parties to Major, Lt Col, and Colonel. He had recognized
the problem. Sent for the only available erdlator (you look it up)
operator in the USAF, had him flown in from North Africa.
Jack got up on the bulldozer and started the digging. Someone
else finished it of course. Anyhow, they dug a big pond, lined
it with plastic. The sandy, contaminated water, settled out the
sand, and then ran through the erdlator, and we had water!
Another problem that cropped up from time to time was at the
electricity generating plant. It was designed at a certain capacity
and as time passed that capacity was always on the verge of blowing.
Especially about 6:00 PM when all the illegal fans and window air
conditioners were turned on. I've seen the operator standing by to
throw the switch for fear of overload. Awfully close at times.
There are two things the higher staff levels fear worse than battle
deaths. They are VD and motorcycles. First lets look at VD: The rate
for VD was about normal for far eastern military bases, but after the
1968 TET attack it dropped to zero at PRAB. The area off base was off
limits, the shanty bars and other places were off limits. No whores,
no VD! So the big wig goes to Saigon for their monthly meeting and gets
a big congrats for the zero. Next month, another congrats on the
zero VD rate. They figure it out; No Airmen in town, no VD, and we get
a point on the chart. Gee! So they kept the off limits going for at
least a year. At least one G.I. was killed trying to sneak back through
the wire after a drunken excursion to the shanties. Believe he was Army.
Motorcycles are inherently dangerous in the hands of young men. A few
accidents and Saigon got the idea. Stop imports and limit them to 125cc
(I believe). They added rules about selling them, as there was a demand
market and God Forbid that anyone should make a profit. So when a bike
owner rotated he could sell his bike for no more than he had paid for it.
My little motor bike was a God sent relief from the boredom of the base. (1969)
I got one, a Suzuki, I believe. Was always breaking down and trying
to get parts was difficult. I got them a couple of times from Bangkok.
I loved to ride the perimeter fence line, just to get away. Got shot
at one time out by that concrete Korean fortress. Scared me.
One night we were having a party down in the field grade officer's
trailer area. Someone had scuba dived and caught crabs and lobsters.
We had no way to cook them so I took another officer on the back
of my bike and drove off in the night up the winding road to the
NCO club and got the Club Secretary to loan me a big pot. I also
bought about a dozen loaves of French bread from Whip Wilson.
But then how do you get this back to our area? We'd had a few
drinks and quickly resolved the problem. He rode down the mountain
on the back of the bike, BACKWARDS! What a trip. Today I'd say it
was impossible. Anyhow we cooked the food and forgot about it.
Luckily no SPs caught us. That would have been it for the two of us.
Here I am in front of my half of trailer 640. (1969)
I had gotten ahold (that still sounds right) of a little two burner
electric stove, one of those cheap Sears models. I bought a wok and
a covered pot from the locals. They were of cast aluminum, probably
made from old aircraft scrap. I would set up the stove in the
bathroom. I used local rice and veggies for awhile, figuring the
boiling water would kill the local bugs. From other sources I'd get
a steak or a half a chicken and chop it up for stir fry or maybe
steamed. This way I avoided the mess hall and the Officers Club.
I went to Singapore and Bangkok several times and I'd load up on
canned items and even canned butter, canned crackers, and British
cakes. Oh yes, and canned fish! I got to like that. Also those
Long-Life dried noodles, that were so good. It gave me something
to do in the evenings and probably was a better diet than I'd normally
get. It's also likely I picked up hepatitis from the local veggies,
which was partially what got me out of the Air Force! As you probably
remember, the BX didn't have much to eat. Beany-Weenies and Vienna
Sausage and Garbanzo beans I particularly recall. God! I hated them.
Cho, hooch maid for my trailer. (1969)
Cho, my Montagnard hootch maid, a little tiny woman, weighed about
80 pounds and was less than 5 foot tall. She'd hear someone on the
bricks outside and run grab the door from the inside. They'd jerk open
the door, and she'd go swinging outside. Thought it was fun I guess.
She did all my laundry, sometimes twice a day. Never had shoes
so well shined! She insisted on "Cold Power" laundry soap and
if I brought the wrong brand from the BX, she'd really let
me know. She also kept the other hootch maids from my
trailer half. She didn't trust them and neither did I.
I had a pet in the trailer, one of those gecko lizards. It ate
the bugs. It would cling to the tiny trailer windows and it's
tongue would bat at bugs that were attracted to the inside lights.
Course, the glass saved them, but it never gave up. I even got
used to it huddling in my bed when the temperature got down to
75 degrees at night. Anyhow, there were no spiders in my quarters.
In many ways I had it easy. As well as 35th Headquarters Squadron
Commander, I was the Base Executive Officer, so I was in on a lot
of things. All the Intelligence reports came through my desk and
I was able to have a look at them from all over Vietnam. Very
revealing of how Charlie worked. One of things nice about having
two major job assignments was that I was always "at the other job"
if I didn't want to be contacted. Something I learned early in my
career as an Officer and a holdover from my NCO days.
Interior of my trailer. I had 8X10 feet and a shared bathroom.
Small but mine. Better than the average airman had, by far. (1969)
On the other hand, I was always under the Base Commanders eyes.
It was good because often he would get me and we'd go off in his
staff car, just looking. Out in the desert, visiting various
organizations and just generally "exploring." But I remember well
when he called me in and showed me a map of the base and marked
out a line of 1000 meters. Told me he wanted me to get it built for
a defensive position. I protested that I didn't have any men assigned
to me other than a few clerks in the Orderly Room. His answer was to
levy from the line outfits and clerks in Headquarters. I protested
that I had no transportation or tools. He just looked at me. Eventually
we scared up enough troops and 50 gallon drums and sand bags and
borrowed the NCO Club's 40 foot flat semi (illegal by the way). I read up
on infantry tactics at the library one evening and the 1st Sergeant and
I laid it out. It got built and a few days late I reported to the
C.O. that it was ready and he assigned me another 1000 meters!
So whenever there was an alert, we'd arm the troops and off they'd march
out to our 2000 meters of inner defense. We never were attacked, or at
least the Charlies never broke through the outer fences and Security Police
lines. I do believe that our troops would have done themselves proud.
I never thought to ask who, if anyone, was building the other tens of
thousands of meters of inner defense lines. I don't believe it was ever done.
One late afternoon we had a mortar attack. Afterward, my trailer mate
came in shaking badly and wanted a drink (of alcohol), QUICK! He was
so shaken he couldn't hold a glass and I had to hold it for him. He
was a LtCol and Officer of the Day. The mortar attack had killed two
men, Air Police as I recall. They had been working in the barracks area,
filling sand bags between panels of PSP and had been pretty well blown up
between the panels. Jim had to go out there and he got so sick he couldn't
control himself. About 25 years flying and he'd never seen a dead body,
especially two men blown up as badly as these. It was a terrible thing.
Various workers on base. (1969)
Another time the Base Commander discovered a abandoned army storage
area out in the desert. It was a couple acres of latrine items still in the
cardboard containers. Brand new! We got a few items to fix up a toilet
on the back of our patio bar. Unfortunately, we didn't have a drain pipe
to get it out so, you could drink your beer, drain yourself, and it ran
out into the desert. The engineers raised hell but the Base Commander
backed me so we were okay. I had other problems with the engineers.
I mentioned earlier that our barracks blocks were situated with the
latrine blocks in the center and there were no walks in between so
that when it rained there was mud everywhere. Our Engineer swore
he couldn't build walkways because of funding or some such BS.
Cattle moving along perimeter. Unknown Photographer. (1969)
I had noticed army engineers concrete mixer trucks rolling through the
area and being an old NCO, I figured what to do. The First Sgt scrounged
up some scrap lumber and had built some forms to pour concrete in. Then
I had him run out in the street with a case of beer under each arm and
wave down a mixer. He told the driver "If you have any left over, why
not stop by and I'll trade you some beer for it." So the drivers began
to stop by and dump their "excess", and before you knew it, we had
concrete walks. Kind of shaky, not perfectly straight, but concrete.
But then our engineers saw them and raised hell. It came up
to he and I in front of the Base Commander. The Commander
just said to forget it and get on with the war!
Korean defense position on other side of base. It was abandoned. (1969).
Sunrise from the Officers Club. And the worst
breakfasts you could get anywhere! (1969)
Hospital ward at Cam Ran Bay. They're cutting casts open prior
to air evac. Little Montagnard in foreground was scared silly at
the noise. I called for an interpreter to calm him down. (1970)
Click on Phil's tailgunner photo to view
Phil's scans During his WWII tour.
Click on Drive-In photo to return to my home page.