M Y O B

The Life and Times of Bruce Bramson

I ARRIVE IN VIETNAM

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MY LIFE IN VIETNAM

I begin here a long series of pages relating events in my life while in VietNam. I wrote many letters which were circulated among family and friends, and which my Dad saved: I still have them.

Because I was writing to many people (Dad copied and re-mailed many letters to a distribution list I supplied), there is little of the gay side of those times included. That aspect has been covered in a couple of my stories (on Nifty), but will be included where appropriate in the pages which follow.

I consider myself reasonably articulate and observant: yet, prior to arriving in VietNam, I’d have been hard-pressed to take a stand on the war there. It was something that was, for those not directly involved, pretty much in the background. President Johnson’s “guns and butter” philosophy was designed to keep the war in the background: the kind of war-time sacrifices (rationing, “War stamps” and all that sort of thing I grew up with during WW II) were not imposed, so it was easy for Americans to ignore the Vietnam War. As I would soon discover, it was not so easy for the Vietnamese to ignore.

War Savings Stamp

What  I think is significant, (and clearly revealed in my letters), is how quickly I perceived what a colossal mistake the whole war was! Now, what particularly appalls me is that we clearly learned nothing from the experience, for we continue to this day to wage war where we should be waging peace.

For any of my readers unfamiliar with the Tet Offensive of 1968, I recommend reading the WikiPedia synopsis before going on with my narrative and letters. As far as I know, these letters will be the first on the net from a civilian who was there, at least for a while.

27 January, 1968

Dear ones all –

We made it, but it was a long haul. The group, 16 in number, embarked LA about 8PM on the 25th, and 21 hours later touched down at Ton Son Nhut Air Base, Saigon, VN. It was, of course, dark all the way to Guam (we stopped at Honolulu and Wake) but there the sun caught up with us and we were able to witness a beautiful tropical sunrise at about 7:30 local time. From Guam we flew directly to Saigon, by-passing (but flying directly over) Manila. The actual flying time was about 17 hours; the distance 8920 miles (according to PanAm charts). Although tourist class and filled every inch of the way, the flight wasn’t too bad—just long. Somewhere along the way I made an estimate of my total flying miles and was disappointed to find it’s only about 40,000 miles.

Pan Am Ticket Stub

Our arrival at Ton Son Nhut was about 10:00 am local time, and after the usual clumsy customs and immigration clearance, we were transported to PA&E HQ (nearby) for a quick briefing and a little paperwork. Then on into Saigon proper for billeting at Loc Building, 318 Phan-thanh-Gian; this is a hotel, and quite a good one by local standards; H & C running water, good food & reasonable rates. Quite modern and up to date, though architecturally unlike anything we know in the states. Naturally!

Reason For Voiding Will Be Explained Later

It is Saturday here, the first day of Tet, the celebration of the New [lunar] Year (of the monkey). We’re told the streets of Saigon are not the place to be the next 5 days, so haven’t seen much so far. I’ll have plenty of time to get familiar with it all, apparently.

My only observation so far is that the US “Military Presence” is all-pervading and EVERYWHERE!! Since there is active fighting within 50 miles of Saigon, it’s a pretty tightly controlled place. Ton Son Nhut Airbase (Airport, really, but converted to a base) is a veritable beehive of aircraft operations, visited not only by half a dozen international carriers, but by hundreds of Military aircraft as well.

Our briefing was exactly that—brief—and not too instructive. However, it does appear I am the first “chemist” to arrive here under PA&E contract, and it appears I’ll be based at Long BInh. This is the largest [US]army installation in VN, situated about 12 miles out of Saigon. Reportedly, it is one of the safest places to be in all VN, and of course is handy to Saigon. All this will become clearer as full briefing gets under way Monday. (Tet notwithstanding, PA&E works on!)

The weather—right now—is terrific. About 75, and not overpoweringly humid. January is, of course, Saigon’s best month, and it will get steadily hotter until late in May when monsoons arrive. But for the moment weather is great and a welcome change from the cold dampness of SF. (If I had elected to fly down Thursday from SF, I’d have gotten fogged in and barely made it, as one of our group found out).

The time change is catching up with me; so, though it is early here, I’ve got to hit the sack for a while. Please find an old shoebox or equivalent to toss the various items included [with this letter] into—I’m an inveterate saver of such reminders of various adventures; also circulate this letter to family and somebody retain it later on.

Whatever else, don’t worry! Though there’s plenty of trouble to be gotten into here, one has to seek it out—it rarely works the other way. I’m not here looking for it, so the law of averages works in my favor!

Love to all from (of all places!) Saigon, VN
Bruce

Here endeth the first letter, of many yet to come!

PARENTHETICAL INFORMATION

An odd fact was that for a number of years, Saigon was the only place outside the northern hemisphere where my two brothers and I had all been at one time or another. My oldest brother passed through in 1958, and my older brother visited Saigon on business while I was there. I met him at Ton Son Nhut as I would at any other airport. But the building he stayed in took a rocket hit that night and he was “urged to depart”, which he did! When older bro finally went to Europe, Saigon lost this distinction.

INITIAL IMPRESSION

Within just a few hours of arrival in VietNam, I realized I was going to like it! Everywhere I turned there were scantily-clad youngsters, most often bare-legged.  As a confirmed chicken-queen, I thought I’d found heaven!

Wrong kind!

Unfortunately, I had only a cheap little Instamatic camera, so I got far too few photos of much of anything in Vietnam. It would be some time before any of us got away from the Loc Building, because of the Tet madness, about which more later!

My second letter from VietNam will appear soon.

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Written by Bruce

December 14th, 2009 at 8:37 pm

Posted in VietNam