Nha Trang, 1969

Under Fire For The First Time

© 2011 by Spec/4 Ted Wright, LM 81
First Field Force Vietnam (IFFV) Headquarters, Nha Trang
(Component of MACV, supporting units of 1st Cav, 4th Inf., 25th Inf., 101st Airborne, 173rd Airborne)

Ted Wright, Nha Trang, 1969

Spec/4 Ted Wright
First Field Force Vietnam, IFFV 13th MHD, MACV
Support of 1st Cav., 4th Inf Div., 25th Inf Div., 101st Airborne, 173rd Airborne

This story comes from Specialist 4th Class Otha (Ted) Wright. Ted was attached to the I Field Force, Vietnam, (IFFV) a component of MACV, supporting units of 1st Cav, 4th Inf., 25th Inf., 101st Airborne, 173rd Airborne.

Under fire for the first time

As our plane landed in Biên Hòa Air Base, the jet engines were cut and slowly came to a stop, you could hear a pin drop. Anyone who said they weren't scared going to Vietnam was a liar. No one said anything. Then just as soon as the engines were cut you could feel the immense heat starting to penetrate the airplane and we hadn't even opened up the door yet.

One of those memorable moments you never forget about Vietnam is when you first set an eyeball on the reddish dirt of Vietnam as soon as you deplane is the heat! The heat was nothing like I ever incurred. Stifling humid heat! I wondered at the time, how in the world am I going to be able to stand a year of this? I hated heat! After Vietnam, I deplore heat and humidity. The humidity was unbearable! I remember thinking, "why is it so humid?" Little did I know, but soon to find out, that everyday, precisely at 2pm, a monsoon would occur, raining literally so hard you could see nothing for about 30 minutes, then go away, and the sun would pop back through the clouds and, Who la, a steam bath for the next 23 1/2 hours. The other thing a Vietnam vet will never forget is the intense stench and smell as I debarked from the plane I will never forget it. Seeing the burning, and smelling, of human excrement cut in half 55 gal barrels, one after another is a sight that shall remain with me forever.

The next thing I know, we gather up our gear and are ushered on to buses to our location for debarking to our new units we have been assigned to. Here we are in new lush green jungle fatigues, no weapons or ammo, just a duffle bag and baseball caps. On steps a Captain, fatigues so old they are almost white, steel pot, an ammo belt with a .45, grenades strapped on, and an M-16. Welcome to Vietnam! "Boys, we are on our way to Long Binh. We have been getting hit lately on the ride from Ben Hoa to Long Binh, so if we do get hit, well, hit the floor of the bus"! That's it? That's all we are supposed to do and can do? Are you kidding me? On the way to Long Binh I remember seeing grunts coming out of the jungle with towels draped around their neck, washed out jungle fatigues, beards and long hair, along with the weapons slung over their shoulders. I thought to myself, what did I get myself into?

The next 3 days were spent either in a temporary barracks or KP duty. I remember going out at 2am in the morning behind the mess hall where I I was pulling KP, and I could hear "puff" up above, with the long sounding zzzzzzzzzz, from the guns being fired from a C130 above and the thud of explosions in the background. Once again, I thought, what in the hell did I get myself into, but I knew one thing, I wanted out of Long Binh! Long Binh had been receiving rocket fire regularly and right before we got there took a direct hit from rocket killing several guys. The next morning I got my wish.

Headquarters, 5th Special Forces Group Airborne, 1st special Forces. 1969I had been assigned to a unit in Chu Lai. All I know is I had heard it was being over run almost every night. On the way to Chu Lai, my plane landed in Nha Trang for two hours. I got off and nosed around and came across this E5 Specialist who was short, 10 days. We talked for a while. He was with the First Field Force of Vietnam commonly known as IFFV. In support of 2 Corp, including units of 1st Cav., 4th Inf Div., 25th Inf Div., 173rd Airborne and 101st Airborne. He said he was with an attached unit, the 13th MHD,  to IFFV that went out and gathered data and compiled that information for future operations. There was just him and his C.O., a major on his second tour. The E5 was going home in 10 days. "He said, hey you want my job? I think I can get it for you"! I said, sure! Figuring any place would be better than a place getting over run each night. Next thing I know in that two hour layover, I have orders cut, and I am staying here.

My new C.O., was a Major, on his second tour, a good guy. A little gung ho, but not to pushy. He said, "Hey Wright, I see you are a PFC. Well, I can't have a PFC working for me so promote yourself to a Spec/4, but since there is just me and you, I have to have a sergeant, so while you are here in Nam, you are now an acting First Sergeant! And, you will be issued a top secret clearance. I couldn't believe it. Did I just hit the lottery? No, as it turned out, I now believe a much higher power was in control of the destiny of my stay here, I just didn't know it at the time. So, since there was just me and the Major, and since we were attached, that meant I did not have to pull guard duty since I was a "first sergeant". I also had my own jeep, and no one, and I mean no one knew at any given time where I was or what I was doing. No volunteering. I was like a ghost.

Nha Trang, Rice Paddy, 1969

There was one time my Major was out on a chopper checking out what some sappers had done the night before and the call came down I had been put on guard duty for some little province. I said, nope, no way. I am a First Sergeant, I don't pull guard duty, and besides we are an attached unit and my CO makes the calls. At 2am in the morning I found myself in a flak jacket loaded down with grenades and an M-16 listening for the slightest sound that might have occurred! My biggest fear was, what if I go to sleep. Believe me, there was no chance of that. I couldn't have been more awake.

Rice Paddy

Nha Trang, Village Huts
Nha Trang, Village House
A Village Huts. - A house in a village

My most memorable moment in Vietnam was about 2 or 3 weeks after I had settled in and I was sleeping like a baby. It was about 3am. It seemed to me, being a boy from Kansas, I was dreaming of intense thunderstorms. They just kept getting louder and louder. Finally I woke up in total darkness. I was in a compound and all lights were off. The thunder turned out to be incoming mortar fire. I jumped to my feet, borrowed the guy's lighter next to me and somehow found my boots and steel pot. No shirt. Since we were in a compound some real intelligent commanding officer had decided to keep all of our rifles in an armory about a 1/2 block from where we were sleeping because guys would get drunk and possibly shoot each other. I ran out of one side of the hooch and machine gun fire was going on and the color of the tracers were not ours. Running back through the hooch out the other side I ran as fast as I could to the armory. Some PFC was handing out rifles and ammo. I told him to give me mine, and he said, "Where is your rifle card?"! I said, "What!" I couldn't believe it! "Are you freaking kidding me? We are under fire here dude." I knew my rifle number and I tried to give him that. Nope, he was having none of that. So ... I had to run back across our compound, back into the hooch, back out again, and all the way back to the make shift armory and gave the guy my card. Once he received the card he gave me my rifle and 4 clips (80rds) of ammo.

Then I took off running to take up a position with a clip in hand I was getting ready to lock and load. When who should show up but a brand new 2nd Lt., who had greener fatigues than mine. "Soldier, you will not lock and load until I give the command to do so, do you understand"?

Camp John F. McDermott, Nha Trang, 1969. © 2011 by Ted Wright.
Concertina wire around compound

I promptly looked at him, locked in my clip into the rifle, loaded in a round in the chamber, and said, "Sir, you are just going to have to court marshal me!" I turned and quickly found a position and waited for the attack. He just stood there looking totally lost. Never heard any more from him. I remember an L19 Bird Dog, small Cesena airplane, circling overhead with a loud speaker blasting away, saying, "You are under mortar attack, you are under mortar attack!" Well, back in those days every other word was the "F" word and cussing in the Army was like breathing and drinking water. It was common. But I decided to change that up and use another term that was common, "No shit Sherlock"?

As I was sitting there it hit me. I always wondered what I would do when I first came under fire. Would I run and hide? I always thought, well, maybe. But then, at that moment I knew. I reacted! I did what I had been trained for. All those weeks of basic and drill sergeants yelling and screaming. They were trying to save lives! Now I got it. And in the moment, I was not afraid. I did not have time to be afraid. I had to react, not only to save myself, but others around me. In Vietnam, we had each other's back! That is one of the good things I brought back from Vietnam. That you watch out for your buddy. Was I scared later after reflecting, you bet! But in the moment, in that very first time, I found out who I was and that is something that I have taken with me for the rest of my life. If I see another person in trouble, I am not PC, I guess I am old school. I will stop and come to that person's defense or rescue regardless the risk. I have that responsibility. Unfortunately, I do not see that to much in today's world.

Well, I made it home and went back to my beautiful wife and baby girl. I will never forget when I stepped off that plane. I remembered when I left I thought I would be coming back in a body bag. I easily could have. Many of m friends did. Why not me? I don't know, except I like to call it by the grace of God I was spared. I remember my wife's eyes looked as big as saucers when I first saw them considering the Vietnamese eyes are not round. But they were the most beautiful sight that I could imagine.

We Vietnam Vets were not very well received when we came home. And for that I say shame on the USA for not regarding us just as much as the heroes as today's military. But I forgive them, for the one's that did not serve either by dodging the draft, or getting deferments did not know any better. They know not what they do. I am very happy that in today's world. the Vets of Vietnam are too, regarded as heros, finally! And to all my Vietnam brothers and sisters, I say, "Job well done, and welcome home"! I am proud I served my country and I am proud to be a Vietnam Veteran.

Ted Wright, Overland Park, KS

x x
Me in Hooch

The bunker right outside our hooch

xe With Beer
Me ... feeling good!
x x
Me with some buddies
Government House

If you don't mind I would like to add the following soldiers to the bottom of my story I submittied. I would like to honor the guys that were killed in Vietnam that were my friends and a unit I came from.

PFC Ralph N. Bickford (HHC, 1st Bn, 137th Infantry)
KIA, 22 March 1969, RVN (BSM, PH) (Killed first day in action)

SP5 Larry R. Clark (HHC, 1st Bn, 137th Infantry)
KIA, 19 June 1969, RVN (BSM, PH)

SP4 Robert P. Lyons (HHC, 1st Bn, 137th Infantry)
KIA, 12 April 1969, RVN (BSM, PH, AM)

SP4 Douglas R. Bittle (Co A, 1st Bn, 137th Infantry)
KIA, 21 June 1969 (PH)

CPT David Neil Head (Co A, 1st Bn, 137th Infantry)
KIA, 20 February 1971, RVN (PH)
(Helicopter pilot with the 1st Cav Div)

PSG Blaine Honeycutt (Co A, 1st Bn, 137th Infantry)
KIA, 8 March 1969, RVN (BSM w/V, PH, RVN)

SGT Clarence L. Rouse (Co A, 1st Bn, 137th Infantry)
KIA, 11 March 1969, RVN (PH)

SGT Raymond T. Talburt (Co A, 1st Bn, 137th Infantry)
KIA, 7 June 1969, RVN (PH)

SP4 James L. Bishop (Co B, 1st Bn, 137th Infantry)
KIA, 23 June 1969, RVN (PH)

SP4 Charles W. Dornon (Co B, 1st Bn, 137th Infantry)
KIA, 18 June 1969, RVN (PH)

SP4 Peter A. Drouhard (Co B, 1st Bn, 137th Infantry)
KIA, 14 July 1969, RVN (PH)

SGT John J. Elsenrath (Co B, 1st Bn, 137th Infantry)
KIA, 29 March 1969, RVN (PH)

IFFV Crest, 1969

PFC Robert L. Boese (Co C, 1st Bn, 137th Infantry)
KIA, 23 May 1969, RVN (PH)

CPT Jose Llamas (Co C, 1st Bn, 137th Infantry)
KIA, 19 August 1969, RVN (PH)

SP4 George Francis Martinez (Co C, 1st Bn, 137th Infantry)
KIA, 9 June 1969, RVN (PH)