Tet 1969, Another Chinese New Year

July 28, 2014

…IN VIETNAM

February 1969

Despite the repeated assurances  uttered by our senior non-commissioned petty officers that Camp Tiensha’s location on the peninsula that juts out from the City of Danang, and with the location of the Danang airbase on the opposite side of the city itself, generally put our base beyond the purported 7 mile range of the Russian-made 122 millimeter Katyusha  rockets, as we approached the upcoming Tet holiday, the Chinese new year, and the first anniversary of the Communist Tet Offensive in February 1968, base security conducted numerous “red alert” drills. The drill consisted of a dreadful wail of an old-fashioned air raid siren, whose changing pattern could also indicate a looming ground attack, rather than an attack through the air.

 The purpose of the red alert siren is to provide a few seconds of opportunity to move from one’s duty station, or if at night, one’s bunk to an aboveground bunker, which consisted of approximately 2 feet of sand sandwiched between sheets of plywood and which would presumably protect any fortunate occupants from the lethal effects of shrapnel from a nearby impact. A direct hit on the bunker itself provided little advantage whatsoever, due to the lethality of the attached warhead.

Generally speaking, the Danang airbase was the primary target for the Communist rocketeers, as the presence of expensive military aircraft, such as the F4 Phantoms belonging to the 366th Tactical Fighter Squadron, who called themselves, “The Gunfighters”  was an added inducement to the prospect of maiming and killing American personnel. In fact, we understood that the radar systems operating at the airbase could often pick up the presence of rockets just after they were launched, and a radio call to all  military commands in the immediate area of the air base would be advised “rockets in the air, rockets in the air,” resulting in most commands going on immediate red alert status.

 However, as fate would have it, the NVA rocketeers were able to re-position their launch sites in February 1969 in such a manner that their 7 mile range included Camp Tiensha and the entire warning system did not function whatsoever. The enemy troops  were able to launch five or six rockets during the early morning (2:00 AM) attack without ever being discovered by the radar system at the Danang airbase.

As a result, that night, there was no red alert warning.

 I was suddenly awakened by the sound of a very large explosion. Sitting upright in my rack, my initial confusion was ended by the shouting and screaming of a nearby postal clerk, who had recently transferred from the post office detachment on the Cua Viet river, which was located in the DMZ and subjected to repeated artillery barrages so he was familiar with such sounds.

 The shouting and screaming postal clerk began to enunciate more clearly until I could hear a distinct shout of the very motivating word, “incoming,” which made immediate sense to my sleep-numbed brain.

Needing little additional clarification or motivation, I jumped from my rack and ran out the back door of the barracks to where the above ground bunker was located.

As I stood on the bunker, barefoot and naked, save for my underwear, now fully alert, my hearing naturally focussed up the whooshing sound of additional rockets approaching our location. As each rocket slammed into the ground, the sound of the very loud explosions pushed my “fight or flight” level beyond the concept of fear into the as yet unexplored level of terror. They close proximity of the impacts caused of each of us in the bunker to throw ourselves flat onto the dirt “floor” of the bunker, in an attempt to present as little of a soft, fleshy target for the metal shrapnel that would spread out from the center of the impact.

 I recall (as if it were last night) lying facedown on the ground, being very scared and hoping that, if I were to be killed by one of these missiles, that my death would be instantaneous, and not painful.

In that moment, I thought to resort to prayer (then quite a devout Christian), but I could instead only repeatedly scream the name of God into the soil beneath my face. (Afterward, I wondered to myself if I had been praying or cursing. To this day, I’m not sure there’s any difference, in moments like that).

After approximately 20 seconds, the “incoming” portion of the evening was over, as the NVA rocketeers, had learned to “scoot and shoot” before there was any retaliatory 155 howitzer artillery fire from the Marine units stationed to the southwest of the Danang airbase on Hill 55.

 Unable to calm down sufficiently to go back to sleep, most of the postal clerks dressed and then congregated at the Terminal Naval Post Office, where we discovered a 6 foot deep crater in the asphalt roadway immediately behind the metal post office bulding. The shrapnel from the impact of the first rocket had put most of our trucks out of commission, by damaging the radiators with shrapnel. We watched as the Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) team climbed down into the crater and removed the remains of a rocket.  The size of the crater instantly confirmed the lethality of the rockets.

While standing nearby, I found a twisted “boltthat was a part of the shrapnel pattern from the impact and put the souvenir into my pocket, which I retain to this day.

From that evening forward, and for the next six months, until I rotated home in September 1969, Camp Tiensha sailors experienced up to four red alerts per evening, as the Danang airbase radar operators improved their capabilities. Once we were in our bunkers, we could tell from the sound of impact explosions, which element of the base of being struck.

Eventually, once we presumed that Camp Tiensha was not being struck, we returned to our racks and resumed our sleep.

Comments can be made to zakturango@excite.com.

I salute those who experienced Tet 1968.


Stop Trying To Help Me So…

July 19, 2014

….MUCH!

May 1969-Taking care of a buddy

 

A red alert siren wailed, the first of this particular night, shattering our sleep.

It always started at about 2 AM, back in May 1969, and it was repeated three or four times, night after night, usually when you just got back to sleep after the last “all clear.”

The launching of lethal 122 mm Russian-made Katyusha rockets were generally first observed by the Danang Airbase radar system as they lifted off from Vietcong-contested territory south of Danang.

“Rockets in the air!! Rockets in the air!!” radio warnings were broadcast to all units surrounding the sprawling air base putting everyone on alert.

As a result, all lights in all buildings went black.

Awakened by hoarse shouts of “incoming,” tired GIs, including myself, stumbled in the dark and ran for the safety of sandbag covered bunkers, wanting to be inside when the rockets ultimately struck, as they always did, somewhere.

He was tall and skinny, an awkward-looking boy from Georgia, only recently arrived in-country. His bunk assignment in the barracks was above my lower bunk. Earlier that week, I had told him what to do during a rocket attack. (Some “Vietnam-era” movies  and books suggest that new guys were expendable simply because they were new, but that wasn’t true in our outfit. We all wanted all of us to get back home alive).

Now, with precious few seconds of safety left, half asleep from fatigue, as we both had dismounted from our respective “racks.” I grabbed the new guy by his hand to lead him out the door to safety and finally pulled him in behind me into the bunker.

With my mind fogged by exhaustion, I then  inexplicably decided to leave the safety of the bunker and return to my bunk to grab my shower shoes. I didn’t need them, certainly not at the risk of my life, but one does odd things in times of  extreme stress. In the total darkness, and with enemy rockets flying through the air, I fumbled around my bunk, found my shower shoes and headed back to the bunker.

Returning to the safety of the bunker, my shower shoes in my left hand, I was now fully awake and suddenly aware of the foolishness and unnecessary stupidity of my actions.

Only then, at that moment, did I realize that the new guy had never once let go of my hand.

Comments can be made to zakturango@excite.com.

 

 


The Impressive USS….

July 17, 2014

..NEW JERSEY (BB-62)

October 1968-Shelling by the USS New Jersey

Like so many in the U.S. Navy, I followed with interest the re-commissioning of the World War II battleship, USS New Jersey, anticipating that it’s massive 16 inch guns might be useful in supporting ground troops in action within range of their enormous capabilities.

In October 1968, the USS New Jersey made its first appearance in the Vietnam War.

Please click on the link for more New Jersey history, as follows:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_New_Jersey_(BB-62)

During the early evening hours of another Terminal Naval Post Office sortie from Camp Tien Sha to the Danang airbase to unload a civilian cargo airliner of its personal mail and packages sent from stateside loved ones, headed for APO/FPO San Francisco mailing addresses, I was sitting on the end of the empty cargo bay of my 5 ton bobtail truck, which was parked in the cavernous, dilapidated Vietnamese hanger we used to break down mail pallets without having to deal with the usual monsoon-like rainstorms.

Suddenly, I felt the ground beneath me shake in the same manner as the earth shook back in Southern California during an earthquake. Moments after, what sounded like thunder was only the concussion from the firing of the large naval rifles. Apparently, the vibration from the impact of the 2000 pound projectiles traveled faster than the sound of firing the guns.

Apparently satisfied that this was not a Vietnamese version of an earthquake, I dismounted the back of my truck and was walking across the interior of the hanger, when another salvo from the impressive battleship reached its target, approximately 10 miles south of Danang. The vibrations from that salvo, then dislodged a large, steel lighting fixture weighing several hundred pounds (constructed in the form of a large grapefruit slicer) from the ceiling of the hanger, causing it to fall directly to the concrete slab below.

Unfortunately, the lighting fixture fell directly on to my intended path across the hanger. Fortunately, Fate had generously prevented me from taking one additional step as the fixture crashed to the ground in front of me. My immediate thought was, had I taken one more step, I would have been crushed and killed by the falling steel fixture. My next thought, after happily realizing that I was still alive, was, “Dang, I wouldn’t have gotten a Purple Heart for that!”

Despite the near miss, I was pleased that the great battleship was being used to destroy the enemy somewhere on that rainy night.

Comments can be made to zakturango@excite.com.


Incumbent Council Candidates…..

July 14, 2014

City Council Member, City of Wildomar
14/14 100.00%
Vote Count Percent
BOB CASHMAN 4,039 28.74%
R. RICHARD CARY 1,334 9.49%
MITCH MILLER 3,808 27.09%
BRIDGETTE MOORE 4,874 34.68%
Total 14,055 100.00%

…BEWARE!!

It is reported that the incumbents currently sitting on the Wildomar City Council are each intending to run for reelection, as is their privilege.

That being said, it might be important for them to consider the results of the last General Election, which occurred on November 06, 2012 when incumbent City Council members, Robert Cashman and Bridgette Moore, who were the last two inaugural  City Council members to face a re-election campaign. As the two highest vote getters in the original election in 2008, they were elected to four year terms, whereas the three other members, Scott Farnam, Marsha Swanson, and Sheryl Ade, faced re-election in two years.

Therefore, it is apparent that Cashman and Moore could rightly claim status as the “most popular”  elected officials in the City of Wildomar.

However, that status was severely undermined  by the results of the last election, when two completely unknown candidates, Mitch Miller and Richard Cary, without the benefit of  investment  of significant amounts of campaign cash, received  36.58% of the total votes cast , compared to 34.68% of the vote by Bridgette Moore, and 28.74% of the vote by Robert  Cashman.

Now, less than two years later,  Swanson Benoit and Walker face re-election campaigns in similar murky political waters.

At this point in time, no one knows who might be considering attempting to replace the incumbents, but whoever they  might be,  they should take  encouragement that there  appears to be  significant,  disaffected percentage of voters  who are more than willing to vote against incumbency.

Comments can be made to zakturango@excite.com.


The True Artists In The Rasmussen….

July 10, 2014

…FAMILY

My son, Tim Rasmussen, and my son-in-law, Vince Di Meglio, are at it again. They just finished a weekend shoot in rural Santa Barbara, returning to the short film genre that opened the doors of opportunity in Hollywood.

Back in 2003,  they created a short film,  “El Elegante“, which received recognition but they became busy with  a variety of writing opportunities.  Finding the grind of writing for Hollywood a bit stale, they are  attempting  to regenerate their creative juices so they re-mastered El Elegante  and have re-released it.

I have no idea what the new short film is about, all I know is that it once again stars my daughter in law, Stacie, and my nephew, James Rasmussen, whose lifelong  battle with Williams Syndrome  has made him a unique  actor, always portraying  the fictional Verlin Diggs.

Pour yourself a cup of coffee and enjoy the 15 minute short film, as follows :

http://vimeo.com/98499115

Comments can be made to zakturango@excite.com.


First …..

July 9, 2014

VC ROCKET LAUNCHERS 

 …CONTACT

September 1968-driving a truck through an unidentified shantytown in Danang, Republic of Vietnam

I was a newly assigned member of the Terminal Naval Post Office, which was a part of the vast Naval Support Activity-Danang, which provided all material goods (bullets, chow, and morale boosting mail) for the entire Third Marine Expeditionary Force (“III MAF”), the Marine fighting force positioned in I Corps (“Eye Core”), the northernmost province of the Republic of Vietnam, set hard against the supposed Demilitarized Zone  (“DMZ”) which divided the democratic Republic of Vietnam from the communist People’s Republic of North Vietnam.

 In addition, we distributed mail to  all in-country  naval detachments, including support ships and vessels  operating close off the coast of South Vietnam, such as LST’s and riverboat squadrons.

Clearly, the Marines were the “tip of the spear” in my generation’s post-World War II resolve to stem the progress of communism throughout Asia, but the tip could not function without significant resources in men and material to support their operations.

 Initially, the Marines came ashore at Danang in 1965 to provide security for the Danang airbase but their mission eventually evolved into more active “search and destroy” sorties into the countryside surrounding Danang, seeking to preemptively engage enemy combatants, such as the irregular Viet Cong guerrillas (“VC”), and their communist northern cousins, the better trained and equipped regular soldiers of the North Vietnamese Army (“NVA”).

 The VC were generally local indigenous farmer types, many who had been fighting since the early 1950s, originally against the French, who had returned to French Indochina to resume their colonial aspirations, following the defeat of the Japanese in World War II.

 Eventually, however, it became apparent to the communist hierarchy in North Vietnam, that the introduction of regular NVA troops would be required to overcome the introduction and presence of American military assets in South Vietnam. The NVA troops would utilize the Ho Chi Minh Trail to position themselves immediately west of I Corps, taking the “A Shau Valley” offramp in order to infiltrate the vicinity of Danang and to initiate military operations against the Marines and Navy personnel deployed in their mission to protect the people and government of the Republic of South Vietnam.

As a result of all of the geopolitics involved in the struggle against communism in South Vietnam, I found myself sitting in the driver’s seat of an empty 5 ton bobtail truck, headed for the Danang airbase to unload an incoming civilian transport carrying tons of personal mail, headed for the smaller bases and detachments throughout I Corps. My “shotgun” rider, Richard Mau, had arrived in-country a few weeks before I had, so we were both equally “green.”

 We were lightly armed; carrying M-16s and wearing .45 caliber Semi-automatic pistols strapped to our hips for personal protection in the event we were confronted by disgruntled “farmers.”

As usual, the night was dark as I slowly threaded my way through the unpaved and unlighted road that bisected another faceless, borderless shantytown village, whose “homes” consisted of  poorly nailed pieces of scrap lumber and sheet metal discarded by American military personnel.

 I was closely following an American-made four-door sedan, occupied by four Air Force personnel when Richard Mau and I heard the sound of a nearby explosion and felt the jarring concussion of the explosion a millisecond later. “What was that?,” I inquired of my slightly more experienced passenger.” I don’t know.,” Mau replied. At that exact point in time, we both observed all four occupants of the Air Force sedan throw open their doors and dismount headfirst into the ditches alongside the road, seemingly without touching the ground until reaching the bottom of the ditch, even as their sedan continued moving down the road, driverless and unoccupied.

Another explosion followed, close enough to physically shake our truck violently, and eliminating any further dumb questions as to what “that” was.

In the immediate hindsight of On The Job training (“OJT”), we quickly understood that we had both experienced our first close up episode of “incoming,” a term generally uttered by the first guy to hear it as a loud, intense shout and used to describe the sudden onset of enemy rocket fire, usually in the form of salvo of 5 to 6 122 mm Russian rockets, fired from anywhere in the surrounding countryside within a 7 mile arc. The aiming mechanism which was probably two tree branches, trimmed and formed in an X, with the rocket laid across the middle of the X, to elevate and launch the rocket in the general direction of the Danang airbase.

Needless to say, rockets fired in this manner were randomly “selecting” targets and were generally intended to disrupt the sleep and nighttime activities of American military personnel in the area, and hopefully killing and wounding a few Americans in the process.

 Fortunately, as was my experience throughout the coming year, each salvo was launched and landed within a matter of seconds. So once it was over, we continued past the Air Force sedan, which had completed its own unguided journey into the ditch and entered the “safety” of the Air Force Base and completed our own mission for the evening, which was to join with the Army and Marine postal clerks in breaking down the far less lethal pallets of “incoming” mail, breaking the pallets down to their individual bags of mail destined for individual units, as defined by their APO/FPO San Francisco addresses.

 Comments can be made to zakturango@excite.com.


Some Tidbits From My Planned Memoir….

July 6, 2014

LOST IN DOGPATH….

One of the things that I’ve been doing since Sheryl and I moved from Wildomar, has been to put pen to paper (actually, dictating via Dragonspeak; it is,  after all, the 21st century ) some of the initial elements of a planned memoir of my brief but eventful military career for the benefit of my son, Tim and especially my grandson, Kent Roy Rasmussen, who is fascinated by my service in the Vietnam war and will be the eventual recipient of one of my cherished mementoes, my grungy jungle boots.

After I have memorialized specific events, I will then have to connect all of them in a readable context in order to help the eventual reader to gain some insights into the complexity of the times we who lived in the 1950s/60s faced as individuals. Adding my own voice to the Great Conversation about Vietnam, hopefully will provide a small piece of color to the tapestry of history.

Thanks for reading.

April 1968, Naval Air Station Adak, Alaska.

I was carelessly, if not curiously, flipping through a sheaf of mimeographed papers thumb-tacked to the Chief Master At Arms bulletin board, under a section entitled “Orders.” It was always interesting to see where some of my shipmates were headed after serving for a year on the barren, windswept Aleutian Island known as Adak. I was a 20-year-old E-3 Postal Clerk “striker,” meaning that my brief two-year naval career (I had enlisted in the Naval Reserve to avoid service in South Vietnam as a ground-pounding Army draftee) was destined to be served in a Navy Post Office.

Suddenly, and to my great surprise, I noticed an entry under “SN Gilbert R. Rasmussen, B532756″ was on the order list. I permitted my eyes to slide to the next entry on the right, which said “Ordered to Naval Support Activity, Danang, Republic of Vietnam.”

Surely, I thought, there must be a mistake as I was not due for orders for several more months. In fact, I was in the process of preparing my “dream sheet,” a Naval device which lures young sailors into believing that they might actually have some positive influence on their own naval destiny.

I had already turned down an opportunity to stay on Adak for one more year, completing my two-year obligation in a place that was safe and familiar. My boss, a First Class Petty Officer who liked me, had an inside connection (most of them did) with the Bureau of Personnel (“BUPERS”) and could make that happen for me, no sweat.

But, alas, I had visions of serving on a Navy destroyer out of Long Beach California, my hometown, and enjoying one nine-month long (but safe) “Westpac” Cruise, presumably getting no closer to Vietnam than 5-10 miles offshore, before I was discharged back to civilian life.

As result of failing to accept the generous offer of my “lifer” rainmaker, I had unknowingly exposed myself to a “fleet draft,” where the U.S. Navy repositioned 1,500 non-rated sailors, just like me, for immediate service (we were told it was  riverboat duty)  in South Vietnam, to fulfill the military’s intention to put a total of 575,000 young Americans into service stopping communism in South Vietnam’s jungles, rivers, and cities before we had to deal with the same Communists invading the shores of America.

As a part of that great American military “build- up,” I soon found myself sitting alongside the runway at the Danang airbase, as the darkness of my first night in Vietnam began to overshadow me, leaving me full of fear and wonderment at how things had turned out so differently from my plans.

As Beatle John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

With the perspective gained by being in my mid 60s, I can now see that I was unknowingly prepared, by Fate, for this journey through circumstances common to many young men of my age group.

And therein lay the start of my tale.

 Comments can be made to zakturango@excite.com.

 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.