Vietnam Diary – Part 2

Early Days in Vietnam

April 16, 1969

I found my first ever flight quite comfortable and interesting. I felt no fear of flying; I think I was more nervous about what I would find once I landed after the flight!

We stopped at Darwin at 3.00 a.m. and Singapore for Breakfast at 8.00 a.m. We all had to change into civilian shirts to enter the airport terminal as Sin gapore was not officially acting as a troop transit point. My first impression of tropical heat at the door of the plane was overwhelming. Fancy having to work in hot, humid heat like this for a year – it felt like a furnace.

Our flight arrived at Tan San Nhut (Saigon) airport at 10.00 a.m. and we were given a packed lunch box of sandwiches while we sat on revetments. where the planes were parked. This is the first time I have seen Vietnamese – all in black Pyjamas passively watching us eating and then collecting the scraps from the rubbish bins.

After lunch we were sorted into groups according to destination. My name was called out to get on the plane for Nui Dat. I was somewhat confused by this, as up until now I had believed that I was to be posted to Vung Tau. I really wanted to go there rather than Nui Dat because it was the supply base, rather than the Task Force base where all the fighting operations are conducted. I thought it would be safer at Vung Tau. Nevertheless, I dutifully fell in line, now feeling more unsure about my fate than ever.

The Hercules aircraft which we caught to Nui Dat was open inside and we sat on seats along the fuselage with all our gear stacked in the middle of the plane. After landing on a fairly short runway and with a lot of reverse thrust, I was met by Lt. Reason (my new 2nd I.C.) and driven to 85 Transport Platoon’s Lines.

Nui Dat looks dry and dusty. I met Sergeant Wat kins, my new Platoon Sergeant and was assigned a bed in a tent in the rubber plantation which provides shade for the base. The tents are positioned about 8 feet apart from each other and are about 15 feet square in size. They are sandbagged above waist height and each has a small weapon pit (dugout) outside the front door. There are four men to a tent. They are fitted out with floors made from pallets or plywood and have electric power for a single electric light bulb. They are certainly much more comfortable than the lines at Canungra where we did our jungle warfare training course!

I was issued with an M16 Armalite Rifle along with six magazines of ammunition.

I spent my first evening in country writing a letter home to report my safe arrival while the fellows in the tent played music on their tape recorders which can be bought duty free at the PX (Post Exchange or Canteen).

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The ‘Reo’ flight at Nui Dat

April 17

The other fellows in the tent woke me at 6.00 am to attend my first compulsory Pill Parade where anti malarial pills are handed out and taken while the roll is called. Then we went down to the mess for breakfast – good tucker! We eat out of dixies here, rather than using plates, and they are washed in a half 44 gallon drum full of water & detergent as we leave the mess.

Down at the transport compound I met Captain Snare, my Platoon Commander. I spent all morning in the driver’s tent at the transport yard and tidied up the tyre store in the afternoon.

Later, I drove Sergeant Watkins around to inspect the site where our tippers are working with the Engineers to build a dam in the eastern area of Nui Dat. In Vietnam, we drive on the right of the road and this will take some getting used to after having driven on the left for all of my life!

I went to the movies at night and encountered my first mongoose which live wild in the rubber plantation.

Most of the blokes here mark off the number of days left before they go home on a calendar. I have had a fair bit of joshing for being a ‘reinforcement’ or ‘Reo’. I was repeatedly told that “no- one could have more than 360 days to go before their RTA”. The `shortest’ person in the platoon has only ‘6 days and a wakey’ to go before he goes home. Time served is a real status symbol here.

I was invited out to the ‘Hoa Long Dance’ tonight but was intelligent enough not to fall for this trick. It is tried on all the Reo’s. The game is that you get dressed up in your dress polyester uniform and are taken to wait at the main gate for the bus to the dance which never comes. (Hoa Long is a mostly VC hamlet not far from the secure perimeter of our base at Nui Dat.

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OR’s (Other Rank’s) Lines at Nui Dat

April 18

Today I landed a duty on the CSM’s work party. Our first job was to dig out a sullage pit near the mess – it really stank!

At lunch, we sat down to a meal of a ham salad.

After lunch I spread diesel fuel over the car park to keep the dust down. On a visit to the Q Store, I drew four sets of jungle greens (clothing) and a steel trunk. We finished the work party by cleaning up the lines and raking and burning all the fallen rubber leaves. Before dinner I washed out some clothes and wrote home. At night we have to attend an evening pill parade where we have to take Paludrin and Dapsone for Malaria.

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Lines of tents in Nui Dat

April 19

I went to the transport compound after breakfast and handed some greens into the laundry. I started to change a tyre but halfway through I was lobbed with another CSM’s work party (What about some driving?) We collected rocks all morning to make a retaining wall and in the afternoon shovelled sand to re-grade the floor of the picture theatre.

Physical work here is very hot and hard. It only takes a short time before you have perspiration dripping everywhere. It runs into your eyes and up your nose and into your mouth. All the dust then settles on you and it feels like being in a wallow with a buffalo.

I knocked off at 6.00 p.m. after putting a tent cover in place over the theatre and attending evening pill parade. On parade, I was told that I was to be detached to Vung Tau as part of a group to work with 86 Transport Platoon. I am to get packed up and ready to leave in the morning.

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Transport Office at Nui Dat

April 20

Sunday; 360 and a wakey!

To get to Vung Tau, we had a short 10 minute flight on the ‘Wallaby’. This is a regular daily air force shuttle (RAAF) using a Caribou aircraft between Saigon, Nui Dat and Vung Tau. These planes take off in about one hundred yards. They say that when the ammo dump near the Nui Dat runway blew up a few weeks before I arrived here, that the pilot got one up in much less distance than that!

We were picked up from the airport at Vung Tau by truck and we moved our gear into some huts and found our beds. I saw a number of the fellows that I knew from my old unit at 87 Transport Platoon who had been posted to 2 Platoon. They live in huts in the same lines (accommodation) to which we have been assigned.

In the afternoon we took three flat tyres off trucks and changed them. I helped `Poobah’ do a 12,000 mile service on his truck.

The food at Vung Tau is not as good as at the ‘Dat’ although the showers have running water from an overhead tank instead of us having to carry water in buckets to canvas bush showers.

The base is built in sand dunes behind the beach and a cool breeze blows in at night which makes it very comfortable.

In the evening Jock Harris, our corporal, held an ‘O Group’ to explain our tasks and I fell into bed absolutely stuffed at 8.30 pm.

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The main entrance to the ALSG base at Vung Tau.

April 21

had all my morning routine finished by 7.30 am and went down to the transport office for my tasking assignment. I got into my truck and went around to 17 Construction Squadron to report for duty. The morning consisted of the exciting task moving four loads of screenings from the crushing bins to a stockpile 50 yards away.

After lunch I did a 12,000 mile service on a truck.

Before dinner I knocked over some washing which dried before I went to bed. (A soldiers work is never done!)

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There is always washing to do.

April 22

Today I worked as a ‘shotgun’ on a truck carrying gravel to Nui Dat. It was cooler up on top of the cabin roof through the cupola than it was inside and it was interesting to see the villages on the road for the first time. The other blokes seemed pretty casual about the trip but as it was my first time out in the open, I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I probably had my rifle much more at the ready than I really needed to.

Many of the houses are rather small and nothing more than shacks made out of rubbish such as flattened Coke cans.

We took another load of sand up to the Dat after lunch. Driving here is like being in a dodgem car; having to miss cars, motor bikes, trucks, buses, ox-carts, lambrettas and even a few old Australian Holdens. The villages look a bit like they appeared in the books that I had seen – slapped together, smelly and crowded. The little kids were cute and all the blokes seem to give them a special bit of attention.

Nui Dat is about twenty miles from Vung Tau but it seems a lot longer with all the traffic. We passed through about five villages and a few tiny hamlets on the way. All the paddy fields are dry and cracked as it is now the dry season. Water buffalo with big wide horns have a cord through their nostrils which is tied behind their horns. Many are looked after by little kids who look to be only about five or six years old.

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1ATF Base – Nui Dat

April 23

We worked in a ‘packet’ of three trucks all day to the Dat. Our first task was to take a load of sand up before lunch and bring road filling back to some road works near Baria. We did the same in the afternoon. I bought a small transistor, at the PX so that I could listen to the radio whilst driving around the area. The Americans run their own radio station (AFRV)

In Vietnam, we get paid in Military Payment Certificates which are worth the same as a US. Dollar. $30 Aust. buys US $34.40. One hundred Vietnamese Piaster (or 1 Dong) is worth US $1.18. My pay over here is tax free so I should be able to make some real money. I will now get $111.30 a fortnight.

A letter from home arrived and just as I finished reading it, we had a practice alert and ‘stand to’. We were in the dark until 10.40 pm. Some blokes thought that it may have been the real thing and they climbed up on top of the shower block to see if they could get some good photos of the action.

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MPC Currency

April 24

I worked all day carrying gravel locally from 17 Construction to 102 Field Workshop as hard topping. In the afternoon I did four loads from the quarry.

My truck is so stuffed that it will hardly get up the hill to the quarry when empty. I have to use 2nd low gear. I did one turn taking a load of rubbish to the dump and had Noggie kids climbing all over the truck collecting rubbish before I could even tip it off. At first I was worried about hurting some of them as I dumped my load, but then decided that I would just tip it out anyway. They could look after themselves!

I missed out on a one and half mile run because I was late getting back from the tip. I got back to find the rest of the blokes puffing around the base and looking very hot.

2 Transport Platoon reported that they were shot at near Baria today.

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86 Transport Platoon Compound

April 25

Anzac Day

We all attended a Dawn Service on St. Kilda Helicopter Pad this morning. It felt pretty good to be part of the team that Anzac Day remembers. I’ll be part of that when I get home!

I worked on the rubbish run all day and took the garbage to the tip at the US Base.

At 4.30 pm I knocked off to get ready for picket duty. I was on first shift. Even in Vung Tau it was a bit scary for the first time; imagining what lights and reflections may have been. At one stage I thought I saw someone hiding under a trailer with a torch but it turned out to be a shadow and the reflector on the end of a semi trailer. By that stage I had my rifle loaded and cocked, ready for a
nything.

Some of the time passed really quickly in a long conversation with a fellow from 2 Platoon who has been over here for a while.

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A convoy of our tippers carrying sand through Vung Tau.

April 26

I had my first rest day today. I lazed around all morning and wrote a few letters home to my family. After lunch I washed out a few clothes and had a haircut at the barbers.

The barbers are all Vietnamese and hairstyles are chosen by pointing to a selection of haircuts illustrated on a chart on the wall and then picking a style from number 1 to 5. It is obviously an American chart as many of the styles are based around a crew cut.

The mail brought some welcome letters from home.

In the evening I saw my friend Max Dong for the first time since he has been here. He is posted to the hospital as a driver.

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Our Lines at Vung Tau

April 27

Sunday. 353 and a wakey!

I rode shotgun on the ice-run to Nui Dat this morn ing. There are two types of ice here. The ice from the American Base is ‘clean ice’ and is made from purified water. We collect it in blocks about six feet long and eighteen inches square. Most of the Noggie ice is ‘dirty ice’ and can only be used for chilling cans or bottles. It unsafe for food or drink.

I collected some laundered greens and picked up my PX card which I need in order to buy from the American PX. I had to do a weekly half mile run in the afternoon and spent the rest of a rather uneventful day sitting around the transport yard.

The most excitement of the day happened when the driver of the water truck backed into a tank stand in the lines and half demolished a wall of a hut.

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Our packet carrying ice to Nui Dat.

April 28

A routine day in which we took three loads of sand and screenings to the Dat.

I put in an application to go to Australia on R&R in November.

A few drops of rain fell this morning. The skies have been getting more cloudy each day and the ‘Wet’ can’t be far away now.

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Loading screenings.

April 29

Another day doing the routine run carrying three loads of gravel to the Dat.

We had an American show at the Badcoe Club tonight – a Country and Western Group. They were given a good reception by all the men.

I am finding it hard to eat very much here. The heat makes us very thirsty and then we don’t feel like eating much at all.

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The Peter Badcoe Club; named after a VC Winner.

April 30

We had two hours of rain this morning.

Again, we are carrying gravel to the Dat. I had two punctures and had to fix the tyres after 5.00 pm, before dinner. My jack wouldn’t work properly and the tyres took ages to repair.

Our group had a total of six punctures today. Maybe the Nogs are putting nails on the road. As we were changing the wheels on the road, we were interested to find the kids coming up to feel our whiskers and the hair on our arms. They seemed to think it was quite a joke to have hair in such funny places.

We had a great Australian show tonight. ‘The Chiffons’ and Leonore Somerset both sang. There was a really large audience and it was better than the American show from the other night where the songs were much slower.

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Our huts at Vung Tau

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Knocking off work for the day.

1 May, 1969

We ran to the Dat again with screenings and had another two punctures in our convoy. We stayed at the Dat for lunch where we think that the food is much better than at Vung Tau. I saw a couple of the new replacements who I knew from 87 at Pucka. (Brian Egan and Colin Davis).

I had to do the fogging tonight and I enjoyed this job. It meant taking a Landrover over to the American base near the airport and picking up a trailer full of insecticide. I then drove through the back streets of Vung Tau and around the Australian Base spraying for mosquitoes. Fifty five U.S. Gallons of diesolene were mixed with five gallons of some form of insecticide. The fogger pumps this mixture out in a very fine fog spray which blows over everything.

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86 Transport Platoon’s Compound.

2 May

I took screenings to the Dat again today; the same sort of routine day. After work, I did some washing and received some mail off today’s flight.

3 May

We
took 3/8″ screenings to Nui Dat today. I only did two trips because my brakes seized at the M.P. checkpoint as I was returning to Vung Tau from the second trip. I had to wait for a wrecker to come out from the LAD (Light Aid Detachment) at 86 Platoon.

A ‘goodie’ parcel arrived from home tonight.

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Me . . . (or a sun bronzed ANZAC?)

4 May

Sunday – 346 and a wakey!

The brakes were fixed yesterday afternoon and today we took ice to Nui Dat. We had to take an extra 3,500 lbs. for 4 RAR’s going home party.

Over the last few days I have been waving to the `White Mice’ policewoman at Baria. Today, I finally got a wave in return. The Vietnamese civilian police force were established by an Australian Foreign Aid Official. We call them ‘White Mice’ because of their white shirts and their attitude under attack. They have a reputation for being real ‘cowboys’ – a blow on their whistle and then they shoot. We mostly ignore them, except for obvious traffic violations.

I missed out on lunch today as I had to repair a puncture.

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‘White Mice’ on duty.

5 May

On the garbage run today. I took four loads of junk to the tip and sold one load of plywood, packing cases and assorted stuff to the Nogs for 600 Piaster. The others in the platoon, very quickly told me that the going rate should be 1000 P and that I was wrecking the market.

I spent some time cleaning up part of the beach near the Badcoe club. The beach has its own surf life saving patrol complete with reel and line.

On duty as Duty Driver tonight, and it’s very slack. I picked up the mail, then sorted and delivered it to each of the units. I also had to drive a RAAF sergeant around the base which filled in some time.

We had a blackout for a while and I got to bed at 11.00 pm.

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Cleaning the beach at Vung Tau.

6 May

I dismounted from Duty Driver at 6.45 am. and slept for most of the day as I have today off following last night’s duty. In the afternoon, I went to the YMCA, read a few books and wrote some letters home.

Last night was pretty quiet, probably as it was the day before pay day and no-one had any money to spend.

Three Dust-Off choppers came in today. Max Dong tells me that a part of his job is to take the ambulance down to the American hospital and pick up different types of blood to meet the helicopters as they come in.

He says he has to take the rubbish from the hospital to a different tip and it is full of Nogs looking for garbage that they can use or sell. He has to beat them off with a sticko that he can dump his load. The best way, he says, is to let them climb onto the truck and then brake suddenly so they all fall over and then tip them off with the hoist.

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A ‘Dust-off Chopper’ coming in to the hospital at Vung Tau.

7 May

I signed on to `Goldie’s’ truck in the workshop and took it over for the day. This means that I have to help the mechanics as they work on it. Some basic servicing and repair tasks are the responsibility of the driver. I washed the truck down with 86 Transport Platoon’s pressure hose and sat in the office from 3.00 pm. on phone duty. A birthday cake arrived in the mail today I put it aside for my 21st birthday on May 18th.

At night I had another turn to do the fogging.

8 May

I drove locally all day carrying blast rock to the old tip site as hard standing.

After lunch we went to the range for a practice and each of us had to throw a couple of M26 hand grenades. I am really scared of them and don’t like being near grenades at all – theirs no telling which they the will go and they don’t get shot forward like a bullet from a rifle. I should then have fired an M79 Grenade Launcher as well, but one round went ‘blind’ (unexploded) and we had to get an engineer out to clear it.

I did a couple more runs to the tip late in the afternoon and knocked off.

I was the envy of all the other fellows tonight for getting five letters from home on the one mail plane.

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My M16 Armalite Rifle

9 May

I waited for an hour and a half this morning until my ‘shotgun’ from 17 Construction Squadron came. We then ran to the Dat carrying gravel for use in surfacing the road that we are building beyond Baria to by-pass the village of Hoa Long. A usual sort of day.

I spent all night answering last night’s mail. No more mail came in tonight as it missed the Wallaby from Saigon.

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Looking toward the main gate of Nui Dat from SAS Hill.

10 May

I worked locally all day carrying blast rock from the US quarry near the top of ‘Sig. Hill’ to the stockpile in the Engineers plant.

My truck has just about had it. The only way I can get up the steep hill into the quarry is in second gear in 6 wheel drive. The sooner a service is due and it can be tuned up or repaired, the better.

At night I spent some time in the canteen having a goffer (soft drink) and a talk with the boys.

11 May

Sunday – 339 and a wakey!

We took ice to Nui Dat in the morning and distributed it around the messes. We kept a half block, as usual, for our own fellows at 85. I bought a film at the PX so that I could take some photographs of Vung T
au this afternoon when we have our half day off.

I spent all afternoon wandering around Vung Tau sight seeing with Dave Staniland from Woy Woy. We had a steam bath and a massage and then came back in the leave bus.

On the way back, a big dog strolled out in front of the bus. The driver had been in trouble before for hitting animals and had been ordered “not to swerve to hit dogs or not to swerve to miss them”. He just drove straight on whistling to himself and after hitting the dog, kept on driving saying that the Nogs would be eating well tonight.

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Vung Tau Street Scene near the market

12 May

I worked locally all day carrying sand from the Bad coe Club and took it to a few points along the beach to replace sand that had been washed away. The draglink that was loading the truck put a hole in the side of my truck near the seat supports. After work, I had to wash the truck down with a hose to clean the sand off.

A parcel came from home with the photo’s of my party and some electrical connections so that I can plug a radio into a power socket.

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Vung Tau Back Beach with our lifesaving club

13 May

We started in the morning by carrying sand from the draglink near the Peter Badcoe Club to Nui Dat. After a couple of hours, our job was changed and we took 18,000 lbs of ice to Nui Dat. We had lunch at 2.30 pm. After lunch, we went back to carting sand.

At Nui Dat we saw Chinook helicopters taking supplies to Long Binh. Some Australians are moving back up that way as they say that the ARVN have let three VC divisions get through in the last three months.

Being late back and the only one dressed I copped the fogging as `Goldie’ was the duty driver. I finished work at 7.40 pm.

More rain tonight; I think the ‘Wet’ has now set in.

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Chinook taking a bulldozer to a fire support base.

14 May

I spent all mornng servicing my truck. It took half the morning to find the grease and I hate greasing – especially 12,000 mile services which are complete services and the trucks need to have over sixty grease nipples filled.

I got a little sunburned today as I lost a bit more of my Melbourne whiteness. I guess with fair skin I have to be a bit careful, but this may be a chance not to look too lilly-white.

I went down to the Badcoe Club tonight to watch a movie and relax. Tomorrow we had better get back to the war.

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The Badcoe Club

15 May

I had my truck inspected this morning and went for a test run. I found out it needs a new sump, tune-up, hoist modification, and an overhaul of the clutch master cylinder. I also have a lot of other little jobs which I have to do myself. This life is pretty hard on vehicles although this one has been here for some time now.

I knocked off at 4.30 pm. and received some mail.

I’m Duty Driver again tonight. While sorting the mail, I found that an extra lot of Birthday cards had come in for me. Most of the other blokes thought that I must have been writing to myself. The mail run was the only job for tonight.

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Our lines at Vung Tau.

16 May

I went to the PX for a haircut in the morning and showed Ron Clarke how to use his new camera.

I bought a four band National brand radio for $47.70 so that I can listen to the short wave broadcasts from Radio Australia.

Another cake arrived from home today for my birthday.

17 May

My truck is still in the workshop. We tuned the engine today and adjusted the timing. The RAEME mechanic was pretty slack and didn’t seem too inclined to hurry very much. I would much rather be out on the road than working in here: After all, I am a driver, not a mechanic’s labourer. In the afternoon, I painted the cabin.

18 May

My 21st Birthday

Sunday – 332 and a wakey!

I woke up at 6.45 am to listen to Radio Australia’s Vietnam Forces Show. Sue’s request for a song for me came on at 7.15 am.

We worked all morning changing our vehicles over to 86 Transport Platoon’s markings and inventory. None of us are too impressed with us being absorbed into 86; we value our independence too much. We are now formally part of their platoon rather than an inde pendent detachment under control from Nui Dat.

I managed to get in a party at night in the Canteen with Max Dong, the boys from my section and 2 some of he old 87 men who are now in 2 Platoon.

We were warned to expect rocket attacks in the next 14 days.

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The ‘Boozer’ at Vung Tau.

19 May

Ho Chi Minh’s Birthday

I sat and waited in the workshop and it took half the morning to find the mechanic so that we can finish the work on my truck. I would rather be out on the road than in here anytime. After an inspection, RAEME decided to 406 (replace) my truck. I left it where it sat and went back to 86’s yard. I sat in the driver’s tent all afternoon with nothing to do.

The blokes who were out on the road, came back from work and reported a sniper firing at them in the vicinity of the double bridges. No damage and no injuries.

20 May

We had all
the trucks off the road today in order to do some maintenance jobs. I helped ‘Poobah’ do a 2000 mile service on his truck and then we washed it down with kero to clean off all the tar.

After lunch I retrieved my old truck back from the workshop, (the army having changed it’s mind) and was told to drive it until it blows up or until a replacement arrives.

I found out my task for tomorrow and collected a flack jacket and helmet which 86 Platoon drivers have to wear. These are a real bone of contention with us. Up at the Dat, where the real action is, no one has to wear them; it is only these Vung Tau Warriors’ who have to put up with these hot heavy things!

4 RAR left on HMAS Sydney today and 6 RAR have arrived.

Tonight we have a needle parade for Hong Kong Flu and a CO’s hour all about War Service Loans.

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My health card which recorded my inoculations against every disease know to man.

21 May

We had all day to work on trucks again and I helped Poobah’ to finish his service.

The army has changed its mind again and after lunch I took all the equipment off my truck ready for it to be scrapped.

For the rest of the day, I did nothing in particular.

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Tippers in 86’s yard. The dust-off pad is to the left.

22 May

I went to Nui Dat riding shotgun for Poobah’ today. We carried sand up and took gravel out to the road construction site. We had lunch at the Dat with some of our old 87 Platoon mates. In the afternoon, we had a flat tyre and whilst changing it, the tube literally fell apart. This was a real bad one.

The rumour of the day is that Australian troops will be leaving Vietnam by next September

I bought Mum and my brother Colin some presents to send home. After waiting until 8.00 pm, no mail came in today.

Payday today.

We understand that 9 RAR have had sixty men killed in the last six months – four yesterday. An average of five dust-offs have been coming in each day for the last few days.

23 May

I rode with Poobah’ again carrying sand to the Dat. We worked from there all day carrying blast rock to the market at Baria. An uneventful day.

We have been told that we are going back to Nui Dat soon. I am sure that it is not as bad a place as I had once envisaged. At least we will get rid of these awful flack jackets and ‘skid lids’ (helmets).

Today it rained most of the day – it was just like a big waterfall coming from the sky. The roads were really greasy and slippery.

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The ‘Wet’

24 May

Another day of riding shotgun to Nui Dat and doing local work there all morning and working to Baria all afternoon. Most of the work at Baria was the building of a market car park for the buses which take people to shop there.

It was not my day – I got bogged in the middle of the market.

I talked to a number of kids who were minding some cattle. One reckoned that he had lost an eye in a grenade explosion. Another said that he had been shot in the foot by the VC. I Don’t think that he was for real.

It rained all night.

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Travelling through Baria with an APC escort.

25 May

Sunday – 325 and a wakey!

I worked all morning on my truck changing wheels to be 406’d. After that I cleaned the canteen and did some washing before lunch.

Today, I had planned to go on a photo tour of Vung Tau but I missed out as I am detailed for picket duty tonight. I would not have time to get back before I have to report to the guard room.

In the middle of patrolling, the base was struck by lightening which caused a large bang and cut the power. It certainly frightened the pants off me!

26 May

Today, we worked to and from Nui Dat, bringing rock back to Baria as we came through. The day finished at 5.00 pm. and we wasted 3/4 hour having to wash the truck and then prepare for an EIS inspection.

I was feeling really crook in the stomach and was really cheesed of at having to attend the inspection when I didn’t even have a truck. I ended up being sick all night, with vomiting and diarrhoea. I developed cramps in my legs and felt as sick as a dog: I really thought I was going to die.

27 May

In the morning I went to the RAP (Regimental Aid Post) and saw Leo Prendergast, our medic. (He had also been our medic at 87 at Pucka.) He gave me a chit to go the hospital. The doctor said I have gastroenteritis. I spent all day lying on bed and having cold showers.

In the middle of all this I decided that it’s not much fun being sick, especially when away from home. I feel very thirsty but I can’t eat.

Tonight I am still feeling sick and I am allowed to miss out on our normal run. Maybe being sick is not such a bad idea after all!

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‘Noggie’ kids.

28 May

I’m still not feeling the best but I helped a few people do some easy jobs around the yard – servicing, cleaning, scraping off tar etc.

I am a bit cheesed off with Jock Harvey, my corporal, hanging around all day checking on me. He probably thinks I am malingering.

29 May

We are still doing odd jobs. I helped change tyres, paint cabins and clean out some trucks. I am eating a little and feel better again. I didn’t work too hard today.

At night I went to the Badcoe Club to watch a movie.

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Dumping screenings at Nui Dat.

30 May

Buddha’s Birthday

Today was 5 Company RAASC’s 3rd birthday in Vietnam. We had a church parade at 7.00 am and then went to our normal work. We knocked off at 4.00 pm to go to a show and a birthday dinner.

Tonight we had crabs, prawns, pork, chicken and the works! A really good night. A Filipino group sang at the show.

Tonight was a free night in the canteen. The band was asked to play seven encores. Even the officers were leading the group in asking for more. The only thing that slightly marred the night was the war zone lighting and a little rain.

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The big Buddha at the Vung Tau temple

31 May

We had a while to recover from last night’s party and I think we needed it too!

We ended up doing the same old work to Nui Dat all day.

Tonight there is a swimming carnival on at the Bad coe Club. All the races are novelty events; a Jungle Jim swim with clothes on, egg and spoon race, waiters race, underwater endurance competition etc.

I am starting to get a lot of discomfort from prickly heat and I am very grateful for everyone at home sending me tins of prickly heat powder.

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Adding to the rock pile at Nui Dat.

June 1, 1969

Sunday. 318 and a wakey!

We had to work on our trucks this morning until a list of jobs were done. I had them finished by 12.30 pm. As it is Sunday, and we get half the day off, I had a sleep in the afternoon and caught up with some mail.

A pretty easy day.

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Writing home

June 2

We have the same old job to Nui Dat again today, carrying rock and working to Baria. We managed to have a longer time for lunch by letting down the spare wheel on one of the trucks and claiming we were late back to the quarry because of a flat.

An EIS inspection means that we have to spend what would normally be spare time in the evenings, work ing on our trucks. On the last inspection we were caught for not having the jerry cans full of water or petrol. Only a few were full, so while the inspection party were looking under the trucks we whipped the full Jerry cans off from behind the cabins and down the line onto the next truck to be inspected. We got away with it until the second last vehicle!

June 3

Today I worked for the CSM (Company Sergeant Major) on the garbage run. It hadn’t been done for a few days so there was quite a bit to move.

I sold some loads of wood to the Nogs on the black market this morning. We had just dumped one load and were almost caught by the MP’s as they came down the road. I could not get the hoist to come down and there was a low electrical cable strung in front of the truck which meant that I couldn’t just drive off with the hoist up. With some revving and sharp braking, I eventually managed to drop the tray and get away in time. We made $18 between the two of us today selling garbage.

In the afternoon we took all the loads to the tip as it was getting a bit risky to sell it.

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Poor Vietnamese houses fronting the river in Baria

June 4

We worked to Nui Dat all day and to Baria. Just before lunch something happened that caused my engine to make all sorts of strange noises. I took the truck to RAEME’s LAD at Nui Dat and was initially told that I would need to stay there overnight. The RAEME Wrecker (‘TUNZA GUTZ’) from 86 was to come up and take it down to Vung Tau. (The Nui Dat Wrecker is called ‘LACKIN GUTZ’). The CO decided that we should tow it back to Vung Tau on an A-Frame behind one of our own trucks. We left Nui Dat at 5.30 pm and arrived back at 6.50 pm Apparently a valve stem has broken and the valve has dropped into one of the cylinders.

It is raining very hard tonight and it is very humid.

June 5

I’m in the workshop all day with the truck for repairs. We have taken the head off so that we can see what the trouble is..

Tonight I had to do the Duty Driver’s task for ’86’. Apart from delivering the mail, I rode shotgun on the leave bus on its four trips into town to collect people from town before the curfew at 10.30 pm. The shotgun is armed with a rifle and pick-handle to beat away any trouble makers (locals). Most of the trouble comes from upset Bar and Massage Parlour owners as their clients race out to catch the bus without paying.

Normally, we would have done the fogging but it was too wet and windy tonight.

June 6

We were loaded this morning by 7.30 am. but went back to the yard. We could not leave for the Dat as the road was amber due to an ammunition convoy being on the road. Eventually it turned red with some trouble near the hamlet of Suoi Nghe.

We eventually left at 11.00 am with a gun jeep escort and had to form up in a convoy instead of travelling in our usual packet of six trucks.

Eventually, we headed off. Along the way, we noticed some choppers that were shooting up the VC not far from the road. Our convoy consisted of about 50 vehicles and was protected by 4 infantry gun-jeeps, two of our own gun-jeeps and a landrover equipped with a recoilless rifle.

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Bars in Vung Tau.

June 7

We were loaded again this morning by 7.30 am to go up the road. Today we were told that there was some action at Hoa Long and the road was closed. Nui Dat had been rocketed overnight.

We formed into a convoy in the afternoon with an APC and gun-jeep escort. Eventually, we turned around and came back to our yard not having gone anywhere.

Later, we found out later that the battle of Binh Ba had been taking place between Australians and VC/NVA.

June 8

Sunday – 311 and a wakey!

Today is a normal work day seeing that the road was red yesterday.

We had to take stores to the Dat on our tippers. I had almost forgotten how to tie down a load and decided that dumping rock is easier than carrying stores. We had an APC escort all the way with three more joining the convoy from Baria on an amber road. Today’s convoy was pretty big and we only made one trip.

A large group of refugees from Binh Ba were being put up at Nui Dat at TFHQ. Artillery and tanks were razing the village where some NVA were trapped. Apparently, yesterday’s rocket attack alert on Nui Dat had lasted for about four hours.

June 9

Everything seems now back to normal again. We worked to Nui Dat all day and to Baria to complete the car park.

Today we operated in a packet of ten trucks.

We were told today, that we would be going back to Nui Dat on the 11th. It will be different from the easy life here. Not only will the hours be a bit longer, we will also have to find somewhere to live as there are no spare tents in 85’s lines. After unlimited beer here, many of the blokes will also have to get used to a two can per day limit at the Dat.

June 10

We didn’t do anything until 10.30 am and then we went around to the American Base, Class I, to pick up some ice.

After unloading it at the various messes, in Nui Dat we stayed at ’85’ for lunch and I went to look for a few mates around the lines.

The road turned red at 4.00 pm. and wasn’t cleared until 4.30 pm. We arrived back at Vung Tau too late to go to the PX or canteen for a last shopping spree and spent the night packing gear to return to work from the Dat tomorrow.

June 11

We sat around the yard all morning getting our CES checked. We were still at Vung Tau at lunch time. By 2.00 pm we had loaded our bags and lockers onto a truck and left for the Dat. My truck ended up being left at Vung Tau.

We arrived at Nui Dat at 3.00 pm in pouring rain. It turns out that there is only one spare tent in the lines and we will have to put up two others for our section.

We were able to get one up temporarily and slept for the night on stretchers and spare beds in other tents.

June 12

In order to meet the army’s mania for orderliness, we spent some time in the morning moving the tent that we had already set up so that it was in line with the others and then we erected a second.

We started to scrounge some material for the floor and laid out the first row of sandbags to see how the floor would fit.

Tonight’s meal was roast lamb – the best meal I have had in-country. The Australian food here is certainly better than the food at Vung Tau. Today for lunch we had ham, lamb, roast beef or pork. Desserts are nearly always jellies and fruit or ice-cream. At last we have got away from cake and custard. Tonight we had strawberries and cream for dessert. Breakfast is good. It includes cereals, baked beans, sausages, tomatoes and occasionally, even grapefruit. We get white and chocolate milk in quart or six gallon cartons. Most of the food is the same as army food anywhere except in Vietnam, much of it is dehydrated or canned.

Our working hours are also a bit different up here. We get up at 6.30 am and have a pill parade in the lines. Work starts at 7.45 am and lunch is at 12.00. We work until 6.00 pm and the evening meal is at 6.45 pm. Lights out is at 10.30 pm.

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Filling sandbags for our new tent.

June 13

This morning we got a big 15 gallon container of gof fer from the mess to drink as we worked. It is hot thirsty work filling and packing sandbags in this climate.

We scrounged enough pallets from the Ammo Point to use as a base for the floor. Our judgement for size was pretty good as the pallets fitted in nicely to the row of sandbags we set out yesterday.

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Getting our new tent set up.

June 14

We finished putting up the sandbags around the walls of our tent today. We have made the blast wall 8 layers high which means that we filled, packed and laid over 800 sandbags. Tonight we will sleep in a makeshift way for the first time in our new tent.

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Packing down the sandbags

June 15

Sunday- 304 and a wakey!

We had to get up early (5.45 am) as nearly all the platoon were tasked to resupply a fire support base. We can’t do too much about moving into the tent yet, until we can find some flooring material.

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Cutting timber for the tent floor.

June 16

Queen’s Birthday ‘Holiday’

I ended up working on the tent after the other blokes were assigned to some other work. I found some 3 inch tongue and grooved flooring from the Engineers and laid it on the pallets. We put up some hootchies over the tent entrances and they will keep some more of the rain out. I reckon we have the best tent in the lines.

It’s just as well that the next door tent has a weapon pit big enough to accommodate the four of us as well as themselves. We are not able to put our own in.

We are not allowed to have food in the lines because it en
courages animals to come around. At the moment we have an unofficial bounty of five cans of beer for every dead mongoose, two for a cat and three for a rat.

The artillery fired out overhead for quite some time tonight.

June 17

Today, I had the roughest driving day ever as we shifted overburden around the dam site. We operated in six wheel drive all the time. In between loads we carried blast rock to the stockpile by the dam.

We moved our lockers into the tent tonight and finally have ourselves set up.

After dinner I went to the movies and found that I was the only person there able to operate the movie projector. From intending to be just a member of the audience I became the most critical person in the theatre.

June 18

We worked on the Hoa Long – Long Dien Road all day. Every time we travelled through Hoa Long which is mainly VC, we had a gun jeep fitted with a 102 Recoiless Rifle as protection.

Hoa Long is a more typical village than others on the highway – no street lights, mud floors and smells like a sale yard.

We had a ration pack lunch at the road site with the Engineers and took a few photographs of the kids and surroundings.

To finish off the day, we spent from 5 – 6.00 pm fighting the war by emu bobbing the transport compound for the new Snake (Sergeant).

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Lunch on the road with the kids.

June 19

Again, we are working on the Hoa Long – Long Dien road all day.

Somewhere I have lost my wallet with my I.D. card, money and PX card. To make the rest of the day, I had two punctures, had my name missed off the pay list and nearly got hit by a low flying helicopter.

The second puncture happened at 5.00 pm and I tried to get back to the compound before the tyre went flat. I ended up having to change the wheel 400 yards outside the main gate of Nui Dat. I worked until 7.00 pm repairing the tyres and had one of the best showers of my life at 9.00 pm (3/4 Bucket of hot and 1 1/4 buckets of cold water in a canvas bush shower).

I still couldn’t find my wallet in the lines and will have to report it as lost in the morning.

June 20

On the Hoa Long – Long Dien Road again.

I came back after the first load to get paid and found my wallet right where I had put it to keep it safe.

We had lunch by the road again as did a couple of the Noggie kids. One well fed young man had a jam tin of rice containing seven chunks of meat in tiny cubes and a small chili as his food for the whole day. No wonder they are thin and scrawny.

A big surprise was to find that the paddy fields are full of little frogs rather than grasshoppers we would expect to find in the fields at home.

The Gun-jeep got bogged today and I had to pull it out. Now that it is raining more, a lot of our work is done in six-wheel drive.

June 21

Back on the Hoa Long – Long Dien Road again. Nothing exciting at all happened today other than having to tow a Landrover out of a bog.

To live it up, I had a Saturday Night at the movies.

The nights are cooler up here compared to Vung Tau. In the mornings it is often nice to be rugged up in a sheet, where down there, it felt like I was perspiring all night.

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Carrying rock through Baria in a small packet of tippers.

June 22

Sunday – 297 and a wakev!

Today is a rest day. Seeing it is Sunday, it should be.

I spent some time writing letters home and went to the PX to buy some film and a battery.

We had a barbeque for dinner with big juicy steaks and a really funny movie called “Hello Down There”.

June 23

Today I started a week’s duty on the garbage run for the CSM. This means picking up the rubbish from the OFP, Bulk Store, OR’s Mess, SAS and 52 Supp ly Platoon.

The tip closes at 2.30 pm so it is a pretty busy day trying to get everything finished. Throwing garbage on a truck really makes it seem that the army designs its vehicles by working out how high a man can lift and then adding another foot to the height.

The PX had just received a new shipment of goods, so there were lots of boxes to remove from there. It took six loads to get it all to the tip.

I finished off the day by collecting timber from the Engineers for the construction of our new Recreation Hut.

June 24

On the garbage run again – the same as yesterday.

Today I had my rifle inspected by the armourer. It has too much headroom between the bolt and the chamber and it will have to get a new barrel fitted. It cannot be fired: I just hope I don’t have to use it! (It’s not very likely on the garbage run!) The armourer is a fellow named “Clarky” with whom I had been through Canungra. He gave me a pull-through and some oil which are quite prized. It’s rather hard to get an Armalite pull-through.

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Used artillery shells awaiting removal

June 25

Still on the garbage run. I took my camera to the top of SAS hill to take some photos of Nui Dat. There is quite a bit of wild-life there; monkeys in the trees and even wild peacocks. I finished off the day by clearing some pallets from the Sergeant’s lines.

We had a stand-to tonight. Three rockets from Nui Dat 2 came in – one landed in 3 Cavalry’s area, one went over the hill and landed in the tip and another in 6 RAR’s lines. The Recce choppers went out and the 105’s started firing. We had to get out of bed at midnight and stood to in our weapon pits for about 45 minutes while it all went on.

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`Nui Dat’, the hill around which the task force is established.

June 26

More of the garbage run

Half way through I nearly ran into the CO of TFMA. He is not really liked by the men and we reckon he wants to be the first RAASC Major to get a ‘Mention In Despatches’. The other day he charged a digger who was due to go home but the day after the plane left he dropped the charge. We see him around the base a bit while we are collecting the garbage but not outside the wire. While his job is mostly in the Com­mand Post, he is likely to have someone have a shot at him on the outside.

Today we finally got the power connected to our tent. It hadn’t even been ordered by our blokes, so I went around to see the Engineers Sergeant who was good enough to connect it without a work order.

At Pill Parade tonight we had a complaints session and the CO has decided to relax things a bit. From now, we will get an occasional rest day and will even be allowed to go on the Wallaby to Vung Tau if space permits. We will also be allowed to keep food in the lines in rat-proof lockers.

June 27

Still on the garbage run.

We have a mail delivery every day in Nui Dat so I have been spending some time answering letters I have received. The driver for the post office lives in our lines so we all put our letters in an ammo box out side his tent and he takes it to the post office when he goes to work in the mornings.

On the run today we passed 106 Field Workshop and saw an APC that had been blown up by 80 lbs. of ex plosive. It blew the APC on its back and blew out half of the floor which is 3 inches thick. The two crew were killed and there were still pieces of flesh on the walls inside.

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An Armoured Personnel Carrier, damaged by a VC mine.

June 28

My last day on the garbage run

I had picket duty tonight and was showered and ready by 3.30 p.m. . I was assigned duty driver until 7.00 p.m.

and the picket from 7.00 – 11.00 p.m.

A local arrangement here means that pickets work four hours on duty and the rest off instead of the standard arrangement of two hours on, the four hours off.

It rained all night although we saw and reported a fire in 101 Recce Flights lines.

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Helicopters from 161 Recce Flight.

June 29

Sunday. 291 and a wakey!

I finished my picket as duty driver until 8.00 am.

I returned last night’s movie and completed a few odd jobs. In the end I spent all morning writing letters, reading and sleeping.

Thank God that the garbage run finished yesterday. On the first few days it was tough going to get it all done, but by the end I had worked out a pattern which made it easier to finish before the tip closed.

We had trucks working today carrying ARVN troops from one side of Nui Dat to the Horseshoe Hill today. We can’t take them through Nui Dat which is only half the distance because there is a danger of them having VC within their units. At the moment we have a whole company of infantry split up as section commanders to try and train the ARVN who are really a bunch of peasants with no education or skill.

The DM (Hygiene Duty Man) for our unit has gone ‘troppo’ and is in hospital. He is waking up in the night screaming and last night he woke up strangling in his towel. He sees everyone as a VC trying to kill him. He will probably be sent home. Most of us don’t even know his real name; he is simply the ‘Dunny Man’. or ‘D.M’.

June 30

This week I have been assigned to the worst job of all, even worse than the CSM’s garbage run. I’m on a week of mess duty, or dixie-bashing in the OR’s Mess.

I have to work from 7.00 am to 7.45 pm except for two and a half hours which I get off before 5.00 pm. Most of the work is washing the pots and pans used in cooking the meals. It also includes cleaning the grease traps and kitchen area.

We finished really late tonight and at 8.45 pm. I was really lucky to find that the water by then was still hot enough for a shower.

Click here to continue to Part Three: ‘Still A ‘Reo’

4 comments

  1. Bill Moyle · ·

    G’day Bruce.
    I am enjoying reading your diary. My mate Mike Harrington did a daily diary over there but his ex wife burnt it so I never got to read it.

    When you were in Vung Tau I drove the 86 Tpt 5 Coy bus.

    Re your mention of running dogs over 11/5/69; I never did that. Never would either. There was a second bus at 1ALSG ex the Badcoe Club. Maybe it was ‘Pelican’, the driver of that particular vehicle.

    Also your mention of the shotgun on the leave bus 5/6/69; I can only recall ever having ‘Cracka’ Horn with me for a short time because I fell foul of the local ‘Cowboys’. No pick handles though.

    I do recall the Philippino band 30/5/69; I took them into their accommodation at the R & C Centre in Vung Tau after curfew. My ‘shotguns’ were two young ‘looees’ who were pissed and would not get on the bus to come back to base. As I only had a month to go in country at that stage I was not too impressed.

    I look forward to reading the following chapters.

    Regards,

    ‘Billy F the bus driver’ ( That was what I was nicknamed)

    PS. You have done an excellent job with this.

  2. Frank Ford · ·

    Bruce,

    I enjoyed reading your story & seeing the photos, especially those of Vung Tau.

    I was a US Army soldier in RVN 68~71, then a civilian advisor 71~74 and spent many a day/night at Vung Tau, especially as a civilian.

    If you want to see some more pics of old-time Vung Tau, you can visit George Krejci’s website at:

    http://georgekrejci.com/

    I’d sent George some war-time & post-war video of Vung Tau, which he posted on YouTube. If you want to see them, go here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bvWgJZyI42k
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5BiuXSG7r38
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MY5eeNvLtwU

    I have several war-time & post-war video of Vietnam (mostly Saigon) on YouTube as well. If you want to see them, go to:

    http://www.youtube.com/user/borntowander

    I expect to add some video of present-day Vung Tau to YouTube in the near future. If you want to get an automatic notice of my new videos, just subscribe to my YouTube website.

    I would like to use some of you photos in the video. May I have your permission?

    Frank Ford

  3. Russ Morison · ·

    Keep ’em coming mate. Good stuff

  4. Russ Morison · ·

    It keeps on getting better

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