Saturday Evening Post. Reconnect with Vietnam 1961-1963

Written by Jack van Ommen on September 27th, 2014

E-mails have been flying back and forth today from here to Texas with Charlie Johnson. He found me on my blog. He was with us when we left Fort Lewis in October 1961 for an unknown destination with the 57th and 98th Army Transportation companies.  Six weeks or so later we arrived in Saigon after a 24 day crossing on the 2nd WW aircraft carrier USNS “Core”. We were the very first full company units to be sent to Vietnam. I had always assumed that I would someday make the Guinness  records for being the only Army soldier to come back from Vietnam as a private, after having been busted four times back from PFC. But Charlie has done better than that. He might not have been a model soldier but he has an outstanding memory, names, places, events. Because I shared an apartment with my wife in town and worked as a clerk in the parts supply with just sergeant Carl, I had little contact with the rest of the troops and I apparently missed some good stories that Charlie is filling me in on.

Charlie brought to my attention that one of the pilots and CO’s wrote a book about our deployment: FIRST IN VIETNAM: AN EXERCISE IN EXCESS OF 30 DAYS The U.S. Army 57th … – Colonel Emmett F. Knight – Google Books One of the best books, in my opnion, written about the Vietnam conflict was “A bright shining lie” from Neil Sheehan. Part of the book is the biography of Colonel John Paul Vann. Charlie remembered (see updates/corrections) in Mnday’s blog) when we said farewell to Richard Ellis a crew chief who was killed in a crash of a H-21 helicopter. On the 24 day crossing I had befriended Ellis. He was 3 years older than me and the majority of my rank was a lot younger since I had been drafted at age 24. He had a serious relationship with a Vietnamese lady and it was an emotional moment when his casket was transferred to the C-120 cargo plane. It remains etched in my memory.

Here is a story Charlie tells of an evening in Saigon: One night Calson and I had a few beers.We rode our motor cycles to the Phoenix bar to finish of the night.The CIA guy was there,( ITT man) Then advisors and Special Forces and some from the 57th. They was real quite,We was singing. One Captain who had connections with intel calls me over.He says see  that big cooley over at that table? He is a high ranking VC .I said I will get him to join us for a beer.I brought an extra beer over and set on the table. He got up and hit me so I hit back and went out in the street he was hollering for a crowd,About 30 showed up fast.A riot began.   Jeeps with advisors came quickly.The Captian took me up stairs to a balcony.I stepped off o a roof.It caved in. I was hanging on a bamboo pole rafter.By then about 50 Viets were at the door.The jeep was soldiers with sub machineguns,They held back the crowds,Told us to get on the motorcycles and head back to the airport. I didn’t know that the VC was so hard to reach. We could have all been pals.Oh.I quit beer about fifteen years back. I am somewhat a Christian now.  I always thought we went too Vietnam with the wrong attitude.They could have taught us more than we could teach them.  We were brainwashed . We feard a communist police state like present North Korea.Look at them now.Western culture around Saigon.

I have to get my beauty sleep. The small choir at church drafted me for the 11 o’clock service. It is the official celebration of the first centennial of the Saint Nicholas church. The Bishop will be co-celebrating. We rehearsed last Wednesday evening and I am singing with just one (thank God, good) tenor. And have to be for another rehearsal before the service. And I do not want to miss attending the visit of the Croatian Prime Minister, Milanovic who will be here at 9 a.m. The Croatian community here, mostly fishermen and boat builders, were the largest nationality represented in the church’s founders.

Last week Thursday evening in the harbor race, three T-birds.

Last week Thursday evening in the harbor race, three T-birds.




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