“Umm. Go wash and shave after I patch you up,” Miss Yen said, looking me over while holding and armload of first aid supplies.
“Yes Ma’am!” I replied, surprised at being given what seemed like a direct order by Maj. Tom’s secretary.
She was right. We were unshaven, our class A uniforms were rumpled and dusty. Our ties askew, shoes scuffed and looking more like we’d come in from the bush than off an airliner. We were hardly fit to report to the Colonel. Miss Yen could clean my lip but aside from brushing us off there wasn’t much she could do about the red dust and wrinkles.
Msg. Surgeon returned and said, “Let’s go have a quick look at your classroom before we go see the colonel. We piled into the truck.
Col. Suel had sent word that he wanted to see us as soon as we arrived, so we set off once again in the Renault truck for Saigon. I had assumed that we would report to Master Sgt. Surgeon. But it soon became clear that Phil and I reported directly to Col. Suel. He had an office at old MACV Headquarters on Cong Ly street, a tree-lined street in a neighborhood of handsome villas. Many of the more senior officers had stayed at what had once been the MACV headquarters when the new Headquarters was built at Tan Son Nhut. I was later to understand that having his office here and not at the airbase spoke volumes about his seniority and power. Discovering we reported to a full colonel was quite intimidating.
Suel was clearly relieved to see us.
“At ease, gentlemen, and welcome to Saigon,” said Suel trying to put us at ease as we snapped to and saluted on being ushered into the office.
“Good to see you too Surgeon,” he said, addressing the master sergeant. Both had served in WWII and the colonel clearly respected Surgeon’s experience and seniority.
“Sooo, specialists Allen and Nugent. I’m glad to see you made it; mostly in one piece. I wasn’t anxious to report to General Horn that I’d lost two of his instructors. It was good of him to agree to the loan. He didn’t have to do that.”
General Horn was commandant of the Signal School. Apparently was a big deal that he’d agreed to supply two instructors to train the ARVN. Two who were badly needed at Ft. Monmouth . But orders had come down that everybody was to support Nixon’s Vietnamiaztion program that had begun earlier that year.
Suel was concerned when we told him that our classroom was not adequate, just a dusty warehouse. He promised to help out where he could. He said, we would have to do much of the buildout ourselves but within a couple of days a squad of Vietnamese soldiers appeared, equipped with hammers and nails, boards and brooms.
He said, “I want to see your smiling faces in person at least every payday. We’ll have a nice chat. That’ll be all.” We saluted and as we turned to leave, the colonel said,
“Oh, and Surgeon, I want to hear from you at least weekly on what the ARVN brass are up to over there. In person. They’ve got Tom’s phone tapped and he’s being followed.”