First Sergeant Lifter was in charge of all enlisted men and making sure the site was safe and neat. This was an air recon site with both choppers and fixed wing aircraft. The chopper pilots were warrant officers and the fixed-wing jockeys were either Air Force officers or civilians. So there weren’t many enlisted men at the site, mostly cooks, mechanics, and ground crew. But it was sometimes hard to tell the difference as tee shirts without insignia were tolerated as uniform of the day in the intense heat.
The previous site radar man had gone home on rotation so Sergeant Lifter assumed I was his replacement. My first job he said was to neatly coil the cable going to the Ground Control Approach aircraft radar antenna. First, I tried to explain that if I did that the GCA radar would not work properly. Then I explained that I actually was there from Saigon making a house call to fix the mortar locator.
“You’re here to fix the mortar locator?”
“Yeah, if it’s fixable. And that’s really up to you,” I added mentally, “as long as you don’t fuck with me.” He seemed to get my drift.
He forced a wan smiled and said, “Make sure you fix it soon.”
The Quartermaster assigned me to a bunk in one of the hooches. This was a serious come-down from the Dai Nam hotel. It came with two wall-lockers and one foot-locker, no running water and a gang of toilets mounted atop 55 gallon fuel drums in toilet row out back. The men didn’t actually call them toilets. There was a communal shower-house serving officers and enlisted men fired by a diesel water heater. Electricity came from the generator house that contained several diesel generators ganged together. Each was small enough to be air-lifted by a big Chinook chopper. The noise was incessant. That, accompanied by the red dust and constant smell of diesel exhaust made the whole place moderately unpleasant. The fine, red dust infiltrated everything. When it rained, it instantly turned to slick red mud. When the mud dried it imitated concrete. You had to get it off the first time it was wet. There were a few jeeps and a few more bicycles and all were mud red over OD green. But mostly there were airplanes and helicopters. The biggest were the DC-3s, their C-47 brethren and the Caribous that looked to me like guppies. There were no fuel tanks except for the generators and they were 55 gallon drums too. Any plane landing here had to have enough fuel to get somewhere else. If they had a tank farm it would have been a magnet for VC mortars.
The AA plane and crew I come with took off after pie and coffee. I wondered what they were going to deliver to Phnom Penh and what about Rangoon? Why there? Anyhow, they cleared the trees at the end of the runway but not by much.
After making up my bunk, I went back to the mess hall for lunch. Officers and men messed together. It would have been hard to tell them apart. Standing in the lunch line I noticed that this wasn’t an Air Force or an Army installation. There were aircraft with civilian marking and no markings but no military markings at all. Uniforms consisted of fatigue pants and combat boots topped by white tee shirts. I was the only one in sight with unit markings or rank insignia. I took my tray and found a spot at a table two-thirds back, where the officer’s coffee urns usually were in a regular unit.