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By William Dean

Lt. William Dean 1969

I arrived in Vietnam in November 1969. As with most American soldiers during that phase of the war, I had flown over from the states on a chartered civilian airliner. The flight left from Washington state, landed in Alaska, and then had one really long flight to Vietnam. While in Alaska we were allowed a short break in the airport lounge. My main memories of the flight were those of the really great looking female flight attendants, especially the one with tiger striped underwear. Other than her, my thoughts were on what awaited us all.

The final leg ended at
Camh Ranh Bay. As the plane descended thru the clouds, we all looked out the windows to get our first view of this land at war. The place seemed like most any other military airbase I had ever seen. The first strong impression was the smell that filled the plane when the doors opened. It was a smell of mildew, damp and no longer clean. Of course after being there awhile the smell became normal.

After a short 2 day stay at the replacement depot, I received my assignment to the 101st Airborne Division. Their main base for receiving replacements was located at the large military complex near Saigon. Bien Hoa was mostly known for the airfield but there were many other units there. I reported there after an uneventful C-130 flight (my first).

The Screaming Eagle Replacement Training Section (SERTS) was to be my home for the next week.

SERTS was a processing center as well as acclimatizing and training center. We tried to become accustomed to the Vietnamese weather, received orientations on our new unit, to include some history. We were told to forget much of what we had been taught in the states, because now we were in Vietnam and would learn how this war was really fought. Booby traps, ambushes, sapper attacks, etc. soon became our main topics of discussion and full time thought. 

Not many nights after arrival, the airbase came under rocket attack. No one thought of the danger as we climbed upon the bunkers near our barracks. Our thoughts were to get a look at the show going on. However, a senior "SERTS" NCO came around and quickly convinced us to take cover in the bunkers. During assembly the next morning our foolishness was well described and explained.

With my SERTS training finished, I departed by CH-47, Chinook helicopter, for Camp Eagle. Camp Eagle, was located in I Corps near the city of Hue, and was the headquarters for the division. I was assigned to Co E 3/187th Abn. Inf. Bn. based at Camp Evans. Evans was located about halfway between Hue and Quang Tri along Vietnam's main north-south highway, QL 1. This area was written about in a book on the French war in Vietnam called "The Street Without Joy". Over the next 10 months I would come to know the meaning of that title.

With E Company I was assigned the duties of Executive Officer (XO), Mortar Platoon Leader and Ground Surveillance Radar section leader. Co. E was the battalion's support unit. It also contained the Bn Recon Platoon, but another 2nd Lt. had that platoon. Our company commander was a 1st Lt. from Boston, Mass. who had been decorated for his actions on "Hamburger Hill". His name was Sullivan.  

Being located at the battalion rear meant that I had bunker line officer duties a lot. I think I had that duty about every 4-5 nights. This basically meant assisting the duty NCO in posting soldiers to the battalion section of the base camp bunker perimeter, then checking on these positions throughout the night. It sometimes got a little dangerous as you were walking around in a combat area at night, coming up on young armed soldiers that expected to be attacked at any moment. More than once a night I came close to being shot.

New Years Eve '69-70 was a really interesting night. We were told to keep the troops from firing their weapons at midnight. Ha, what a joke. At midnight the entire base camp bunker-line seemed to let fly with rifles, machineguns, hand-flares, or anything that made noise or would light up the night.

In late January '70 I moved to D Company to replace their executive officer. This is where I met 1st Sgt Anthony P. Tufts. He let everybody know that the "P" stood for Prick, and sometimes he was. As XO I spent time flying to the different platoons with the re-supply copter and was Battalion paymaster 1 month. I once had the unpleasant task of taking some bodies to the division morgue. This last was the result of a booby trap that exploded as some troops were getting out of a boat along one of the rivers in the area.

The company went to Eagle Beach in late February and that is when I took over 1st Platoon. I was able to use this time to become familiar with all the members of my new platoon. We had a few relaxing days at the beach and then left by helicopters. After landing back at the battalion area at Camp Evans, we where trucked just north of Evans to the village of
Phong Dien. From there we started off into the field. My orders were to patrol the areas north of Evans and set up ambushes at night to stop movement into the local villages. 

This was the beginning of my time in combat as a platoon leader. During the next four and a half months I would have the honor of leading some good and brave American Soldiers. We had our share of good times and bad. We were involved in many firefights and ambushes, set by us and against us. 

I was twice wounded while in combat. The 2nd time was the most serious and sent me back to the states. You can read about it by clicking on "Mines - My Last Patrol".

The first time I was wounded was because of my own stupidity. I had been in the field only a few weeks. The platoon had been patrolling along some trails near a river and I decided to lead (walk point) for awhile. As we moved along I stepped on a small triggering device that was connected to a 105 mm artillery shell hidden in the grass 10 feet off the trail. As they say, an angel was watching over me that day. The fuse had been removed from the shell and the end had been filled with an explosive and a blasting cap. The blasting cap was attached to the triggering device I stepped on. The cap went off as did the added explosive, but the shell did not. Had it exploded I would not be alive today. As a result I did take some metal pieces in my legs. Even though I could walk, the medic called for a medevac helicopter and I was flown to Camp Evans to be treated.


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