CATKILLERS AND FRIENDS RETURN TO VIET NAM, 2014
The following is only a small portion of the many photographs taken while on this tour. I hope that our members will consider what is presented here as reasonable selections to make these representative of the great time each of us had while together. During our fast–paced fifteen days with Vietnam Battlefield Tours we experienced much and thank Bill Stilwagen and his crew for their excellent service and friendship. To Professor Cong and Mr. An, we came to respect and admire your thoroughness, hosting abilities and genuine desire to protect us—to each day provide the best possible care we could expect.
L–R: (standing:) Brian Clark, Paul Larson, Steve Badger, Ralph Mussehl, Tom Clark,
Ginny Mileto, Wilson Baily, Bill Stilwagen, Irene Oake, Dennis Currie, Sam Grant,
(kneeling:) Jim Casper, Bud Bruton, Lloyd Oake, and Don Ricks (missing man, Clyde Marshall)
Photographs by Dennis D. Currie on Facebook: Battlefield Tours In Rememberance
Day 1–2: LAX to Taipei and Hanoi, May 5–6:
After a grueling flight of nearly 14 hours we arrived at Taipei in rainy conditions. Unable to sleep, except for cramping catnaps, the flight was a wearisome event for these old bones. All but Lloyd and Irene Oake had met at the Sheridan 4–Points Hotel near the airport, where we received a nice OD in color Vietnam Battlefield Tours hat and a well-put together tour briefing guide from Bill Stilwagen.
At 9:20 PM we departed via shuttle for the airport and a 1:30 AM departure aboard a fully loaded Boeing 777–300EA, Eva Air Flight 015. The inflight meal two hours later was a welcomed energy booster. About an hour and a half before landing we were served breakfast and touched down in Taipei at 6:55 AM.
We processed through minimal customs and proceeded to the Hanoi departure gate for a detailed briefing by Bill Stilwagen regarding security and health issues while in Vietnam. After a few photos we boarded a bus that took us out to an MD 90 parked on a ramp situated a quarter mile from the terminal. Our full Eva Air Flight 397 departed for Hanoi at 9:30 AM. I sat next to a Vietnamese lady who spoke neither French nor English. An inflight meal took about 45 minutes and then silence amidst the rushing air sound of the MD 90 all the way to Hanoi.
Checking through customs was nothing more than a stamp in our passports and a walk through the exit line, after which we met our bus driver, guide and Bob Perry, USMC, our other in–country Bush Guide. We were driven through what seemed like five miles of communities and countryside outside the Hanoi International Airport to a restaurant where we had a very satisfying lunch.
Don Ricks: After the visit to a local restaurant we then bused to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) and the home of Detachment Two, Lieutenant Colonel Julian Tran, commanding:
Officially known to the Government of Vietnam as the U.S. MIA Office, Det 2 is manned by seven full-time Americans. There are two officers, two enlisted personnel, and three civilians. Additionally, we are augmented by one long-term, temporary duty Vietnamese linguist from Headquarters, JPAC. At the Detachment, about 20 Foreign Service nationals work as administration and logistics assistants, security guards, drivers, and housekeepers. JPAC Teams, Facebook
Immediately above, LTC Tran introduces Ron Ward (aka miafinder on the forum) who works as a casualty resolution specialist for the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), which mission is to search for all Americans lost during past conflicts. Mr. Ward is currently assigned to JPAC's Detachment 2 in Hanoi, Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Ron provided an excellent briefing.
Hoa Lo Prison (Hanoi Hilton):
Vietam War Museum:
Don Ricks: Another place where I did not feel obligated to take photos of the junk on display, but when this old gentleman ambled on by with his granddaughter, I asked her if he would mind if we took photos together. He was gracious and happy to agree and his granddaughter overwhelmed that one of us would want to stand tall for a photo with this true Vietnam Veteran:
John McCain Was Here:
Don Ricks: Trúc Bach Lake (Vietnamese: Hô Trúc B?ch, the lake behind us) is one of the many lakes in the city of Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. It is known outside Vietnam as the site where the US politician John McCain landed as a navy pilot during the Vietnam War after being shot down. Their monument is not accurate, so we made a better version, albiet temporary, to many honks and cat calls from passing motor bikes. Fittingly, too, our brave and fearless Marine guide, Bob Perry, pulled out of his ruck sack what greatly adorns this photograph, our GRAND OLD FLAG!Translation and clear photo of McCain’s “monument”
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Hanoi:
Group photos coming.
We werre running late for our flight to the Hue–Phu Bai International Airport and hurriedly processed through security and immediately proceeded to the gate for boarding on a bus. It took us to a waiting Airbus A321. Our in–country flights required a bus trip out to a waiting aircraft where we climbed up a mobile loading staircase. There were not many people on the flight we shared with a few Vietnamese and a French tour group. Our aircraft departed Hanoi at about 1:40 PM for s 65 minute flight to our destination. No, I was not shy to ask the ladies for permission to take a photo with them, all for the cause of better international relations. The Vietnamese people proved to be very friendly and outgoing.
Phu Bai International Airport:
Don Ricks: We were fortunate to have an excellent, knowledgeable and historically oriented professor along with us, after we flew to the northern part of what was once South Vietnam. He helped each member of the tour grow in knowledge and understanding of Vietnam and its people and their tragic and disruptive wars over the last half century and more. With knowledge of these events it is remarkable that the current Vietnam government allows activity and tours like ours without interruption. I regard our time spent there as productive, informative, and worthy of the time and effort each of us went to with assistance of Vietnam Battlefield Tours led by Bill Stilwagen. Mister Cong is a priceless asset to both Vietnam and the tour company.
Here is a remarkably telling photo supplied by Gene Wilson. Cutting a 45 degree angle from the dashed line you can visualize the approximate position based on a similar look at the newer Geegle Map version above. The white dot is about where we six Catkillers took the photo way below:
Roll your mouse over each photo for additional photo information.
Tour member comments and photos coming soon (please submit your comments (and photos) for a specific day or event)
Hue, The Perfume River in Hue:
This was a hot day and water was our friend as we walked a lot, saw a lot, and became educated about the city many of us merely flew above during our previous stay in Vietnam. Weather was no factor, other than the heat, and our driver, Mr. An, took excellent care to provide a source of clean drinking water.
I discovered that my camera was set to United States date/time and thus had to adjust the date of some photos. Oh, the things with which we must pay attention to detail!
Dong Con Duc Me di Vieng Orphanage:
Several weeks before out tour to Vietnam began, I received a disk full of photographs from Rick Gates, 4th Platoon, June 1970–8 May 1971. In those photos, all of which I have yet to use, are photos taken at an orphanage in east Hue. Below are a few of those photos:
These photos were used to locate the actual orphanage we would later visit while in Hue. I used the unique architectural design features to locate and identify the orphanage that back in December 1970 was named Bai Dau Orphanage.
Here is a statement by Jerry DiGrezio:
I have never seen these pictures before! That is the Bai Dau Orphanage which was in Hue on the eastern side of the city near the Perfume River. I had started to do what I could to support it and sent a letter to my hometown newspaper in Medford, Mass., requesting clothing and school supplies. I received boxes from 10 different states! There was a time when the mail room would receive a dozen boxes a week. I would visit the orphanage about once a week and various people would accompany me. When I was getting ready to DEROS the Sister Superior who was Vietnamese but also a U. of Michigan graduate had a small dinner party for me and the kids put on a skit. While we were eating the Sister said to me something to the effect of “Dai Oui” in deference to you we are not eating our staple today, dog! I responded, “Thank you, Sister. I appreciate that very much!”
I believe that those in the first picture are in order (L to R) Dick Sowder, Curt Perry, unidentified behind pole, me and an unidentified EM(?).
The second picture is John Beatty. Best BROTHER, Jerry
Our visit to the above orphanage was one of the highlights of the trip for our group. Our Vietnamese tour guide, Mr. Cong, was very surprised to meet up with his former school tracher, and the children, although not orphans but from poor families in the surrounding poor and low-water section of east Hue were a special treat and moved us to take up a sizable collection for the Senior Sister of the Catkolic Church and school:
Hotel Huong Giang Resort and Spa:
Tour member comments and photos coming soon (please submit your comments for a specific day or event)
Long Hung Church:
Tour member comments and photos coming soon (please submit your comments for a specific day or event)
Approaching the DMZ:
We took many photos while crossing the rice–rich river delta area shown above, just too many to share here. We came upon the approach to the Ben Hai River but did not cross the new bridge northbound (our bus did). In preparation to walk across the now connected Freedom (memorial) Bridge, we got off the bus and walked to the original roadbed to what was mostly a non–working bridge during our tours. The short and enjoyable walk afforded us the opportunity to take photographs and see first hand how the Vietnamese prepared their harvested rice for proper storage and shipment to other areas. The required three day curing or drying process is a labor intense effort performed mostly by Vietnamese women.
Song Ben Hai Bridge:
NVA Artillery Village of Vinh Moc:
After a picnic lunch on the beach at Hoa Ly, south of Vinh Moc, we drove north and into a tunnel complex site much visited by tour groups and Vietnamese alike:
Con Thien Combat Base:
After coming south out of the village of Vinh Moc we turned west toward bases I just did not remember during my tour with the 220th Aviation Company. As we approached the middle of nowhere Bill Stilwagen our Bush Guide announced we were close to Con Thien and that we would walk about a mile and a half through the trees and brush to get to our objective. Three or four miles later, through mostly rubber trees and banana tree clusters and brush we came to the top of a hill covered with small trees, overgrown brush, and tall grasses. There was not much to see up there, but evidence of a once important combat base were everywhere, if you looked close. Our group congregated around a bunker seem in photos below and rested. It was obvious that were the obstructions removed one had a commanding view of the valley north, west and east of the hill and that it would have been heavily contested in a combat situation. I thought about my younger, lance corporal brother being there with the Marines in 1967 and just felt how critical his service was to the overall combat scheme and tactical situation. It was not a place to relax and enjoy a foreign tour, and one could sense the tension that must have accompanied such a tour. I picked a small oblong rock to take back home to my brother.
NVA Ambush Against 2nd Bn, 26th Marines, Hao Son:
After we departed Con Thien, we began to search for the exact location of a seriously significant ambush action that resulted in many casualties from 2nd Battalion, 26th Marines, during May 1967. This unit was the first marine unit allowed into the DMZ. Clyde Marshall, B Battery (105 MM), 1st Battalion, 13th Marines, was in direct support of the ambushed unit providing fire support coordination center (FSCC) assistance with air and artillery coordination. Glyde’s story will be a part of this section in coming days. He was wounded during the ambush but continued to serve the unit. Enroute to the site we stopped for local population supplied intelligence that proved useful:
As we began to make our way back to our hotel in Dong Ha, we came upon a typical but temporary use of the right of way alongside Vietnamese highways, the drying of vegetables, grains, and seafood:
Tour member comments and photos coming soon (please submit your comments for a specific day or event)
Camp Carroll—Not Much To See:
A Hot Day Out West—Rockpile and Razorback Ridge:
Vandergrift Combat Base (LZ Stud):
Khe Sanh Combat Base:
This isolated, once very active and highly distinguishable combat base with its huge runway in the middle of nowhere and forbidding terrain all around is not anything like it was when the Americans departed. They occupied the base on two occassions and fought a remarkable battle during Lam Son 719 in 1971, only to abandon it once more. Today it is quickly becoming an overgrown environment, a mediocre museum and environment, with noticablely deteriorating displays. The highlight for me was an opportunity to sit at a small table and drink a good cup of Khe Sanh coffee. We did not take a group photo here.
JEWELRY, Woops, I mean jewelry, shhhhhh!:
While enroute to purchase a basket of baby pigs, we were sidetracked by jewelry stores situated in the front part of the market, so—too late—those will glitter–stunned eyes were drawn that way. Fortunately, Mr. Cong came over to help sort the real from the fake and quickly got to the important stuff. It is a good thing we donated for the pigs before this diversion or we might have bought a case of pickled pigs feet! Here is just a sample, lest I get into trouble identifying those who bit the silver bullet:
Bru Montagnard Village and The Baby Pigs:
Our tour company bush guide’s plan to visit a Montagnard village included giving the village a gift of as many young pigs as allocated money would buy. Such a gift was a recommended way to assist the village in a material way. Hearing the plan our group wanted to assist monetarily and raised enough to increase the purchase to five young pigs from a nearby local market. We were on a mission from the first dollar donated, and to see all of us trekking along the route to the market and then to the village one would think we were going to a family reunion. Everyone was into it!
Mr. An, our driver, cleared a space below the bus in which to transported the pig cage several miles to the village. Our entourage then climbed a hill to the village chief’s home and presented the cage of pigs. We were invited to enter the chief’s house, sat with him and his wife and talked for a while, and then walked through the village taking photos and meeting with villagers. It made our day, and I know it pleased the villagers. They already had a secure pen constructed to house their valuable assets. It was our understanding that the village would breed the animals to increase their numbers.
Lao Bao, Hotel Sepon:
Don Ricks: Dennis Currie and I had just finished supper with the other tour members at our hotel on the Laotian border town of Lao Bao when we by chance passed a room full of Vietnamese having a party. I looked into the room from a glass doorway and caught several men and women drinking and dancing in a room where a very loud Karaoke machine and voice filled the immediate air. They noticed my visual intrusion and several men rushed to open the door and extend a warm and sincere invitation to join them. In fact, they grabbed my arm and pulled me into the room.
Straight to a chair in their midst I was taken, sat down and handed a warm beer. While I looked at the glass and its contents, a party–dress clad woman pulled me out of the chair and toward the dance floor. Before I got there another elderly man pulled me in another direction and toward a large urn sitting upon a table in the center of their commotion. There were multiple bamboo straws extending in compass directions from the mouth and around it stood nearly a dozen of their members who awaited the ceremony about to happen. I was asked, in gestures and invitation in a mixture of Vietnamese–English, to step forward, take a straw and drink their concoction. Before I did so I looked intently at the top of the jar and saw small rice grains floating in the liquid, knowing instantly this must surely be rice wine. (In the name of international relations) I took a long draw on my bamboo straw, just as enough men to take a vacant straw could gather and do so.
Shazam! It was some of the best I imagined a person could drink! I only had time to swallow one small gulp down before one of their more commanding women took me by the arm and ushered me toward a cleared dance floor, and we danced in a clumsy manner before being cut in on by another, then another, waiting woman. This went on for a few minutes of demonstration that they were in complete control of me before they also grabbed Dennis and had their way with him. This we did for about fifteen minutes, in between courtesy sips on the bamboo straw.
Finally, I had reached the point of knowing it was time to go, so with obvious agreement from Dennis, and the envious eyes of some of our tour group members who had gathered and were also drinking, Dennis and I left to get a respectable start at sleep for our scheduled early morning wake up. However, from our shared hotel room we heard the loud singing and rowdy crowd from immediately below for an hour. Then, all of a sudden it was quiet for the evening.
The next morning as we prepared to depart I walked out into the hallway near our elevator and there met a group of well dressed Vietnamese soldiers, male and female. Instant recognition! These men and women came forward and took my hand and pumped it like and old friend would after a long absence, smiling from ear to ear! They were the same people with whom we had partied last night!
They were also wearing the uniform of the Vietnamese Army command group, complete with pins of the Communist Party and higher rank, proudly pointed out by the commanding woman standing between me and the other man. We had been drawn into a regional party meeting and a tour headed by some of their ranking men and women. We watched as their group departed in a Mercedes–Benz bus and these in a Lexus SUV.
Here is a photo taken by Dennis, then me, as I called him out to the elevator area for the purpose of recording this historic and memorable encounter:
At the end of this long, long day our faithful bus had what appeared to be a major, untimely problem, or so we thought. We had just returned from the site where Ralph Mussehl deposited a note to his long lost Marine buddy when several noticed the bus settling on the right front tire. Our driver, Mr. An, had impressed each and every person on his bus with his attention to detail regarding the bus and his duties. It was always in top shape, he went beyond the call of duty each day and had our comfort and safety in mind with each trip. Each day he sat up front where it was hot and never complained during the entire trip. I sat up there beside him in the right ‘suicide” seat, they call it, for part of a day trip and just could not bear the heat. Mr. An has my admiration for being there in the hot seat for just short of two weeks!
In a quick demonstration of how to make a decision and to go about managing our untimely problem, Mr. An sprang into action. I just knew he had read from the popular book by Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind, as he began to ‘Just Get’er Done!’ Before we knew what he was doing. the front wheel began to rise from the soft shoulder of the road, and then out came a contraption we had never seen,a Torque Multiplier Lug Nut Remover. Mr An got dirty fro lowering the spare tire from under the engine compartment in the back and from using the jack he used but he had that wheel changed before we could break a sweat outside watching and feeling useless:
During our trip this day, Professor Tran Quoc Cong shared history with us on the bus vis several maps. Here I have consolidated those maps to present the area of Viet Nam during the time indicated:
Above photo, enroute to Quang Ngai: Dennis Currie—It was hotter than blazes and these women are acting like it’s winter! Now I live in Arizona and am used to heat–but not this humidity. I don’t know how they do it!! These women thought Don and I were the authorities at first and so were a bit fearful. They were collecting Mangos to sell at the local market from the museum we were visiting. So we gave them some money and we were best friends after that.
My Son Holyland:
The hottest day, bar none!, was the day we went our west to My Son. I recall drinking three bottles of water and still being thirsty. Fortunately for us, Mr. An always had a good supply of ice cold water in his cooler. Professor Cong and Mr. An really took good care of us during the entire trip: