FSB Crockett, Reed, Jackson

(Click on photos for larger image.)

May 8, 2009

Wow! What a day. We drove around back roads and scouted out places Thane and I haven't seen for nearly 40 years. Larry's turn comes in a day or two, when we head north of Tay Ninh to Lo Go on the Cambodian border and the site of the Suoi Tre battle in late March 1967. More on that later.

We started off the day by grazing our way through the wonderful buffet breakfast here at the Rex Hotel. It is interesting to try different things each morning. The buffet stretches all across the back wall to slightly right of center, and again this far to the left. We were the first ones there this morning at 6 am Saigon time, and I counted 12 servers waiting on us.

Larry orders his omelet.

All three of us love the wonderful fruit. It's different every morning.


Our hostess is Uyen (right) and the server on the left is Nghi. Uyen was excited about getting her picture on the Internet, and told me the story of finding Muoi was "like a movie." She rides her bicycle 20 minutes one way through Saigon traffic to get to work at 6 am. She tucks the bottom of her Ao Dai into her belt to keep it clean.

For those those who like maps, here's a map of our trip yesterday. The red line is our GPS track.

Yesterday was Saturday here, so the traffic was better. We left the hotel about 8 am, and headed for Cu Chi, which was the location of the 25th Infantry Division's base camp. It is now a People's Army base. Sort of strange to see the red flag flying at the front gate. Larry only spent a few days here, but Thane and I went through the U.S. version of this gate many times.

We got a couple of additional photos of the southwest side of the base. There's a new road there that appears to cut through the SW corner of the old base.

This is the base gate about 500 meters northwest of the main gate.

Kinda reminds one of basic training, doesn't it? This was taken through the back window of the van just outside the SW gate. The base gate is in the background. If the authorities would have seen me taking photos, Thi said they would have taken away my camera.

Next it was off to Fire Support Base Crockett, where I spent several weeks as an RTO (radio operator) for my platoon leader, Lt. Mote, until he was wounded by a booby trap explosion. Even though we had a military map from the late 1960s, GPS coordinates, and an aerial photo from Google Earth, it was difficult to find the base because there has been so much development. The Google Earth photo is quite old, according to our guide Thi, because there are many new things that have been built since the photo was taken. This photo is about as close as we could get, and was taken looking to the southwest. The south side of the base would have been about where the trees are in the background. This was nearly the only open area; everything around here has a house or business on it in small lots. We tried to get close to a spot where I was on a patrol that got ambushed one night, but were unable to find it because everything has changed. According to my GPS, the site is now occupied by a huge steel tower for a massive power line. All of the area around the base was rice paddies 40 years ago; now there are still a few fields of various kinds but nearly everything has been developed.

This cow was grazing peacefully near the old base location but became interested in the strangers poking around. I assume they don't see too many vans with tourists here.

This is the cemetery located just southeast of FSB Crockett near where Lt. Mote tripped the booby trap probably in late September 1968. Several others were seriously wounded, and it was the baptism by fire of my friend Doc Morse. He was a medic just out of Ft. Sam Houston and brand new to the Wolfhounds. It was his first casualty situation, and he had to deal with seven seriously wounded guys.

Next we headed for the Cu Chi Museum. Unfortunately it was closed, but we looked around the outside display of some of our old equipment. Larry checked out what we called a "track" (armored personnel carrier or APC) that had been destroyed in 1969 near An Phu village, according to the museum sign.

Larry was a track driver in 1966-67, so he showed Thi his spot in the vehicle. Note the massive battle damage from RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) rounds along the side of the tank. These are nasty weapons against armor, and they were still being used in the Gulf War conflict more than 40 years later.

Anyone who spent any time in the Cu Chi area 40-odd years ago won't recognize this road. It is the traffic interchange that is now located just southwest of the Cu Chi main gate.

Time for lunch! I'm sure our wives are saying, "What, again!" We ate at a noodle restaurant near Cu Chi before we headed for Trang Bang and places west. Note the intense concentration on the task at hand. We probably won't need to eat for a week or two when we get home. Thi was great about letting Larry and the rest of us know what to eat and what to avoid to keep our stomachs from getting queasy.

We drove through Trang Bang and on to Go Dau Ha. The development along the way is almost completely solid, with only a few areas where there are still fields or rice paddies along the road. Interesting artifacts from the war are dozens of old Army trailers that have been converted for farm use. Thi told us it was illegal for them to be on the main road, but we still saw plenty of them. There were also many old 3/4-ton Army trucks that have been cut down to the point that they are hardly recognizeable. Rich, if you need parts, you should come here...

As usual, we didn't stay long because we wanted to see everything we could. We next headed for Go Dau Ha, and crossed the infamous Vam Co Dong river on a nice new bridge instead of the old French one that Thane recalled. Seeing the brown water with mangrove branches floating downstream really brought back memories.

Note the TV antennas on the buildings. Thi told us he has cable TV, and it costs about $5/month, which is a significant expense here. He took the photo from the bridge looking south.

As we were driving back from Go Dau Ha, Thi pointed out two cigarette smugglers on motorcycles. They bring the cigarettes in from Cambodia (about 10 kilometers away) and walk across the border at a remote area away from the border outposts. They avoid the Vietnamese government tax on the cigarettes, and can make a substantial amount of money from a load. It seems like a majority of the men smoke, but not very many women. There are very few regulations on where people can smoke here.

When I was at FSB Jackson in 1969, we took up a collection to give a donation to a Catholic church nearby at Tha La where they were trying to raise money to add a spire to their belltower. We found the church, and Thi took my photo even though it was pouring rain. Larry was looking for his soap and wash basin, but we didn't have time for him to take a shower.

Note that the spire never got added. We weren't able to find out why, but I assume it probably didn't help that this was an area where there were plenty of enemy soldiers, and most of the men were in the South Vietnamese Army. It is a poor, rural area. I left a donation; maybe they'll have a spire someday when I come back again.

FSB Jackson was located near the church, so we went to look for it. Once again, it was hard to find the location and things were totally different from way back when. Both Thane and I spent time at this base; I was there in 1969, and he was there a bit later than me. We watched the GPS and drove around a few wet, greasy clay roads and finally determined that the site is now occupied by a brick factory. Thi has a marvelous sense of humor and suggested that it was now the Jackson Brick Factory. This is looking almost due north.

Next we headed for Loc Binh and started our search for Muoi. Read more about it here.

We headed back to the "main" road (barely one lane, but paved) and drove toward FSB Reed. This area wasn't as developed. It had the right "feel" but didn't have any landmarks that I remembered. They have built a large school between the base location and the road, so it was difficult to see exactly where the base was located. This photo shows the approximate location. I believe the large trees were the base location, and when we went out on helicopters they landed in the area to the right. This photo is looking just a little east of north.

The area around FSB Reed has some of the same neighbors as in the late 1960s, although I'm sure this example is several generations removed from any of the water buffalo we saw then. They are a common sight in the rural areas, especially where there are rice paddies. We saw one some distance from the road in a mud wallow, and all you could see poking out was the top of his head and his horns. I don't know why they don't get stuck in the mud -- we always had problems with it. The reddish soil brought back lots of memories, as did some of the smells in the rural areas.

The Sugar Mill was next on our agenda. It had been a factory that made sugar from sugar cane. At the time I was at FSB Jackson, our battalion's reconnaissance platoon was located here. They were living in an old French villa, and once in a while I would go out with them on a patrol. I remember this as one of the few spots in Vietnam that had a flush toilet in 1969. It also had a French bidet, which the recon guys used to cool their beer and sodas.

We could see the villa, but weren't able to get a great photo. All of these pictures were taken near the pier just south of the factory buildings along the Vam Co Dong river.

In this photo, Larry is allowing Thane to test the bridge. It was rickety but solid enough to cross. We walked across and down to the edge of the river, which was to our right.

This area is also close to the Cambodian border, and here the smugglers use fast boats to haul cigarettes and avoid the Vietnamese tax. These things are long and narrow and have a huge engine with a propeller sticking out the back on a long shaft. They really move out.

We headed back to Saigon through Bao Trai and Cu Chi. Once again it was difficult to recognize any landmarks. The big swamp west of Cu Chi has mostly been drained or filled in and is going to be a housing development. The old Bao Trai airstrip, where my company got mortared and Freddie got wounded, is now a People's Army base. Our van driver was related to some people who built homes there around the old runway but were moved off several years ago so the military could take over again.

It started raining again as we drove from Cu Chi to Saigon, and all the bikers and motorcycle riders put on their ponchos. Larry made a comment that we should all go into business together and make ponchos with several head openings, but Thi told him that market segment was already taken. I guess you could call this the Vietnamese version of a "two-holer."