Life In, & After, the 2nd CLSU
By: Lt. Bennett Jennings
From 1969 to 2004 – here we are again. Who’d have ever thunk it, huh? First of all, my thanks to Walt, Denny, & Bernie for making it possible for us to catch up with other. When I received a phone call from Walt, from out of the blue – it was a very pleasant surprise, and one that flooded me with memories. I was awestruck – that you guys had found me, after all these years. Next, let me just say what a pleasure it was to serve with all of you great guys. We made the best of our situation, and all got through it together. You could have made my life hell– but, thank goodness, you didn’t! You were all a pleasure to work with.
First, to catch up on some memories. At the time we met each other, I was 24, had just made 1st Lt., had arrived in Vietnam from my first duty station at the Presidio, San Francisco (where I had a staff job, doing miscellaneous b.s.), was recently divorced (from a very brief & disastrous marriage), was an ROTC graduate from the U. of Southern Miss. (where I majored in psychology, and selected the Signal Corps because I was also a musician, and wanted to learn stuff about electronics – which I never did), and hailed from Jackson, MS, where I had long played bass in a rock & roll band.
When I got to Long Binh, I met Col. Blatty, and waited around for an assignment, with several other FNG Lieutenants. There were a couple of command openings, and a couple of staff openings – I desperately wanted the command slot at Can Tho, and was elated when I got it. I had no idea what I was supposed to do, but figured that I would pick it up, somehow. It was all OJT.
I mostly listened to you guys! Mr. Tucker and all the NCO’s were great, and taught me what I needed to know to get by. I remember meeting ‘Top’ – First Sergeant Tritz- when he came onboard, and saying, “Top, you’ve been in the Army longer than I’ve been alive – is that a problem?” He immediately replied, “No, Sir. You’ve got a job to do, and I’ve got a job to do. You take care of the mission, and leave the men to me.” That’s not exactly the way it always worked, but somehow it turned out O.K. I discovered in one of my letters home (years later) that one of the first things I had to do, was go and bail out some of you guys who were in trouble for selling cases of beer on the blackmarket. I really don’t remember that, and have no idea who was involved, as I didn’t know anyone very well at the time.
Ken Tucker & I were commuting in to the Can Tho Airfield from the Basac Hotel, which was a story in itself. We took turns driving the jeep, to share the liability in case we ran over somebody on a bicycle, or cyclo or something. The word, ‘Hotel’ was somewhat of a misnomer, as it consisted mostly of bunks, mosquito nets, and a few sand-bagged machinegun emplacements in the lobby. The movie screen & bar on the roof were great, though. Ken & I also took turns spending the night in a van at the CLSU and going to TOC briefings when there were increased ‘Alerts’ going on.
Of course I remember Ralph; Spike & Ike; volleyball; boxing gloves; hammocks strung from workbenches in the vans; Carling Black Label beer; mortar attacks; Cobras, Hueys, Chinooks, & LOACH’s; Mohawks, Birddogs, Beavers & Otters; Caribous, C-123’s, and C-130’s; trips to the firing range (in which Denny just HAD to put his M-16 on fully automatic); safety classes; incendiary devices; key lists; CONEX’s; Filipino bands at USO shows; the Stateside Lounge; MPC’s & paydays; mama-sans cooking whole chickens (heads, feet, & all) in a can of water over a fire for lunch; Ralph getting live chickens, with an audience; Akai reel-to-reels & headphones; short-timer’s calendars; rain & mud; heat & dust; malaria pills; jeeps & ¾ -tons; Abbey Road; Crosby, Stills & Nash, and ‘We Gotta Get Out of This Place’; filling sandbags; rebuilding bunkers; VIP’s & inspections; crypto repairmen, supply guys, & accounting guys; RA’s & U.S.’s; moving to the temporary site at the end of the airfield; moving into the new building; plywood, R&R, cameras, mail-call, and more volleyball.
Memories, memories. It’s hard to believe that we were ever that young, doing all that stuff on the far side of the world, all in the course of a year (which seemed forever, at the time).