|War and Peace Corps The Commander Wore Civies (page 2)|
I spent my first year in Vietnam in Saigon as the SCAG District Representative to the First and Second Districts of the City, essentially downtown Saigon. I was busy organizing self defense units in the shadow of the National Assembly Building, the Presidents Palace, and all the rest of the governments edifices. I also had the American Embassy in my turf. My basic attitude toward building self defense units in this area was that, if the Viet Cong got to the heart of the country, the show was definitely over, and no amount of self defense would turn the tide. Instead we turned our attention to organizing a system for detecting clandestine Viet Cong and removing them from the scene.
The downtown self defense effort did have an amusing face. The Chief of the First District had all the bar girls on the notorious Tu Do street a collection of bars and dives known to almost all GIs who had passed through Saigon organized into first aid units. I was not sure how effective they would have been in helping the wounded, but did know that, if they died, they would do so with a smile on their face.
While in Saigon I escaped serious injury. Sure there were assassinations of people with whom I worked and the occasional bomb like the one left by some kids that blew out the main floor of the central post office killing and maiming dozens of people. There was also the night the Viet Cong lobbed mortar shells into Tan Sha Nook air base where my brother was stationed killing a few of his colleagues. But it was not front line battle work. Perhaps the worse I suffered was when the bad guys dropped a mortar shell on center court at the Circe Sportif tennis club where I played, thus screwing up the playing schedule for several weeks.
All was going well when, in an effort to show that we were winning, CORDS decided to Vietnamese my job or turn it over to the Vietnamese to do.The theory was that this would show that our side was winning.
As further proof that we were winning, I was assigned to a district in a seaside province which had had no civilian advisor previously. My going there was to demonstrate that it was pacified to the point that a civilian could work there.
I wound up in Thanh Hai District in Phan Rang Province. Now Phan Rang and Thanh Hai were different from the rest of Vietnam. Like all the coastal provinces, Phan Rang was directly on the South China Sea, so enjoyed something of a maritime atmosphere. However, it had the distinction of being the home of then President Thieu and thus boasted the only log cabin in Vietnam. It never rained in Phan Rang so when a car was brought to the province the windows were rolled down once, never to be closed again. Water came from a river that ran the entire length of the province providing irrigation for the whole area. It was also the home of the small remnants of the once mighty Cham people living in Vietnam. They ate no pork so we had the only goat herds in the country. I will never forget my first day on the job standing ankle deep in goat crap and discussing shipping breeding goats to other parts of the country.
I was the only civilian in a 15 man military advisory team and the Deputy Commander at that. All the other members were veterans of front line combat who had, after spending their time in hell, been sent to this less dangerous assignment. You can imagine their disquiet at having an unarmed civilian as their second in command. However, as it turned out I earned their respect by guiding them instead of commanding them. I also was smart enough to stick to doing the non-combat tasks. While the GIs taught the Vietnamese provincial and district forces good defense practices, I worked with the civilian administration to win the hearts and minds of the people.