Vietnam Conflict Urban/Suburban/Rural Myths

Long ago. Decades. 1975.

Rush off to assist with evacuating Vietnam and other assorted tasks.

Adding paint in Hong Kong harbor

An end of an era.

Years of nightly TV coverage of yet more Vietnam action.

An event too many of us grew up with as so many in recent years are with the various middle-east “wars”? Conflicts?

Congress has not “legally” declared WAR!!! since 1941.

After Pearl Harbor.

Evacuating Vietnam.

Interesting memories involved, some that still enter my dreams.

The Mayaguez Incident near Cambodia shortly after the “main” Vietnam Evacuation saw the USS Schofield DEG-3/FFG-3 supporting that event by helicoptering one of our hospital corpsmen over to assist the wounded while we steamed back and forth to ensure no reinforcements from Cambodia arrived to assist their forces engaged with USA forces who performed a fine job of rescuing the Mayaguez and its crew.

Rushing to and fro.

From here to there.

It was also the Cold War years and the pesky Rooskie spy ships had a bad tendency to intrude upon our space; requiring careful maneuvering to avoid collisions.

Soviet satellites and reconnaissance aircraft were other “threats” that we used various tactics to avoid as much as possible.

Remaining “stealthy” was preferred just in case war broke out.

Survival could depend upon it.

Just to ensure that WE knew the Rooskies knew where we were one semi-cloudy day in the South China Sea when we had our air-search radar turned off (having that radar on broadcast our position far far further than what that radar told us was up there in the air) a sudden ROAR of turboprops filled the air with their racket.

I heard the noise several decks below the main deck and felt the entire ship shake from the too-close passing of a Russian Bear aircraft.

The bridge used the ship-wide voice announcing system to inform us of the visit by that large intruder.

Just one of many “moments” of life-at-sea in that era.

Along with actual, factual events were various rumors and tales told and discussed. Most being unable to confirm or prove but assisting in reducing the boredom from lengthy at-sea periods and providing something to talk about.

Ewwwwwww

One rumor was about the “black Syph.”

Various tellings stated one or more islands offshore from South Vietnam was where those contracting the incurable disease were held with the option of having their family told they had been killed in action so that their families, survivors (wives, etc) could receive death benefits or, in some cases, life-long payments if a widow who remained unmarried, etc.

Another given reason was to prevent shame for the victim and/or “survivors” by ensuring the reason for the “required life-long isolation” was never made public.

After the Evacuation the location was changed to a facility at the Subic Bay Naval Station and another version telling of a place in Guam.

There was obviously no way to prove nor disprove that tale but after returning to the “real world,” back in the USA, there was much less mention of the story.

It was likely a myth but………….

A common one.

Another common tale told of the returning Vietnam-deployed service member who was spit on by a civilian or civilians protesting against the war.

During our time overseas this event was mostly one of fairly recent history occurring during the “main years” of the conflict of the 1966 to 1970 years when the largest number of in-transit troops were passing through public transportation portals inside the USA, etc.

One story told of an Army Ranger using the restroom inside San Francisco International Airport and while using the urinal a long-haired hippie-type anti-war protester approached and spat upon the Ranger’s face.

The story continued, saying the Ranger beat the spitter badly with local cops allowing the Ranger to walk away and arresting the spitter for assault.

Years later, when the Web arrived, out of curiosity I searched for a record of such an event with no luck.

That lack is neither proof for or against the truth of it.

Out of general curiosity one of the many areas of my research the past 30-plus years has been attempting to determine to what extent USA military members were spit upon or harassed in other ways.

When I came into contact with Vietnam and Vietnam era vets and the opportunity was present I asked if they had ever been confronted with a negative action regarding their wearing the uniform at that time.

I was told of various negatives such as being shunned or not made to feel welcome at peer gatherings but being spit on?  Nope. I asked specifically about being spit on. None of the many asked claimed to have had it happen.

My non-scientific “study” was limited but consistent for many years.

Sure, odds are that at least one military member, current at the time or a veteran, was spit upon thus making the oft-heard mention of Vietnam and Vietnam era being spit on a reality instead of a myth but I believe that a very few instances, at most, has been turned into a common occurrence by those seeking to add “strength” to their opinions or declarations.

A  Common for Awhile Rumor

Wandering around northern California during the post-Evacuation era; the San Francisco Bay area and the San Joaquin Valley, an often-heard rumor among my general age group consisting of those old enough to have been in Vietnam during the “hot years” and after, was of “tribes” of Vietnam veterans escaping a society they believed had rejected them.

The story continued that some within the “tribes” living in isolated areas in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains were the ones doing the rejecting; believing that USA society, culture, etc. was not worth being a part of for various reasons.

That rumor was an easy one for me to believe, to understand.

I still generally reject many aspects of the USA’s, to me, sick, perverted, disgusting, unworthy of honorable folks society/culture.

I am also Disgruntled about the immense power of corporate USA and how the federal government works in cahoots with BIG business to screw We, the People.

I realize what my opinion is worth but it is presented here to help explain why the stories about various veterans banding together to live apart from society in rural areas was believable to me.

During the early to mid-1980s I lived not-too-far from the foothills where those bands of veterans were supposed to be living.

Quiet out-of-the-way places but close enough to civilization to allow access to paying jobs, supplies of food, mail retrieval, etc.

I enjoyed hiking through the “gold country” of the 49er era where I panned for gold and just explored.

I was not specifically seeking to prove or disprove the rumor but I did ask the locals if they knew of any instances; just my constant curiosity and enlightenment-seeking at work.

I also kept the “eyes open” as i hiked through some isolated areas where logic told me that those wanting to live apart yet close enough to allow practical, logical living might be.

Nope. Never saw any indication of any band or group and my questioning of locals never resulted in any confirmation though a couple of those talked with told of having heard the rumor but did not believe it to be true.

Again, no proof one way or another but I will “chalk” this rumor as just that… a rumor. A modern-day myth.

“Hey you Old Coot. Were you a snappy dresser in the Navy? All “squared away” and ship-shape looking oh-so properly military?”

Uhhhh, yeah. For the times. It was a different era. Much different than today’s military. Some major changes came about for the various military branches after Vietnam; most taking several to many years to occur.

As the military changed so did society. And vice versa.

Some folks say that a country’s military is a reflection of the society that created it. Is THAT a rumor?

Change is a constant throughout life. It seems to me USA society and cultural changes are happening faster than in the past but consider how well modern communication methods work.

The Web is a good example. So are cell phones.

Anyway, here is a set of pictures taken at one of those photo booths in Tokyo’s Ginza district back in 1975. A wee bit different than what is seen among sailors today. The hair and beard grew until even I knew I had to remove some of that growth. It was too hot and humid in the Orient during the summer!!!

Salt and Pepper

Many variations as to time and place but I heard that after the Tet Offensive in 1968 in the central highlands of South Vietnam two turncoat USA troops were assisting the Viet Cong and/or the NVA (North Vietnamese Army).

The story was that their knowledge of USA small unit tactics greatly assisted the Viet Cong and NVA and ability to immediately understand USA radio traffic greatly assisted the foe.

Some of the guys on our ship had spent time in-country (inside Vietnam when the war was active) said they had heard about Salt and Pepper and that many troops believed the tales were true.

Oh, Salt and Pepper… called that because one of the guys white and the other black.

As with most of these stories various versions were offered and debated.

One version said the pair were traitors who willingly left to assist the Cong and NVA while another version told of the pair being captured and given a choice; fight for us or die with yet another version telling of lengthy brainwashing that actually worked leading to the pair assisting their captors.

Here is an online version.

Underwater Voices via Sonar

Omitting names for privacy reasons.

SONAR (Sound Navigation And Ranging)

Perhaps you have heard one sound SONAR can make during a movie.

Ping… ping… ping…

Relentlessly. Over and over.

So LOUD inside a warship that it takes near-total exhaustion for some sailors to fall asleep as ping… ping… ping… fills the inside of the ship.

Us SONAR guys were often greatly despised at those times.

Luckily, pinging was a rare event for many reasons and even when a reason to use the SONAR existed it was often best to just listen for noise from other vessels than to ping… ping… ping… and give away one’s position.

As with radar, others can detect you when your ship emits various frequencies than you, the sender, can detect the return from what is sent out.

Fun with SONAR

“Hey, Joe, you got crabs!!!” Huh? Well, you got something out there.

I think it’s a bunch of shrimp.

We called them “biologics,” the sounds made by undersea critters.

Whales, dolphins, fish and many other of the sea’s creatures made noise we could hear through the SONAR.

I could never get them to do it but some sonarmen swore that sometimes the dolphins (Flipper?) would whistle back to you simple tunes humans could whistle undersea using specialized equipment.

That was not a legend since it was considered common knowledge and not a rare event.

The ability to talk underwater using the proper equipment is also a fact as can be seen in some TV shows with mini-sub operators talking to other mini-subs, etc. while doing scientific studies.

What may fall into the realm of legend is the reports of hearing human voices or sounds underwater when one of the parties does not have access to the proper equipment.

We need to go back in time to the sad tale of the USS Evans.

A Few Years Later

I knew a sonar tech who had been aboard a nearby warship when the collision occurred.

Six years later he was still unsettled about the event.

He was on SONAR watch with his vessel in nearby formation.

He told of the gut-wrenching sound of metal-upon-metal contact and then….

the bizarre sounds of… something he had never heard through SONAR before.

Later, after learning of the forward section of the Evans sinking; taking the sailors inside downwards to the ocean’s floor to their deaths, he realized those new-to-him underwater sounds had been human screams.

Visibly shaken as he related a tale I had never heard him relate before or afterward, I believed him.

To have traveled from the slowly sinking front section of the Evans to his SONAR those screams of pain and despair must have been loud.

Warships are divided into many water-tight compartments designed to assist in keeping a ship floating even when damaged.

But, too much damage, damaged in the wrong place and other factors can overcome the water-tightness.

In the Evans instance, the water-tight spaces kept at least a few of the sailors within the sinking ship section alive to create those screams.

Screams that sailor said he still heard in his mind.

Memory Madness

Are myths and legends created or errors or misunderstandings or could memory lapses be responsible?

Maybe all the above combined in various ways.

Though not Vietnam-related I dug into my pile of past writings for the following.

Memory is a strange thing. Some memories of many years ago are crisp and clean and can still be seen in the mind’s eye. Other memories are not as clear.

It’s frustrating being unsure of a memory.

Plane guarding for a Navy aircraft carrier. Was it 1975 or 1976? Was it the destroyer escort (DEG) I was assigned to or the cruiser (CG) that was my next assignment?

I do recall it was a lovely day.

Following the carrier as it conducted flight operations; touch-and-go landings of various aircraft types, the pilots practicing that often precarious maneuver said by some to be more of a controlled crash than an actual landing.

Around one mile to the rear and slightly to the side of the “flat-top,” out of direct line of incoming landing aircraft yet close enough to rush over and attempt to assist any plane and pilot that, for whatever reason, landed in the ocean vice the deck of that immense ship.

Standing on the “flying bridge,” directly atop the enclosed bridge where various crew members manned their positions… the “eyes” of the ship. No “roof” on the flying bridge, just a metal shield to fend off some of the spraying water when rough seas were encountered. A perfect place to observe and experience the outside weather and watch whatever was going on outside the ship.

Standing there with a fellow sailor whose name is lost to me we watched the flight ops, impressed with the raw brutal power as the fighters touched the deck then apply the afterburners to attain escape velocity and soar into the sky to repeat the touch-and-go landing. Vrooom!!!!!

Several jets were involved, circling afar as they took their turns. One of the aircraft approaching on its run had an odd sound coming from it. Turning to our rear to look, we noticed some smoke coming from an engine. Suddenly, the smoke increased and the fighter lost altitude. Within seconds it smashed into the ocean with a huge plume of spray.

Immediatly the ship’s alarms wailed and the broadcasted voice shouted out the ingrained orders. Away the at-sea rescue teams. Away the motor-whale boat detail. Prepare for helo launch, ready the swim team, corpsman to the focsle’, all the various orders for evolutions done to assist the downed craft.

From above we could see the crewmen rushing to their posts, preparing to assist the downed craft. We felt and heard the ship’s engine throttles being opened wide as the ship’s screw dug into the sea.

In what was at most a minute or so we felt the shudder as the ship’s engines were reversed to slow us. The captain or whoever was present giving orders on the bridge timed the slowing well as we slid to a stop alongside the impact point.

All of the above I remember very well. After that, I am not as sure. For some reason, my memory is not as clear.

I believe I recall seeing that aircraft below the water’s surface. I think I remember seeing the ship’s rescue swimmer starting to jump overboard but being forcefully held back by a higher-ranking person present.

I recall yet have doubts as to how adequate my memory is and I wish I knew why. What is it that creating doubts as to the accuracy of my memory at this point?

Looking down from my viewpoint around 30 feet above the ocean’s surface, down at that underwater aircraft a mere few feet away from our ship, I saw a white helmet in the cockpit, unmoving, the pilot bent slightly forward. Motionless, visible for a brief few seconds as the aircraft quickly sank into the depths until hidden from view. The last thing visible was that shiny white helmet.

I do not remember hearing anyone talk of the event. My fellow observer and I said nothing. We looked at each other briefly then walked off, never mentioning the event afterwards.

Later, in other parts of the ship, at meal time and during watch standing I heard no talk of the event. Certainly the word got around the ship after the incident since many crew were not present to watch the events unfold but I wasn’t present when those informed heard from others of what happened.

In a small ship information is passed quickly. Likely, within a few minutes everyone had heard of what had happened.

When I left my viewing spot I went below-decks to perform maintenance on equipment, alone and isolated. A couple hours later was chow time where I was surprised to hear no one talking of that affair on the crowded mess deck. I felt no compulsion to bring it up and apparently no one else did, either.

Maybe that’s why my memory is not as vivid regarding that helmet I saw below the surface, quickly disappearing forever into the dark depths. Well, I believe I saw it but a small lingering doubt remains. Was it a false memory of the type I have read about? If so, why is it there? If a real memory, why is that little doubt within my mind?

Memory sure is a strange thing.

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