56. Lessons I Learned In Vietnam by Barry Spencer

After being at Phu Hiep only a couple of days, some of the "old timers" or "short timers" approached me and told me one of the things they did for the new guys arriving in-country was to take them down to the village and treat them to some fun. So, being 19 years old and away from home for the first time and me wanting to be one of the guys and fit in I said sure. I was all for it. Well, on second thought, let's just say that Lesson One was a very valuable lesson in being wary of gifts from "old timers".


I think I had been in Phu Hiep less than 2 weeks and we were on red alert. I was assigned to be a roving guard around the helicopters. It was very dark and very rainy. We started taking some mortar rounds in the compound and I immediately went face down in a puddle of water. I was certain my life would end that night. One of the rounds did hit fairly close to me but no damage was done. I stayed face down in the water until I heard a jeep come up next to me and a deep voice said "son, get the hell up out of that water before you drown". I think it was the Battalion Sergeant Major or some other senior enlisted guy. He said get the hell over there in that bunker and don't come out until someone tells you to. I started running as fast as I could toward the bunker and dove into the front entrance and almost broke my neck. Valuable Lesson Number Two learned.


Late in November 1968, I was sent up to An Khe to provide armament support. Do you remember where the showers and shitters were located out back of the compound? Located not too far from them was what I remember to be a clubhouse. I think it belonged to the 173rd and it may have been their O Club. Anyway, me and another guy was assigned to the shit burning detail and he came up with this bright idea that we could push aerosol cans down in the crap and when we lit the JP4 on top it would get hot enough to explode the aerosol cans. This would blow the crap away and it wouldn't take as long. I was game. We rounded up all the aerosol cans we could find and proceeded to try out his brilliant plan. Well it worked just like he said except when the crap exploded some of it traveled over and stuck on the side of the Officers Club, or whatever it was. We hi-tailed it out of there and hoped no one saw what happened. No such luck. Shortly afterwards, someone came over to our compound and explained what had happened to the duty officer. It wasn't long before we were over there scrubbing the turds off the O Club. Lesson Number Three-Be careful where you blow shit!


After being in-country about 4 or 5 months I decided it was time for R & R. I tried to get Australia or Hawaii but was told those spots were reserved for the more senior guys and if I would wait longer I could get one of them. No way, as I saw it I was a hardened war veteran by then, even though I still didn't have to shave. I was ready for R & R for sure. I asked them what was available and was told that there were spots for the Philippines and Tai Pai, Taiwan. I picked Tai Pai. I think I was able to come up with about $200 dollars for the trip. I was thinking if fun was as cheap in Tai Pai as it was in Nam then I would be able to really enjoy myself.


Someone who had taken R & R in Tai Pai told me you could get really good suits made real cheap. When I arrived in Tai Pai one of the first things, not the first thing, but one of the first things I did was find a tailor and negotiate a suit of clothes. I don't remember the price but it did seem cheap. He had me pay for the suit up front and indicated I could pick it up the day before I was to leave Tai Pai. I don't recall exactly but think my R & R was 5 or 6 days long. However, about the third day I ran out of money. I mean completely out of money. I didn't even have money for food. I couldn't find another GI on R & R that would lend me any money so the only thing I could think of was to go back to the tailor and try and get my money back. I went back to him and explained my dilemma and he made me an offer I couldn't refuse. I think he gave me back about 1/5 the price I paid for the suit but at the time it was acceptable and at least I was able to buy some food until I left. The fun was over though. I think the tailor had pulled the same thing before since he wouldn't let me see how much he had done on the suit.Valuable lesson learned in Tai Pai.


On a more serious note. My time in Nam was up in November 1969 but I knew if I rotated then I might not be on leave during the Christmas holidays. I was being sent back to Hunter Army Airfield to finish my military commitment. So to assure that I would be on leave during Christmas I extended my rotation date for 30 days. Me being the bright guy I was, I approached Top and told him I didn't want to fly anymore since I didn't want to get killed after finishing up my normal time. The Top said ok that suited him since he had a special job that needed attention and I could take charge of it. We had guard towers and bunkers that were in need of repair so he put me in charge of a crew fixing up the towers and bunkers.


One day we were going to repair a tower, I think it was the same tower mentioned in the historical record where the VC tried coming through. It was in the same area. We gathered up our materials and took them out to the tower and unloaded them. Since it was lunchtime I took the crew back in to eat prior to working on the tower. After lunch we headed back out to the tower and as soon as we approach it I could see that the supplies we had left were gone.


Without thinking I jumped out of the truck and ran down to the area where we had left the material. I was very lucky or the "BIG GUY" was looking out for me that day. I happened to look down and noticed the top of a land mine sticking out of the sand. I immediately knew what had happened. The VC had come through the fence, picking up our mines on the way in and took the supplies. Then they put our own mines in the same area we had left the material thinking someone would run into that area, which I did, and maybe one or more of us would get it. Anyway, I warned the others not to come down to where I was and for someone to go back and get help. For the next couple hours I stood in that spot while some pathfinders or grunts were rounded up and came to dig me out of the mined area.


AM Def Ser Cam

Last modified: Monday June 27th, 2022