By: Ed Creamer
By the time the end of February rolled around, I think most of us were ready for a break. At that time we rotated with the helicopter squadron aboard the USS Valley Forge and headed out to sea.
Let’s not confuse the Happy Valley with a full-blown aircraft carrier. It wasn’t. It was one of the older converted jeep carriers made into a Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH). But, when you’ve lived in dirt and mud long enough, it became the next best thing to being home without having the McCall sisters being there. You were able to get hot showers, as long as all the boilers were working. As well as clean clothes, as long as you got your own back from the ships laundry and honest to God real hamburgers and fries.
It was off to the Philippines to meld the new deployed forces on board with the naval units. Now that was the official reason we headed there. The other was we’d heard rumors the clubs aboard the Naval base there had some old, cold liquid refreshments they needed to dispose of. Thankfully, we got there before other elements of the task force arrived in port. Not that we wouldn’t have shared mind you. After we’d attempted to deplete the supplies there that is.
Once back at sea we sailed down the coast of South Vietnam until our ship wasn’t far down the Soy Rap River from Saigon. There, a couple of Marine advisors to the Vietnamese Marines came aboard to provide briefings about a forthcoming operation. When the advisors were flown back to their camp, two of us went with them. I’d like to say we suffered badly by having to leave the ship. You see, I’d like to but can’t.
That night the advisors told us they were taking us to dinner and to leave our weapons in our quarters when we went. Since remembered reading about how the Viet Cong use to ride by places like that on their motorbikes and throw hand grenades in them before desert was served, left me with an uncomfortable feeling. After being assured, kind of, that the area of Vung Tao was neutral zone for all combatants, we went to a little outdoor restaurant on the South China Sea. Vung Tao was considered to be the French Riviera of Indo China. We dined on fresh lobster and watched the bikinis on the beach while wondering what the poor people back home were doing. Sometimes, it’s tough writing the folks back home about how hard we had it.
The operation started the next morning with all of us being helo lifted into a landing zone and the troops dispersed. The two of us acting as Load Masters rode back to the ship on the last helo and didn’t return until it was time to extract them. During the operation one of our pilots having an engine failure over water and setting it down without any injuries or loss of life. After he was retrieved he declined the opportunity to give classes on how to egress an aircraft while under water.
It was at this point in the operation I was taught a lesson I’ll not forget. Did you know low land located next to an ocean or Sea experiences something called “hi tide”? This was something they never taught in school in Memphis. Needless to say when we were extracted with the last elements it was a very wet lesson.
When it was over, we left the Vietnamese Marines and their advisors there and headed back to the Philippines. Someone had heard a rumor there was still some liquid refreshments there. However, before we actually got back there, it seems higher headquarters had heard there was a war going on and they needed us. Only this time, no lobsters were served.