I first stepped off the big Boeing 707 in front of the passenger terminal at Tan Son Nhut AFB, and was immediately assaulted by the extreme humidity and glaring sun ! Even the light weight 1505 shade of light Air Force uniform became sweaty and limp in the humid atmosphere there.
I vaguely recall going through some processing and was driven with others to the barracks area at the end of Charlie row known as the Martins Manor, where I found a bunk in Houch #896 across the ditch behind the base morgue, and next to the road separating us from the end of Charlie row, which was the parking area for the K model C-123’s and Spray equipped defoliant C-123 spraying aircraft (Ranch Hands).
The houches were an interesting open framed structure with wooden angular slats over screen to allow air to pass through the houch while fending of the incessant rain showers that assailed us daily. Inside were metal racks (bunks) with thin mattresses surrounded by a mosquito netting and wall lockers for our personal gear and uniforms.
My first, shy kid (20), embarrassing un-initiated, going to the latrine experience came shortly after arrival at my houch and the need to relieve myself……I walked into the latrine house next door to the houch and sat on the can (Toilet to the uninitiated)…..then in walks Momma Son, and her three kids carrying laundry to the laundry area at the rear of the open toileted, open showered latrine shower complex!!! No modesty required here !!!
She just smiled, and the kids all giggled, as they walked by !! Getting up the nerve to shower was a whole different experience….no shower curtains, no shower enclosures, only shower spigots, valves , and a soap tray ! That’s it! SO at least for awhile after working all night I would rush to the houch to get an early shower before Momma Son and crew arrived for their daily routine of doing our laundry and starching and pressing our uniforms, with rice starch. Eventually showers were no big thing, and a family affair with, kids running around and giggling comments in Vietnamese….absolutely amazing what you can get use to under trying conditions!
Momma Son was the wife of one of our Allied Air Forces RVN Airmen assigned to the Dusty Squadron (A1E’s) . Momma Son provided us with clean bunks, clean uniforms, clean houches, cold iced beer, and soda each day; in return of course we took good care of her financially for all her families efforts……..The little kids were so funny and very well disciplined. Occasionally in the evenings when we were off duty, her husband would come by and talk about his days activities; very cool for us ground pounder airmen, always wanting to know what was going on.
On of the first guys I met and became fast friends with was Jerome McGuire from Arizona. He was a tall slender guy, with a great sense of humor and had the life’s goal of becoming an mortician !!! He was a hoot and we spent lots of hours entertaining one another, and talking about home and our aspirations for our futures after war. After all what else do you do at 20 years of age in a strange dangerous country, when you have no place to go……and only work to look forward to. Even more odd, our barracks was right behind the Morgue, so when in town and not on mobility we could observe the Aluminum caskets behind the morgue. As air freight folks we unloaded the incoming boxes and then loaded out our brothers on their sad journey’s home to loved ones, daily .
Fortunately for me, I was assigned to the night shift at the line loading operation on the Cargo ramp, loading and unloading cargo of all manner shape and size for the war effort.
It was cooler at night, and it sometimes afforded rest periods between aircraft movements where we would recline in the air conditioned line loading shack, or outside on top of rice laden pallets covered in plastic to recover from fast turn around aircraft loadings, or down loadings.
Work was 6 days a week unless there was a push on somewhere up or down country. On our day off we went into Saigon or just lounged around the base and drank beer, listened to music, wrote letters and smoked cigarettes to pass the time.