I served in the United States Air Force from 1968 to 1972. I served in Vietnam from January 1970 to January 1971. I entered Vietnam as an Airman First Class (E-3) and left as a Staff Sergeant (E-5). I was stationed at Phu Cat Airbase in Binh Dinh Province in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, in what was designated as the 2 Corps military region. I was assigned to supply; my duties included warehouse work, running materials to and from other military facilities in the area, and occasionally flying as a crew member on C-130 or C-47 aircraft, humping cargo.
The village of Phu Cat sat on the southern end of the air base, the rest of the base being surrounded by dense field or vegetation. The volatile province of Binh Dinh, Vietnam was never pacified and accounted for the fifth highest casualty rate for U.S. troops during the war, with upwards of seventy percent of the population estimated to be Viet Cong or Viet Cong sympathizers. The hootches we were quartered in consisted of half screen and half one inch plank structures. Each hootch at Phu Cat was surrounded by a 4 foot high, three foot thick sand bunker offering a degree of protection from shrapnel, incoming mortars, rockets and small arms fire.
At night our perimeter would come alive with small arms fire, mortar detonations and air to ground fire raging from sundown till sunup. Our hootch was very close to the perimeter and as a result we were in close proximity to much of the night time action. When not on duty, one of our favorite activities was to sit on the sand bunkers, drinking, smoking and watching the evening fireworks. We would rate the action by intensity and shout and cheer at particularly heavy action. Occasionally when the fighting was too intense or got too close we would be forced to retreat behind the bunkers.
On one particular evening the fighting was as crazy as we ever saw it. A firefight raged up and down the perimeter like a snake, and lasted for hours. Spooky and Puff gunships joined in, raining fire down from the sky as the fighting intensified.
One crazy guy who hung with us, a zany character from New England named McCormick often joined us during these shows. “Mac” was a tall, lanky good natured dude. He was always joking around, had a keen wit and a great fondness for Gin and tonics. In Vietnam, we would often get shipments of alcohol of one kind or another by lot. For about four months while I was there, we got mostly gin, so naturally that’s what we drank. We made our own tonic using quinine from the dispensary and white soda which we traded for. Mac was by far the leading consumer of our gin and tonics, notable for having drank thirty two on one particular evening alone.
On this particular night, Mac sat with us, drinking our gin and tonics, and watching the fighting rage on. Finally, the battle became too intense, forcing us to retreat behind the bunkers into the hootch. Undaunted by the intensity of the violence, Mac dragged out a speaker from a stereo in the hootch. He placed the speaker on top of the sand bunker, put a tape on the reel to reel inside the hootch, and turned the volume up full. Soon, amidst the explosions, shooting and yelling “The Age of Aquarius” by The 5th Dimension blasted from the lone speaker sitting on the bunker.
It was a wild, surreal scene as we all laughed, yelled and sang along with the peace anthem favorite, as the violence raged on.
And although I was to witness many unfortunate events in Vietnam, that event, though not tragic, was one of the most memorable for me. To this day, I can still see Mac, hunkered down behind the bunker, gin and tonic in hand, flashing his patented evil grin.