My first experience in Vietnam was to have a clerk tell me he may as well just process me out now as I was going to the Mekong Delta and would be dead in a week. My second was to board a C-123 cargo plane for the trip south — which I shared with goats, water buffalo, pigs, and some old Vietnamese women eating a pungent-smelling local delicacy called ‘Kimchi’.
The base was named Binh Thuy and was fresh from a devastating attack the week before. The mess hall was destroyed and morale was abysmal. The area was so dangerous that nearly 500 security personnel guarded just forty technicians and planes.
One night the sirens sounded and everyone was ordered to gather at the main squadron area with their weapons. We were informed our base was surrounded by Viet Cong and was in danger of being overrun.
I wasn’t too worried; I was in the Air Force. We would be okay as long as the rest of the country wasn’t under attack as well, like during the Tet Offensive. Then someone mentioned tomorrow was the Tet holiday.
Now I was worried. I found myself with another technician named Budenski and a few security guys waiting at the command post for orders. A Captain finally came out and announced he was looking for volunteers for an important job. By then I was ready for anything just out of sheer boredom. The Captain acknowledged me and when no one else piped up he grabbed Budenski and two security guys.
“Okay, you guys are my team. I have a very important mission. You are to take the band downtown and drop them at their hotel,” the Captain ordered.
“The band?” one of the security guys asked incredulously.
“Yeah, the Philippine band from the NCO club. We need to get them off base before something happens. We can’t have them get killed and cause an international incident.”
“Oh come on, Captain. You gotta be kidding.”
“No Sergeant, I’m not. I want you and Murphy and these two guys to take the band downtown before the situation gets out of hand. Now!”
The security guys looked at each other, obviously not too pleased about what madness was being fostered on them. “What do you want us to take? Can we at least use an APC?” One asked.
“We can’t spare any Armored Personnel Carriers. You’ll have to use a truck and a jeep.”
We followed the security guys in back of the command post and mounted up. Budenski climbed in the cab of the huge two-and-a-half-ton 4X4 military truck. He was the only one experienced in driving one. I was to ride in the back, in the open bed. The security guys got in a jeep with a 50 caliber machine gun mounted in back.
We drove over to the NCO club and picked up the band which I had just seen perform the night before. There was a female singer, three musicians and four stagehands. They barely spoke a word of English. They took their sweet time loading up too.
Finally everyone was on board and we were off, with the jeep leading the way. Although the lead singer was pretty attractive, I wasn’t paying much attention. They seemed to think this was great fun and were laughing and chattering. I gripped my M-16, straightened my flak vest and held onto my helmet and wondered how much they knew about the grim situation.
Neither Budenski nor I knew the way downtown so we had to follow the jeep. The jeep led us down side streets and soon we were at the rear of a hotel. I dropped the rear gate and began helping the Filipinos climb down. It was a long drop for small people. The girl was last and she gave me a huge smile when I grabbed her around the waist and lifted her to the ground. I’m pretty sure we could have partied with them all night, but I climbed in next to Budenski for the return trip.
We started down the alley and felt pretty good it was over. The jeep was behind us since the alley was too narrow for them to get back in front. As the big rig picked up speed all hell broke loose.
It had just turned midnight and the Tet holiday was officially on. Firecrackers and fireworks started going off all around. As we got to an intersection we could see men standing on street corners with rifles, which they promptly began firing into the air.
I was thinking if I was killed right now it would look pretty stupid on my epitaph: “Killed in the Line of Duty While Escorting a Rock and Roll Band”.
Budenski gunned the truck and roared through the intersection and down the next alley. Guns were going off everywhere now and I could see flashes from the buildings surrounding us. Not sure if they were firecrackers or shots I held my breath.
We were doing about 50 mph and I was almost as scared we were going to crash as getting shot. Suddenly a loud metallic sound occurred on my right and I smelled hot metal as a bullet went through the truck.
The bullet entered through my door, went across both our laps and out the other side. Budenski gave me this wild look and screamed, “Shoot!”
The whole truck shook violently as he dropped down a gear and floored it. I pointed my M-16 out the window and let loose on full automatic. As we roared between the buildings, flashes lit up the sky and I could hear glass shattering as my bullets strafed the upper balconies and windows.
When we got back to base, it was still thankfully intact and secure. The Captain came out as we were examining the abused truck. Everyone marveled at all the bullet holes; we must have taken a dozen hits — without a scratch on any of us.
Ed Morawski is a vetern of the U.S. Air Force and served in various locals including Vietnam. He presently resides in Southern California and is an expert in electronic security systems.