January 1966 found me assigned to the newly formed 34th General Support Group (AM&S). I had been working in the S4, !st Brigade, at Phan Thiet and now was assigned to the Group S4 as a special project officer.
As I stood at Tan Son Nhut waiting for a ride to USARV headquarters, you got the feeling that things could blow up at any time. My first trip to the "Pearl of the Orient," also the site of a recent coup d'etat, had a rather martial appearance with concetina wire, armed guards and manned vehicles for welcome mats.
For as far as the eye could see, Saigon was a one-story city. Life surged in the streets and alleys; on the canals and, at least once before, I had heared it referred to as one of the most crowded cities on the globe with an estimated 2,000,000 people within its' 20 square miles--one of New York states finest compared it to Manhattan.
My first night in Saigon, I treated myself to a night at the Caravelle Hotel. Eating foods I had not seen since leaving the states seven month earlier. From the roof, I could see a tanker burning down river. North, planes dropped flares on the Viet Cong; mortars were working to the west. Down the street people went about their business on Tu Do as if nothing else was happening. At 27, no other place I had been stationed excited me so incessantly with feelings so strong and so strongly mixed.
The next day I took a trip across the Saigon River on a new bridge and highway headed to Bien Hoa--both monuments to American aid, dispensed to Viet Nam by the United States Operations Mission (USOM). There was a new housing development at Saigon University; new power lines, built by Japanese engineers as part of World War II reparations, and a sea of sheet metal huts, wood scraps and cardboard were apparent everywhere you looked.
By the time I wore out my stay in the guest rooms behind the 34th General Support Group, I had explored all of the officer quarters--which were frequently bombed--and rented a bed from a Vietnames lieutenant whose family lived a block from the river. Cholon had a commissary and other facilities--Headquarters Support Activity, Saigon, formerly a cigarette factory--housed and fed the thousands of Americans assigned to the Military Assistance Command Vietnam, and not close enough to live.
I spent a lot of time at the Port of Saigon looking for various high priority projects destined for aviation units. Amazing how valuable my experience moving cargo with the 101st became looking at ships cargo manifests and arranging stevedore support.
During my stay I completed an aircraft engine project and then became the Group Motor Maintenance Officer. We got lots of support and as equipment arrived, I learned the frustrations of operating a fleet operation--all of the officers demanded a vehicle which never seemed to get returned to the motor pool; it was my responsibility to insure that the equipment passed the various command inspections.
With the dedication of some of the finest non commissioned officers in the Armed Forces, the task was both exciting and productive for a time later in my career when I would operate the Pentagon and its' transportation services in the National Capital Region.