"Stories from 1971 Phu Lamers"

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John Hunczak John Kimbell Jim Henderson
Jerry Hoover Joe Stilchen Yukio Otsuka
Ernest "Gene" Purdy Gary Parker Carl Bimbo
Robert Walker Leon Towns Donald Plisco
John Behan N/A N/A

1. JOHN HUNCZAK 5/71 to 4/72

I had the rare treat of going through nearly two years together with two guys; Wayne Fox from Milford, Michigan, and Chuck Martin from Mineola, New York. We went through 42 weeks of AIT at Ft. Monmouth (29 weeks of 32E20, and 13 weeks of ADMS/H4), made Spec/4, and were sent to Phu Lam together. Chuck and I kept in touch until about '77 or '78. I haven't heard from either of them in nearly 20 years. A Spec/7 computer programmer at Phu Lam, Bob Pester, got out after 9 years at the same time I did and I lived with him and his family in Minneapolis for a while. I drifted and he went back in. Bob retired after 20 years and lives in Arkansas with his wife of 34 years, Marilyn. We've kept in touch. Skip Phillips from Chattanooga, Tenn. played guitar and had a band back home. Anyone ever heard him play? Skip was in Tech Control at the switch.

Before we were allowed to work at "the switch" in Phu Lam, our security clearances had to catch up with us. For three weeks we pulled guard duty over some scramblers for AUTOSEVOCOM (Automatic Secure Voice Communications) out of the MACV annex at Ton Son Nhut. Two of the places we guarded were in the basement of the Presidential Palace, and in the basement of the American Embassy. Not too glamorous. We went in the back door of both places, went into the basement, got locked in a room for 12 hours, then went back to Ton Son Nhut. Boring.

I was at Phu Lam from about mid-June '71 to 19 April '72. That was later than most of the other vets who have written. The G.I. population dropped while I was there from about 600 to 300 or so. Guard duty got grueling. Same perimeter to cover with fewer guys. We were all part of the perimeter guard. Two on, four off, for 24 hours. The guard towers were branded into my memory. I took lots of pictures from those towers, mostly black and white I developed myself at the do-it-yourself lab at Phu Lam. Did some experimenting with focus and f-stop. I've got my boots and M-16 in and out of focus with the village in the background.

I remember the 12 hour shifts in the switch. Sometimes I would come out for the 12:00 o'clock meal and forget whether it was day or night. I would prepare myself for the blinding light and tropical heat and get struck in the face with that beautiful, humid tropical midnight air! The mama sans were getting worried about jobs as our numbers decreased. "G.I. never go! G.I. stay forever!" they would say. That was an example of where geopolitics and local currency didn't jive.

I remember some things none of the other guys mentioned. Maybe I shouldn't. Magic Fingers in Gia Dinh outside of Ton Son Nhut. The drugs. I regret my memory is clouded by a lot of partying. I remember the army trying to get us to quit drugs by selling us beer for $2.00 a case. That sounds cheaper than it was earlier according to some of these stories. Cigarettes were 1 or 2 dollars a carton. Must have been $2. I wasn't a heavy smoker and took most of my ciggs down town. I remember the girls at the bars were cuter but expensive, and I never figured out how to make them do it! The girls in the parlors were happy to work for money that I can hardly believe now. We were rationed to three cartons, three cases of beer, three bottles of booze. I drank most of that and went to the EM club.

I remember lots of parties in the barracks, the mess hall, watching the ARVN's dumping tons of sugar into their milk. Roast beef that chewed like road kill. I promised myself I would never eat roast beef again when I got out. One of my first meals back home was at my sister-in-law's. It was roast beef! But it was so good I had to wonder what the hell I had been eating for two years? Guard duty; I made supernumerary once. About midnight some guy O.D'd on heroin and I pulled guard the rest of the 24 hour shift. I got shot at three times on guard duty. Always at night, from outside the perimeter. Other guys did, too. Just harassment from somebody. ARVN, drunks, maybe VC. Nobody ever got hit.

The thing I remember most about the EM club are the BLT sandwiches. They were pretty good. Better than the hamburgers. It's a lot harder to push mystery meat when it's supposed to look like bacon! To this day, when I eat a BLT I think of the EM club at Phu Lam.
We arrived at Bien Hoa and went to AUTOSEVOCOM Company, MACV annex, Tan Son Nhut. We pulled guard every day/night (12 on, 12 off if I remember right; might have been 8 hour shifts). We were waiting for out security clearances to catch up to us from Ft. Monmouth. We guarded little safes that contained encoders for AUTOmatic SEcure VOice Communications (scrambled phones). Every so often some Air Force sergeant would show up, I'd turn around for a couple minutes, he did something to the safe/machine, and he'd leave. There were three places we covered. The American Embassy, President Thieu's Palace, and a little French block building in the middle of nowhere that was an ARVN communications site. When I tell people I guarded this box in the basement of the American Embassy, they look at me like I'm crazy. When I saw the helicopters on the roof in April 1975 I got a shock. Chuck, Wayne, and I did this for about two weeks or so, then one day we packed up and went to Phu Lam together.

We got to Phu Lam about 15 June, 1971. The place was built to house and employ about 900 to a thousand guys we were told. June 1971 there were about 600 guys still there. By the time I left 19 April, 1972 there were about 250 guys left. It was getting to be a strain on everyone. We still had to run and maintain the "Switch", UPS, and all the other things that had to run for Phu Lam to keep those digital messages flowing back and forth. We pulled our own guard in the towers, and during the Tet Holiday 1972 we did our own KP and pulled double guard, two guys in each tower during the night. At the same time we pulled our full 12-on 12-off shifts at the Switch. Guys were getting grumpy and jumpy. A few of them had their supplies of "skag" cut off and you could tell who was hooked.

When we got there most of the barracks were still open with guys sleeping in double bunks with mosquito netting. During the 10 months I was there we were allowed to have Papa San carpenters build plywood rooms in the barracks. On the second floor we either had mosquito netting for a ceiling or solid plywood ceilings on each room. That made it stuffy. At first we had two guys to a room. By April 1972 we had mostly one person to a room as we were getting pretty scarce on people. My time at Phu Lam was one of steadily diminishing numbers of GI's.

I distinctly remember this causing some economic hardship on the girls. With fewer and fewer GI's every day their incomes dropped as inflation was racing our of control. When I got there it was about 150 or 180 Piaster to a dollar; by April 1972 it was about 400 or so. That was more than 100% inflation in 10 months. The maids were asking for more money all the time. In the bars the girls were turning desperate. They were trapped between inflation and market pressures. They needed more money just to stay even; There were fewer GI's. Some guys would strike bargains, but sometimes it just got ugly.

In the Switch (I understand some of you guys called it "the Autodin". I don't remember hearing that.) the numbers of guys dwindled. Some work was allowed to slide. Modems and other equipment were allowed to go into disrepair if it wasn't essential. Parts were hard to get. I do not remember any talk specifically about Phu Lam closing any time soon, but for all extents and purposes it was being allowed to just deteriorate. There was a lot of "Vietnamization" going on in other parts of the country. At Phu Lam ARVN soldiers were taking more duties with the transmission equipment, but I never saw a single ARVN in the Switch, ever. I don't know, but I suspect it was not intended to turn the thing over to the South Viet Namese. It required too much access to secure information to run it. I suspect we did not trust them. The Ford Philco computer and other equipment was not a security issue, but I suspect Crypto was, and some of the actual messages were.

Some of my last memories were of a small handful of guys where there had been hundreds. It was like a party winding down. The party was not just over and every one went home. It was more like, as fewer guys came to replace us, they were the ones who were late to the party and had missed a lot of the fun. It was just becoming kind of a grind. Does that sound kind of weird? Phu Lam was really sort of a party atmosphere at times, but in the end, by April 1972 it was almost depressing. Still, I remember some really good times, lots of parties, cheap beer and cigs, lots of great friends most of whose names I forget. The girls were sure fun to be with most of the time, but I never related to them. In the end there was a shrill atmosphere with the girls. "GI never go home! NEVER! GI stay Vietnam fo-EV-a!" I heard that sometimes from the girls almost as a desperate plea. Going into Gia Dinh (outside Tan Son Nhut) you could really see the effects of declining numbers of GI's. In 1971 the place was like a carnival. In 1972 it was quiet and tense.
To John Kimbell
This is really something! I was upstairs in the same barracks as you. I'm trying to remember what you looked like after 27 years. Lady was our dog, a reddish-yellow collie type dog with a real sweet disposition. There was also a scrawny, wiry dog named Fear. Nha and Ahn were our house girls, too. Nha was single, skinny, and sassy. Ahn was quieter, married to an ARVN officer if I remember.

I remember an 18 year old Cherokee kid from Oklahoma who worked on the UPS batteries. I remember Colonel Otsuka well. He caught me seriously out of uniform and trying to avoid him once while trying to get to the switch. He wrote me up for boots, hair, hat, and failing to salute, but nothing ever came of it. We had a change of company commander during 1971. We got a new black captain who was a pretty good guy if I remember. He was also my Security Officer. Do you remember his name, John?

Do you remember a Spec-7 Bob Pester? After nine years in the Army, Bob got out about the same time as I did and I lived with him and his family in Minneapolis for a while. Bob went back in and finished the next 11 years and retired. He and his wife live in Arkansas. He had a friend I got to know better in Minneapolis. Sgt. E-6 Joe Bell. Joe went to work for Northwest Bell in Mpls.

I remember a big guy from Eureka, California we all called "Beaner". I can't remember his real name, and I remember he didn't really like being called that. Beaner was one of the nicest people at Phu Lam.

I also remember a couple of really cool guys from California whose names I can't remember. They worked in the parts supply room with a skinny warrant officer. These two had a room in the corner of the barracks on the top floor on the west end. One of my best friends, Wayne Fox, hung around with them more than I did. Wayne was from Milford, Michigan. I can't find him. His real name was Charles Wayne Fox.

Downstairs was more of a party atmosphere. There were three rooms of guys who pushed their bunks into two rooms and made the middle a wild party room, painted flat black, loaded with black lights and posters. Do you remember them? One was Skip Phillips from Chattanooga; "Squirrel" and some others I can't remember. I don't remember the black guys as well, but there was a Spec-5 upstairs from Michigan who was sharp and whose dad worked for General Motors.

Remember the piss tests in the morning? Maybe you had left by that time. I made "supernumerary" once, but pulled guard anyway because some guy OD'd on heroin. I remember a lot about guard duty. Took lots of pictures and developed them in the EM photo lab.
Yes, I think Cpt. Lawrence Hinkle sounds familiar. That was our Company commander. Skinny black guy, spit and polish. Seemed kind of young. He was our Security Officer, too. Once he was interviewing me for a security clearance review and I got off on some weird tangent about how Phu Lam was part of the Army's world wide network for the launching of nukes and how awesome this all was, and he just looked at me like I was from the dark side of the moon. About this time I realized I was stoned and had probably said too much. He said something like, "Well, yes, I think you'll do just fine" and let it go. I remember a Sgt Borden just a little, and I slightly remember a Sincerbox, not well. Yes the guy I was thinking of was Joe Alexander. An intellectual, almost totally cut off from most of the other soul brothers. I remember enjoying talking with Joe. He was different, though.

Yes, Spec 7 Bob Pester was a programmer. Went to work for what is now the First Bank system writing programs to let you bank 24 hours a day from any cash register in the country.

One of the most powerful memories I have of Nam is how GREEN is all was. It SMELLED green. John, if you ever have a chance to go into a greenhouse in the middle of the winter, see if it doesn't remind you of Nam.

The oriental LTC's name was Otsuka. Was the XO's name Tourtillot?

About September- October 1971 the piss-soaked sandbags were replaced with concrete walls at the tops of the towers.

I took lots of pictures. Developed the black and whites in the EM club. My kids think they're cool now. I remember cycolo rides. Remember trying to get a taxi? Sometimes the cycolo drivers got upset when we wanted a taxi and wouldn't ride in the open. I had a pair of sunglasses swiped right off my face in downtown Saigon. Two guys would ride a motor bike and the rider would grab cameras, anything he could get. Cycolo driver thought that was pretty funny. Another time a kid grabbed my Seiko and tried to rip it off my wrist at about 20 mph. The band held and he almost fell off the bike. I still have that watch and it's still bent at the watch-band connection. I remember that kid every time I put my watch on. 27 years later, I wonder what he's doing.

I bought a refrigerator at the Cho Lon PX because the Phu Lam PX didn't have any at the time. I carried it out in its box to the street and lugged it home on a cycolo. Between Cho Lon and Phu Lam I was propositioned at least 5 or 6 times. Could have doubled my money or more easy, but I wanted the fridge. When I got to the gate at Phu Lam I was really struggling with this big box. Some friendly 1st lieutenant helped me carry it all the way to the barracks. When I came home to the States I packed it up and mailed it home. I had that fridge for a long time after that.

Yes, there were lots of drugs and booze. I remember at the end of the movie "Good Morning Viet Nam!" Robin Williams says, "Do we have a drug problem in Viet Nam? No, we don't have a drug problem in Viet Nam. We can get all we want!" I never drank so much in my life before or since Nam. Rations were 3 bottles of liquor or wine, 3 cases of beer, 3 cartons of cigs a month. I drank most of that. Traded some booze and cigs on the black market for stuff that did not appear on the ration cards! A few pack of cigarettes went a long way in Gia Dihn.

Talk about guys falling for the girls. I knew a couple who did. Spec 4 Hyman from Texas or some place out west. Came from a ranching family. Real tall and skinny. Fell HARD for his girl. Got busted at least once, maybe twice. Hyman was trying to marry her. When his tour ended he wanted to stay in Nam until the paper work was handled. Can't remember what happened to her.

I remember beer was sold at the PX for $2 a case, whiskey for $2 to $4 a fifth. $4 for the Black Label Johnnie Walker and the cognac. $2 for the cheaper brands. The Army was supplying cheap booze to help keep us off drugs, I think. I acquired a taste for good liquor. The black market adjusted to keep up with the competition. Pot was traded at a kilo for three cases of beer. That made pot less than $3 a pound. Hard for a 18 or 19 year old kid with lots of money and low morale to resist. That's not an excuse or an apology, just a memory. I remember lines being drawn along the "booze/dope" thing.

I remember the mess hall, and I have to say that of all the places all over the world that I have eaten at, the Phu Lam mess hall was certainly one of them! The food was o.k. most of the time. Breakfast was my favorite. It's hard to screw up an egg. Although I did have trouble getting the cooks to make my eggs sunny side up. They all wanted to break the eggs and cook them hard. I like dipping my toast in the yolks. One cook said, "Eating eggs like that is like eating slimy p---y!" You fill in the blanks. Remember "Mystery Meat"? They said it was roast beef.

I remember having some ARVN troops eating in our mess hall. Some of the younger ones sat there and ate like it was some exotic, foreign treat! (I realize to them it was like Chinese is to us..) The ARVN would pour sugar into the milk by the bucket and stir and stir until it was like syrup. I found out later this was because the only milk they had ever had was sweetened, condensed milk out of a can. I guess when you've had that, real milk seems a bit weak. I remember going to the mess hall at midnight for the "12 o'clock" meal. With the 24 hour schedule for guard and the signal site, a zero-hundred meal was tried for a while. Was it always like that? I can't remember if this was a regular thing or just an experiment.

How about coming out of the "switch" at "12 o'clock" and forgetting if it was 1200 hours or zero-hundred? Sometimes I would be so wrapped up in my modems and wires I would walk out the door expecting hot, blazing tropical noon and getting wafted with that sweet, humid tropical night air. Or walking out of the air conditioning, thinking it was going to be night and getting kicked in the face with that tropical sun!

Of all my memories of Phu Lam, guard sticks the most. Partly because there was so much of it, partly because I took so many pictures of it. I ask you guys who were there earlier, how often did you pull guard? Towards the end (April '72 for me) we were pulling guard about once a week or more, and not getting the slack from the switch schedule we had been used to. There were so few of us with the "Viet-Nam-ization" going on and so many going home. From June '71 to April '72 we went from about 600 or 700 guys to about 300 or 400. Lots of guard duty. Talking about the changes again, I remember Nha and Ahn, our house girls saying, "GI's not go home! Never go home! GI's stay fo-ev-ah!" They felt the changes in the pocket book. I bet it was hard on them. Of all the things I remember? The people, the girls, work, guard, the green colors and smells, but the people most. GI's and Viet Namese.
My first day at Phu Lam I spent almost the whole day in the pool and got a hellacious sun burn. Nah and Ahn (our house girls) smeared lotions on me for days so I wouldn't have to go to the first aid hut. Rumor was we could get an Article 15 if we missed duty time because of sun burn. During the time I was there (June '71 - April '72) the pool fell on hard times. It was either parts or materials, but they couldn't keep it clean. It got skunky for a while. I don't remember if itever got fixed. By that time I had discovered several girls in Saigon I preferred to spend time(and money) with.
I remember a guy in tech control named Stokes. He was about 5' 8" or 10", black, slim, Spec 4. I was there from May '71 to April '72, working mostly with modems. Stokes would have been there about the same time.
Jerry Hoover was in Crypto at about the same time. Jerry was my room mate in the barracks. I may be confusing two different guys, but was Dave Gentry also called "Country", red headed guy with a red complexion and a southern accent? He and I processed out through Bien Hoa and Oakland together.
TechControl were the guys who "patched" senders, recipients, and equipment together withtelephone operator like equipment. I worked with modems (short for modulator/demodulator). Modems were the things that let computers talk to each other via "Ma Bell". That is, they made the digital/audio conversions. They were the size of a bread box back then. Now they're the size of a bread crumb! The Control Center... well I'm not sure what they did. They claimed to be running the place, and they made grade faster than we did!

I do remember the card games. I was not then and am not now a gambler. But I did sit in on one game that I still do not understand. It was a "progressive" game where only part of the pot was won at each hand, with the remaining pot growing for several hands. Meanwhile the anty and bet limits grew with each hand. This kept losers in the game hoping to win back their losses with a growing kitty. This was too rich for me. The whole thing was orchestrated by a tall, sandy haired guy from Louisiana. I remember some guys were constantly broke a few days after pay day. Probably a connection there some where...

A very good friend of mine did some small time money marketing. He brought with him some U.S. greenbacks he took into town. The Papa-san played very nervous counting out his thick wad of Piastres. About the time the deal was to be closed he yelled, "White Mice! White Mice!" and shoved the wad into my friend's hand and ran away. My friend, also being wary of the mean little buggers, did not count his money until he was safely away. Only then did he realize he had a thick wad of One-, Five-, and Ten-Piastre bills worth a total of maybe a dollar or two!

The Switch…I remember the phosphorus bricks on top of many or all the cabinets. In case of being over run the last Officer out of the building was to go around pulling all the fuse pins so the equipment was to be melted into scrap. I often suspected that the Ford-Philco computer was getting to be generation-old technology by the time I left. That was April '72. I am pleased and satisfied for some reason that the thing was crated up and sent to a good home. I always cringed to think that the ARVN's had let it fall into the hands of the NVA in 1975. To know that was not lost to them is good.

Early December, 1971, some guys came to me and said, "Hey, Hunczak. You gotta go to mail call. There's a BIG box there for you!" So I picked up a big box from my folks. Inside was an artificial Christmas tree. They never said they were sending it so it was a surprise. Along with the tree were electric lights and ornaments. My Mom had knitted some hand-made ornaments, too. I set that tree up and guys would come into my hootch at all hours just to take a look for a few minutes at my tree. It really made Christmas seem for homey for me and a few of the other guys. Some time about January or ebruary I packed up my tree and mailed it back to myself. That next Christmas (1972) I set it up again in my apartment in Minneapolis, and I've set it up every Christmas since. This year I set up my little 4-foot tree for the 29th consecutive year. It has become a tradition in my home. Attached are some pictures of that tree in my hootch in Nam.

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2. JOHN KIMBELL 1/71 to 12/71

I was in the ADMS Company from 1/9/71 til 12/7/71. The friends I keep in touch with from Phu Lam are Ernest "Skip" Rysdyke, Dave Smith, Ralph "Rags" Dryden, and occasionally Lew Gill. Rags is a minister now, in Texas. Dave lived in Richardson, TX, for many years but now lives in Las Vegas. Skip lives outside of San Antonio. Gill lives in New England, I think in New Hampshire.

There was a Don Petit here how was there about the same time. I also knew someone who was there during Tet '68, about the same time as Bill, but I can't remember who it was.
Vietnamese Submarine Sandwiches: I don't know how to make them, but I sure remember them! I tried to eat one sober once, but didn't make it. Too greasy. I remember the cucumber slices in particular. They seemed to set the whole thing off, at least for me. It seems to me that there were 2 or 3 Mystery Meats as well. I heard years later that they do eat rat in Vietnam (not the only country by a long shot), and that it is heavily spiced like salami, and is greasy. That's exactly my memory of the one I ate when I was sober (not the dozens I ate while under the influence - I LOVED them!). I think I remember it so well because it was the only time that I happened to be sober and in Cholon at the same time. I have no idea of exactly why I would have been sober and in Cholon simultaneously. Can anyone think of a reason??
(via Phu Lam'er John Kimball)
From: Quach, Thanh
Sent: Monday, February 01, 1999 9:10 AM
To: Nguyen, Dinh
Subject: RE: Orphanage

It was the orphanage sponsored by the Catholic Church in Saigon. It was on a street (Old street name: Nguyen dinh Chieu) in third district. This orphanage was not in Cholon. I can show exactly the location of the orphanage if you have the Saigon city map. There were many mixed Vietnamese-American children raised in this orphanage. . Some of the Duc Anh orphanage administration officers are living in the state now. I knew one officer name Nguyen van Tin living in the state but I do not know his address.Thanh

Remember the underwear that kept showing up on the flag pole in the mornings? That was me, Skip, Smittie, Gill, Rags, and a couple others.

We must know some of the same people. How's about SGM James, SFC Borden (mess Sgt..), Col Otsuka or Tourtillot? Do you remember Lady the dog? What about the house girls? I was upstairs, and Nga and Ahn were our house girls. One named Wha was upstairs next door. I was good friends with Nga and Ahn, even sent them a package from the States. Hope they're OK.

I slept on the right hand side of the bay. Originally with Sincerbox and a SP/5 whose name started with am "M." Later, after Borden "recquisitioned" the lumber, I was in with a TRY maintenance guy named Morrow.

I was a SP/5 from Michigan, too, but the one you're thinking of was Joe Alexander. A big black guy whose dad was a big shot with GM. I think I remember Pester. A programmer? I remember the piss tests. I just got off a mid shift before the first one, and took a good healthy one before falling out. Didn't know what was going on. I was up til 1000, drinking coffee trying to do a repeat!

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3. JIM HENDERSON 1/71 to 12/71

I was there later than most of you guys. I got there in Jan 71 and left in Jan 72. I was an E-5 and worked in personnel. I was the guy who got the reassignment orders for the guys leaving. I got many a drink at the club for that!

I remember trip over. After a week at Ft. Lewis and another week at Cam Rahn and a trip from Cam Rahn to Ben Hoi on C123, I arrived at the 1st Signal Brigade replacement det. Then it was a ride to the Regional Communications Group where I waited most of a day for a ride to Phu Lam. I had about four years of service at that time, having completed a tour in Germany and a short stint at Fort Ord.

It was a time of drawdowns and tour curtailments and general chaos in from the perspective of a personnel sergeant. I remember that the TRY relay was closed down and the equipment shipped out. Then all of the 72B's who worked there were reassigned to Long Binh. I remember that they had to put guard on the bus that took them up there as nobody at Phu Lam wanted to go to Long Binh!

I remember standing in the guard tower and trying to keep that mamasans harvesting watercress from getting too close to the perimeter. It has been going on so long, that they knew nobody would shoot them so they basically ignored us.

Someone mentioned the cycolo rides to Cholon. I remember once three of us put talked three papasans into racing back to PhuLam for 1000 piasters, winner take all. It was a wild ride. I was almost sober when I got there! I don't remember who won. Another time, the cycolo broke down and papasan pulled out the ammo can he used for a tool box and disassembled the engine right there on the street while I was waiting. I was pretty nervous because it was getting close to curfew and I really felt vulnerable. He got it going in fairly short order and I made it back close enough to curfew that nobody made an issue of it.

I mentioned the Relay closing down. They moved personnel in that area. The air conditioning was set up for lots of heat and there wasn't any equipment to generate it. It was like a refrigerator in there! Another time on of the PA&E employees at the generator plant put a generator on line without doing something he should have and blew every breaker on the post. The AUTODIN was down for almost half an hour and the brass got pretty excited.

You guys will remember the CONEX containers that we used for bunkers. Well the word came down that they were needed for their original purpose. We had to dig them out and replace them with sandbags. Somebody found an old frag grenade that had been buried under one of the containers. The next day the Headquarters Company Commander (Captain Strickler, I think) put out the word that if anyone found another DON'T BRING IT TO ME! After being buried all those years, it could have been veeeery unstable.

I remember that drugs were everywhere. I used to say that the little vials the stuff came in was scattered like gravel outside the barracks. Then drug testing happened and within a month, it was gone. Because we had a lot of security positions, they did a unit screening on us as soon as the test was available.

The CO for most of my tour was an oriental LTC from Hawaii. The XO was a Major, blond and blue eyed. I remember that he was a fitness buff and that he used to run around and around the perimeter for what seemed like hours at a time.

Thinking about the CO reminded me of a Staff Sergeant in personnel who went downtown and fell in love. He then would regular stay out all night and come in late enough that he would get into trouble coming through the gate. The problem was that meant he didn't get to work until about 10 AM and the CWO in charge of personnel was not a happy man. He finally went up for a Field Grade Art 15. The old man read him his charges and told him to come back at 8:30 the following day for his punishment. He didn't show up until 10:30. Not the smartest thing I've ever seen. (I sure hope it was good!)
I remember the pool being closed for quite awhile. When they put it back into operation I spent some time there, but I remember that it was so heavily chlorinated that it irritated my eyes. Speaking of the Aid Station, there was a SP5 medic that was the NCOIC there, we got to be pretty good friends but for the life of me I can't remember his name. Can anybody help. (I was there Jan 71-Jan 72)

Thanks for the pics. I took lots of pictures until my camera was stolen. I'm sure it was the guy next to me in the barracks who was later busted for heroin.

I remember playing softball on the helipad--the only time I've played softball on an asphalt surface. It sure discouraged sliding into base!

I also remember building a screened patio out of scrounged materials. We worked on it whenever PA&E wasn't around because they had contracts for all construction projects. There were so many beer cans in the foundation that it was a miracle that it stood at all! I also remember going into a steam bath in Cholon but it was a regular steam bath meaning that you could ONLY get a steam bath. Geeze! It was embarrassing!

I worked in personnel. There was a SP4 Officer's records clerk who married one of the LN's working there. He went on an R&R but stayed in-country and visited her family. I never figured out how he pulled it off. Then there was Ko Hai who worked in personnel. She was very pretty and very religious (christian.) I often wondered how she fared in a socialist state.

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4. JERRY HOOVER May 71 to Apr 72

I served from May 1971 thru April 1972 in Crypto. I don't talk much about my service experience. After getting on the Freedom Bird and settling back down (after separation) I went to the U of M and graduated in mechanical engineering. Now I am working as a project engineer doing electrical and mechanical engineering in a small company.
Got to go.
Sincerely - Jerry Hoover

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5. JOE STILCHEN Jan'71 to Jan 72

I do remember a lot of really good times at Phu Lam. There was this kid that worked for me in the switch and again in Panama 77-80. His name was Frenchy (forgot his last) getting old. He had the record for the clap, 7 times. He use to run these lizard races and parachute lizard jumps for money.

In the barracks they would plug-in a live hot wire, with open ends. Put the lizard on the floor and zap the lizard with the hot wire. The first lizard to reach the end of the barracks, won. The poor bastard was almost dead by the end of the race.

Then they would run lizard parachute jumps outside. Stuffed a can with a gas soaked cloth. Tied a little parachute onto the lizard and put him in the can. Put a match to the can and the damn thing would explode and the lizard would fly into the air for 50 yards or more. The highest jump, won.

Being an NCO and Howdy talking about the card games, really brings back some memories. I use to play with jack Moody and the 1st SGT and a few other NCO's. I can only say some guy's lost BIG BUCKS! I think everyone owed Jack Moody money at pay day. I worked with Jack for years after and he still was always the big gambler, and winner.

Howdy talked about the "Quick Draw." The one I remember, was an MP at the gate showing off to one of the ladies waiting to get into the compound. He shot his toe off. And the Philippine bands. God love those women. I was also one of the night managers at the EM club and we were responsible for guarding the Show girls at night in the EM club. Meaning, they were not able to leave the compound until daylight.

I was first in Viet Nam with the 1st CAV for 18 months as a 11 bush. Eating snakes and any other dirt we could find in the field. Then I go to Phu Lam 4 years later and can't believe how these people live. I always said, if the CAV knew how we lived, they would of blownup the compound.- Phu Lam was like living at aResort in a war zone.

I think the Orderly Room was attached to one of the barracks. And in this barracks there was this "pot head" that did nothing by sit in his chair for one year. The 1st Sgt or CO, just let him sit there waiting his time to ETS.. .

You mentioned the guard on duty that was shooting from the guard tower. I remember that"pot head" being on guard duty and yelling at COL Otsuka's quarters. "Otsuka, come on out so I blow you ass off."

I can remember a Dave Hill, that worked in the AUTODIN switch. Reason I remember this asshole...We had a party down town Saigon one night, about 20 or so of the Phu Lamer's. It was in a building 7-8 floors high, and we had the party on the top floor. You could look out over most of Saigon and it was screened with just some chicken wire. We had a few of the ladies of the night (and day) at the party. We all chipped in for the food and we let them eat the food. One of the black brothers got pissed off because we let them eat the food. So we got pissed off also and I shoved a plate of food into one of the brothers face. Well. that started a fight between me and the brothers. They beat the shit out of me but I would not give up and kept going at them. One brother said, this boy is nuts lets get the hell out of here.. Well, then Dave Hill decided to jump on my ass after being almost dead. I started to run after him all the way back to Phu Lam. I was so pissed, that when I was at the CSM barracks he told me to keep it down. I said F'k you and put my fist through his window. Well after the MP's came and got me back to my barracks and I slept if off. The next day I got a ass chewing from the CSM and BN commander. But that was all I got. Dave Hill was so damn drunk, that the next day he didn't remember a thing, yeah so he said.

There was this other guy damn, I just can't remember his name " think it was Pat." I also think he worked in the AUTODIN UPS. He lived just next to me and was always high on whatever. He fell in love with this whore and when Phu Lam closed up. He was still there and stayed trying to get her back to the states. He did every thing possible to include having a article written in a major magazine. For whatever reason, the Viet Nam government would not let her out of the country. She was pregnant and had the baby while he was fighting to get her state side. Years later I heard through some one that he turned into a dope head and killed himself, never did get her and the baby back to the states. As we use to say "sorry about that."

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6. Yukio Otsuka 7/66-12/66 & 7/71-6/72

I searched my files over the weekend, but found only one official document (my personnel file) that provided a date or time. According to my records, the Phu Lam Signal Battalion was officially redesignated the 60th Signal Battalion on 17 March 1972.

In July 1971, as a Lieutenant Colonel, I replaced Ltc. Raymond Tourtilott as commander of the Phu Lam Signal Battalion, and held that position until the battalion was deactivated in June 72. The battalion was redesignated the 60th Signal Battalion on 17 March 1972. Colonel (BG ret.) Lawrence (Larry) Adams, Commander, 160th Signal Group, was the reviewing officer. Also in attendance at the Change-of-Command ceremony was BG Wilburn (Buck) Weaver, Commander, 1st Signal Brigade. BG (ret) Weaver passed away a few years ago.Col (ret) Raymond Tourtilott passed away shortly after he retired.

The battalion operated the following communications facilities.
a. AUTODIN Switch
c. Satellite Terminals (MSC 46)
d. Joint Overseas Switchboard
e. HF radio Station
The battalion consisted of approximately 600 men and officers assigned to 4 companies. (I may be able to get exact names of the companies from one of my former company commanders, Ltc. Thomas Spickler).

The most troublesome activity during my tour was the AUTODIN station. The station frequently experienced "drum" problems that could not be repaired by our military technicians. It should be noted that the drum problems were equipment malfunctions that required factory technicians.. On-site military technicians and operating personnel were top notch.

Each drum problem required urgent on-site technical assistance from the mainland. To the best of my knowledge, there were four drum problems that required outside support. Waiting for the arrival of the civilian technicians while the station was in HAZCON (hazardous condition) or completely down was a nightmare. Phone calls from higher echelons asking for "status report" came in at all hours. Fortunately, the military operators ingeniously rerouted messages to Thailand, Nha Trang and other stations during the crisis whenever it was possible, to prevent delays.

The battalion was understrength during my entire tour. Troops assigned to the AUTODIN station worked 12 hour shifts, 6 days a week. Free time for personnel in other sections was also limted because of our 24 hours, 7 days a week operations. Although shorthanded, each section also provided their share of personnel for perimeter guard duty on a regular basis. When warnings of possible VC attacks were received, the battalion was placed on alert. Personnel were restricted to the compound and security guards were doubled at night.

The personnel situation worsened about April 1972, The long rumored drawdown became official. USARV directed that U.S. Forces personnel leave the country at specified intervals, to educe the overall troop strength in Vietnam by a specific date. Although there was no reduction in the operating hours or communications support requirement, the Phu Lam Battalion was ordered to meet its quota of sending personnel home, by name, on specified dates.

Most soldiers were happy to be going home early. But, because some soldiers (not from Phu Lam), were resisting early departure by deliberately missing their transportation, as the commander, I had to certify to my headquarters that all of my men listed on the drawdown sheet were physically present, each time the bus departed Phu Lam for the Replacement Center. The timely drawdown of U.S. troops from Vietnam was a top priority.

The systematic early departure of a large number of personnel each week placed a heavy burden on the dwindling number of soldiers who continued to operate the facilities 24 hours, 7 days a week. In addition to longer work hours, the perimeter security requirement increased exponentially because of increasing VC activities in South Vietnam, and reported probings around Saigon.

With the rapid withdrawal of U.S. Forces personnel, intelligence from Saigon indicated that Phu Lam was vulnerable to a VC attack. Emergency back-up support from the Saigon district was not reassuring. It was tough on the small number of troops who worked extended hours,but the repeated warnings of possible attack necessitated alert practices to assure that everyone knew what to do and where to go, in the event Phu Lam was attacked. Fortunately, the VC's left us alone.

Prior to my departure from Phu Lam, the AUTOSEVOCOM facility located at MACV was transferred to a signal activity supporting MACV Hqtrs. Vietnamese female telephone operators were brought to Phu Lam to operate the Overseas Switchboard. I don't recall who the telephone operators worked for. My memory is fuzzy as to what happened to the Satellite terminals. I believe they were shipped to Korea. .

I don't recall the exact date when the 60th Signal Battalion was deactivated. It may have coincided with my departure on 15 June 1972. Because everyone was deeply involved in the drawdown or being transferred within Vietnam, there was no deactivation ceremony. Colonel Al Johnson (Col ret) replaced Colonel Larry Adams as the 160th Group Commander in the spring of 1972. I believe the 160th Signal Group was deactivated about the same time as the 60th Signal Battalion and Colonel Johnson was reassigned to the lst Signal Brigade.

The AUTODIN Station was officially turned off in early June. A crew of 15 men headed by a major remained at Phu Lam after my departure on 15 June 1972, to assist the contractor in dismantling, crating and shipping the AUTODIN equipment out of country.

A couple of incidents that happened during my tour comes to my mind. In early spring 1972, the Vietnamese women who work in the troop barracks cleaning, shining shoes, washing clothes, etc., went on strike because of differences in the pay scale and the possibility of not getting their severance pay when the U.S. troops left Phu Lam. ( They probably sensed that the drawdown was coming) The women assembled outside of the front gate each morning for about a week, blocking other Vietnamese workers from entering the compound. The Vietnamese mess hall workers were not involved in the strike, but were prevented from walking into the compound by the strikers. The quick thinking Mess Sergeant assembled his Vietnamese workers at a site away from the gate and slipped them into the compound in the back of a 2 ton truck. The strikers got wise after the first day (their intelligence network was great) and tried to prevent all American vehicles from entering the compound. The MP's put a stop to that. The warrant officer responsible for paying the Vietnamese workers was able to settle the problem to everyone's satisfaction.

The other incident involves one of the tower security guards. On a lazy Sunday afternoon (about 1430 hours) rifle shots were heard from the vicinity of the AUTODIN Station.. As I ran towards the AUTODIN Station someone informed me that the shots were fired by one of the tower guards. A quick check with the guard revealed that he dozed off and when he opened his eyes, he found that a Vietnamese had crossed over the 1st and 2nd tiers of the barbed wire perimeter fence that encircles compound and was fishing just below the guard tower. Without warning, the guard fired away, emptying his clip at the fleeing Vietnamese. Witnesses reported that the Vietnamese was literally "running on water" as he dashed towards the two perimeter fences and out of the restricted area, Fortunately, the guard was not an expert marksman. After reporting the incident to my higher headquarters, I spoke with a local police officer, whom I had previously met at a town harvest gathering. He stated that the lad was not hurt by rifle fire and no action would be taken by the villagers.

I Just remembered that either the lst Signal Brigade or USARV hired Nungs (don't think this is the correct spelling for the loyal Vietnamese who live in the highlands and assisted the Americans in many ways during the war.) to provide security for Phu Lam during the drawdown.

Approximately a dozen Nungs arrived at Phu Lam late one evening in early June, to perform perimeter guard duty. A lieutenant who was the Phu Lam Security Officer assumed responsibility for housing, feeding and training the new arrivals. He established excellent rapport with the Nungs. I don't recall who (1st Signal Bde or USARV) hired and paid for the Nungs. I assume the Nungs remained at Phu Lam to provide local security for the civilian contractors who continued to operate the IWCS system and the power plants.

Fortunately, I know of no one who was a casualty during my time at Phu Lam, Aug-Dec 66 and Jul 71- Jun 72.

The members of the battalion continued the tradition of financially supporting the Hoi Duc Orphanage until the battalion deactivated. Although the battalion was deactivated in mid-June 1972, I believe that last monetary collection of any relevance for the orphanage was on payday, 30 April 1972. Only a small contingent of personnel remained at Phu Lam on payday at the end of May 1972 Although the battalion was severely downsized during its last year of existence, the money collected for the orphanage remained fairly stable, because of the generosity of the soldiers.

The orphanage was managed by an elderly, elegant, Vietnamese woman. She was assisted by one or two women from England or Australia, and other Vietnamese men and women. The Manager's goal of eventually making the orphanage self-sufficient was slowly coming to fruition. The oven for baking bread was constructed and sewing machines were purchased to teach the orphans to sew. The children that were in the orphanage in 1971-72 would now probably be in their late twenties to their early forties. Hopefully, the tender loving care and the vocational training that they received at the orphanage helped them in establishing their lives on the outside.
As had been the continuing tradition from around 1965, the orphans were brought to Phu Lam for Thanksgiving and Christmas treats in 1971. Each child was greeted and escorted by an enthusiastic military sponsor. I hope that the children that visited Phu Lam through the years, will remember the treats and kindness of the soldiers for the rest of their lives.

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According to my record of assignments I arrived at Phu Lam 14 Oct 1970 and left there on 6 Oct 1971 but I got an early out on a body detail. I would have been in barracks #36 2nd bldg on top across from the EM club #33-34. I remember the bldg 13 where I was a switchboard operator and #15 tower pulling duty there more than once. I remember getting a duce and full of plywood for our barracks, cases of chicken and steaks for putting through calls to states. I remember a guy named Dan Moseley I think tall skinny from somewhere in Texas I think. I don't remember if he was a SB operator or not. We built a bucking horse barrel beside the barracks don't know who else helped us, we used a mattress to put on it as a saddle. I was pretty good at getting into fights while I was there, one with a tall black guy behind the EM club, 2 I remember in the barracks. I wore a beard due to some medical name I can't pronounce. As you know as a sb operator we had contact with the world but here is where my problems begin, around Feb or Mar of 71 I talked to officer don't know a name with the 1st cav airmobile Phuc Vinh, asked him what it was like there he said why don't you come and see, sometime after that 1st cav helicopter landing on pad to pick me up don't remember dates I was only with them for about 3 months or something like that, then I went back to Phu Lam and resumed being a sb operator.

When I came back from the Cav to Phu Lam that I had a short arm cast on one of my arms can't remember which arm. Hope you are right about one of them remembering me, CO hopefully since I was in his office often after coming back from the Cav. didn't care much about anything then so trouble was my middle name. Dreamed last night about Phu Lam and was just like being there again, wish I could photograph my dreams, maybe that would help. I remember getting a 45 cal. machine gun taken away from me by Co after coming back from the Cav. Also this dog that was on the base don't know its name or what kind but it would follow the mamason's to the gate and they would try to get it to come out of the gate and it was smart enough not to. I also brought back a 6.5 french mouser rifle at the same time as the machine gun, they let me keep it and I brought it back to the states only later to pawn it to keep from going hungry. After going back to Phu Lam I also carried a 45 military pistal not authorized to me. I remember being late for curfew one night with someone else don't know who, but got a cycolo driver to drive us back was drunk and shooting out street lights, got to see CO next day for that little incident.

I just remembered today that after I came back to Phu Lam from the Cav I would run around the barracks that were in the center with a chicken plate and diving weights around my ankles, don't know of any body else that did that. My room was the top floor 1st door on the right as you entered the building, I was the only one in the room enclosed in plywood, had whore house wallpaper, and curtains that CO made me take down, can't even remember CO's name.

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8. GARY PARKER mid/71-mid/72

I served in Phu Lam from the middle of 1971 to middle of 1972 as a Military Police Officer providing security for the base, and wow this site brings back alot of memories, had a lot of fun times there, and the pictures are wonderful. I was wondering if I was an MP with the 716 MP Co. We were Tdy at Phu Lam , and I also worked in the Mars Radio Station there it was right across the street from the overseas switchboard, our call letter were as follows AB8AAU and a Lt Browning was in charge of the Mars Radio and the MP detachment, he was a 2Lt. not really sure of his first name, was a pretty good guy as far as I can remember There were a father and son stationed there at the same time, there last names were Lewis, the father was an E-6 Staff Sgt. Not really sure what he did , not sure of the first name there either, but I do remember his son very well his name was Mike and I think that they were from the Seattle Area, the dad was a lifer, no harm intended with the lifer crack.

Here is a little tidbit I bet that you never heard yet about Phu Lam, I was on duty one night , and it was early in the am and the two gate guards were playing around and they decided to play Quick Draw McGraw , I laugh now but is was funny, they were drawing on each other with there 45"s and the one shot the other in the ass, not funny at the time, the whole base was on alert for 3 hours , it took that long to figure out just what happened, boy the CO was pissed he was a Lt. Col Osaska, I think.

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9. CARL BIMBO 1/71-12/71

I worked as a security guard (SP) headquarters company. I also worked as a crypto repairman for about the last two months I was there at the com center. By 1971 the war was winding down and morale was at a low ebb. I do remember the Phu Lam and Calveras County Frog Toad, and Lizard Jumping contest that was held one day in which the first "Airborne Frog " in history made a mortar assisted jump (which won the contest). I also remember MIMI's bar in Cholon very fondly. The guys at the crypto section might remember me as "Cool Breeze". Me and a guy named Mike Emory figurd out a way to get back to the real world while on RNR in Hawaii.... I dont know of anyone else who can claim that feat, we ended up with a couple of article 15's but it was worth it.

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10. ROBERT WALKER 10/71-6/72

I worked for Ed Queair first and then Huntley at the end. I was a shift supervisor, in crypto maintenance. I roomed with a tech controller by the name of Edward Joseph Wilson, SSG, he preferred to be called Joe. He was a black guy that took a lot of pictures, primarily of the women, because he wanted to have something to paint when he got back stateside. I helped Huntley package up the crypto and ship it out, It was at that time that I requested to leave, since there wasn't any crypto plus the fact that I was Number One of the evacuation list, that I should stay. Wilson and I walked out of the gate as the unit was being deactivated.

I do not remember how many guys there were when I left but I know that the Yards/Nungs were there, because I remember not being to sleep real good with them there. I guess I would have rather spent my nights on the perimeter. I was Commander of about 150 meters to the right of the security gate, I can not remember how many bunkers I had but it was three or four. I do remember how much fun we had setting off the thermite bombs we had on the crypto units.

The incident with the guard in the tower overlooking the AUTODIN. I was sitting at the guard house switchboard, when the ringer went off, I answered and I heard the guy screaming that we being attacked, he had not even depressed the push-to-talk button but I heard him loud and clear. Of course it did not make any sense because it was broad day, but funnier things have happened in the daylight. I called the Commanders office and told them what I heard, grabbed my rifle and ran to the tower. The guy was really shaken, white and he told me that he shot a couple of gooks which had penetrated our third wire and they were carrying weapons, but they would not stop when he called to them. This figures because you can not talk to someone standing at the base of the tower because of the nearby generators, for the AUTODIN. I took him to the club and bought him a couple of shots of booze, to calm him. Of course this made the LTC mad at me because he could not get a good drug test.

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11. LEON TOWNS 1/71-4/71

When I was sent back to NAM I was stationed at NHA TRANG with my brother. He left in Dec. 70 and I was sent to PHU LAM with Three other men. When we arrived at PHU LAM we must have looked horrible because everyone kept staring at us. Our fatigues were grayish white and our boots were brown instead of polished black. When we entered the Orderly Room you would have thought we were the enemy. This First LT jumped up and started yelling at us and asking who the Hell we thought we were coming into his Orderly Room looking the way we did. You don't look like that around here. At that time SGT Bales said sir these men came from Nha Trang, there not spit and polish up there. Well all he had to say after that was don't ever let me see you looking like that anymore. Find out where.

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I worked a little at the e. m. club on base. Mostly, I spent most of my time parting in Cholon. By the way, after reading all of the stories from the other guys, I can definitely tell you that I was one of those guys who was in on that crazy cyclo race to Cholon where we gave the papa san who got us there first, 500 piasters. It was indeed one of the scariest rides I ever had and sobered the hell out of me by the time we got to the bars. I can also remember that papa san stopping and cleaning the spark plug with a piece of wire or something to get us going again. I didn't mess much with the drugs but stayed drunk must of the time. Traded the goodies, booze and cigarettes from my ration card on the black market ("Hey, GI, you got Salem?"). I think beer at the e.m. club was only fifteen cents cold. Absolutely amazing what you could trade for when you had a couple bars of Dial or a box of Tide. Rationed booze and cases of beer were extremely cheap. Drank many a Ba-Me-Ba (I'm not sure of the spelling, but I knew it was beer"33"). I don't know how many of those sandwiches made with a few veggies and some kind of meat on french bread I ate. When I found out they had rat meat in them, it didn't stop me. You had to have something on your stomach after all that ba-me-ba. I can remember eating lobster for the first time at the President's Hotel. The local call-girls were all over that place. So were they all over Cholon and, for that matter, the base. It was more than true about what I read in the other guys accounts about the hookers, drugs and booze.

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13. JOHN BEHAN 10/71-8/72

Technically, in the end we were attached TDY to 69th Sig Btn. No mess at Phu Lam then. Uncle Sam paid us $2.50 to feed ourselves. Lots of local fare, lots of trips to Long Binh PX. Later also moved off post to Gia Dinh hotel.

Remember one occasion where somebody received a gas powered model airplane from home. You know... the kind the flies in circles on a hand held control line. This guy flew his airplane on the helipad near the front gate and always created a big sensation with the local kids outside the perimeter.

Recall one period on alert, extra people on perimeter, weapons issued to everyone, took position on top of sandbag bunker with M-60. Middle of night, maybe 2-3 am, saw dark figure running parallel to and inside of perimeter line from front gate. I was sure I detected attacker, hand on m-60 trigger, running on top of bunker towards "intruder," close to firing, turns out to be an ARVN jogger from diesel generating station. Scared heck out of me though - nearly did something I would have regretted.

Also recall going with a group to Long Binh range to qualify on M-60 and grenade launcher. Believe it or not, there were a few ladies at the range inside Long Binh persuasively selling their "wares." While some of us took a turn on the M-60 others took their turn in the bushes with the ladies. It was really pretty funny.

I was one of the 15 people selected to shut down & packup in 1972. Did this, I think, for about a month. Nungs on perimeter. Eerie battalion size compound when occupied by 15 GI inhabitants. Plenty of weapons to go around, though.

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