MY VIET NAM EXPERIENCE

By: Colonel Larry Mayes, USAF (Retired)

As a new contributor to this web site, I would like to introduce myself through some of my experiences in Viet Nam and with Vietnamese personnel during my tour in 1969-70. My first 3 months at Tan Son Nhut I was assistant Port Passenger Services Officer for both the out and in country passenger terminals. In this capacity I worked directly with a number of Vietnamese, mostly females, who were passenger ticketing clerks, baggage handlers and service support personnel.  We worked out of open air metal buildings which were very hot and all work was manual labor.  The Vietnamese were poorly paid by US standards, but had good paying and steady jobs by Vietnamese standards.  This was my first real experience supervising “foreigners” (even though WE were actually the foreigners). Without exception these mostly young adults, both men and women, worked extremely hard and were intelligent and motivated.  While language barriers could get in the way at times, most of the Vietnamese spoke decent English and many of us picked up at least a bit of Vietnamese and French. A number of these people had been working for the USAF since the early days of the war and were very experienced at their duties.  After 3 months I took over as the night Port Duty Officer, responsible of all flight line airlift loading and unloading operations. We had about 150 personnel on my shift, 50 or so of whom were Vietnamese. The “Vietnamization” effort had begun, thus we had many Vietnamese, mostly men, working in increasingly responsible positions within the operation. The load planning, pallet management and loading/unloading operations were time sensitive, complex and dangerous, working on a very dark airfield with enormous aircraft and vehicle traffic and occasional rocket and mortar attacks.  As with the passenger terminal, our Vietnamese counterparts were industrious, dedicated and reliable. Conflicts between the USAF airmen and the Vietnamese workers were very infrequent and the norm was for them to become friends and be very respectful of one another’s efforts. After my return from Viet Nam I often, and do to this day, wondered what happened to all those wonderful Vietnamese who had worked for us and who were certainly the objects of great distain and mistrust by their new Communist masters. One of my most abiding memories of my service in Viet Nam is my respect for those Vietnamese who were our allies.


©Vietnamese & American Veterans of the Vietnam War, 2005 All Rights Reserved

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