Vietnam
Đà Nàng Air Base
6252nd Air Police Squadron, 1965
Scarlet Ribbons

© 1996, by Don Poss

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Mid August 1965, I was posted at a Đà Nàng Air Base flight line gate during the midnight shift. Around dawn, Vietnamese civilian workers would come streaming in toward their jobs in the ARVN and VNAF section. Rumors had it that a Village near the base had been hit by Viet Cong and villagers were killed. No one ever knew the full truth, or which village, but I would soon have a glimpse of truth.

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The flight line access-gate was to the VNAF SPADS aircraft parking, and the ARVN VNAF QC interrogation compound including the Special Police Branch for civilian intelligence, that was fenced in and secure. Generally, A QC (military police) and a U.S. Air Police worked the gate.

 

I relieved the day AP and received pass-on instructions. There weren't any. The Air Policeman got in the AP pickup and they drove off. The Vientamese QC walked away without explanation.

A little later, a QC walked from the Spad parking area and said he was the QC for that night. His English was more than passable. I recall his name was "Tran", but I don't know if that was his first-name or surname.

A night-shift is a long time to pass, and when possible it goes faster if you can BS with someone. Tran said his family camed from North Vietnam when the country divided, and that he joined the QC to escape his mother who was trying to marry him off and get grandchildren. I told him that I was form Los Angeles (no one knew where Long Beach was), and he quickly asked if that was near Hollywood and if I had ever met any moviestars. My "reel in the fish" flag went up and I told Tran I was friends with John Wayne and he came over for hotdog barbeques every weekend. He looked-hooked, so I added that Marilyn Monroe often came along for the ride and flirted with me but that I never got pass second-base.

Tran later told me that he was pals with Priemer Nguyen Ky, and Ky had told him he would pull some strings and he would be his driver--IF--he quit sleeping with his wife, Madame Nguyễn Cao Kỳ, who thought he was good in a sleeping bag.

The night passed slowly-- I guess it takes a BS-er to know one. Little traffic, except for QC jeeps going in and out, and at AP truck bringing around coffee. Around 0300 hours, a QC jeep drove along the Spad parking area and up to the flight line inside-fence and stopped as if parking, facing north with his lights out. After it was obvious the occupants weren't going to approcach the access-gate, Tran walked over to it. Several minutes passed and Tran returned saying the QC officer and NCO were waiting for a small convoy from some village to arrive.

Three ARVN duce-and-half trucks turned off the road from the main-gate area and drove rapidly in second-gear toward the access-gate. The first truck flew through the gate bouncing slightly over road transition from dirt to paved. The overhead floodlight lite up the truck bed and through the truckbed's wooden slates I saw flashes of what looked like bodies. Then the second truck bounced over the and I caught clear glimpses of piles of Vietnamese dead... and they were dead: Startled, I tried to understand what I was seeing as the bodies seemed to flicker in a strobelight effect: A Vietnamese male laying on his back, head tilted, mouth wide open, and eyes gaping; a young child's arm wedged against the railing; jumbled stacks of tangled-jarring bodies, some clothed, some not, some parts attached, some not. I stared at the incredible sight and failed to pay attention to the tail-gating third truck, which suddenly bounced forward like a freight-train nearly clipping my uniform, seemingly as close as the buttons stitched to the front of my jacket. That truck bed also had stacked bodies, but fewer than the first two..

The trucks raced through the VNAF flight line gate in a few heartbeats, heading off-limits ARVN Military Police (Quan Canh) compound that was ringed with barbed wire. I had a "Wow did you see that?" feeling! The dust quickly settled and bugs renewed their orbit around the gate's floodlight. I looked down and tire-tracks from the third truck were within a boots lenth of my right boot's toe. I didn't trust my voice to say anything, realizing I had just came close to getting creamed in Vietnam by a friging truck. I noticed a dark trails and splashes in the dirt where the trucks had driven, and remember thinking, "Those trucks really leak oil bad."

Within a hour after dawn, Vietnamese workers and ARVN began their daily pilgrimage to work. I was checking passes, with a QC Tran, and noticed workers approaching the gate on foot were staring and pointing to the center of the road. They held up their IDs without comment, and without being asked to do so, moving quietly through the gate, as if whatever the cause of their concern might be found at the gate itself.

Tran waived the same QC Jeep through the gate that had sat inside the fence hours earlier. A small Vietnamese boy, either twelve or fifty, was in the back seat, which added to the unusal night.

The AP relief truck showed up and as I climbed into the back of the truck Tran shouted, "You Numba-Ten-Thou-Bull-Sheeter-John-Wayne-Me!" I replied, "You Boocoo Dingy-Dau Numba-Ten-Thou-VC!" I then noticed the black oil stained trails were actually dirt clod globs and a dark scarlet ribbon of blood.

Riding back to CSC, I asked if anyone had seen three trucks race over to the VNAF compound. No one spoke up, and no one volunteered any answers. It was nearly two-weeks before I learned what may have really happened.


In hindsight, what I regret most is my reaction to the sight of the bodies: indifference, mostly, and certainly no compassion whatsoever, as I was more concerned the trucks might be leaking oil, than their grisly cargo having been human beings.
I was not yet ready to think about how sudden and close death could be in Vietnam.

Strange things were rumored to take place in the ARVN VNAF Military Police section, such as interrogation of NVA/VC prisoners. I would like to hear form anyone knowing what happened in the above story, or if you experienced an unusual event at the VNAF access gate.

The Vietnamese Boy
(... and the Village)