Pyramid Near The End
by Gene Brown
I worked as a civilian contractor during "Vietnmaization" for a company called Kentron Hawaii in 1971. If Vietnmaization meant living in hooch's all over the city of Ban Me Thuot we did a good job of becoming Vietnamized. Of course that was not the real intent of the program but that's pretty much how it turned out nationwide. I think the VC thought we were a bit odd and really never caused us any grief, We were indeed an odd bunch with guys running around looking like something off Haight-Ashbury, sandals, long hair and a total lack of recognizable discipline.
My assignment to BMT was a surprise one. I had been working in Binh Thuy, Paddy Control and was told I was getting a well deserved transfer to Tan Son Nhut.
When I arrived at the Saigon office on Trung Minh Ky Street. I was informed in gentle tones that there was a "small problem in Ban me Thuot" and that I had an extensive background in AC&W maintenance and that I was needed there. I should have expected the butter-up before the shaft I got. Was really upset because I had settled into life in the delta and didn't want to go, but the choice wasn't mine. A quick flight on Air Nuoc Mom and there we were, our new hometown!
I will never forget landing at the airport about 10 miles away from the city, From the air I had never viewed any place so remorseful and run-down before. No one there to meet us, had to take a civilian bus from the airport packed with people, chickens, goats and God only knows what crammed on board. I was carrying a guitar that I purchased in Saigon and they all thought I was a country and western singer and wanted autographs. (probably for a VC hit list). Never did learn how to play that damn guitar, just carried it all over, I think I finally gave it to my girlfriends brother.
After finding an apartment above a tractor sales store I found my way to an army MACV compound where I enjoyed the luxury of a cold beer and was allowed a 6-pack from the small PX there. "Maybe next week you could get a case". Guess who made friends with non-drinkers! As civilians we could only spend $20 a month in country (at Bx and such) and had ration cards, depended on GIs to get us anything like radios or suitcases. They didn't mind but seemed silly to us. Anyway the PX manager said don't worry about ration cards or anything there. Big deal there was nothing to buy.
The next day I went there for breakfast and saw an Air Force captain and using my honed inductive reasoning skill assumed he might have something to do with the site. His name was Norm (Norman?) Geibink or Giebink and he was the squadron commander for the Air Force detachment there and offered me a ride. We rode out the highway towards the airport and the base was to our left, we turned off the highway, followed the runway for maybe a quarter mile then drove across the runway to the compound. They had one Quonset hut to turn over to us for office, some bedrooms, a bar, a library/ music room with tape recorders. Then a smaller hut for storage between us and the runway. The other USAF person there was an AC&W maintenance technician, a Tech Sgt whose name doesn't come to mind although it is crammed in there some where.
The VNAF CO was a Major My who was good friends with Major LOC at Binh Thuy so we hit it off fine. All controllers were VNAF and it was a confusing mess.
Binh Thuy, maybe because of it's close proximity to Can Tho and Saigon, was a fairly organized operation and BMT was a rag tag operation from the top down. No one seemed to care much about anything. The company put on site, myself, a manager, 2 or three AC&W techs, and a power plant mechanic. It was a motley crew, I was the only one with true experience. Companies had contracts to fill so if you could breath and look like you knew something you had a job. The attitude was to fill jobs then have a RIF
There were no aircraft there and Camp Coryell had long been vacated by the army. The ARVN and VNAF of course had stripped anything of value from the old buildings and even nameplates of soldiers from a placard honoring those killed or wounded there. I assume that's what it was.
They had an FPS-8 And an FPS-90 height finder both amazingly in fair working condition. We pulled our hair out on the height finder because of poor range and one day while sitting on a bucket of paint I read the label and it was lead based paint they used to paint the antenna during a beautification project. The lead was absorbing all our returns and after the VNAF with much prodding stripped and repainted we had the best height finder in the country!
We had the same support as if there were still GIs there, we got case upon case of books for our 8X10 library so needless to say a lot of reading material got diverted, We would often change the labels and ship them home. We couldn't send them back. Of course everyone had their own stereos. It was so crazy I went to Saigon to try to stop having stuff shipped to us and was told there was nothing they could do, we were scheduled to get stuff and no raggedy ass civilian was going to tell them otherwise. OK with us. We all had well furnished homes. Too bad the same jerk wasn't in charge of shipping beer and fresh cigarettes.
Learned to love the city to the point of buying some property there. A rubber plantation, which of course has new owners. We had a RIF in early '72 and I was transferred to Bien Hoa at a depot level. I guess word got back that I was happy at BMT and they couldn't stand it. In '72 they had the Easter offensive and the country was obviously headed down the tubes. I stayed around a while then took about six months to tour the country before returning home.
When I left there was 1 person at each of the sites and I was told they had the usual supplies coming in.
Well, I'm sorry I'm took up so much of your time but after seeing the web page on the net memories came flashing back, A long time ago my friend.