Go Dau Ha ATSB (Advanced Tactical Support Base) was my first field assignment in Vietnam. The camp was on the northern outskirts of the village, which was about 30km northwest of Saigon and hugged the Song Vam Co Dong River. I arrived there about April 15th, 1969, after completing the mandatory 3-day indoctrination course (Charm School) back at our base camp in Cu Chi. I joined the existing radar team along with one of my buddies from our original team that shipped over from the states.
My first couple of weeks at Go Dau Ha included getting up to speed on the procedures for conducting fire missions in our area. I was assigned to an experienced radar operator and he showed me the ropes; what sectors we were to search, radio procedures and call signs, etc. It was quite interesting to be actually using the equipment after all of the weeks of training back at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma.
The radar team leader soon discovered that I had also been trained as a generator mechanic, so the care and feeding of our precious generator was handed to me. The generator was a trailer mounted, water cooled 10 KW model and I soon learned that it wasn’t functioning perfectly. It ran pretty good, but the governor was toast. This meant that the hand throttle had to be very carefully adjusted to get the correct RPM and resulting AC voltage frequency. Too high or too low could damage the radar system.
I scrounged around in a pile of spare parts but found no spare governor. This was a pain since the hand throttle had to be constantly checked and adjusted during the night. We did have the original, single cylinder 2-stroke generator that came with the radar system, but it was hard to start and just barely adequate to run the system.
When we got orders to move in the middle of June, we could not take the big trailer mounted generator with us (we were airlifted out), so we were then forced to rely on the cranky little 2-stroke generator.
Go Dau Ha wasn’t really a bad place to be, if one had to be in Vietnam. Word had it that the village chief had cut some kind of deal with the local VC and they pretty much left us alone (that still seems weird to me). We had fairly nice hooches to sleep in. They even had cement floors and one section had some sort of air conditioner. Also, we ate fairly well if we bothered to visit the Navy Sea Bee camp down by the river. Their chow sure beat the heck out of C-rations!
The locals would often hangout on the roadside near the main gate and sell Coca Cola and some sort of sandwich that resembled a submarine sandwich from the states. Interestingly, the coke came in glass bottles labled in French. One day, I made the mistake of buying a coke and using the vendor’s ice to cool the drink. I came down with a miserable intestinal disorder that lasted for about 2 weeks. It was the worst case of diarrhea I’ve ever had. It may have been dysentery, but I’m not sure. Also, I’m not certain just what kind of meat was in the sandwich, and I’m almost afraid to ask at this point in time.
Our radar was basically pointed to an area of nearby Cambodia called the “Angel’s Wing.” This area was a major infiltration point from the Ho Chi Minh trail. During the time we were in Go Dau Ha we detected many dozens of targets coming across the border and fanning out into the countryside. The targets were always detected at night and the NVA were pretty stealthy in their operations. We could easily detect much movement just across the border, which was officially off limits to U.S. operations at the time. Amazingly, we would often track the movement right up to the border and then it would disappear. We figured they were going into tunnels because we would often pickup targets out in the middle of no where later in the night.
The village of Go Dau Ha had the usual quarter mile no-fire-zone around it and this, of course, meant any movement detected within this area was off limits to artillery fire. The enemy knew this. Often, when we first fired up the radar system in the early evening, we would detect farmers coming in from their fields after a hard days work. Later, just after dark, we would again detect movement near the village limits. Amazingly, the targets would disappear from radar view right at the edge of the no-fire-zone. Obviously, these were enemy soldiers who lived in the village by day and fought against us during the night.
Go Dau Ha was the only camp we were at twice. By the time we returned the second time, the camp had changed considerably. Most notably, it had been turned over to the ARVN’s and they were busy installing gun emplacements (howitzers) on the northwest side of the camp.
Before they left, the Seabees had erected a water tower and also installed a water pump over the well to keep the water tank full. Unfortunately, the ARVN’s continually allowed water to get into the fuel system of the water pump engine, rendering it useless. I don’t how many times I cleaned the system and got it running again, only to find it the same condition a few days later. It was maddening.
Another problem we had with the ARVN’s was that they stole gasoline from us for their little Honda motorcycles. I wouldn’t really have minded giving them a little gas if they had only asked, but the stealing aggravated me no end. When we left Go Dau Ha we “accidentally” left behind a full 5-gallon gas can that had few cups of sugar mixed into it. Theoretically, sweetened gasoline will eventually cause a piston engine to seize up. I suppose this was an unkind trick, but we were the ones sticking our necks out to transport the gasoline from our base camp out to our field camp.
Meanwhile, two U.S. Army engineers were busy expanding the perimeter berm with their large tractor named, “Proud Mary.” They were real characters and as is typical of many enlisted men, they didn’t care too much for their immediate supervisor (a career Staff Sergeant). I think his name was Zanchuck, or something similar. Anyway, the two enlisted engineers called him “Sgt. Shit-f**k” behind his back. This brought quite a few chuckles in the ranks.
One evening we were sitting outside with the engineers and we heard a strange sound in the distance. One of them mentioned that the source was the infamous “F**k-you lizard.” What? Listen! I heard the sound again and sure enough, it sounded as if the lizard was saying “f**k-you!”
Folklore also had it that there was an indigenous bird in Vietnam the made a sound resembling “re-up,” but I don’t recall ever hearing one (“re-up” in Army jargon means to re-enlist).
Occasionally, we took advantage of the hot meals served at the small Navy station down by the river, near the far end of the bridge. One morning, my buddy Mark and I decided to make the short drive for breakfast. As we approached the bridge spanning the river (Song Vam Co Dong) we noticed a traffic jam and a lot of commotion. We got out of the truck and walked through the crowd to find that our end of the bridge was in the river! VC sappers had blown it during the night. Oh well, who wanted a good breakfast, anyway.