Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Vietnam Departure 45 Years Ago: "Lately, I've Got Phu Bai on My Mind"

July 27th 1970, I left my wife of seven months at the Cincinnati Airport (actually in Kentucky) and headed for Vietnam.  It was a long journey which never ends.  A young Engineer officer with new helicopter pilot's wings flew to Travis Air Force Base in CA, then to Alaska, where I learned that my nephew Matthew had just been born (Happy Birthday Matt- and Mike, his brother who was born July 27th two years before).  Then off to Japan for fuel enroute, then to the Saigon area.

I filled out a "dream sheet" of the types of aviation units I might wish to fly with at Army personnel headquarters at Long Binh and waited with other pilots in my rotary wing aviator class for the assignment sheets to be posted on a bulletin board.  We drank beer and chatted.  Then the postings.  I was assigned to the 18th Engineer Brigade.  I would fly for the Engineers.  The orders said to go to Cam Ranh Bay to the unit HQ. I was there for one day, played volleyball with some other pilots and learned the next day that I was being assigned to fly with the 45th Engineer Group HQ in Phu Bai (which means Land of the Dead) in I Corps, the northernmost of the four sections of Vietnam used for military planning.

I flew for a year and returned home, meeting my wife in Cincinnati for a few days before coming home to visit in Liberty and Farmersville where my parents and her parents lived.  Then we toured the western US and set up in Milford Kansas, just outside Ft. Riley where I was to finish my Army career as a pilot and instructor pilot and small unit commander.

45 years after leaving for Vietnam, I'm still learning about the meaning of the whole Vietnam experience.  I read about the background of the war and the decision processes that kept it going and ended it.  Very complex and very human processes that led to a lot of confusion.  Twenty of my West Point classmates died as a result of their service in Vietnam.  I think of them often.  I think of Phu Bai, too.

Lately, I've Got Phu Bai on My Mind
                                                    by CPT Pat Jonas 45th Engr Gp
                                                                    Aviation Section

Lately, I've got Phu Bai on my mind
Thinking now of all we've left behind
Like friendly fire and innocence
And fears that won't unwind

Lately I've got Phu Bai on my mind
Black smoke blowing gently in the wind
Mortars stopped the card game my first week in the war
Winning hand in High Chicago went right out the door

Lately I've got Phu Bai on my mind
Mortars weren't being very kind
Diving in the bunker just outside my hooch
"Our Father Who art in heaven", coming from my lips.

Lately I've got Phu Bai on my mind
All clear sounds, let's get back to my hand
No one cares to sit back down
A buck of my winnings is gone.

Lately I've got  Phu Bai on my mind
Blowing Agent Orange dust into the wind
Flying out to Rakkassan, Tomahawk and Nancy
Visiting our  Engineers, nothing really fancy.

Lately I've got Phu Bai on my mind
Floor show, Cold Duck mixing really fine
Flying to the DMZ to let off Donut Dollies
Rolling on the River mixes well with Buddy Holly

Lately I've got Phu Bai on my mind
Navy tried to make me land downwind
Ducking friendly fire at Khe Sanh and beyond
Bridge Over Troubled Water on AFVN.

Lately I've got Phu Bai on my mind
Cross the river down the coast again
Flying low along the beach- beautiful clear water
Calling into Castle base weather getting hotter.

Lately I've got Phu Bai on my mind.                        

Click here for the video/musical version with banjo

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