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Dong Tam

by Mike Christensen, C-Company 2/39 9th Inf. Div., 1968-1969

Some buddies and I were sitting in the Charlie company NCO club. It really wasn't much of a club, just your typical one room affair with a few tables, some music and lots of booze.Thats what we wanted at the time, A cold beer to help us get a little loose and pretend we didn't care.

Some of my buddies were fellow medics and a few of these had come to Vietnam with me almost 1 year earlier. As we tipped our drinks we could hear rockets passing by over our position. I remember someone saying, 'man, those are incoming rockets'. We could here the explosions as the rockets impacted on another part of the Dong Tam compound. All of us were short timer veterans and we knew the important thing was to have another drink. We would find out the next day that the rockets had landed in the middle of the Division out possessing center and killed and wounded 19 people who had finished their tour and were headed back to the world.

At the time Dong Tam was swollen with 9th Division veterans who had spent 10 months in country. As a part of Nixon's pull out program anyone who had served 10 months or more was eligible for an early out. It seemed that Charlie had heard about Nixon s plan and decided to kill as many grunts, cannon cockers, medics, support personnel and officers as he could before we got out of range. I had arrived in country in August of 1968 and it was my firm belief that the best thing I could do right now was drink another beer.

The 9th Inf Division Had fought head to head with Charlie in the wet lands of the Delta. They had developed tactics and techniques that resulted in denying Charlie free access to an area he once dominated. The body count generated by the 9th Div. units in the Delta was second to none. The body to weapons ratio was another matter.

As a result of the unique terrain and conditions in the Mekong Delta innovative approaches were developed combining infantry with Navy. The Brown water sailors with their PBR's (patrol boat river), Navy Seals and 9th division grunts combined to make a formidable fighting force that neutralized Charlie's attempts to control the Delta.

The partnership forged between the Navy and the 9th Inf. Div would pay off once again when someone suggested that the flood of 9th Div. troops waiting to catch the freedom bird could be moved out of rocket range by posting them on a Navy troop transport anchored at the mouth of the Mekong river. Smaller boats could be used to ferry troops to and from the out processing center in Dong Tam. Of course, Charlie knew this plan also.

As a medic I had spent my time in the bush with a line company. To me, the war was about grunts, they were my heroes. On two separate occasions I pulled small pieces of shrapnel from my body and refused a purple heart. I thought of the grunts I had worked on with sucking chest wounds or missing legs and other terrible injuries. I never felt that a small piece of hot steel that I could pull out and throw away had the same value as someone with their legs blown off. Call me sentimental.

While confined to the lower bowels of the transport I saw a young solider spreading out medals of all kinds on his bunk. My antenna went up. Sense he had put the medals out on display I figured he wouldn't mind if I looked. The soldier had spread out on his bunk a purple heart, Bronze star W/V, a Silver star W/Gallantry, Ribbons up the ying ying, flight medals, jump wings and about every medal I had heard of and more. The guy turned and said, 'Do you want anything? I am a clerk typist and I put myself in for all these. I can get you anything you want'. I revolted from this offer like he was selling body parts from American G.I's. I almost got sick and threw up. This REMF had no idea what he was doing. The medic in me kept me from killing this pathetic asshole. I turned and headed up to the top deck to find fresh air that smelled like raw sewage and rotting corpses. Anything was an improvement to the stench surrounding the REMF.

One night while we were watching a movie two or three decks below the water line Charlie attacked the troop transport. I was not a navy man and being below the water line and surrounded by steel was the last place in the world I wanted to be if I were to die. I made my way up to the top deck where I could see the action between Charlie and the Navy guys. The guards had intercepted some sappers or underwater demolition type gooks that were trying to blow us out of the water. The action was brisk for a short period and I believe we took some incoming. As far as I know, those of us out processing did not take any casualties.

There must have been a shortage of Jet powered freedom birds because they loaded a group of us onto a C-130 for the trip back to the world. The C-130 had no windows, no sweet smiling round eyed chicks handing out drinks and we had to face the rear where the only thing we could see was our duffel's. Still, it was our freedom bird and we were going home.

We landed at Mc Cord air force base near Ft. Lewis Washington. We were issued new uniforms and processed out of the Army. A couple of us shared a ride to the airport, got waisted and then said our goodbye's.

I took a flight to Portland Oregon where I caught a cab for the 20 mile drive to my parents house. I let myself into the house about 3AM in the morning. I had not notified my parents I was coming home and I felt lucky my dad didn't shoot me. All worked out well though.

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