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phuoc vinh aerial

By Terry A. Moon

1st Cav Photographer 1968-1969

We landed at Bien Hoa Air Base, Vietnam on November 1, 1968. We got our stuff and waited on the tarmac. They started calling names to send us to our units. 10 of my photo school comrades were on this flight. No one had any idea where they would go. My name was the first one called, the captain calling the names  added "congratulations man, you're going to the Cav". I was going to the 1st  Cavalry Division the Army's elite Airmobile unit. He immediately sent me to the "Terminal" to catch a flight to the division processing center at An Khe in the central highlands. It was much colder there. They told us we would be there a week or so.

At this time the 1st Cavalry Division was moving from the DMZ area 500 miles south to protect Saigon from NVA units invading from Cambodia, to take better advantage of the division's airmobile capabilities. Finally they called names for deployment, mine included, put us on a C-130 bound for Phuoc Vinh, the new 1st Cav base camp about 50 miles north of Saigon. The deluxe seating in the C-130 consisted of ropes across the cargo bay for us to hold on to.

I caught a ride from a kindly water truck driver from the airstrip to the information office which was in the rubber tree area right on the green line (the dark area at the top of the top photo on the left). This short ride was interrupted by incoming rockets, not real close but a " welcome to Vietnam" for me. 

The information office already had 15 photographers at 3 brigade offices and the main office here, they needed writers. But, no other photographer there had any actual press experience, so I had some instant credibility. I became assistant to the photo coordinator, a savvy veteran of the Tet offensive in Hue and Khe Sanh.  I had brought my own Pentax cameras and lenses which gave me an advantage getting some assignments. The IO's equipment was also Pentax, it held up better under the extreme conditions.

phuoc vinh airstrip
Aerial photos of the First Cavalry Division base camp at Phuoc Vinh.
information office
The Information Office in the rubber trees (the dark area on the left in the top photo) and only a few hundred feet from the green line Bunkers and wire.
PIO Staff meeting
Information Office Staff meetings involved careful planning to improve our newspaper and magazine products, and raising worldwide awareness of the 1st Cavalry Division.

As an FNG ('funny' new guy) I got all the ugly assignments (criminal investigations, aircraft accidents, maintenance and awards). One of my memorable FNG experiences came about a week after my arrival at Phuoc Vinh. I was waiting in the mess hall line when the whole room started spinning. Someone shouted "FNG", I vaguely remember being loaded in a truck. I woke up later looking up at an IV bottle at the medics. They told me I was dehydrated and needed to take salt pills every day and drink more (this was before Gatorade).
None of the other photographers at the Phuoc Vinh office liked shooting the CG's award presentations, so as FNG I got to do most of them. Sometimes I had to shoot polaroid prints with a Graflex XL. One of the benefits of shooting these awards was eating at the CG's mess, the food was much better there. I would wait in the kitchen until the CG was ready for the photo shoot. The kitchen staff always had a plate for me when I finished. I also met many members of the CG's staff, many with camera questions.

greenline
The "green line" perimeter bunkers and wire near the Information Office.

Another memorable FNG event for me was my first night on green line guard duty. There had been an attack on the green line about 200 yards from our area two nights before. Three of us manned the bunker, there was a bunker about every 60-90 yards (see photo to the left), since I was the FNG I got the middle shift (roughly midnight to 3 am). I had to sit in a folding chair on top of the bunker trying really hard to see into the darkness. I had a telephone connected to the other bunkers. about 2 am I was looking to the right when I saw a huge flash and a big explosion near the bunker next to ours. I had been rocking back in the chair and I fell over backwards and went down behind the bunker, about a 6 foot drop. The next explosion hit very close. There were several more, it was a mortar attack. I gave the phone to the senior guy, Preparation was already underway to be ready for a possible ground attack. They gave me a brief, but intense lesson on how to use an M-60 machine gun. There was no further attack. All three of us stayed inside the bunker the rest of the night. When it was light we could see a mortar round had hit the sandbag berm in front of our bunker.

 

 

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