Monday, February 10, 2014

FAREWELL TO A SOLDIER

We buried Bill last week.   His Tangi was rich in Maori protocol as befitted the man.    Bill was a child of the East Coast, a trained school teacher, a wannabee lawyer (one paper short of his LLB) and an acknowledged activist in causes in believed passionately in.

I knew Bill as one of my Section Commanders in Vietnam where he was second to none.   He had the 'nose' for when trouble was around the corner and in a fire-fight he was cool, calm and collected.   His soldiers worshiped him.

Bill and 'trouble' seemed to go hand in glove and the history of our tour is replete with tales about him.     At the Tangi I was able to remind Bill about one of his exploits which is recorded for posterity  as part of the Vietnam War history project undertaken by the Ministry of Culture and Heritage.      Here tiz .....








It is a privilege, not given lightly, to command men in battle.   I was privileged as a young Lieutenant to command 35 fine young New Zealanders in Vietnam.    They came from all walks of life.    On operations they were second to none.   They also played hard given half the chance with much wine, women and song and sometimes all three at once.    This is about the ‘wine’ bit.

The New Zealand Embassy in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City but always Saigon to us) was situated directly opposite the United States Embassy.   Their embassy compound was surrounded by a high concrete wall with any number of watch towers and bunkers built into it and guarded by a Company of US Marine guards plus a platoon of tanks.     The New Zealand embassy was guarded by a receptionist with a fearsome pot plant. 


After the 1068 Tet offensive and with the wisdom of hindsight it was decided by the powers that be to detach a four man New Zealand guard detail from the ANZAC Base at Nui Dat on a one week rotation to provide embassy security.   They had the day off (sleeping????) while at night they stood guard on the now empty embassy building (that was theory of it anyway).    They took their personal weapons to Saigon but, acknowledging the need for additional firepower (to match the Americans!!!), the ambassador had obtained a pump action shotgun along with six rounds of ammunition which was given to guard commander along with the admonition not to use it unless absolutely necessary because shotgun ammunition was in short supply.

And so it was that a four of my ‘best’ proceeded to Saigon determined to do their duty.   As it transpired it took them less than 36 hours to discover that the embassy contained a store room complete with a vast array of duty free booze needed so that the ambassador could properly entertain his guests at official embassy functions.     What’s more, the key to the store room was on the bunch of keys entrusted to the guard commander.  Silly mistake.

On their third night in Saigon and after a hard day sleeping or whatever my mob fronted up for duty.     As the night progressed and with the Viet Cong showing no sign of attacking the guard decided to relieve their boredom by liberating some of the embassy booze and having a drink or two or three or four or five.    Later still the guard commander decided it would be wise to unload the shotgun (just why he thought that quite escapes me) and it was then things really turned to custard because in doing so he managed to fire the weapon which took out completely the very large window facing onto the US embassy.     Mayhem ensued.    The Americans thought they were under attack, sirens sounded, marines manned their battle stations and the tanks were fired up in preparation for a full scale assault on the New Zealand embassy which had clearly (to them) been overrun by the Viet Cong.  

This had the potential to be Tet 2.    Fortunately wise heads prevailed and WW3 was narrowly averted.   Certainly our ambassador was not amused and neither was the Commander NZ V Force stationed in Saigon.    My Cpl XXXX (the guard commander who now resides not too far from Kerikeri) arrived back in Nui Dat almost in chains along with the other three members of the guard detail who weren’t looking too flash either.     I can report that my platoon was never again called upon to provide the guard detail during the remainder of our time in theatre and neither was Cpl XXXX ever seen wearing the Long Service and Good Conduct medal.

Soldiers will be soldiers and who would ever be so stupid as to entrust soldiers on active service with the keys to a liquor store.   Answer – civilians.    Talk about an accident waiting to happen that did.


RIP Bill ... you did your duty and did it well.    Fall out.
 

Sunray 5/2  
 





7 comments:

Anonymous said...

"onto the US embassy."
Shouldn't that be onto the US Ambassadors residence?

Psycho Milt said...

The New Zealand embassy was guarded by a receptionist with a fearsome pot plant.

That's us alright. Flight of the Conchords couldn't put it better.

The Veteran said...

Anon ... As I recall The US Ambassador lived on the top floor of what was a multi-story embassy building.

Don't think it's there any more but the wall surely is.

Noel said...

I as recall the US Embassy was on Thong Nhut Bouelvard opposite the British Embassy.
I also recall sighting the US ambassador's convoy been prepared at his residence through the NZ Embassy window.
I often wondered if he would be more secure simply wearing a hat and catching a taxi than in a convoy of Vietnamese National Police, ARVN,US MP's, his vehicle and the same order of Jeeps behind.

Anonymous said...

Correct Noel
The NZ Embassy was on PHung Khac Khoan opposite the US Ambassador's residence.
His defence was an 8 man Marine PSU and residence bunker.

The Veteran said...

Hi Noel & Anon ... TY. Residence/Embassy, I guess it matters not too much. It was described as the Embassy in the Charge Sheet that I saw as Bill's Pl Comd.

For Noel. Was the shotgun there where you were there or had wiser heads prevailed?

p.s. Bill's nickname from that time forward was Shotgun P****

Noel said...

No need for a shot gun.
I had liberated an old M3 machine gun from the captured weapons safe after Wellington decreed we would not be armed during the Easter Offensive.