Saturday, April 21, 2018

SOLDIER'S TALES #2


This is the second in an occasional series of tales relating to V3's tour in Vietnam.    It is recorded in my 'battle diary' which comprised, in the main, unused pieces of toilet paper.   Some of the names have been changed to protect the guilty.

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 1968 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 of 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 Corporal XXXXX (the guard commander) arrived back in Nui Dat under arrest 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 XXXXX ever seen wearing the Long Service and Good Conduct medal.

During the remainder of his military service Cpl XXXXX was forever known as Shotgun XXXXX.   Bill was a great soldier. He died five years ago. 

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

Sunray 5/2    

Footnote …. Victor 3 Company served in Vietnam from May 1968 through to May 1969.   It was part of 4RAR/NZ (ANZAC) Battalion.  19 members of the battalion, including four New Zealanders were killed in action while 27, including 8 New Zealanders, were decorated for gallantry.


11 comments:

Noel said...

Told you before. The NZ Embassy was not directly opposite the US Embassy.

Noel said...

http://fallofsaigon.org/AMB_ProtectiveSecurityUnit.php

The Veteran said...

Noel ... I can only tell it as it was told at the charge hearing attended by the Comd NZ V Force. Never visited the Embassy myself but I'll take your word for it ... not directly opposite ... doesn't change much though ... it happened.

Noel said...

The NZ detachment wouldn't have to face more the six in opposition from the US Ambassadors residence across the road.

The Veteran said...

Noel ... That's the story as told in the Orderly Room. I wuz there ... you weren't. As I read it you are saying it was not the Embassy but the US Ambassadors residence. I'll take your word for that. Variations on a theme.

Anonymous said...

Can't really comment on the location as it was dark when I got there. Supposed to be on my way to Singers on R+C but instead of chugging my way to paradise on the Bristol Frightener I found myself attending the Waitangi day soiree at the embassy because my yellow fever jabs had been overlooked.

As it happened it was whiskey Coy had drawn guard duty and as I was accompanying Embassy staff who had taken me under their wing. On the Gate was Speedy J presenting arms to all and sundry as they entered. I'm not sure whether is was distant thunder or Speedy's teeth grinding as he gave me the salute. I could get used to his I thought so after a beer or two I wandered outside to wait for the next Pasha on a palanquin to turn up and offered to escort them in.......sure enough, another present arms, tried it on twice more before the danger signals become obvious.

Lord Egbut

Gerald said...

Embellishment of a charge sheet.
They don’t always tell the full story.
That reminds me of the guy who scored himself a patrol with an Aussie platoon.
Some brown nose told command and they were there when the patrol formed up.
Command called out the soldier who didn’t move so accompanying Sgt was sent to get him,.
He took the rifle off the soldier but the soldier continued to stay in the ranks.
Command said hit him. Today with receding memories and the fact that it was dark at the time just what he was hit with remains a mystery. Fact is the Sgt was also carrying his own rifle at the time.

The soldier was felled and after regaining conscious was escorted to the lines and put in a conex used as a temporary cell.
There was a day or two before a charge was brought.
During that time the soldier developed undiagnosed simplex partial seizes which eventually interrupted his military career and marriage.

The discipline event in regard to the soldier been hit appears in the official history as though it should be above scrutiny. Nothing is written of the subsequent consequences.

Lesson for Command in the new era of Traumatic Brain Injury if you going to order a hit make sure it’s not to the head.

Anonymous said...

Noel your'e wrong
The Ambassadors PSU was seven. No tanks though.

Gerald said...

http://www.v4coy.com/vung-tau---saigon---locals.html

NZ Saigon Guardn NZ Embassy and US Ambassador's residence

Gerald said...

Egbut if the US Embassy was opposite you would have seen it.
https://i.pinimg.com/originals/97/9d/00/979d00a5ee85104a610e753a36dff355.jpg

Anonymous said...

Ambassadors residence to Embassy was around 2Km