54 years ago, July 1966. I was a Sergeant E-5 newly assigned to Camp Vinh Gia (A-422), 5th Special Forces Group, on the Vinh Te Canal near the Cambodian border in the Mekong Delta, as the Demolition Sergeant on the team.
Unlike Cai Cai, Vinh Gia was not located within range of any friendly artillery. In fact, Vinh Gia was located quite a distance from any kind of allied support, even air support. On the north side of the camp was a very lethal looking piece of “artillery,” pointed north, over the canal. It looked like a large artillery piece, pointed toward the Cambodian outpost. The CIDG (Civilian Irregular Defense Group) had erected it, using an immersion water heater, wheels, etc. They were very proud of their “weapon.”
When the “weapon” was first erected, the Vietnamese apparently felt it would put the fear of God into the Cambodes in the outpost across the border, just to the north, keeping them in line. We got a big kick out of it. It was still there a year later, even though everyone knew by that time that it couldn’t hurt a fly. An immersion heater was a device used to heat water in empty large garbage cans, for use in cleaning mess kits while in the field. The smoke stack portion of the water heater acted as the artillery tube.
The camp had two 81mm mortars. One was manned by the LLDB (VN Special Forces) and CIDG, located within the inner perimeter, near the canal-side entrance to the camp, while the other was manned by our USSF (U.S. Special Forces) personnel. Our USSF 81mm mortar emplacement was in a raised position (due to frequent high water in camp during the monsoon seasons), near the center of camp. It was surrounded by a 4½-foot high, camouflaged, cement wall, and an ammo bunker for mortar rounds. The cement wall had vertical markings every 50 mils on the inside of the wall, completely encircling the mortar. Those markings aided in the aiming of the weapon.
Also unlike Cai Cai, which had a .50-caliber machine gun in the observation tower, Vinh Gia only had a .30-caliber machine gun in the observation tower. There was no .50-caliber machine gun assigned to the camp. The tower was a wooden structure about 35-40 feet high, with a wooden ladder for access to the top. It had two upper levels, both protected by sandbags around the perimeter, and corrugated metal acting as the roof of the topmost level.
The base of the tower was a cement thick-walled Tactical Operation Center (TOC), the location of the Fire Direction Control (FDC) for the camp mortars. The electrical-generated defensive weapons were also fired from the TOC. Firing slits were in the TOC wall, for defensive purposes, although covering only the inner perimeter. The tower was, in fact, located in the inner perimeter.
A lot of equipment that was common in other A-camps was not on hand in Vinh Gia. It was a much under-manned and under-equipped camp. We felt like black sheep. As was the case at Cai Cai, nothing could be constructed underground at Vinh Gia, due to the low level of the camp, and frequent flooding.
The camp’s small “inner perimeter” was on the north side of the camp, bordered by the Vinh Te Canal, the USSF and LLDB team houses on the west and south, and the administrative/supply building on the east. The inner perimeter was where the camp’s last stand would be made, if necessary. There was absolutely no concertina wire or other obstacles forming the “inner perimeter.” In fact, the only obstacles to entering the inner perimeter were the building walls.
Our team house was constructed of wood framework and corrugated tin siding, with corrugated tin for roofing. Most of the siding was reinforced on the outside with sandbags, up to about four feet. Windows consisted of wire mesh screen. Inside our team house “window curtains” were lengths of canvas that could be rolled down, either to keep the sun from shining in on us, or to keep people outside from being able to see us inside the building.
Our electrical power was from a large diesel 10kw generator that ran twenty-four hours a day, making possible minimal lighting in the camp. Unlike most camps, we did not have a second generator, in case ours malfunctioned. The generator was protected by a sandbagged revetment, located within the inner perimeter.
Water was pumped from the canal, just upstream from the camp, into a large tank, also located inside the inner perimeter. The canal water was filthy, and unhealthy. The water treatment facility was located near the water tank. As could be expected, the treated water tasted like crap, because of the amount of chemicals required, to make the water usable. As in Ethiopia and Cai Cai, we used powdered mix, notably “Funny Face” (similar to Tang, Kool-Aid, etc.), which we maintained a large supply of, to flavor the water. The water treatment was why sodas and beer were so popular.
This seems to be a good time to describe the Vietnamese CIDG’s toilet facilities. High tech, it wasn’t. A few feet downstream from the “Vinh Gia Yacht Club” wharf, as well as the water intake for our camp’s water supply, was a structure built out, over the canal. It had a narrow footbridge that went out to it, from the camp edge. It was known as a “catfish latrine.” It was a 5-hole “outhouse.” The troops would walk out, over the bridge, sit down on one of the toilet seats, and fire away, the beginning of a “life cycle.” The structure was called a “catfish latrine” because the catfish would eat the “human waste” that dropped into the canal. That would “fatten the catfish.” The soldiers and local villagers would then catch the catfish and fix them for their family meal. You can probably see where this is leading to. It’s the “circle of life.” Human waste became catfish food, the catfish then became people food, which became human waste, which became catfish food, and the circle continued.
From my soon to come out, book #4 (SLURP SENDS! A Green Beret’s Experiences in Vietnam Book 4), of my four-book set of SLURP SENDS! Book #1 (“SLURP SENDS! On Becoming a Green Beret Book 1”) & #2 (SLURP SENDS! Experiences of an A-Team Green Beret Book 2”) are already available on Amazon, and #3 (“SLURP SENDS! Experiences of a Green Beret in Vietnam Book 3”) is also soon to come.
PHOTOS: Vinh Gia’s “secret weapon” / The TOC at the base of the camp observation tower / The camp’s “inner perimeter” and volleyball court / Me standing on the footbridge to the “catfish latrine” (my photos)