By Richard H Dick James
54 years ago, September 1966, I was the SGT E-5 Demolition Sergeant on Detachment A-422 (Camp Vinh Gia), Company D (Detachment C-4), 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), in the Mekong Delta (IV Corps) of South Vietnam.
On 6 October I had six inches of water in my room, and there was eight inches in the main room, as well as a foot-and-a-half of water in the kitchen. Early that afternoon, SFC Richard (the team Operations Sergeant) and SP4 Greene replaced Stephens and I at Giang Thanh. They arrived on one of our Vinh Gia “Navy’s” fiberglass outboard motorized assault boats. Stephens and I had prepared and had all our belongings ready to return to the “civilized world” of Vinh Gia.
The boat ride east to Vinh Gia was interesting, and sad. It was unbelievable how many of the indigenous homes were flooded. In fact, it was all of them. The canal bank was the highest elevation in the area, it being also where almost all the homes were built. They were under anywhere from one to three feet of water. In one of our outposts, the men were sitting on the roofs of their quarters.
I was happy. We arrived just in time for me to celebrate my birthday the following day, the 7th, in the sanity (?) of Vinh Gia. A nice birthday present would have been receiving the “Playboy” magazines my mother sent. Apparently, some mail clerk along the line latched on to them for himself, figuring he needed them more than we did. Had I known who was pilfering them I would gladly have wrung his neck.
SFC Richard had appointed me to act as Team Sergeant during his absence, with the support of CPT Smith, even though I was outranked by two teammates in camp. That made me feel very proud. I was also continuing as clerk/typist, Supply Sergeant, Intelligence Sergeant, Heavy Weapons Leader and Demolition Sergeant (my official title, since I could draw additional demolition pay as long as I was assigned to that slot). I was also acting camp Light Weapons Leader (since SP4 Greene was at Giang Thanh), and “Ranch Foreman.”
We had purchased a cow, that I (basically, a city boy) was put in charge of. The closest thing to a farm I had ever been to, was a friend’s goat pen in Castro Valley CA, where I had milked his two goats a few times. We also adopted a baby river otter. We named him “Squeaky.” He was 8 inches long (not counting his tail), and was cute, furry, playful as could be, and noisy. He was constantly squeaking (hence his name). He loved to be held in the hand, on his back, while his belly was rubbed. Thankfully we had no problems catching fish for him, because his stomach seemed like a bottomless pit. In fact, when we adopted him we had enough fish swimming around in our flooded team house, to feed the little critter. Squeaky, our dog, and our three small kittens played together a lot.
As acting Team Sergeant, I learned a lot about the difficulties of supervising the running of a camp. Special Forces A-teams basically had two financial funds they were responsible for. The first, and easiest fund to manage, was the Team Fund. Team funds were set up to purchase goods for the team for everyday living and entertainment. The fund was kept afloat by monthly team member donations, as well as the small profit made by selling canned beer and sodas to team members for a very slight markup.
The second fund, and most difficult to manage, was the camp Operational Fund. This fund was the responsibility of the team executive officer (XO). This fund money came from the U.S. Government, disbursed by the SFOB (5th Special Forces Group Headquarters in Nha Trang to the C-team CIDG Finance Office Fund Officer, who in turn delivered it to our A-team. This was the fund used to pay the CIDG. In addition, some of the funds were allocated for other camp purposes, such as rations for the CIDG, petroleum products, transportation, locally purchased goods and services, and various goods used daily. It was the XO’s responsibility to account for every single Piaster (Vietnamese penny). That alone was a major headache for the team XO.
The LLDB found over time that money could be made from that fund. The more dishonest the LLDB CO, the more money he could make. The LLDB had become experts at bilking the fund out of money by recruiting CIDG soldiers who never existed, except on the payroll. Another method the LLDB used, was the monthly kickback system, whereby the CIDG soldier had to “donate” a percentage of his pay to the LLDB commander.
Sometimes the LLDB would form businesses in a nearby village, the main reason for its existence being to sell goods to the camp, payable through the Operational Fund. That wasn’t very difficult for them to accomplish, since Special Forces camps attempted, as much as possible, to purchase materials, labor, and services locally.
Another headache for the XO was making sure that every CIDG soldier paid was, indeed, the named soldier. Attempts would be made by the LLDB to run a CIDG soldier through the pay line a couple times, one of the times acting the part of a fake soldier, one who was on the roster but didn’t exist. If the “non-existing” soldier did get paid, he would then give the money to the LLDB, while receiving a small percentage for himself, for managing to fake out the pay officer.
Dependent pay was also collected by CIDG men. The LLDB on occasion would pad the number of children a CIDG soldier had, to collect more pay. The LLDB would then keep that extra pay. As an example, a private 1 was paid $1,600 VN (about $10 American) per month. He was also authorized a monthly family allowance of $200 VN ($1.25 U.S.) for his wife, and $100 VN (60 cents) for each child. An unlimited number of children could be claimed. That made it possible for CIDG soldiers to receive a lot of extra pay for children.
The water level on the 7th, my 24th birthday, still hadn’t gone down much. I had 3 inches of water in my room at Vinh Gia. What a birthday! I spent the day suffering from a touch of pneumonia and a bad foot infection, similar to athlete’s foot. Everybody on the team was suffering from the foot infection, one so bad that he was restricted to bed rest. When I slept I made sure the mosquito netting was tightly tucked in under the mattress, to keep the snakes out of my bed. When I woke in the morning it was nothing to see snakes swimming around my bed.
Amazingly, on 13 October my Playboy that was mailed in San Jose CA on 11 August, more than two months prior, arrived. And, it was in pristine condition. It must have come via a VERY SLOW boat sailing the most circuitous route possible. My “Care” packages (cookies, candy, goodies, etc.) from home were apparently utilizing the same transportation system.
From my book #4 (SLURP SENDS! A Green Beret’s Experiences in Vietnam Book 4), of my four-book set of “SLURP SENDS!” Books #1 (“SLURP SENDS! On Becoming a Green Beret Book 1”), #2 (SLURP SENDS! Experiences of an A-Team Green Beret Book 2”), #3 (“SLURP SENDS! Experiences of a Green Beret in Vietnam Book 3”), and #4 are available on Amazon, or from me.
PHOTOS: Flooding on the Vinh Te Canal / “Squeaky,” our baby river otter (my photos).