THE ROAD TO SAIGON
Dong Tam to Saigon - Along Route QL-4 - The lifeline of the Delta
11 April 1969

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GOING TO SAIGON WITH PASSES IN HAND - 11 APR 69

View #1 - My request to take the Admissions Test for Graduate Study in Business (ATSB) had been approved. The only place near Dong Tam to take the test was at the Vietnamese - American Association in Saigon. The bandmaster secured three day passes for a driver, guard, and me to go to Saigon. He provided a truck and his own personal weapon, which he told me to keep out of sight and carry at all times. I didn't understand what he meant but later found out when we got to Saigon.

  CROSSING THE WIDE VAM CO TAY 11 APR 69

View #10 - The Vam Co Tay was a wide navigable river. US Army Special Forces patrolled areas of it with Florida style air boats. The bridge had through girder approaches that led to an overhead truss over the deep part of the river.

PASSING DONG TAM'S DESTROYED AMMO DUMP - 11 APR 69

View #2 - The base road to the main gate took us past the east edge of the wrecked Navy area and the blown ammunition bunkers. Two weeks after the event things were still a mess. The foresight of Dong Tam's Army engineers saved a lot of lives.

  ARVN ENGINEER COMPOUND AT TAN AN -  11 APR 69

View #11 - There was an ARVN engineer detachment on the north bank of the Vam Co Tay. They had the responsibility of repairing and maintaining the bridge and road surface.

SMALL VILLAGE ALONG ROUTE 256 - 11 APR 69

View #3 - To get to National Route QL-4 one had to drive east on Provincial Route TL-25 and then turn north on Communal Route 256. Route 256 intersected with Route QL-4 about three-and-a-half miles east of the Long Dinh Bailey bridge (the VC blew the old bridge on January 12, 1969) over the Kinh Xang (canal). There were several small settlements along Route 256.

  A RELIC FROM ANOTHER WAR ON GUARD - 11 APR 69

View #12 - A stationary relic from another war guarded the northern approach to Tan An bridge. This US manufactured M-24 Chaffee light tank was, undoubtedly, left behind by the French after they withdrew their forces in 1956. The M-24 had been introduced to the Allies in Europe during the winter of 1944. Unlike most US tanks of the period, it utilized a Christie designed torsion bar suspension that the German tank designers favored.

BURIAL MONUMENTS IN RICE PADDY - 11 APR 69

View #4 - The Vietnamese bestowed great honor on their ancestors. They buried them above ground in stone vaults that were often more substantially constructed than their own homes! The peasants were innovative. One hootch I, unfortunately, did not photograph was sheathed with opened, split, and flattened Coca Cola cans. You could see that house glinting in the sun a mile away - Coke, Coke, Coke!

  US NAVY LST "HARNETT COUNTY" AT BEN LUC - 11 APR 69

View #13 - Route QL-4 crossed the Vam Co Dong (River) at Ben Luc. The Ben Luc bridge was a favorite target of the Communists and had been partially destroyed on the morning of June 30, 1968, when enemy sappers dropped a 150' span of the bridge into the river. US Navy LST #821, USS Harnett County, is anchored south of the crossing. It furnished temporary berthing and billet accommodations for PBR boats and crews awaiting completion of the new Naval Support Activity Saigon - Detachment Ben Luc facility.

FIELD ARTILLERY SET UP IN FIELD - 11 APR 69

View #5 - It appears that papa-san's ancestors are not going to enjoy much peace and quiet this day. Four howitzers of an ARVN artillery unit have set up in papa-sans growing field amongst his ancestors. The monuments are visible to the right of the trucks. It looks like the ARVNs were expecting round-the-clock trouble. Their guns are deployed to fire in different directions 180 degrees apart! If you look carefully you can see a striped aiming stake and surveyor's tripod and transit to the far right of the photograph.

  214TH CAB "SLICK" ROLLING IN HOT NEAR BINH CHANH - 11 APR 69

View #14 - We were nearing Binh Chanh when a small traffic jam stopped us. Several civilian vehicles were abandoned in the road with their passengers cowering behind them. They kept chattering and pointing to the tree-line. It was a good distance away from where we stood. Then I saw it. A couple of flashes in the trees. They were just tiny specks but there they were. We hunkered down with the mama and papa sans! Although the snipers were within range of our M-16s, the distance was so great we'd just be wasting our ammunition trying to hit anything. We decided to wait for nightfall. It was already beginning to get dark. Then out of nowhere a Slick roared over the trees, rolled onto its side and blasted the tree-line with its .30 cal. After things were secure they hovered a few yards above our truck. They must have spotted the white star on its hood. After a few seconds of inspection, the door gunner smiled a wide grin, threw us the peace sign, and off they went like a friendly dragon in the sky.

ARVN FORT WEST OF ROUTE 256 - 11 APR 69

View #6 - ARVN forts were common throughout the Delta. They were usually bulldozed dirt in the center of strings of barbed wire and rows of spiral concertina wire. They always seemed to have a tall flagpole in the center with their national colors flying high above.

  CHOLON - SAIGON'S CHINATOWN - 11 APR 69

View #15 - It was still light when we entered Cholon, Saigon's Chinatown. We were about three miles from our downtown destination. Route QL-4 seemed to end; so not knowing what street to take, we pointed the truck toward Tan Son Nhut Airport.

         
SMALL MANUFACTURING VILLAGE - 11 APR 69

View #7 - This Vietnamese settlement on the outskirts of Tan An had a little light industry mixed in amongst its hootches. Most of South Vietnam's industry was light and clustered in and around larger cities. They specialized in ivory carvings, pearl inlaid lacquered plaques, brass fabrications from spent artillery shell casings, silk clothing, sandals cut from truck tires, and inspired booby-traps made from US garbage.

  PHU THO RACE TRACK IN CHOLON - 11 APR 69

View #16 - The once fashionable Phu Tho Racetrack in Cholon was the scene of some of Tet 68's heaviest fighting. The Communists had set up their central command post and a field hospital on its grounds. On February 10, 1968, the 199th Light Infantry Brigade took it back. Although the stands were riddled with bullet pockmarks and other signs of war, the structure retained its architectural dignity.

         
TRAFFIC JAM AT TAN AN - 11 APR 69

View #8 -The traffic got a little heavy on Route QL-4 crossing over the Vam Co Tay on Tan An bridge. Bridges were real sources of traffic jams. It seemed that the larger the bridge, the bigger the jam. So much for the convoy ambush tactic of keep moving if you're hit.

  RESIDENTIAL FORTRESS - 11 APR 69

View #17 - Many years of war had reduced even residential neighborhoods in metropolitan Saigon to fortified encampments. Strung and concertina barbed wire adorned even the stateliest houses. The wealthy hired their own small armies. This weed overgrown bunker complex was in a residential area southwest of downtown Saigon.

         
HOTEL TOKYO IN TAN AN - 11 APR 69

View #9 -I really don't know why I snapped this view of the Hotel Tokyo. The Army never deem it necessary for bandsmen to know their precise location unless, of course, we were attacked. Even then it wouldn't have made much of a difference - we never had a radio. Perhaps I took this photograph because I recognized this hotel with its unique plantings from several trips to Tan An by another route. Is that a Norfolk pine?

  CAMP ALPHA AT TAN SON NHUT - 11 APR 69

View #18 - Camp Alpha was in the western part of the city near the MACV headquarters compound and Tan Son Nhut Airport. Prior to the arrival of the 90th Replacement Battalion at Long Binh in August 1965, Camp Alpha functioned as a troop replacement center. It later became a processing center for troops going on R&R and a compound for military police.

   
DARKNESS FALL ON CHOLON - 11 APR 69

View #19 - By the time we reached the edge of the French Quarter dusk was rapidly shrouding the hustle and bustle of the outlying marketplaces. In a few more blocks we'd hit the bright lights and MPs of the French Quarter. I would soon know why the bandmaster had told me to keep his .45 hidden and on my person at all times. Saigon sure didn't look like Kansas and it certainly didn't look like the Delta!

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