wrecked by farewells with my parents and with Peggy. Frantic last-hurrahpartying in Oakland had not helped, either. When I saw bursts of lightthrough the airplane’s porthole, I didn’t know whether we were flying into alightning storm or over explosions of bombs and artillery. I no longer cared.In my exhausted condition, I just wanted to end the long journey and face whatever was thrown at me. Most of all I wanted to sleep, and I desperately wanted to stretch my legs. AgruffAirForcesergeantmetusinthemiddleofthenight.Helinedusup, drill sergeant fashion, into proper lines for transportation to our nextdestination. I was dismayed to discover heat and humidity were actually worse in Saigon than in the Philippines. The passenger terminal at Tan SanNhut was austere in contrast to Jacksonville, Atlanta, and San Francisco;this facility made even the barren terminal at Clark Field appear elegant. We were standing in a tin barn with a concrete floor and not much else; thisbusiest airport in the world had all the ambience of a chicken coop.Mostofourgroupreportedtoadeskwithasignoverheadreading“U.S. Army-Vietnam.” From there, transportation to Camp Alpha was arranged. At Camp Alpha the lucky ones were processed and transported to U.S.units. Twenty-five unfortunate souls reported to the MACV desk forrouting to Koepler Compound in downtown Saigon. At the MACV compound we would go through roughly the same procedures as theblessed ones, except we were to be shipped on to advisory teams with the ARVN—the Army of the Republic of Vietnam.Following instructions from our hard-bitten non-commissioned officer(NCO), we struggled to pile all our duffel bags into the back seats of the busand then sat near the front. I didn’t want to be separated from my bag, butthe driver announced: “Put your bags in the back and you sit in the front. That way you greenhorns won’t trip over your bags when you scramble outthe doors if we’re ambushed!”Maybe this was the real war after all. I felt naked without a weapon.Heightening my uneasiness, I noticed the windows of the bus had heavy wire screens over them and opened only a couple of inches to allow the hot,stiflingairinside.Everyoneinthebustriedtoappearnonchalant,butIknew they were as nervous as I was—or at least I hoped they were. The busmoved forward, which forced hot air to circulate around us like a draftcreated when a door opens to a steaming sauna.
Prodigals: A Vietnam Story