The Air Force at Danang

I don't mean to disparage that other group of Air Wingers, but there is a BIG difference between them and us. The best revelation of the difference between their ways and ours was an incident I remember from Vietnam.

A Marine CH-46 pilot and I were going on R&R from Ky Ha. We hitchhiked with a CH-53 up to Danang to await our flight to Tokyo the next day. We checked into the R&R area, which consisted of GP tents with duckboards leading here and there. A returning HMM-165 buddy advised, "Don't stay here. Go over to the Air Force side!" It was about 1500, so we went out to the road and caught a ride on a 6x6 to the other side of the base.

We walked into the Air Force Officers club and almost had a cardiac arrest from the temperature change. They were air-conditioned! Tile decks, and everything was so clean. Air Force officers walking around in starched khakis! Hud Manning and I were in jungle utilities, muddy boots, and looked very scruffy.

Hud and I got our first beer and began to stare around at this amazing change of scenery. Ky Ha was very primitive compared to this. We also began to be stared at with disapproval. To the Air Force, Hud and I looked like we'd just gotten off a freight train, and hoboes did not belong there. There were nurses and Red Cross women, too, at whom we stared (leered?). We hadn't seen something like this in a long time.

We had steak and French-fries for dinner! No C-rats in this place. And get this, I looked very carefully at the rice and potatoes on the mess line, and there were no weevils! We always had weevils in our food at Ky Ha. Why was the Air Force different? We felt like we were already on R&R yet we hadn't even left Vietnam.

Hud and I drank a lot of beer that night. As a maintenance/materiel officer, I can honestly say us mustang types always maintain our dignity and decorum when consuming vast quantities of alcoholic beverages. Even when lying under the table we appear dignified. Not so with Marine pilots. Remember, Hud?

By midnight there was no way we were going to be able to make it back to the Marine side of the base. So we walked into the Air Force billeting office to get a rack for the night. Big argument. "You're Marines; you don't belong here," etc. I don't remember now how we talked him into letting us stay, but he very reluctantly gave us a rack for the night. They had air-conditioned trailers with carpeting!

We no more than hit the sack when Danang came under a rocket attack. Hud shook my rack yelling, "Let's get into the bunker!" and shoved off. Not only did I not know where the bunker was, I didn't care. I am not making this up, I then reached over to my trousers hanging on the rack, got out my ear plugs from the plastic vial that all air wingers had hanging from their belts, and carefully installed them. Probably got them in backwards.

Lots of heavy explosions, sirens, and people running around. I couldn't get out of the rack. By the way, when in Vietnam you could easily spot the difference between an Air Winger and a Grunt. Grunts always had grenades, knives, and assorted firearms hanging on their person. Air Wingers had this plastic vial with earplugs hanging on their belts, for protection from jet engine noises. Can't be too careful, you know.

Hud and I made it to Tokyo. While Grunts, with their usual disgusting behavior on R&R, always drank, caroused, and chased women, Air Wingers went to museums, libraries, and other cultural activities. (Remember Hud, that's what we told our wives.) 
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The author: Thomas Mix joined the Marine Corps in Sept. 1952 as a 16 year old. Served mostly with Marine Aviation. Vietnam in 1965 with H&MS-16, again in 1966-67 with HMM-165. Marine Security Guard with the American Embassy, Copenhagen, 1954-55. Married a wonderful Danish girl then; still happily married. Commissioned as a Warrant Officer 1962, retired with the rank of Captain, October 1972.

Click HERE to eyeball pix of the author at war

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From a base orientation brochure
for Air Force at Danang AB, 1966

Athletics—At the present time, the following facilities are available: Outdoor basketball court and weight-lifting area located in the Main Compound, flag-football and soccer fields located north of the Main Compound, one outdoor volleyball court, three horseshoe pits and two softball fields in the South Cantonment Area. The intramural sports program consists of basketball, flag football, volleyball, and softball. Plans are underway to construct a swimming pool, bowling alley, tennis courts, physical-conditioning unit, handball courts and a gymnasium in the South Cantonment Area. Plans also call for lighted softball fields, basketball courts, and flag-football fields in 1967.

Theaters—The 35-mm, air-conditioned theater with a 280-seat capacity is located in the Main Compound with performance times as follows: 1100, 1300, 1730, 1945, 2200 and 0100 hours. An outdoor 16-mm theater is located in the South Cantonment Area, free to all military personnel. Performance time is 1930 hours and the seating capacity is 150 persons. A new theater in the South Cantonment Area is planed for completion in 1967.
Pix shows late 1960s Danang living area of the
Air Force's 366th Combat Support Group ("Gunfighters")
—two story, aircon barracks with facilities aplenty.