Story 28 - A Pleasant Sunday in Vung Tau

By Ian (Bluey) Granland

I guess I was in country about 6 weeks or so when I volunteered to drive a Land Rover from the unit to Vung Tau for one of the almost weekly Sunday jaunts.

These were designed to give the troops a bit of relaxation and relief away life at Nui Dat.  There was a beach at Vung Tau backing onto the Australian base, together with a boozer, the Harold Holt Memorial Pool (I still find the irony in the name quite astounding) and, for those who had forgotten or were there prior to it - hot chips.  This was all centred on the Peter Badcoe Club.  An in-house facility conducted by service personnel.  In other words, it was a Sunday Pissup, sometimes of great proportions.

I had been on these outings before, but had never driven.  Not that it was a big deal to drive, but I fancied myself as a driver, it was much better than sitting in the rear in those less than comfortable seats and besides, I thought if I’m behind the wheel, I wont drink too much.

We mustered at the 104 Transport compound around 0900hrs.  In our contingent was the unit's one and only truck, a Mark III International which I was to later side swipe on the compound fence in a return trip from a basketball game, and two Land Rovers, mine being long based.

MarkIII Truck and Long Base Landrover in Convoy for Vung TauI was a G.D. and had the section leader as my front seat passenger:  L/Cpl Bob "Colonel" Clink whilst two or three others occupied the rear.

The trip down was uneventful, apart from the fact that the Colonel kept telling me that we had to get out into town for a bit of (female) action.  Maybe I was a bit naive but still, I did know right from wrong and our options at the Logistical Support Group certainly did not include a day out in town.

When we arrived at the Peter Badcoe Club, we offloaded our passengers and the Colonel directed that I drive to our sister unit, 110 Signal Squadron which was well within the confines of the base.

Now I must admit, I was between a rock and a hard place here.  I had always been taught to obey your superiors however I wasn’t exactly comfortable to where Clinky was taking me, however I thought, well he knows best, he been here longer than me so maybe I should just tag along.

Peter Badcoe Club, Harold Holt Pool, 1 ALSG, Vung TauOn arrival at 110, Clinky headed straight to the Orderly Room where find a lonely Lance Corporal was the duty clerk.

The Colonel asked or rather, demanded a leave pass.

The lance jack refused saying he was not authorised to issue any, so Clinky appealed to his good nature, in words unprintable here as to the location of the leave pass book and shortly thereafter proceeded to write out one each.  I have often thought I should have kept that instrument of temporary freedom.  It is obvious now that I didn’t.

Armed with these, we made our way out of the gates of the base and into Vung Tau.

"I know where we'll go Bluey" the Colonel said in a patronising voice and navigated us to an establishment where he had obviously been on several prior occasions.

As I parked the vehicle in front of this back street establishment, which looked more like a house than a bar or place of sexual satisfaction, the Colonel cast a great smile in my direction.

"You first Bluey, I'll mind the vehicle".  Now, at that stage I had this stupid philosophy that whilst in South Vietnam I was never going to chance sex with the local ladies, not because I was a prude but I was worried that I might end up with a dose, and particularly the strain which attracted a .45 calibre pistol and a cut lunch with a sealed envelope containing the orders: "Nice knowing you, don’t come back".

Vung Tau and its delights!I did change my attitude though, not long after this particular outing.

 "I'll pass Colonel”, I said, desperately trying to come up with some plausible but manly excuse.

"Your loss", he retorted and with that jumped out of the vehicle and into the arms of a waiting young lady.  If my memory serves me correctly, not too bad either.

I just sat there preying that the Provos would not come driving past, me with my bodgie leave pass, dressed in greens and in a company vehicle.

Ten minutes or so past before the front door opened revealing the Colonel, a happy and contented man.  "Yes I'll be back next week and bring you some oranges" I could hear him telling the girls as they laughed in their child like manner, obviously not understanding a word he said as they bid him goodbye.

"Fucking sluts", he said as he crawled into the front seat.  "Now Bluey, lets have a drink" and as I started the vehicle I remarked that we couldn't go anywhere, except the Back Beach (Peter Badcoe Club) because of our responsibility of the Land Rover and the way we were dressed.

"Bullshit" Clinky roared and we drove down the main street of Vung Tau before he finally realised that I was right.  It was back to the Logistical Support Group or nowhere.

 But was it?

VC Hill"See that mountain up there" Clinky said as he pointed to the large and impressive feature overlooking Vung Tau, which was colloquially known to the local servicemen as VC Hill. 

"There got to be something up there, some Yank turnout, look at all that signals gear up there," as he nodded at the massive telecommunication equipment installed on the hill, "They've got to have some piss".

The hill or mountain was probably 200m or more above sea level with an access road set on a steep incline.  Finding the road was not particularly difficult and soon we were driving into a rather elaborate but small and unguarded US signal base.

"Sergeants Mess.  That’s what we want" Clinky said as he pointed to the carpark adjacent to a building which obviously housed the Senior NCOs bar.   (Well that’s what the sign said).

US Installation on VC HillAs we pushed the door open, we were met with a cool stream of air from the overworked air conditioners as a sea of white faces turned to meet their new visitors.

Aha, Shangrila at last I thought.  Come to momma.

We did not show any rank on our uniforms and soon introduced ourselves as the fictitious Sergeants Peterson and Reynolds from 104 Signal Squadron at Nui Dat, travelling on a special recce mission.  After all, who were they to argue?  In any case, they were not particularly interested, an indication that perhaps we were just two of many visitors.

Whether they saw through our ruse or not after two Budweisers we were all the greatest of mates and my ability to stretch the truth as a draftee stockbroker from Sydney and Clinky raving on about his 10,000 square mile cattle 'ranch' soon had us at home.

We stitched them up at darts and in fact introduced them to several new versions of the game - all won by us of course until the Colonel found the beer had a marked effect on his competency as a leading Australian amateur dart player.

From there we showed them how to play two up, pretty hard with paper Military Payment Certificates so after several hours of drinking two young Australian soldiers were well on the way to alcoholic oblivion.

I later slowed my consumption realising that I had to not only drive back through the streets of Vung Tau but then onto Nui Dat.  The Colonel, as it was well known to his mates was never a big drinker in any case, but his face was red and temperament varied.

After many lies and countless beers I finally extricated the Colonel from the Mess only to be hit by the hot sun with the time at 1545hrs.  The convoy was due to leave the Australian Base at 1600hrs, sharp.

To use a common Australian term, Clinky was spastic and I wasn’t much better, but still managed to control the vehicle as we attempted the steep decline towards the town.

Not long after leaving the US base I realised we had a flat tyre, rear offside, and since have often wondered if it was as a result of a puncture or by some mischievous actions by an unknown third party, maybe someone who was abused by us whilst toasting fate of Richard Nixon.

The Colonel was a non-event when it came to changing the tyre and instead made his way to a shanty, a short distance from the vehicle where a local Vietnamese peasant couple was watching our antics.  I was screaming at him to help but could only see him cuddling into the couple's young baby whilst I battled with the problem at hand.

Now the hill we were on was rather steep and the situation, really, was dangerous.  I had propped one front wheel with a sizeable rock but to make matters worse, we had no jack.  "No fucking jack!"  I said to myself and drunkenly tried to convey our predicament to the Colonel, who by this time was Clinky - cooing his way to the baby's heart with the adoring parents looking on.

"Stockade here we come" was all that was going through my mind, when all of a sudden, grinding up the hill came a heavy US army truck: vehicle, truck for the transportation of personnel complete with a complement of soldiers on the back, all seated in the middle, facing outwards with their Armalites at the ready.

As they neared, I waved down the driver, a big black PC1, who shouted over the roar of the vehicle's revving engine "what’s happening guy".  I tried to explain my situation, but as much as I could but he failed to comprehend.  I finally got the message through that we had a flat tyre with no jack and needed some type of a lift to change the wheel.

With that he shouted to some of the soldiers seated in the rear, three of whom debussed (I love that army term) and cool as u like, lifted the vehicle as I quickly replaced the wheel.

Now these soldiers were no redneck doods, they were black and big and powerful - man, I thought, just what the doctor ordered.

I bid them thanks and farewell all the in same breath as I ran and physically grabbed the Colonel, now almost a blithering mess and threw him in the front seat by numbers as I glanced at my watch: 1555hrs.  Five minutes to go.

I broke every speed rule in the book and must have got the Land Rover up to at least 30mph as I roared down the hill and through the streets of Vung Tau only to see the lead Provo car commence the journey for the convoy back to the Dat.

With cheers from our comrades, stoutly waiting for their return ride, I rushed straight past the gate and back to the Badcoe Club to collect our rifles.  As I stopped the vehicle in the car park, the Colonel, by now a bit more a tune to the situation, jumped out and raced to the armoury whilst I managed to switch my flat spare for a fully inflated one in an adjoining car.

He was soon out and we were back at the front gate just as the last vehicle was driving off.  A quick stop to pick up our colleagues who could only manage "where the fuck have you two been?" as i quickly caught up to the last vehicle, a short based Land Rover, containing a team of young officers.

I valiantly tried to convey our travels to the guys in the back but it wasn't coming out too well as we were travelled through the crowded streets of Vung Tau in a 30-40 Task Force vehicle convoy. 

"Pull out Bluey", those in the back who were just as full as us were yelling, "See how close you can get to these locals." That’s not exactly what they were saying, but you get the picture?

Convoy halted!As I did, the vehicle would shake as those in it would roar with laughter.  It didn’t take long for those in front of us to realise what we were doing and one officer turned and shouted for us to stop the tom foolery and for me to pay attention to my driving.

Not ones for discipline, the Colonel and the backseat drivers were soon shouting obscenities at the officers and using all the gestures they could muster to reinforce their opinions. 

Following several vain attempts for us to behave, their vehicle left the convoy and at a double-quick pace proceeded to the front of the procession.

"Oh shit" I thought.  Soon the convoy grinded to a halt and as we sat there waiting, thoughts of the stockade once more came pounding through my head.  Drunk and in charge of an Army vehicle.  (What about the others, I thought, these other pricks in front here, all the other vehicles??)

Little time was wasted as the short based Land Rover with the now smirking officers returned to the scene, accompanied by a vehicle manned by two Provos.

"That’s them" one (smart arse) officer said as he pointed our way.  The one who was the passenger came straight for me, whilst the other spoke to the Colonel and the officers.

"Been drinking solider?"  Was he first officious question?  "Yes Corporal."  I replied.  "When did you have your last" he enquired.  Now thinking I would get out of this I tried to think quick.  "About midday" I lied.  "Aha", he said "Not good enough, you cannot drive or be in charge of an Army vehicle within 5 hours of having consumed any alcohol" he said as he started to withdraw his green notebook and pen from his top pocket.

"Fuck" I thought - stockadesville.  Next thing the other Corporal Provo came across to where we were standing.  "I'll look after this John" he said to his colleague.  "No, I'm right" replied the Provo standing in front of me,  "He's pissed."

"No John, go talk to the lance jack, leave this to me" said the newly arrived Provo as he gave his mate a slight jab in the ribs.

The first one left as a rather solidly built Provo stood at my front looking me in the eye.  "What in the fuck are you doing Ian?" he asked. 

The sound of my Christian name ricocheted through my brain as I thought who is this soldier with a slouch hat and a red arm band, and it made me look more closely at his face.

It was Jeff Ault, a young man whom I had not seen in some years, but one who I had trained with as a boy in the NSW Police Cadets, then later as police colleagues.

"Shit, Jeff" I exclaimed.  "Look" he interrupted, "Don't say anything" as he removed his green notebook from his shirt pocket, "just answer the questions - you with me?"  He winked.

"Sure Jeff".  "Corporal!" he replied sternly and with that he asked me a number of pertinent questions going through the motions of writing the answers in his book.  Of course he was not writing anything, and after about 5 minutes or so said,  "Now for Christ sake, just take it easy, no fuck ups, OK?"  I nodded.

"He's OK to drive" he yelled to his mate in very audible voice for everyone to hear.  Following a short discussion, we all remounted and in after about 10 minutes the convoy was once again on its way to Nui Dat, with a very, very subdued Sig Granland behind the wheel of the last vehicle.

Yes I thought, there is a god and he smiled on me today.  But did it improve me?  No!

Ian Granland

Back   |  Story Index   |   Next
If you would like to add a story to this Web Site, please email with details.