I arrived in Thailand in July 1968 at the tender age of 17. A brief stop (over night) at the Windsor Hotel in Bangkok and then on to Camp Friendship (Korat) located about 256 KM northeast of Bangkok.
After a week of in processing (and hanging around the coke stand) I was finally assigned
to the 538th Eng. Bn. Most of the guys I went over with were assigned to the 809th Eng. Bn. which at that time was located
about 470 KM further north in Sakon Nakhon at Camp Ruam Chit Chai.
The 538th Eng. Bn. was located at Camp Essayons, about 40 miles south of Korat, in the foot hills of the Korat Mountains (out in the jungle in no where land).I arrived at the battalion headquarters in the evening and was given a bunk in one of the hootches. Sometime during the night I heard a gunshot echo through the camp. One of the old timers there said "don't worry, thats probably just one of the Thai Guard NCO's shooting one of the guards that fell asleep". It's easy to say I didn't get much sleep the rest of the night. I often wonder if he was just pulling my leg.
The next morning was more in processing and then I was given my final assignment...
We departed the next morning in a 2 1/2 ton cargo truck. There were three old timers and me, the newbee. You don't have to guess which seat I got..yep, in the back with all the parts, tires and supplies. I was lucky (I thought) because there was no tarp over the back.
The wind was cool as we went winding up through the mountains. Nice smooth paved road and then BAM... and I was about a foot above where I had just been sitting. I forgot to mention that the mission of the 538th was building the road through the mountain. Yep, you guessed it...we went from pavement to dirt with a 4 inch drop. Have you ever ridden in the back of a 2 1/2 ton on a dirt road? Hope you have strong kidneys and lots of hair in your nose.
They say bad luck comes in 3's. You know, they're almost right. I finally got in a comfortable position, looked to the front and said "Oh SH_T". If your reading this page then you probably know a little (or a lot) about road construction. Have you ever seen a M290 scraper come barrelling down a dirt road? I did.
I looked at that 290, it's big cloud of red dust following it, and prayed that the driver would turn left or right and that a big gust of wind would take the cloud away. Yep, you guessed it...no such luck.
I guess you already figured out that there were three companies on that mountain and each company had at least five 290's each and YES, we passed and waved hi to all of them.
I always wonder why none of them were ever going in the same direction we were? Maybe at least we could have stayed ahead of them. Oh well....
I kept trying to shake the dust off and even tried to comb my hair...that was a waste of time. All the while thinking...can things get any worse?
Well, we made it over the mountains and right at the bottom the driver pulls over and they all get out still laughing their silly heads off. I got out of the back and looked in one of the side mirrors. Do you remember the movie RAMBO? You know, the part where Stalone hides in the mud bank. Picture that, except it's dry (with a little sweat mixed in).
This Buck Sergeant (I don't remember his name), takes me over to the other side of the road and points at what he called a klong. To me it looked like a big mud hole with a couple of water buffaloes and a couple of kids out playing in it. He tells me I can stay like I am for the next 12 to 14 hours or jump in. Yep, you guessed it...SPLASH...clothes and all.
When I got out of the mud hole they started laughing again. Now what? Have you ever heard of Leeches? I started to pull one off of my neck but the SGT stopped me..told me the head would stay in if I pulled on it. He lights up a cigarette and comes toward me. "What are you doing!" They tell me that the only way to get them off is to burn them and they will drop off. OK, go ahead, hell..I used to burn myself just for kicks in high school...doesn't hurt anyway. Ha
After about 30 minutes we got back on the road and within another 30 minutes I was dry as a bone. Ohhh, feels good, little hot though, felt cool when I was damp, maybe a little sprinkle is what we need to cool things off ....CRASH...BAM..Thunder and Lightning!!! OH SH_T, what now. Yep, you guessed it. For the rest of the trip it rained, thundered, lightning flashing.....WHAT HAVE I GOT MYSELF INTO!!!!
Well, finally after 12 hours in the back of that 2 1/2 ton we arrive at D Company. It's 2330 hrs, everything is pretty quiet, we are approaching the gate....WAIT! What's that I see? What's that I hear? Are those guys really beating each other..are they drunk or something? Yes, on both accounts. It's dark, it's raining, it's cold, I'm hungry and they're going to jump on this truck and kill me. Please, please, let us make it through the gate.
The driver blows his horn and it's like magic. Everyone stops, waves at the truck, I hear a few "hey what did you bring us" and we pass through the gate and into camp. We pull up to the orderly room. I looked back at the gate....those fools are beating each other again.