An Unforgettable Experience

By Larry Barnthouse

It was a truly unforgettable experience. We壇 left Travis Air Force Base about 10:00p.m. and had been en route for more than 20 hours, including refueling stops in Alaska and Japan. There were about 130 of us on the plane. It had been pretty noisy at first, but by the time we crossed over the Philippines, the only sounds you could hear were whispers and nervous coughs. It was morning, somewhere over the South China Sea. Suddenly everyone on the right side of the plane turned absolutely silent and started staring out the window. When I got a chance, I crossed over to the other side to take a look. There it was, Vietnam. I hadn稚 expected it to be that beautiful. Mountains, covered with thick green forest, came all the way down to the sea. The shoreline was dotted with islands, also covered with forest. From 33,000 feet, there was no sign of human presence.

We flew along the coast for probably 20 minutes or so, although it seemed like hours, and then turned inland. By this time we were lower and I could see what looked like tiny silver birds flying in between the mountains below us. A few minutes later they were clearly recognizable aircraft: C-130痴 and below them, various sizes and shapes of helicopters flying in all directions.

As we continued our long slow descent toward Bien Hoa, the mountains were replaced by rice paddies dotted with diamonds. The diamonds grew steadily larger and rounder and I soon realized they were really shell craters filled with water. Shell craters everywhere! By the time we turned to make our final approach, we were flying over country that looked a lot like the surface of the moon (only greener). We came in over the Dong Nai River and landed.

Along with 129 other replacement troops, I was herded off the plane and onto a bus to the transit barracks at Long Binh. Two days later I was told I had been assigned to the 541st Military Intelligence Detachment, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, what ever that was. A few hours later, I was in Di An and six weeks after that I was in Cambodia with HHT, 2/11. 覧覧覧覧覧覧

I was on loan to the Phoenix Program in Phu Cuong. After the 2nd Squadron stood down in July, there hadn稚 been much work for me to do out in the field. My job now was to interrogate prisoners brought in by the South Vietnamese National Police. Some were hard core VC, some were draftees from Hanoi, most were peasants who壇 just been in the wrong place and the wrong time. It was the week before Christmas for whatever that was worth. Snuol, Loc Ninh, Binh My, Ham Tan and now Phu Cuong. The good, the bad and the ugly. Id seen it all. My ass was still in one piece and if my luck held, I壇 be back in the World in two more months.

The phone rang. I heard Captain Keeler yell, 釘arnthouse! It痴 for you!. The 541st MID clerk (a new guy, I hadn稚 even learned his name yet) was on the other end of the line. I heard him say, 滴ey Barnthouse! You got a drop! You池e going to be out of here in 13 days you lucky bastard! Barnthouse? Are you still there?. For the first and only time in my life I was unable to speak. Eventually I was able to make a grunting sound to let him know I had heard him. On New Year痴 Eve I called my parents from the Philadelphia airport and told them I壇 be in Cincinnati in an hour.

I致e been away from the war for 24 years now but barely a day goes by when I don稚 think about that time. Sometimes the war seems so distant that it must have happened to somebody else, but often it seems more real than what happened last month or last week. So wherever you are, Rick Miller, Frank Walker, David Drake, Chuck Wheeler, Eddie Stec, Sgt. Bao and all the others whose names have slipped away but whose faces remain, you are part of me that can never be taken away. I will never forget you and will always be proud to have known, lived and served with you. I hope you remember me the same way.