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“IIikai East”

Roger McGill – 11D10 – HHT 3/4 Cavalry – 25th Infantry Division

Typed – 2/5/2013

The following information was written and was published in the Honolulu Star – Bulletin in 1966.

Taken from the Honolulu Star Bulletin – June 15, 1966

CU CHI is nerve center for 16,000 – man operation

“New Home of the 25th

The growing Army camp is built on a clay peanut field. From the air the country around Cu Chi is green, watery rice paddies, hamlet, little bamboo forests. But the base camp at Cu Chi from 7,000 feet stands out as a brown rectangle.

On the ground it is a flat, dusty, dirty, ex-peanut farm. There are hundreds of “hooches” a tent city made of lumber pre-cut by civilian carpenters at Schofield Barracks., built off the ground so that when monsoon rains fall in impenetrable sheets the camp becomes a lake but GI’s can still walk dry wooden, dirty planks. Each tent is screened but bugs move about anyway. Along the roads rumble heavy equipment, big trucks, jeeps.

Here and there are little bands of Vietnamese at work. Everywhere there is barbed wire and fences guarding each cluster of tents or the bigger, rectangular tents used for offices where soldiers sit sweating in green tee shirts. The background noise is the hum of fans, the clack of typewriters, the music of Armed Forces Radio or Vin Scully naming the three Dodgers due up in the next inning.

Outside each “hooch” is a cooler stocked with soda pop and beer. Inside each “hooch” is a Playmate of the Month on the wall, “femme nue.”

Outside each cluster of tents are four things:

1 – A pile of sandbags to guard against sneak VC mortar attack.

2 – Outdoor urinals, mere tubes sticking up out of the clay.

3 – Outhouses in the good old rural Americana, Lil Abner outhouse tradition complete with soggy rolls of toilet paper damaged by rain.

4 – Outdoor, unsheltered showers where men stand exposed, soaping up underneath drop fuel tanks from jet fighter planes converted into water tanks.

These are the cornerstones of Cu Chi’s tent city: outdoor showers (and happiness is an outdoor shower walked to in the altogether of a late afternoon), outhouse, urinals and sandbags, images of masculinity.

Booty from the Viet Cong

There is a pile of stuff taken from the VC tunnels captured by the men of the

25 TH. The booty draws a group of soldiers who look it over, curious, talking quietly, smiling. French bicycles, piles and piles of neatly folded burlap bags bearing the name of a company in Houston, Texas; a green satchel full of shaving gear with the label, American Red Cross, Hawaii chapter; boxes and boxes of medicines, morphine, pills, sacks and sacks of American paraffin, gigantic piles of raw black cotton for VC uniforms, plus weapons, guns, mortars, unfuesd time bombs, booby traps, and a slick well-greased Russian machine gun, the most admired item of the cache. Trophies of war.

The camp of Cu Chi

This then is Cu Chi, the name for a camp a mile wide and a mile and a half long. A camp over which helicopters constantly buzz like hornets.  A camp the sun pounds without mid-day mercy, the steaming clay that behumbs the psyche and dazzles the eye and plunges tents into temporary darkness when first entered.

There is also the rain, powerful in its intensity. There are gigantic thunderheads with grey, bottoms building on all sides with rapid bolts of lightning. (The 25th has lost one man to lightning).

The camp also has a sense of humor, necessary always in anything as grim as war, and reflected by signs outside tents. Cu Chi Hilton, Ilikai East.

“What is not seen at Cu Chi are the brigades in the field, the men on patrol, the artillery there, the snipers, mines, the terror, the corpsmen running, the blood and the dying.

Nor does one see the ambushes set up outside the Cu Chi camp perimeter, in the hamlets around the country side where both the VC and the patrols of the 25th roam, in this strange, no front, cat and mouse, war – this man against man rather than army versus army, this insurgency and counterinsurgency, this 20th Century National War of Liberation, this resurrection of a hundred little skirmishes and ambushes fought around the mesas of the American West 90 years ago – this sort of resurrection of George Custer and Sitting Bull.

But in this case it is a war in and around women, kids with sores on their heads, old men sitting on their haunches, hunkering down outside their little huts on dirt paths of the hamlet, watching, and watching.

The 25th came to Cu Chi from Saigon airport by truck last January. They drove right out a terrible road in single file in this open, mostly treeless peanut farm outside a group of little villages known as Cu Chi. The soldiers quickly put up tents and dug fox holes.

Middle of Communist Country

They were right smack in the middle of Communist country, a land the Communists had owned and operated for years. Not far away were VC supply routes running southwest by northwest from the Mekong Delta to the wooded areas of Zone C, the Iron Triangle, the Michelin Plantation, the dense double canopy of green where the Reds long ago set up training grounds, headquarters, hospitals, supply dumps, even rest and recreation camps.

The entire area was VC infested. The idea was that when they were strong enough they would move out in a southeast direction, toward the ultimate goal Saigon and victory – providing, that is, Saigon didn’t rush out to meet them on a silver platter.

Right smack in the middle of this came the 25th Division. From the very first day it had to fight and fight hard day after day just to hold the ground. Expanding the perimeter of the camp was slow and dangerous. There were snipers, booby traps, mortar attacks. From the beginning the 25th fanned out, taking over, bit by bit, every sanctuary the VC used to relax in. Each hamlet must be converted, missionary-like, by the green-clad men with M-14 and the red and yellow Tropic Lightning shoulder patch.

The Cu Chi camp also has a metal building, a non-air-conditioned silver structure that looks like any one of a dozen warehouses on Nimitz Highway, only smaller.

Division headquarters

Here is division headquarters the nerve center for a 16,000 man operation that consists of two brigades fighting nearby and another at Plieku in the Central Highlands, close to the happy, helicopter hunting grounds of the First Cavalry Division.

In headquarters is the simple office of Major General Fred C. Weyand, the tall one time Berkeley California police detective who runs the 25th.

The concrete floor is dusty, the room unpretentious, just like the back room in a warehouse.

Dominating Weyand’s office are a detailed wall map of the III Corps are of Viet Nam, Saigon down in the lower right corner, the Cambodian border on the left and an American flag.

Out in back he has his “hooch” – a tiny building where a soldier has painted on the wall a primitive Henri Rousseau – like likeness of Diamond Head.

Fred Weyand is built like Gary Cooper. He is tall in the saddle and lanky. But he isn’t shy. He likes to laugh, he is genuinely friendly, has a relaxed manner that perhaps indicates why the Army selected him to work the Capitol Hill beat as a Congressional liaison specialist before coming to Hawaii.

Today he looks fine except for occasional puffiness under the eyes where the coloring hints of sleepless nights, the strain of being awakened every time contact is made with the VC, the lengthy days, the harassing life of commuting constantly by helicopter, the responsibility of commanding men in combat, the constant, steady, unavoidable, mounting losses of young GI’s, somebody’s son.

Briefing on developments

Each morning there is a short briefing on overnight developments and each afternoon at five a full-blown briefing in which Weyand sits down with his entire staff. They stand up as he enters the room, some 40 men, and he takes a seat in the front, middle, a simple chair with his name on it.

Key deputies sit on either side of him. There are three rows of men, the colonels in front, the majors in the back, all in green fatigues, battle clothes, field boots, many muddy. All sweat. A light shines on a large field map. To the left are charts filled with figures, how many men in various units, how many tons of rice captured, how much ammunition on hand, how many helicopters out of commission, for how long, how much provisions, a hundred things.

The briefing is ready to start.

Everything is quickly reviewed, each briefing officer succinct.

The first man before Weyand is an Air Force lieutenant colonel, the weather man, and one of Air Force people attached to the Army division.

He tells Weyand scattered showers can be expected to continue for several days, without much change. His report takes 30 seconds. He smiles.

The general thanks him and he sits down. Then comes a procession of men, more than a dozen each representing a separate facet of a war machine – the intelligence colonel, a logistics, and operations chief, the voice of artillery. Each says his piece, awaits questions and sits down. Otherwise Weyand runs the meeting, does most all of the talking. He turns and asks, “is that right, Bill,” will this work out Jim?” or ‘what did they do about this yesterday, Vince.” Staff men answer formally to the end. Weyand is in command. He dismisses the briefing officer with a quick “thank you” or “you must push them a little harder on this, Dave, we should have this stuff ready,” etc.

They talk about the patrols, where night ambushes will be. They talk about the movements of brigades near the Iron Triangle, in country the VC has controlled for years.

The briefers talk about strategy, “which battalions will move this way and which that way in the next 48 hours in an effort to unearth more VC booty and pinch the VC Troop into a corner where they may have to take a stand.

And then there is a man who stands before Weyand and gives the VC body count for the day. This is a war of body counts rather than miles gained.

U.S. soldier killed in action

And then he says, “U.S. K.I.A. (killed in action), one soldier through the head by a sniper” in a wooden area in such and such sector. Translated, this means one 25th Division soldier had died. The briefer quickly sits down and another takes his place. There is no discussion of this event, the loss of another soldier who once may have ridden the bus from Wahiawa to Waikiki, who maybe swam at Haleiwa one day – who lived and breathed Oahu’s air, a many you may have talked to on a street corner.

And one wonders why Weyand’s feeling are when he get the crisp report, “U.S. K.I.A., one.” (Often it is far more than one). Maybe he can describe it, but can he really? Or must it forever remain deep inside. And does he feel like any general feels, or think about what other have felt, like Petain at Verdun, like Haig at the Somme? Who can know, maybe, except possibly Weyand’s wife Arline?”

Roger McGill