LETTERS TO HOME
by Lt. Larry Hallstrom
CULVERTS, ROCK QUARRY, AND HONG KONG
18 Oct 65
…It has rained for three days off and on, then, yesterday the bottom fell out.
It started at 6:00am yesterday and as of now (9:30am) it is still coming down.
The sum result is the roads are washing away. The main entrance road to the area
withstood the rain with no sweat, but perimeter road is something else.
CULVERTS AFTER RAINS
So far 5 culverts have washed out, and if it keeps going many more will go.
Yesterday, while working on a bunker, I got a dozer stuck in the mud at 3:00pm.
It was 7:00pm before I got him out, and I had another one stuck trying to pull out the first.
I got in late, but the chow waiting for us made us quickly forget all. We had fresh steak,
French fries and fresh fruit. This morning I had fresh eggs and grapefruit.
So the chow is slowly but surely improving…
SGT WILSON AND THE MESS CREW
Three lieutenants have already left for the States. Two more leave in about a month,
so before long there will be a shortage of officers around here. The company has lost
two enlisted men because they were getting out of the Army, and we have had one replacement…
One striking difference I have noticed in the local peasant is their attitude toward
US troops. When we first drove through the city there were many hard stares as if they
did not want us intruding on their land. But now they are quite friendly, perhaps even
too much so. When I stop the jeep in town, I am immediately flocked by kids, all begging
for something out of a C-ration box. Some of them are just plain curious and want to
thoroughly inspect the jeep.
(left) LT. HALLSTROM AND SHOESHINE BOYS
(right) LT. SAVAGE AND AN KHE KIDS
AN KHE CHILDREN
Everyone has become a merchant now. You may have seen the pictures I took of the roadside
stands. The stands have sprung up overnight all along Rt 19 toward An Khe.
ABOVE PICTURES ARE OF ROAD SIDE STANDS IN AND NEAR AN KHE
Many homes now have a stand selling dolls, pans, chairs, etc. And virtually everyone
has gone into the laundry business. Laundry signs are all over. They realize now that
a Division of soldiers is capable of putting a good bit of money into the economy and
they are taking advantage of it…
We have completed about six squad size huts or “hootches” as we have nicknamed them.
They moved in yesterday, and none too soon because of the rain. At least we now have
over half the company up off the ground…
SGT SMITH SUPERVISING CONSTRUCTION OF 3RD PLATOON HOOTCH
21 Oct 65
…It has rained for a week, today being the first day the sun has been out. We lost three
culverts to the onrushing water, and had to fight to keep from losing another. Last night
was my last night on the evening shift for another week…
The PX system is improving. Razor blades are not as scarce anymore…
24 Oct 65
Today the sun is shining! First time in quite a while, and it is a welcome relief…
The kids are beginning to pick up several English words. “Hello” is naturally known by
all of them. “Give me” is catching on, usually followed by “cigarette.” Kids less than
five approach everybody they see and ask for a cigarette…
The 1st Cav helicopters have been quite active the past two days. They must be involved
in the fighting over near Pleiku. Today a dozen or more persons were in the VC compound.
I presume they were there for questioning as possible VC.
We have been playing a good bit of volley ball lately. Every evening around 5:00 a game
is started. It sure is good exercise! For dinner we had fried scallops and tonight we
are to have pork chops. So Chow is still improving…
27 Oct 65
Yesterday we put in another culvert. We have got to the point where we can put one in in a
day. All we have to do today is cover it over and finish up the head walls…
Roadside stands and laundry shops are thriving off the GI. One stretch along Rt 19 has over
40 laundry shops now, all of them are some family’s home…
Another interesting habit of the Vietnamese is the way in which they dry the grain and rice.
Often they place the rice on the street pavement, even on busy Rt 19. They block all traffic
in doing this, but that is no big thing to them.
DRYING GRAIN ON HIGHWAY AND IN BASKETS
31 Oct 65
…Yesterday I had my first ride in a UH-1B helicopter, more commonly known as the “Huey.”
I was pay officer this month and had to fly to Qui Nhon to pick up the money. I only
took 30 minutes one way, but I took several pictures.
Today I have another ride, I have to return the paper work to the finance section…
One guy is my platoon has been evacuated to the Qui Nhon hospital. As best as I could
find out he has malaria. That is the first case in the company, and the third in the
battalion. The 1st Cav has reported over 100 cases of malaria, and suffered one death
from it. And the mosquitoes seem to be getting thicker!
4 Nov 65
Monday I flew back to Qui Nhon to return the pay. Some sort of holiday was in progress
so the city was off limits…
Two days ago my platoon was given a special project. The battalion decided it needed
crushed granite and would have to start up a rock crusher. So I did. It has a 100 manpower
engine, and is constantly breaking down! At least we have no spare parts problem, just a
spare person problem. This morning I did not even have that problem. We pick up the workers
at the village city square and haul them out Rt 19 to the rock quarry site. I employ 125
workers per day. This morning 196 showed up for work. I felt very sorry and found it
difficult to turn back so many, because they all desperately need the money. After 1 ½ hours,
I managed to have only 128 loaded aboard the trucks. I work through an interpreter, Sgt. Minh,
of the Vietnamese Army. He spoke fairly good English, and I somehow manage to get the desired
result from him.
SGT MINH OF THE VIETNAMESE ARMY
The workers are all very poor, and our wages are good by local standards. I am given so much
money (piasters) and can pay as I see fit within certain limits. So I decided to try and
establish some sort of incentive pay scale. To those who just carry rock I pay 70 dong per
day and 75 if they do a good job. I pay 75 dong to those who hammer rock all day and 80 if
they do a good job. No discrimination is allowed between men, women, boys and girls. It’s a
good thing too, for I have two old women (age about 60) who work far better than young girls,
and I have some young boys who hammer much more rock than some older men.
Today was the first day on the incentive basis, and the output practically doubled. Yesterday
we produced about 20 cubic yards and today about 45 cubic yards. The people are broken down
into six groups, each with a Vietnamese supervisor, or honcho. They are paid 115 dong per day,
or 120 depending on what kind of job they do. Today three of them did a good job keeping the
people working, so I paid them 120 dong or piaster.
So you can see the very low pay scale these people have. However to many of them this is
probably the most money per day they have made in a long while, and maybe ever…
15 November 1965
…I believe I left off with the opening of a new rock quarry. Everything has been running as
smoothly as can be expected. Occasionally I have a run in with the people, but we have always
worked things out. The first big incident occurred when the Colonel made a decision to uphold
a Vietnamese law and not employ anyone under 18 years of age. When I told the people this one
morning when we went to pick them up, they refused to work, stating it was all or none. So I
flat told them it would be none. So I had no workers.
Next day they showed up less the younger boys and girls. I had successfully called their bluff.
The workers are virtually the same every day, and therefore we are beginning to become better
acquainted with them and they with us. Working with them has completely changed my opinion of
the Vietnamese people. Before, they impressed me as being extremely lazy people, and I believe
my platoon had the impression the Vietnamese were far inferior to us. They are so to speak
inferior to us, but only in the sense that they are a backwards people, far behind our
industrialized society. But these people are humans, they have their feeling, their pride, and
most of all their ambition. The majority of my workers are refugees who have recently migrated
to the An Khe area. In most cases they brought the clothes on their back and little else.
They are seeking to earn a new living, to get a new start on life. It is a wonderful feeling
to know that you are a big factor in helping them along, by furnishing them with a chance to
earn some valuable money.
As I mentioned before, I have set up an incentive pay scale, offering the loaders 70 VN$ and
75 VN$ if they work well, and the rock crushers 75 VN$ and 80 VN$ if they work well. I believe
it is working, for the efficiency has risen noticeably. They are conscientious for the most
part, and determined to earn that extra 5 dong per day.
I find myself in a difficult position. I would like to become acquainted with the people, let
them know how much we are trying to help them, and at the same time I must rule with an iron
hand to keep them in line.
For instance this morning four groups presented me with a list of 23 workers per group, three
above what I have specified on numerous occasions. I had to put my foot down and refused to
work but 20 per group. You must explain to them that you are sorry you can’t work everyone.
But if I did not, tomorrow they would show up with 24!
The men presented me with another problem today. One gave me a letter which requested the men
receive higher wages, because the hammering was quite rough on them and also because they feel
there should be a larger gap between the women’s wages and their own.
I can see their point, but I am limited in the wages I can pay. I can’t go above 80 dong per
day. I have a few ideas how I may be able to remedy that, but I hope they will be patient and
not stir up another wildcat strike…
The food is getting better every day. Tonight we even had ice cream!
25 November 1965
Received your cake and pop corn last night. Thank you much.
Today the battalion has a holiday, the first one in some time. So I am having a chance to
observe Thanksgiving and my birthday…
3 December 1965
…My platoon was given a new assignment yesterday, or rather an additional one. I am
constructing a battalion motor pool. We had hardly begun when I had a dozer stuck in the muck.
What appeared to be solid soil just gave way when the dozer passed over. The rains are here
again. For over four days it has drizzled or rained continuously. What a mess…
The rock quarry is still running, only four groups strong though. The other day one showed up
with 9 men instead of my stipulated 10, so I sent him home with the best French I knew. Next
morning he had 10 men, and all a little older, for I also warned him to be sure they were
18 years old…
5 December 1965
…The other day I moved my location in the tent. When I moved the bed, I found a six inch
centipede crawling about. Glad I found him before he found me.
LT HALLSTROM IN BOQ
Two of my workers came down with malaria today. Two girls became quite sick, so I took them to
the doctor. He diagnosed malaria…
One boy cut his leg badly the other day. The medic had no Novocain, so he sewed his leg
without any. The boy barely flinched.
Am still going to Saigon 13, 14, 15 Dec as planned…
9 Dec 1965
Well the Saigon trip got cancelled. The hotel I was to stay in had to cancel all reservations
in order to accommodate the displaced persons from the hotel which was recently bombed…
Received three packages in the past two days…The small Christmas tree and wreath, etc., will
make a find decoration for the tent…
While writing Frank tonight I had to kill a small scorpion running across the ground. More
pests! At least we have not been bothered by snakes lately…
Started surveying today in the new supply area. Will probably take a couple more days to
complete the surveying. Then the layout must be drawn, and a construction schedule worked out.
So I’ll be quite busy the next few days…
16 Dec 1965
Tonight we just received some good news. Co. A has been nominated for an award from the
Vietnamese government which is the equivalent to the US Army’s Distinguished Unit Citation.
The award covers the period from 23 August – 8 November 1965. That is quite an honor, I sure
hope we receive it, for the men sure deserve it. My company did more than its share in building
our way and the path for the 1st Cavalry Division into this area. The Colonel tomorrow will
try to obtain a nomination for the entire battalion…
Today was particularly active. I hired the local workers this morning and put them to work.
Then I had a squad of men to work on the battalion area. I had another squad working on the
improvement of the bivouac area. And tonight I was trial council for a court martial.
…Almost every major unit hires the local laborers to do jobs which the units cannot afford the
manpower to do. This allows the infantry units to do the fighting while the workers clear
fields of fire and construct the extensive barrier which is being put around the entire area.
The Division hires as many as 1500-2000 workers daily, and has been ever since we got here.
That will give you an idea of the amount of land that has been and still needs to be cleared…
The Saigon trip was cancelled. I am scheduled for January now. In February Lt. Savage and
I are planning an R&R trip to Hong Kong for seven days…
16 December 1965
Merry Christmas! Hope everyone is enjoying the holiday. I know it is not like previous
Christmases, because this is the first in 25 years we have not all been together…
Wish I could be there, but “duty, honor, country” MacArthur
21 December 1965
…Started work today on light poles to go completely around the perimeter. Some 250 holes
must be dug before we can put up the poles. This place will be lit up like New York City
before we get thru.
Still running the rock quarry. It’s very interesting working with the people. So far no
VC in the bunch. Hope it stays that way…
28 Dec 65
…Bob Hope came through today with his show. And what a show! Very enjoyable throughout.
His time and all others concerned is deeply appreciated by all of us. The touch of home he
brought over helped remind us all what awaits for us back in the States. His show consisted
of Jack Jones, Carol Baker, Anita Bryant, Kay Stevens, Joey Hetherton, Jerry Cologne and
Les Brown and his band. All will be on TV around 19 Jan 66 on the Chrysler Hour…
BOB HOPE USO SHOW DECEMBER 1965, AN KHE
If anyone’s morale was low, which I do not believe it was, it sure got a shot in the arm with
the Bob Hope Show…
While working on the perimeter fence light poles, I saw at least a dozen parrots flying around
yesterday. All were green with yellow and orange…Tropical animals and birds, as well as snakes,
seem to be all around here. A few people even have pet monkeys…
PERIMETER LIGHTING AND GUARD TOWER
4 January 1966
…I received my R&R orders today. I will go to Saigon on 14 Jan, and leave on the 15th for
Hong Kong. Hugh Savage and I are going together…
Letters to Home Part 4, end
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