Don Collins 1965 - 1966 - Beginning of Det D
6 Guys and a 3/4 Ton Truck
     In June of 1964, fresh out of high school, I joined the Army to be a tank crewman. While processing through the Cleveland, Ohio induction center I was talked into joining the ASA. Being thoroughly fed up with school, I picked Ditty Bopper as a MOS, because it was the shortest course I saw that interested me. I went through basic at Fort Dix, and went on to Fort Devens.

     While waiting in the holding company for a Ditty Bopper course to start, I was called into the office with five other guys. It turned out that they had six openings in the next electronics course that they needed to fill, and they had looked through the records of everyone in the holding company to find the six people with the highest electrical aptitude test scores. I had taken electricity in high school, and knew how a flashlight worked. Apparently that was enough. Anyway, they talked us into changing to radio repair. The school was nine months, which I really didn't want to do, but they talked me into it anyway.

     Toward the end of the course I got orders to go to the 7th Radio Research Unit in Bangkok, Thailand, along with four others in the class, AND our instructor. The instructor had almost ten years in the Army, had never left the states, and had been in a very cushy teaching job for four or five years. He was very unhappy!

     In March 1965 we all went to the Oakland Army Terminal. We were supposed to fly Pan Am to Bangkok, but Pan Am was on strike. After sitting there a week, they put us on a Continental charter to Saigon. After everyone else got off in Saigon, we (six of us) flew in the DC-8 to Bangkok.

     Reaching Bangkok, I was assigned to the advanced party going to Udorn to start Detachment D up there. Six of us (not the ones I came over with), flew up to Udorn. There we found the CO, Captain Ivan Pavelin (neat name for an American Intelligence Officer), a very tired ¾ ton truck, and a WWII jeep that the Captain had acquired in the Philippines. Udorn airbase had originally been a Japanese base in WWII, and the Air Force put us up in the old Japanese Officers Barracks. I hate to imagine where the Japanese enlisted men had been sleeping.

     There was an Army Signal Corp unit just south of the airbase, and the following night a few of us were over there having some beers when the Air Force called, informing us that some of our trucks had arrived at the base. Would we please come and get them. Well, everyone else was in town, checking out the place, so the three of us got in the truck and went over there. It took us a while to find them, because we didn't know our way around the base, but we finally did. When we got there they were unloading a couple of very large M-292 vans from some old Globemasters. The vans were so large that the only way they could get them into the plane was to let the air out of the tires. This also meant that we couldn't drive them very far. The mechanic was in town, and there were no hoses to blow the tires up with, so we decided to park them, and come back with the mechanic the next day. We looked around and found a nice piece of concrete, moved the trucks over there, lined them up all neat and pretty, made sure they were locked-up, and went back to our beers. The next morning it was explained to us, in no uncertain terms, that the piece of concrete we had parked the trucks on, was actually the end of the main runway, and we had placed a great deal of undo stress on the next pilot that tried to land, but he was expected to recover.

     The rest of the detachment arrived the following day, after driving the rest of the trucks up from Bangkok. A day or so later the Air Force contingent arrived. They came from a unit at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines. They apparently didn't know what to expect, and got off the plane in full combat gear, including weapons, stating that they were here for Operation Pepper grinder, which totally freaked-out the airman at the airbase.

     We were originally supposed to set up at the base ammo dump, named Pepper grinder, about eight or ten miles south of the airbase. Stacks of 500-pound bombs surrounded the area reserved for us, and someone decided that maybe this really wasn't a good idea. Trouble was, we were expected to get up and running quickly. While they were deciding what to do the vans had been temporarily parked in the Signal Corps parking lot. Finally it was decided to set up there. We opened up the vans, put barbed wire around them, and went to work. An antenna team from Okinawa(?) showed up, and in a few days we were in business. We moved into an unused building on the compound, but there wasn't enough room, so everyone E5 and above was given per diem and expected to fend for themselves. Most moved into the local house of ill repute, right across the road from the Thai Army base.

     When I first got there the war had not started yet. I had two months in grade as a PFC, and could expect to wait another fourteen months to make Spec 4. With a little luck, I might be able to spend the last six months of the four-year hitch as a Spec 5. That all changed when the war started.

     A few months after we got there, the Captain decided to hold a full dress inspection. We all knew the drill, and worked hard getting ready for it. When the inspection started Capt. Pavelin really started ripping people up. No one was left unscathed. When they couldn't find anything wrong with one PFC, the XO jammed his thumb in the polished belt buckle, and told the First Sergeant to gig him for having a thumbprint on his buckle. I was terrified, but strangely when he got to me, he just looked and moved on, which surprised the heck out of me.

     Later he had us form up outside in formation. The six of us that hadn't been gigged were pulled to one side, away from the formation, very strange. The CO then spent about ten minutes chewing them out horribly. My group was cringing, and wondering why we had escaped the wrath so easily. Finally, when the CO was running out of steam, he finished up by saying that "you are absolutely the sorriest bunch of Spec 4's that I have ever seen." He had just promoted almost the entire unit in one stroke. The six of us that were pulled to the side didn't have four months in grade yet. The rest of us were promoted as soon as we hit four months in grade.

     Captain Pavelin was an excellent officer, with a very keen sense of humor.

     Eventually a deal was worked out to move to an area north of the Pepper grinder, next to a village called Non Soon. I believe that this is the same place that the Marines set up shop in 1962, when they were backing-up the Laotian government during the Pathet Lao offensive that year.

     At first we just had a concrete pad to set the vans on, and the antennas. We took a bus back and forth from the Signal Corp compound to go to work. Then they started building us a better compound closer to the village. This had a high roof to cover the vans, keeping them cooler, and a tent city for us to live in. We moved in there just a few days before the end of my tour. I don't think I even spent a week in the tents.

     The move to the new site was done at night, so that no one would notice. When I got up the next morning I walked out of the tent and saw several hundred Thai's at the main gate. It seems the local radio station had announced it on the air, and they were all applying for jobs. You just cannot keep a secret in Thailand.

     Towards the end of the tour, we were asked to fill out our dream sheets, and I volunteered to go to Viet Nam. I was young, and dumb, and looking for some excitement. Everyone else told me how stupid I was. Udorn was a hardship tour, and I was entitled to go back to the states, or Europe. When the orders came down, I was assigned to the 3rd Radio Research Unit at Tan Son Nhut Airbase in Saigon. A few other support types were sent to nice duty stations, but ALL of the operations personnel were involuntarily extended for six months. Six months later I would happen to be at battalion headquarters at Long Binh, when a truck pulled in, and a lot of these same guys got off the truck. It seems that after the involuntary extension, they were involuntarily transferred to Viet Nam.

     Meanwhile, back in Bangkok, my former electronics instructor was coming to the end of his enlistment. He was still mad about being overseas, and was not going to re-enlist. Trouble was, he had brought his family with him, and an E5 with a housing allowance could live very well in Bangkok. They had a nice house, a car, servants, and a very comfortable life style. When his wife thought of going back to the states, where she would have to cook, wash, clean, etc. she decided that he was going to re-enlist. He may have still been there when they closed the place.

     Actually that wasn't at all unusual. Bangkok was a very good duty station, and people would keep extending there. It was not at all unusual to find people that had been there seven or eight years. A few even retired there.

     I left Detachment D in March of 1966, just after moving into the new compound. Later it grew into the 7th Field Station, but I'll always remember the six guys in the tired old ¾ ton truck.

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