Vietnam Service Ribbon




Hole from 122 rocket shrapnel where I worked in communication at Triangle. Had this chuck of molten metal for years, but something happened to it.


Camp Tien Sha: right after a football game in driving rain. Winning team.








draftcardMy Draft Card.
A Democrat president gave me two choice(s): prison or the military. Why? Because I was too broke to buy another semester of college.
In the '68 election, while in Vietnam, I couldn't vote either.
As a disabled vet back
from Nam I couldn't legally buy a beer.
Any of that fair?














Not a vanity tag.
$3/year to register my car. Benefit from a Republican governor.












Harry Fischer, navy gunner, on the .50 in Bunker 8, Sa Huynh.


























































RPG like used to hit
convoy on 12 May 69.













Combat Action Ribbon










NSA Danang Patch





































Vietnam Campaign Medal 1960 -
(note: no final date on the medal)









During speeches at Wall Dedication, Nov. 82. Those M-16s got magazines and the guys humpin' em got grim faces. D.C. Park Service didn't hassle.
And D.C. has strictest gun control in U.S.




Larry Lee Baxter grave marker in Pierce City, MO.
Real people die.





















Wall Memorial the morning before the official dedication (Nov. '82). Seeing my face in that black mirror with all those names . . .


Susan and I marching
with Texas delegation
at dedication of Vietnam Wall Memorial
Veteran's Day, 1982, Wash. D.C.



After college I landed a job with good pay and travel thru the U.S., but I was having "Nam residue" issues. I moved from Dallas, built a log cabin in the deep woods of East Texas, and lived quite Spartan, but with a good job of converting manual accounting systems to computer. The working with my hands, the quiet of the woods, the animals, all gave me, thank you God, the therapy needed.































































Vietnam/68 - 69/I Corps.

Author: Philip Watson
In lieu of pictures writing is suggestion of Tom Cartwright for Vietnam Veteran Reunion, Branson, MO.

I arrived at Sa Huynh after about six months in country.  I had a new Minolta 35mm camera and documented photographically my time at Sa Huynh pretty well, but those rolls of undeveloped film got burned up in an Army fuel tanker.  I told this to Tom Cartwright, and he suggested a write up of how those pictures burned up. So, I’ve titled this story:
“How to join the navy trying to avoid going to Vietnam and who get shot with the Army.”
Back in the days of the Vietnam War, if you were a navy guy that got land duty, you found out fast that there was safe duty and there was dangerous duty.

          White Elephant NSAD DaNang HQ

White Elephant (an old French hotel in Danang city that was HQ for the navy and an elaborate communications station) and Tien Sha (navy housing compound) at Danang were miserable, 12 hours on and 12 hours off, 7 days a week -- but hey, it was safe.  Plus there in Danang, you could get a cold beer, eat standard chow, and maybe sneak past the S.P.s into the Ville and knock off some.  But that Sa Huynh Detachment was both miserable and dangerous.  No cold beer, rations mostly LURPs and C-Rat cans, and no scoring any in the Ville – at least when I was there. In 1967, the draft board was about to pounce my ass because I was too broke to buy another semester of college.  So trying to avoid Vietnam, I joined the navy.  Got Radioman school, then my first duty station was Danang, Vietnam land duty.  For the first few weeks I was on river boats, YFU 74.  Then transferred me off U-Boat 74 to Danang:  First to the White Elephant, then to the Triangle.  When working at both the White Elephant and Triangle, I lived at camp Tien Sha.
How many times in Danang did I hear some navy guy, when they were about to violate some chicken shit navy rule, say, “What are they going to do . . . dye my underwear green and send me to Vietnam?” That was a stupid statement.  As a radioman, if you were nice and safe in Danang and you pissed off a lifer, then that lifer could send you out of safe Tien Sha and to riverboats, or to Sa Huynh: where the mortars fall and the bullets fly. That’s what happened to this 19-year old. Since Nam I’ve heard a hundred times someone whine out in twanging ignorance: “If you were in the navy what were you doing getting shot with the Army?” Because, one day at the Triangle, the cowardly-chief-radioman-lifer (can’t remember the losers name) sent me and two radioman buddies to Dong Ha, Riverboats, and Sa Huynh (me).  The cowardly-lifer-chief-radioman sent one buddy to riverboats first and when an YFU got blown up by a mine in November of ’68, I heard the cowardly-chief-radioman flat-out say he hoped my buddy RMSN was on that riverboat.  As it turned out, the radioman killed was a guy named Worrell from Georgia, not my buddy.
(If anyone out there can remember the name of the cowardly-chief-radioman-alcoholic-lifer who was at the Triangle in November ’68, please pass it along to me.  I’d like to call him a coward to his face.) Ok, sorry about the digress. Anyhow, here’s how to get shot with the Army while serving in the navy.Ever seen a picture of NSAD Sa Huynh?  A palm tree studded sand bar in the middle of an inland sea cove – infested with rats.   

Let me spell Sa Huynh in English:  S-H-I-T   H-O-L-E. Next to Sa SaHuynhHuynh was an Army base called Charlie Brown.  The Army was up on a hill and the navy was down in the lagoon.  Sa Huynh was a perfect spot for NVA mortar practice. So after a month or so, I’m getting settled in at Sa Huynh, you know, drinking hot beer, eating out of a can with a Kabar, learning how to throw the trap with the huge rat into the lagoon.  I’m tooling around in my VC tire tread sandals, shorts, t-shirt, M-16 and bandoliers slung over my shoulder as my uniform-of-the-fucking-day.

Then in late April ’69, the CO at Sa Huynh calls all 80 sailors out for a meeting.  Tells us we are “ripe” to get hit.  Says the bunkers could get over run by NVA and the gooks would then turn the .50 cals on us good guys.  I almost raised my hand and asked, “Will we be responsible for that on the final exam, professor?”
(“Gooks” – hey, in the last 35 or so years I’ve worked in clean, bright offices with Vietnamese folks, plus drank beer and ate hot dogs at ball games with, again, some super Vietnamese.  And close to our neighborhood are a couple of incredibly good Vietnamese restaurants—which we visit often.  So for now, please cut me some slack on the word ‘gook’, okay?) Just after midnight on 12 May 69, in the middle of a dream about campus life, parties, and coeds, I’m awakened, quite rudely, by an exploding Communist mortar round.  Wondering what’s going on, I hear one of our .50 cals open up, then I knew we were getting hit big time.  Our .50 cal was wide-fucking-open.  Sa Huynh was under attack.  On the trigger at that moment was Harry Fischer from Oxford, Michigan, over in Bunker 8, Harry was  ringing that .50 for all he could get out of it.  I asked myself, are we getting over run by NVA  troops?  Will I soon be swinging my M-16 like Davy Crockett?

Inside the hooch, my bed was a medical litter/stretcher shpatchshoved next to a wall of sand bags.  I grabbed my M-16 and 2 bandoliers of magazines and ran into the bunker.  Inside the bunker, the radiomen regrouped and waited for instructions.  I slept fully clothed except for my boots and now wanted to go get them.  But the mortars were falling and couldn’t risk it.  Another guy, he was brand new (FNG), had left his glasses in the hooch.  The mortar fire abruptly stopped, and I left the bunker and went back into the dark hooch.  I got the FNG’s glasses, went to my litter, sat down and pulled on my boots.  Our bunkers were still firing.  I had just laced my second boot when a mortar landed right in the front door our hooch, five feet from me. Holy shit! That was loud.  I felt something fluttering over me, but couldn’t see ‘cause it was too dark. I went back to the bunker until the mortar attack was declared over, and we got orders to leave the bunker.  The rest of the night, we radiomen lay outside on the sand and got maybe 2 hours of sleep.

That day, 12 May 69, was my twentieth birthday and, little did I know, it was just getting started.  That fluttering I felt in the dark were paper back novels stacked next to my cot, the books shredded by the shrapnel through the front door mortar.  They were stacked on top of the 4 foot sand bag wall next to my litter/cot.  Shrapnel holes were all across my locker, just above where my head was as I tied my boots.  Later in the morning, the Sa Huynh CO, LCDR Johnson, came over and saw my locker, saw the paper back books, my cot, and, even though he didn’t say anything to me, his expression said, “You lucky piece of shit.”
That day, I had orders to go to Duc Pho, about twenty miles away, with an Army convoy.  On Sa Huynh, often navy guys rode in the Army convoys that left from the Army base.  On the way to Duc Pho was a stretch of road called ‘Ambush Pass.’airview

I was riding shotgun in a fuel tanker full of JP-4 jet fuel, 5,000 gallons.  Driver of the tanker was PFC Larry Lee Baxter from Pierce City, Missouri.  It was my first meeting with Baxter, and we had most of the day to bullshit while waiting for the convoy to get going.  Larry and I got along great.  He was a good guy.
The convoy finally got rolling about 4:30 that afternoon.   About 25 vehicles – a mix of fuel tankers, deuce-and-a-halfs with various munitions, APCs (armored personnel carrier), and gun jeeps --made up the convoy. 

          Fuel Truck Convoy

Baxter and I were at the tail end of the convoy.  Only thing behind our tanker was a jeep with a pole mounted M-60 -- a ‘gun jeep.’  The road twisted and turned and a few miles up around the bend, we could see a lot of black smoke and .50 cal tracer rounds flying.  “Ambush!” Baxter yelled.  Shifting gears and working the tanker’s wheel, Baxter yelled again, “Get ready.”  I chambered a round in the M-16.
A few seconds later it felt like when I use to catch in baseball, like a fast-ball was foul tipped right into my face – and no face mask.  Plus my ears were ringing loud.  We were hit by an RPG.  My left arm looked like I’d dipped it up to the arm pit in red paint. I heard an M-60 behind us open up.   Our eighteen wheel tanker was a blaze and Baxter turned it off the road, toward the cliff.  I think he saw the guy that shot us with the RPG and was driving right at him, trying to run over the SOB.  AK rounds were coming through the windshield and I got down low on the seat.  The tanker went over the cliff and jack-knifed and threw me through the canvas roof.  I remember falling through the air looking straight up at a blue sky wondering when I would finally land.  Land I did, and I thought my back was broke but realized I could move, so I got up and ran.  Then I heard another RPG fired and sizzling through the air, I dropped flat, it blew up close, showering me with dirt and rock.
I’m on a steep embankment with the road twenty feet above.  A boulder was stuck inside the embankment and I moved to it and put it between me and the AK-47s I hear firing.  I’m separated from my M-16 and noted my Kabar is even out of the sheath on my belt.  I grab a rock in one hand and a big stick in the other.  The ‘crack crack’ of AKs is getting closer.  The ground and weeds I’m lying on are soaked.  There’s so much blood I can smell it.  My hair feels like it is washed in red.  There’s a chunk of skin torn away from the top of my wrist from an AK round.  I think my left eye is put out but wipe the blood out of it, blink a few times, and I can see.
The occasional AK fire (the unmistakable ‘crack crack’ sound signature) is getting closer and I can hear gook talk and weeds rustling down below.    I remember thinking ‘am I going to die on my 20th birthday?’ Baxter and I were at the end of the convoy, and everybody friendly is now somewhere ahead of us.  I decide to climb up the cliff and get on the road where a part is covered with black smoke from our burning tanker.  I can hear the tires popping as they get hot and burst. I climbed up to the road and headed toward the smoke; it was so black and thick I wasn’t sure I could breathe once inside.  But one step on the road and I hear several AKs open up -- shooting at me.  The NVA were down the cliff and I was up on the road, so I ran and lay flat in the smoke.  The gooks were too low to fire straight on the road, and the rounds going high were hitting the rocks up on the other side and splattering chunks.  At first I thought the falling rocks were bullets hitting me but realized quickly they weren’t.

I crawled on the road through smoke and on the other side, down this long stretch of road, I see the convoy.  Deuce-and-a-halfs and tankers are crashed and in flames.  Gun jeeps and APCs (tracks) with .50 cals in the turrets are shooting all around.  The closest thing to me was a gun jeep, the last vehicle in the convoy that had moved forward and stopped.  Two Army guys are out of the jeep, crouched at the side using it for cover, leaving the M-60 unmanned.  They turned and saw me and at first I was afraid they might shoot me, but one signaled for me to come toward them.  I took off but both legs have a lot of shrapnel, and after a few steps my left leg gave way and I almost fell. 
Looking at the guys behind the jeep, they’re expressions are unmistakable: they want me to get to them and didn’t want to leave their cover and grab me – which was smart, because the NVA were trained to let a wounded guy draw out others so to take them out too.  I regained my footing and took off running, and then about fifteen feet away the left leg let go and, in mid-stride, I fell face down.  One of the Army guys sprints to me and drags me behind the jeep.

                 Gun Jeep  

“I lost my rifle.  Gimme a weapon!”  I said.“We got to get you to a dust off,” the Army guy replied. I was really angry.  Eight months in Nam and I’d been through a few mortar attacks, a little sniper fire, sweated river mines; but now I was splattered with shrapnel, bleeding like a stuck pig, and seriously pissed off.  I want to shoot someone.  And shoot them more than once. ”We’re almost out of ammo,” he screamed over the noise.  “We got to go get re-loaded,” One guy jumped in and manned the M-60 and the driver helped me into the passenger seat.  The driver was moving fast, steering around NVA bodies in the road, shifting gears holding a .45.  The M-60 was firing full tilt and dropping hot casings over me, some going down my back and burning like hell.  We went by a deuce-and-a-half loaded with artillery shells and in flames, and I wondered if it would blow as we go past.  Then I can’t believe what I’m seeing, in the middle of a vicious firefight, up ahead on the road, perpendicular to us before the road makes a L-turn, is a Vietnamese in civilian clothes riding toward us on a Honda 120 motorcycle, weaving around and between burning trucks and dead bodies.  Our jeep passes an APC track that is going back and forth with the turret .50 cal firing full auto.  After we pass the track, the motorcycle has made the L-turn and is now heading straight for us.  Then the track turns on the on-coming motorcycle, the .50 cal tracers fly right next to me, so close I can reach over and touch them, and then explode the guy and the motorcycle.  The bike and dead Vietnamese go down and the jeep swerves on two wheels to dodge the bike and body. 
We get around the bend and away from the main fire fight.  The jeep stops next to another APC track.  Both guys in the jeep get out and grab several ammo boxes from the track and load on the jeep, then haul ass back to the fight. (How I’d love to meet those Army guys who exhibited the purest of courage and maybe saved my life.  Bless you, wherever you guys are.)   A medic jumps out of the track/M113 APC and gets me inside.  He sees my navy third class on my greens and says, “You’re a squid?”

I’m inside the track now and looking up into the turret where there’s an Army guy with both arms covered with tattoos, smiling big with maybe 4 teeth in his head.  He’s firing the .50 cal and drinking a can of Miller beer.  Empty Miller beer cans are all over the floor and roll around with the spent .50 cal shells. The track started moving, and after a while we stop and the back door again comes open.  A couple of Army guys pull me out as the medic yells for them to get me on a dust off.  He has wrapped bandages on my arm and legs. They lay me on a litter next to the track and guys are offering me cigarettes, and I’m waving them off since I don’t smoke.  I hear them say several times, “He’s a squid.”  Lying there, I can hear a guy calling on the radio for a dust off.  I hear a chopper call back and say, “Negative, your LZ is too hot.  Get your wounded further south.”  The guy changed frequencies and again requests a medivac chopper.   I hear the guy in the track say over the radio, “I got one that may die on me.”  I wondered if he was talking about me but soon learned he was not.  A few feet away, whom I can’t see yet, lay an African American Army guy with much more serious wounds.  I hear over the radio that a gunship Huey has got a ‘grid’ and say they are on the way. Soon four army guys, one on each corner of the litter, in a flat-out run, take me to the Huey gun ship.  I’m lying on the litter and pass the smoke grenade that marked the LZ (landing zone), then see the chopper blades spinning above me. They shove my litter on the floor next to the Army guy.  The Huey takes off, doors open of course, and banks so steep I’m afraid my litter is going to slide out. The Huey gunship was loaded to the teeth.  Belts of M-79 rounds were all over the place.  Door gunners were on each side.  We got very high in the air and a while later landed again in tall grass thrashing back and forth due to the prop wash.  The door gunners moved me and the black guy to a real medivac chopper (dust off) and we take off.  On board was a medic and he tended the black guy who had gauze stuck into a hole in his head.  The back of the helmet on one of the pilots read, ‘Dust Off – Hunt Down dustoffand Bring Back ALIVE.’ We get to a Base Aid Station (Mash Unit type of deal) at Duc Pho.  I’m inside a bunker on a stretcher next to the black guy.  I see the doctors cut his mangled leg away at his hip.  The black guy saw it too, and a doctor pulled his head down with a palm flat on the wounded guy’s forehead.
On the other side of me, also on a stretcher, was a captured and wounded NVA soldier.  He’s bleeding out of his eye.  He is scared.  The medics are telling him to take it easy, but he doesn’t trust them.  There were long moments he and I were left alone by medical personnel and we just lie there looking at each other.  Maybe he pulled the trigger on the RPG that got Baxter and me?  For then he was just another bleeding and hurting kid like me. (This is day three of the Hamburger Hill operation which was close to this area.  Many casualties were taken in this week of the war.)
They move me to another room.  A doctor that looks very tired tells me he’s going to take shrapnel out of my legs. He says, “Look around at the wounded.  I’ll give you some anesthetic, but we haven’t got much time.  So it’s going to hurt.”  They press a small, rubber pillow into my face, and I bite into it.  After a while, they finish and put me on another chopper.  They left a piece of shrapnel in my penis (aka ‘dick’) and they stuck a catheter in me, which hurt like hell.  Now I’m naked and on another chopper.  It’s night.  We land at Chu Lai. 

Except where there are bandages, I’m filthy, caked with blood and dirt; they put me on a bed with clean sheets, next to the nurse’s station.   The ward was full of beds with Army wounded, and again I hear someone announce, “He’s a squid.”
A hospital dude, a smiling, friendly black guy, told me I was getting a certain bed.  “You know what bed you’re getting? “  I shook my head.  He said, “All who gets this bed, soon goes home, bro.”Because of the morphine, I’m passing out and coming to.  I remember it’s my 20th birthday and that I still have one more year before I can legally get a beer back home in Dallas. A guy comes in and asks if I want my parents notified and I say, “Hell no. I’ll tell ‘em when I can.”

Harry Fischer, Navy Gunners Mate, was cranking the .50 cal that night, and may have saved our ass by keeping Sa Huynh from getting over run.  Since his tour and discharge, Harry has headed up Security at General Motors in Michigan. As to the cowardly-loser-chief-radioman and the two brave Army Guys in the gun jeep -- opposites in the gene pool of human life . . . guess I’ll never know, but would love to meet each.
Hey, it’s the inevitable qualities derived from human calamities:  some people exhibit gutless evil (the navy chief radioman), while others bring forward selfless courage and risk all to help their fellow humans (the two Army jeep guys).
Larry Baxter died that day and was awarded the Silver Star for getting the tanker off the road so as not to block passage with his flaming hulk. 
On Veterans Day, 1982, in Washington, D.C., I marched in the dedication parade for the Vietnam Veterans Wall.  A few weeks later, I went to Missouri and had a nice visit with Larry Baxter’s family.  Few years later I talked by phone to Larry’s niece.   
PFC Larry Lee Baxter is on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, and is honored at panel 25W line 61.WallLLB

APC that was destroyed during the ambush
  That Philip Watson was in on May 12th 1969         


Tanker hit on the same ambush may be the one Philip was in.



                                                                                  Photo Duane Wenzl


I was in country Vietnam exactly eight months, 9/15/68 to 5/15/69.  I spent the same amount of time in various military hospitals and still go to the VA hospital from time to time.  My wounds are there, but not that bad.  (The shrapnel is still in my dick and for a few years when I was single, hey, it actually came in handy!)
In hospitals, after getting hit, the wounded have plenty of time to talk.  I spoke to an Army guy who was in that convoy who said he was driving a deuce-and-a-half and saw explosions on the road in front of him, and then a bullet went through his left forearm.  He said he opened the door and jumped and let the truck crash down the road.
Another guy was wounded in the same area three days later, and said he saw Baxter’s tanker.  I asked him how it looked.  He said, “The cab was burned out and full of bullet holes.” He went on to say, not knowing that I was in the truck, “If you were in it, you were dead.”  I replied, “I was, but ain’t.” He just shook his head.

Or was I dead?  I quietly asked that question to myself for a few years.  How could I have survived?  In the hooch, the shrapnel just missing my head the second I reached down and tied on a boot.  The tanker cab taking a RPG and then so many AK rounds.  How did I make it? The experience – all of it taken together – has made me more thoughtful and thankful about life than maybe I would have been otherwise.  How was I so UN-lucky to get in with the Army after going into the navy?  But when I was hit, how was I then so very lucky?


Harry Fischer (blue shirt) and I at Naval Support Activity Danang reunion, Branson, MO.

Got comments? e-mail for Philip S. Watson

Navy Commendation Medal – for service at NSAD Sa Huynh