I was only 19 years old. It was a very hot day in March 1967 when I departed the civillian jet that dropped me in Da Nang, South Vietnam. I began to sweat, soon as I left the plane. I carried a heavy seabag with all my gear in it. Everything I owned for the past year and a half, all rolled into one large olive green Navy issue seabag. I had orders in my hand for duty on the USS Oxford (AGTR-1.)(AGTR: Auxillary Geophysical Technical Research-#1) Only problem, the ship was so secret, nobody knew where she was. I was assigned to a "transit barracks" dubbed The Annapolis Hotel by someone. A Marine, or some Navy bigwig named it that, no doubt; he must have went to the U.S. Naval Academy. A "transit barracks" is where the military puts travelers, temporarilly, until they reach their final destination. I was a lowly Seaman Apprentice, paygrade E-3. (lower than 3rd Class Petty Officer by one rank.) A bus, with heavy chicken wired windows took us to the Annapolis Hotel. The screening was to stop hand grenades from being lobbed into the bus killing us all. We passed numerous bars near the hotel, all enclosed with a huge frame box covered covered over with chicken wire. It even covered the roof of the bar. Young and older prostitutes hung out at a gate made of chicken wire waiting for us to come back and blow all our cash. It looked to me that chicken wire was a fast selling commodity, here. Great for stopping hand grendades but not much use against a mortar attack, or bullets. We later learned all bars without the boxed in enclosure of chicken wire were "off limits" to all U.S. service personnel. We reached the hotel and met our Officer in Charge (OIC) who assigned us a rack. To this day, I never knew exactly where the Annapolis Hotel was located, I can't ever remember seeing it on a map, or even the name of the street it was on. Vietnamese street names are real tongue twisters. The language is a singsong language pleasant to the ear, rising and falling, impossible to understand.
All us new arrivals were famished. We showered up, and asked the Marine guards where we had to go, to eat. The chow hall was a short walk through a cemetery, we were instructed to just follow the path through the cemetery, and we couldn't miss the chow hall, we would smell the food cooking. We followed the directions, and got a half way decent meal. We took a long walk around the barracks after eating. There were bunkers, made of sand-bags at all four corners of the rectangular building called The Annapolis Hotel, each manned by three Marines in full combat gear. It gave us a reasonable feeling of security, more than we felt outside the building where we were on our own, and unarmed.
Very limited in finances, my pal Larry Cook and I went out to hit some bars. I can't say we were not nervous walking around, anything was possible in a war torn country. We found a bar, enclosed in chicken wire, and went in though the gate of the enclosure to an average "girlie bar" seen all over Asia. We blew gobs of money in Military Payment Chits (MPC,) real U.S. Dollars were not allowed. MPC were used so the Vietnamese could not get hold of real U.S. Dollars, via the black market. The girls all got "ladies drinks," most had no alcohol in them as costly as they were. We weren't in there long, we had to reserve the little money we had left, not knowing how long we would be in the transit barracks. We did not go bar-hopping after that, especially after hearing gunfire one night. It woke us all out of a dead sleep. We decided to just stick around the barracks, after that, and only go out for chow. We were assigned jobs, cleaning floors, heads, and desk watches. They kept us busy, and out of trouble.
Late one night in March of 1967 I was standing the "phone watch" at the Annapolis Hotel. I was given an Armalite (M16) which I fired many times in training at boot camp, but had not fired or even held one for over a year. I was to report any unusual activity in and around the barracks, by phone, to the Officer of the Day (OOD.) After week in transit barracks, I got used to these watches, it was easy, all I had to do was stay awake. At about 2AM, during this watch, I heard very loud explosion just outside the barracks, the cemetery side. I immediately called the OOD, and made the report. The OOD instructed me to take my M16, go out to the Marines in bunker "B" and check out the situation, then report back to him.
I picked up my piece, by then everyone was awake and buzzing, but not venturing out to see what happened, it was pitch black out there. I went to bunker "B" and told the Marines that the OOD had ordered us to go check out the explosion. The Marines were very edgy, they had seen the flash of the explosion, and were at their ready. Led by two of the three guards we trained our powerful flashlights on the path to the chow hall that ran through the cemetery. We walked only about forty yards when we came upon a small crater in the middle of the pathway. About five yards from the crater I saw my first dead man of the war. He was a Vietnamese, in civillian clothes, what was left of his rags. Only the top half of his body was there, the other half was found by one of the Marines as he trained his flashlight around. The bottom half was still twitching. I got very sick to my stomach, the guards laughed at me and called me a "pussy." The poor soul had stepped on a land mine which had been buried in the center of the path. I was shaking. I also wondered if this guy was a VC or just an unlucky bastard. Maybe both. There was nothing we could do for the man, so we walked back to bunker "B," I let the Marines lead the way for obvious reasons, careful to step where they stepped. Once inside the barracks, I immediately called the OOD and made my report. I got a "well done" from the OOD. It did not make me feel any better. I then had to fill in all the details to all the men in the transit barracks. Nobody was allowed out there to see it for themselves.
Needless to say, I did not go to chow for the next four days that I was stuck there. I was not alone, there were many others that didn't go to chow after that. The mess was cleaned up and mine sweepers were called in, but still, I would not go to eat. I relied on food brought in by some new friends.
I finally got my orders to move. I had to catch a military flight to a US Army airstrip near An Thoi City(port city,)(S.)Phu Quoc Island, (W.) South Vietnam, where ever the hell that was. I was elated. I was to meet with the U.S.S. Oxford at that port. I couldn't wait to get the hell out of the Annapolis Hotel. It sure wasn't The Hotel California. The memory of that first dead man of the war remains indelible in my mind, and I still have nightmares of the incident to this day. I was to never see another war casualty, and I thank God for that. So much for the Annapolis Hotel. My only hope was that I would never have to be a guest there again.