Honolulu Advertiser

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Busy Day For Pleiku


Advertiser Military Reporter

PLEIKU—About 15 soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division were sitting in the candle-lit bar in downtown Pleiku when the Vietnamese Army youngster hauled out a grenade and pulled the pin.

"I will blow up this whole place," he said in Vietnamese, still holding onto the handle which activates the eight-second detonator on the little green bomb.

The Schofield Barracks soldiers of the 3rd Brigade Task Force didn’t understand any Vietnamese, but they didn’t have any trouble interpreting the drunken soldier’s meaning.

Soldiers stampeded out the front and back doors, and the place was cleared in about three seconds. By that time, one of the girls in the bar had persuaded the Vietnamese to put the pin back in the grenade and everything returned to normal.

THAT, AND assorted little training accidents, is about all the excitement the Schofield Barracks soldiers are seeing here for the moment. Brigade medical teams reported that three soldiers have been shot accidentally, but brigade spokesmen so far have not released the soldiers’ names.

Also, five men were hurt— one suffering a broken collarbone—when their jeep hit a rut and flipped over.

THE MEN are training for, the day when they will go out as combat assault teams, reportedly against regular North Vietnamese battalions which intelligence has pinpointed in the Pleiku area.

When they do move, they will be flown into battle by many former 25th Aviation Division pilots who have been flying with the 1st Cavalry Division (Air Mobile) since last fall.

Thirty-eight of the division’s best-trained pilots were shipped over to Viet Nam last September and October to fill the flying needs of the new cavalry unit which uses armed UH-1 helicopters to land assault troops.

THERE WAS a movement of 24 pilots in September and 14 in October, which stripped the division of most of its seasoned chopper pilots.

Among the former Schofield men who now will be flying with the 170th Aviation Company here are: Capts. Art Finch, Pat Doyle, Dave Larcomb, Bill Snyder and Marty Reilly.

They are all part of the 52nd Aviation Battalion, which is supporting the Hawaii Brigade here with armed helicopters.

ON JAN. 17, the 1st Battalion of the 14th Infantry Regiment (Golden Dragons) came ashore at Cam Ranh Bay and was air shipped to the brigade position here north of the vital Pleiku airfield.

The 2nd Battalion of the unit is still at Schofield. Most of the other elements of the brigade came directly from Hawaii to Pleiku by Cross-Pacific airlift of men and equipment by the Military Airlift Command, formerly MATS. The arrival of the 3200 US troops has heightened commercial activity in the town of Pleiku, which is made up of Vietnamese and indigenous tribes-people called Montagnards.

WICKER baskets which once sold for as little 80 piastres (about 75 cents) now are up to $1.80. Storekeepers charge U.S. soldiers as much as 75. cents, too, for a bottle of beer which normally costs 20 cents.

The Vietnamese Army officers’ club downtown has a ballroom where only a few Vietnamese are seen since all the Americans came to town. Now GIs dance the twist and samba there with Vietnamese hostesses who have taken to wearing Western dresses and skirts rather than the traditional ao dai costumes.

A DOZEN bars catering to the GI have sprung up in what were once houses. There is no electricity in most of them, and the only light comes from half a dozen candles around the room.

The bars have wire mesh over the windows and doors to prevent someone tossing a grenade in from out on the street, and the soldiers are told to go in town only in pairs or groups, never alone.

Curfew downtown for all U.S. troops is 11 p.m. There are no taxis in Pleiku, but little Lambretta motor-scooters with frames mounted on the back each haul about six soldiers back to the base. Sometimes, the GIs have to get out and help push the straining "taxi" up the stretch of hill toward Camp Halloway.

PLEIKU IS a dirty, town. Sewage sits in open ditches, and most of the GIs who eat and drink downtown eventually come down with a touch of diarrhea. But the people are friendly, and the red patches of Hawaii’s "Tropic Lightning" division have come to mean prosperity to them.

Sometimes in small, almost unnoticeable ways, troops from Hawaii are making themselves some friends.

Sunday was such a day. Warrant Officers Ray Watson and Paul Lancy were sitting at a downtown bar sipping a beer.

EVERYONE WAS feeling pretty morose. In came an 8 year-old Vietnamese girl the men had met downtown earlier that day when she sold them some peanuts on the street.

"She’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen," Watson said. "Just like my own little girl."

Watson and Lancy accompanied the little girl, Phuong, down the street to a market and outfitted her with a new pair of the two-piece pajamas many Vietnamese children wear. It cost them only $1.80.

Since then, the kids, have learned to flock around the "Tropic Lightning" troops when they come to town. They’ve got the message that these hard combat soldiers have an incurable soft spot for kids who remind them ‘ of their own youngsters back home.

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