April 12, 1966


Delayed-Action Pongee Spike Takes Effect Shortly After Reporter’s Arrival in Saigon

(EDITOR’S NOTE:  Charles Black, Enquirer military writer, has been recuperating from a pongee stick wound in Saigon, but reported that he has now joined the 1st Cavalry Division.  Black is in South Viet Nam to cover activities of the division.  The following dispatch was written before his return to the field.)

By CHARLES BLACK

Enquirer Military Writer


SAIGON - This country always has a dramatic impact on me.  From the moment the hostess on the big Pan Am jet interrupts passengers who have been snapping pictures from 35,000 feet to say that taking pictures of Viet Nam - the most photographed place in the world - is illegal, I know where I am again.

This time Viet Nam hit back almost on arrival, however.

Back in November, I pinked my left calf on a pongee spike, not deeply, but still a good, stinging gouge.

The bamboo was old, sunfaded and rain soaked.  The little puncture healed before I returned to Columbus.

But, when the Chattahoochee Valley area enjoyed a little unseasonably warm weather, a little inflammation came, but nothing rough.

When I arrived back in Saigon, I was met by Lt. Col. William C. Hacker, who got me through the red tape which unravels to produce press cards and post exchange cards.

It was hot - 90 degrees and headed up - on arrival.

By the following day, I was checked in, ready to head for the brush, and crippled.

The little scar had become a purple blotch covering my leg from ankle to knee with a stinging, infected rash.  The germ warfare of the Viet Cong had remained dormant in the cool weather at home, but had ambushed me within 24 hours of Viet Nam heat.

Ointments Applied

Col. John B. Stockton, now deputy to Brig. Gen. George P. Senneff, commander of the First Aviation Brigade, got me into the hands of the brigade flight surgeon, Maj. Lawrence Hertzog, and I am now awash with antibiotic ointments.

The leg looks remarkably like a brick, but it can be hobbled on well enough.  The open lesions should head in a few days and most of the risk from going out into the brush should be gone.

I hope so.  The 5 p.m. briefings here seem to have gained greater respectability than they had three months ago, but hearing of things which happened afar isn’t a substitute for seeing them.

Many good, solid combat names are in Saigon now, bringing some of the realities of jungle sweat and battle experience to staff level jobs, planning and preparing to use new U.S. power efficiently in the critical months ahead.

Col. William R. Lynch and Col. Thomas Brown, former brigade commanders with the 1st Cavalry Division, are here.  Lt. Col. James Nix, Lt. Col. Robert McDade, Lt. Col. Kenneth Ingram, Lt. Col. Walter Short and Lt. Col. Robert Tully, all former battalion commanders in the highlands, are working in various headquarters here.

Former IO

Sweaty, dirty men from the 1st Infantry Division and the 173rd Airborne Brigade - in town on business - and the now-forming aviation brigade under the hard-driving Gen. Senneff, make Saigon an easier place to endure than it was just last fall when a man away from the field felt strange and out of place.

Col. Hacker, former information officer at Benning and new briefing officer for the U.S. Military Assistance Command, Viet Nam (MACV) said the pongee stick was really a break for me.

“It held you up long enough to notice the biggest change in the war, right here,” he said.  “The people working Saigon have become very serious.  It is all very close now.  Saigon seems closer to the war and that is good.  It means the job will get done better.

I’ll always have reservations about a headquarters which has been as completely bloated as this one, and so removed from the fighting as this one.  But, the atmosphere here has changed.

There are, at least, some men in town now who know what the war in the jungle is all about.  This type of soldier used to be hard to find in Saigon, unless they were just visitors.

Maybe the leg problem wasn’t all bad, as my friend Col. Hacker insists, but I will be happier when I can see for myself the story now unfolding in the battle areas.

© Columbus Ledger-Enquirer

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