Ronnie G. Leonard
In the Beginning God created Man, Woman, and Earth, all from nothing. In Vietnam we did that all the time. All the above was grand, but God did not give us a swimming pool at Cu Chi. That we would have to do ourselves…from nothing with nothing, but ingenuity and cunning.
It was another one of those hot muggy days in Vietnam. Cu Chi was abuzz with activity as usual. The whop-whop-whop of the Huey helicopters overhead; the thunderous booming of the 105s and 155s pounding Charlie somewhere in the boonies; the jabbering of the Hooch girls, and the hustle bustle of everyday life in the company Area.
I had been flying all night, and it was now about 9 AM, as I wandered up towards the operations shack. To the right of the boardwalk there were 5 mamasans with entrenching tools digging in the dirt. I was really confused; I had never seen them doing this before. Were we actually going to bury the miniguns we borrowed from the 116th? I thought to myself “We must be on the verge of getting caught, or something”.
As I walked into the operations shack, I asked Top, “What’s up with the mamasans and the entrenching tools?”
He replied, “It’s for the new swimming pool.”
I doubled up with laughter and replied “Top, Look, the war will be over first at the rate they are going. Why didn’t you go over and cut a deal with the engineers?”
Top replied, “The officers tried that. They were told to go fuck their self.”
“What did you offer them for the hole?” I asked.”
“Well nothing,” replied Top.
“Aaaah there is the problem. Let me go over there and have a whack at it. I have all afternoon off. Nothing ventured nothing ventured you know.” I smiled.
I had the CQ drive me over to the Engineers Company Area, and drop me off. As I arrived I had no idea how to approach this. I also had no Idea how much the engineers had been pissed off previously with our arrogant officer. I thought “let me go to the EM club”. Most of the men will be around there anyway as quizzical thoughts ran through my mind. I need a dozer driver not an officer, so no need going anywhere else.
The Engineers were on two-week stand down after getting the shit kicked out of them in the HOBO Woods. They were going to make it into a park, and Charlie opted for a junkyard. They lost 6 Rome Plows, 2 tanks, 6 APCs and the retriever, plus got several killed and wounded. So I knew for 2 weeks they really had nothing to do.
As I walked into the EM club, there were two 2 E4s sitting at the bar. I shuffled over and took a seat at the bar next to them. After a moment or two I struck up a conversation with them and casually brought the hole in the ground into the conversation. It seems someone prior to me, some LT had been quite demanding and overly arrogant with his request. They weren’t feeling real great after the ass whipping they took a couple of days previous, and told him to fuck off.
After much apprehensive waiting, I finally found the moment I was looking for and maneuvered the hole for the pool into the conversation. “What do you suppose it would cost to get a hole dug around here?”
The one nearest me answered, “Look, I am the dozer driver, and I ain’t doing it.”
I replied, “Look you got two weeks of doing nothing anyway; we must have something you guys want that you don’t have. We are better fed, have ample transportation, we can acquire most anything anywhere, there must be something.
He replies “You can’t get Ice.”
I knew at that moment the hole was a done deal; I smiled and asked, “How much ice? Better yet, how about we supply all the beer and ice you and your guys can drink until the hole is dug. Will, that work?”
On that note their eyes lit up. I could tell, thoughts of ice-cold beer cans dancing in his brain. “When you want this hole?” he asked.
I replied, “I’ll have to get back to you on that one, let’s tentatively say 9 am tomorrow. It will give me time to make the arrangements…”
They were laughing, knowing the ice was out of reach…They were wrong but didn’t know it yet. To us at Diamondhead nothing was out of reach, or safe for that matter, if we needed it.
As I walked back to the Company area, I wondered if the idea would fly with the guys, they were gonna have to cough up some cash for the beer and ice. When I got back to the company area, I approached the guys with the idea, and after a little dickering and horse-trading, it was a go. We figured 20 cases of beer and 500 lbs of ice should work.
Now the beer was easy. At 10 cents a can that is 2.40 a case… it is like 45 bucks. So everyone chipped in a buck for beer and Ice. Now we had to get operations to release a D-Model to go get Ice, at like 8 am. The Maintenance officer had a courier run set up for the next morning. It was a shuttle to pick up parts in Saigon. I approached Captain Strong and asked If Marvin and I could tag along, go to the PX, do a little shopping and pick up a few bags of Ice.
“Sure, go ahead.” he replied. “Just don’t get lost. We need those parts ASAP.”
When we got to Hotel 3, it took a while to locate the block ice we wanted. We had brought straps to hold it down, and canvas to wrap it in. We commandeered a deuce and a half to go get it and shortly returned. We had scrounged up 800 lbs of Ice. Figuring the melt factor; we had better have some extra. As we stacked it in and tied it down it was apparent. No room for parts and not only that, the precious cargo would melt if we didn’t hurry. We would just have to come back for the parts. The war could wait. At this moment this was much more important than any war.
As we returned the cooks had already obtained something that resembled a watering trough, and all the beer was in place. We added the Ice, and amazing, as it was we had only lost about half of it on the trip. It just filled the trough to the brim. We caught holy shit for misuse of Government property, but we decided… what can they do Send us to Nam, any place else or other punishment would be an improvement in our living conditions.
Behind the scenes it had became apparent that the Dozer driver had to touch base with his superiors to come do this job for us. Apparently, their officers figured they could raise the ante a bit. They had a conversation with our officers, and negotiated the hole-price upward.
It seems since the engineers operate in dusty conditions habitually, dust goggles were in short supply. Our officers agreed to get them a dozen or two sets of the badly needed goggles. A few days later out of nowhere, an entire connex box of dust goggles appeared, and was delivered to the engineers. Only in a war zone could this happen. They ordered a dozen or so goggles from supply regular channels, and got dozens of dozens. If you are not sure what a connex box is, it is the big metal container box used for shipping that come off ships. They are about the size of a normal U-haul truck. Needless to say it put a huge smile on the engineers’ faces.
The Engineers arrived about an hour later, and they were astonished to see the ice and beer in place. We had kind of misjudged how many engineers it would take to dig this hole. He only brought four. It was quite apparent there was way too much beer, so we commenced helping the beer overpopulation out as the hole-digging began. It took most of the day, with ample beer breaks. By nightfall we had a huge hole, and a hell of a pile of dirt. Not to mention the Company area looked like a disaster area. The ensuing party was one to remember. A good old-fashioned dig a pool party, Cookie had even come up with some hot-dogs somewhere. The beer flowed freely, and the stories were rampant. All involved had a hell of a time.
“Now what?” I scratched my head for a few moments. Thinking to myself, “Now have the mamasans fill the sandbags to line the hole to keep it from caving in. I must find concrete, gunnite preferably, and reinforcing wire.”
After days of searching, phone calls, radio messages etc… as luck would have it, there were no such items in all of Vietnam at least in the Military Sector. As the sandbag filling continued, I hadn’t a clue what to do next. We would be the laughing stock of the Division if we didn’t pull this off. The sandbag filling after much arduous work was finally completed. It took 45,000 sandbags and many days, but finally it was finished and ready for the next phase… pool liner.
We got scrambled one morning a few days later, towards Ton Son Nhut Airbase. After refueling there we were on the way out, and I glanced out the gunners door, “Whoaaaaaa…there it is, the answer to our prayers.”
I clicked on the Intercom, “Sir what is that over there?”
“That is an A1-E Sky Raider.” the pilot replied.
“No, no, the black thing.”
He replied “that is a jet fuel bladder for the aircraft stationed here.”
“Sir I hate to differ,” I replied, “but that there thang sure looks like a pool liner to me.”
After a few silent moments, he clicked back in, “Good point, you could be right.”
“Sir, Can you park this thing for a couple of minutes?”
He chuckled, “What the hell it is worth a shot.”
If you’ve ever tried to bargain with the Air Force for anything forget it. They are better than us. We have nothing they want. They have it already, so we couldn’t trade for it, order one, or buy it out right. Sorry to say they left us little choice. We would just have to steal the thing.
Well, it was quite obvious if we stole that one, we would be busted. We must find another one somewhere else, at another Air Force, or any other foreign post that used them, preferably empty. I touched base with the A. Co. pilots, the Mule Skinners, and anyone else that flew out of Cu Chi to any distant bases to keep an eye out for one and keep it quiet. We called it “Operation Black Thing”.
Some days later, while on a mission, an urgent message came through on the radio, “The black thing has been found, repeat the black thing has been found”.
This message generated from a Mule Skinner aircraft somewhere north of Saigon. To this day I don’t know exactly where it came from but I wasn’t going to ask either. I do know these items were located in Cam Rhan Bay, Quin Nhon, Pleiku, Cantho, and yes Bien Hoa.
None the less, a ground party in a D-Model was scrambled to accomplish this, and sometime in mid afternoon the “Black Thing” was lowered into the hole of the pool lined with sand bags. The payment for this service is yet another story. No one, including myself, had expected what was about to happen. The rubber fuel bladder was much larger than the pool. It landed in the hole in what would best be described as the world’s largest 40-ton rubber knot. It took the entire company, a week to unravel this twisted 40 ton slimy knot. The rubber on one of those things is about 1/2” thick, and nowhere to grab it. It also had JP-4 on it, giving it the same characteristics as a greased pig. We struggled with it for days, and slowly but surely we were making progress.
On the morning of the 7th day we were told to fall out to the company formation area, the “Company Commander” wanted to speak to all of us. We were mulling around, making small talk about the importance of this formation wondering what this could be about. Shortly the Major showed up and called everyone to attention.
“Men.” the Company Commander started. “It has been brought to my attention that the Commanding General’s diving board has come up missing. He is not a real happy camper at this moment. He has stated in a memo. ‘It is a crime to use sandbags for unauthorized purposes’, and further states that ‘If my diving board is returned before sunset today, and there is no visible evidence of the unauthorized use of those sandbags in the next 48 hours, no further action will be taken.’ Needless to say,” states the Company Commander, “there is a sense of urgency here. Everyone will partake in the pool construction until there is no visible evidence of the sandbags”. Those crewmembers that aren’t flying are on pool detail until further notice. Everyone else, that is at this moment not on duty. You too are on pool detail. Now, whoever took that damn diving board, return it immediately! So let’s get this thing done before we are all in deep shit.”
At best it went very slowly. While the knot was being unraveled a deck was being built from, if I remember correctly, 2.75” empty rocket boxes bedded in the dirt and filled to make a level sub deck. Someone had miraculously showed up with a pallet of 1” Marine Grade plywood and non-slip paint – further evidence of the scrounging committee at work again as those items are not one of the stock items in our supply room.
We struggled with the bladder all day. After much cussing and aggravation by late that evening we finally succeeded in getting it straightened out. We would wait until morning to cut it to size. Sometime during the night, the hammering stopped, so apparently the decking was in place. We could rest a little easier now. We would be able to complete the evidence hiding tomorrow.
The rubber bladder was pulled up onto the deck folding the edge over and nailing it down with a ledger board. It took several days to clean the bladder of the jet fuel it had contained, and again that was a slow process. During this entire project spare time was spent on the pool project. Now it was time for water. As luck would have it, the same pool-digging-engineers also controlled all the water trucks. For a price they would do the deed. They figured if it would work once, it would work twice. They would step up the ante. This time, they wanted a fish fry, with beer and ice. Now how in the hell are we going to come up with enough fish to feed all the engineers and us to. ?
After several futile efforts and fishing with a pole in a secure area near Vung Tau, we had a catch of 4 spindly assed ugly looking fish which no one could name. It was going way to slow, we needed fish now. It was time for more drastic measures. A rubber raft, borrowed from the River Rats and a case of hand grenades, misplaced from supply. Like the old adage, a proper tool for every job. In this case this was just the proper equipment required for guaranteed success. You could hear the whuuump whuump at the river. Someone yells “INCOMING…” “Naaaa it’s just them dummies from ‘Diamondhead’ fishing again.” they laughed.
In about an hour or two a rubber raft of fish appeared at the engineers CQ. The deal was we supplied the fish, which took extraordinary effort, now you turkeys are gonna clean them. “What kind are they?” one asked. That was not on the requisition list, just fish. I did recognize a couple though. One looked like a carp; one looked like a catfish, and one great big thing that was maybe 50 lb with sharp teeth. I had never seen one like that before. “When you get done bring them to our company mess hall.” I chuckled as I walked away.
Once again the beer from the EM club flowed; the fresh fish no matter what kind were great, definitely not military. Cookie had made some hush puppies and potato salad to boot.
The next morning the pool began to fill with water. 24/7 the trucks ran. It still took several days. No one had thought about it at the time, but we needed a pump. It seemed the only people that had the required item were the Navy. As the pump hunt continued the diving board was being manufactured, after the fiasco of getting caught with the General’s board, we would use the only flexible item we had. Shot up Rotor blades.
Since a rotor blade is not flat, the bounce angle is not straight either; you have a tendency to hook to the right some. We also had no idea how springy it would be. One of the gunners wanted to be the guinea pig, and just as we were afraid of, our fears came true. Our calculations were off. We had it sticking out to far. One big bounce and the flexible blade whipped him nearly the entire length of the pool curving off to the right and splat right on the deck. His arm will never be the same. If I remember correctly, he broke his forearm.
We shortened the blade up 50% and concluded it would have to do for now. Meanwhile back in Saigon, the bartering for the pump continued. It seems the Navy had plenty of pumps, plenty of boats, plenty of everything but jeeps. Now that, friend, was easy. It seems the first Cavalry had just moved to Tay Ninh. We had no friendship with them so they were the perfect shopping opportunity. So with little ado we boldly flew “Where no man had flown before”, straight to the 1st Cav Motor pool. We told the Sergeant we had orders to take this jeep to Cu Chi, and off we went. We never heard a word about it. Several days later, we discovered the only reason the Navy traded us the pump in the first place was because they thought it didn’t work anyway. In actuality it was brand new, and was full of Cosmolene to keep rust and corrosion out. It just needed cleaned out.
Within a few days after that we had a huge pool party invited the Nurses from 12th Evac, the engineers, the neighboring company, and had a hell of a time. We also all got ear infection, and were grounded for several days. Seems we had forgotten chlorine; General Westmoreland was not thrilled…
You know it is always funny, that as soon as us EM did something, and it is really grand, it is time for the Officers to step in and just one up it a stage. The pool was not any different. Once completed they decided, “Hey we are Occifers”, we need a patio so we can sit out here and not get sunburned, suck on a beer in a lawn chair, while you EM sit on the deck over there. Never mind that we EM did about 90% of all the work and paid for the beer and ice, arranged all the shopping, provided the fish, and they only drove the getaway vehicles. The getaway driver is just as guilty as the …uuuum shoppers. You would think that after all that we had been through that would have been a “Company Patio” as was the pool. I never saw an Occifers only line in the water.
There were also many scoff remarks in the beginning about the probability of it coming together from the officers. Now that it was built, they all had a hand in it. Needless to say, Robin Hood had nothing on the Diamondhead procurement committee. We never left it to one person to scrounge everything; one would surely get caught, with traits like style etc. We all had diverse skills; some were excellent at “armament misdirection and confiscation”, “Organizational, Funding, and finding procurement Items”. Mechanical Acquisition”, along with the necessary clerical skills to cover it up when required.
If a person were to take an occupational list of Diamondhead EM of what did you do before the Army (since most of us were drafted) it would shock you. It was like the who’s who of illegal activities. One was a member of the Black Panthers, more than one had the opportunity to go to Vietnam or remain home and go to jail. That in itself brought forth much motivation: a diverse crew we were. So procurement abilities and acquisition skills fit right in.
Now to make the Patio we were in need of one Item; sheet metal roofing. After about a week of digging around looking for it we finally found some. It seems the Cee Bee’s controlled all of the sheet metal roofing in our AO. We only needed like 10 sheets. So we approached them about it. We got the classic answer, “not in this lifetime”.
Once again this was nothing more than a challenge and inconvenience. We once again must develop a plan, it was somewhat dangerous, and what were us EM to get out of it? Nada… but we had to keep peace in the family so the roof had to go on. We were going to have to swipe the roofing when they knew whom we were. We didn’t have time to count out 10 sheets. We just dropped off one individual who got the sling ready hovered in and took the whole pallet. The only negative part is the bastards shot at us on the way out, we had several bullet holes to explain. The Patio was a success, and many types of sunburn were avoided, so I guess this was actually a humanitarian effort to prevent skin cancer.
So goes the story of the pool ☺
After all the trials and tribulations of building the pool, and the ear infections, the battalion commander got involved and had the 65th engineers drill us a well to eliminate another round of ear infection, and gave us the OK to use the pool if we maintained it properly. He made the testing equipment and chemicals available through normal channels.
Some of the events were a little cloudy after 34 years, but all in all it follows very closely what actually occurred.
©Copyright 2001 by Ronnie G. Leonard