Hamilton: The Phuoc Vinh Flying Club
Those who remember the TV series “*M*A*S*H” will recall the zany antics engaged in by the medics to keep themselves sane in the midst of the Korean War insanity. Vietnam was no different.
From 1968 to 1971, the headquarters of the 1st Air Cavalry Division was located near Phuoc Vinh, where this writer spent the latter six months of 1969 as the division’s G-3 operations officer. Staying on top of the division’s far-flung operations was one of those virtually sleepless 24/7 jobs that can drive you nuts.
To keep ourselves sane, this then Army major, aided by brilliant Army captains “Skip” Taylor, and Bill Lacey, floated rumors about the existence of Phuoc Vinh University, a degree-granting college supposedly run by the USO. Preposterous as it sounds, some were willing to believe that college credits might be available in the middle of a war zone.
A Vietnamese tailor was just outside our barb-wired compound. We got the Vietnamese tailor to print “Phuoc U!” T-shirts. Supply struggled to keep up with demand. We boosted the local economy!
But our zaniest creation was the Phuoc Vinh Flying Club. We felt the usual rumor mill would be insufficient. So, we decided to slip the notice of the organizational meeting of the Phuoc Vinh Flying Club into the Unofficial Section of the division’s Daily Bulletin, a division-wide publication.
Mind you, despite the division’s over 450 helicopters, there was no way that any of our helicopters could be spared to form an off-duty flying club. But then, a few people had fallen for “Phuoc U!
The mimeograph stencil (does anyone remember mimeograph?) for the Daily Bulletin was typed each evening in a tropical building right next to the Division Tactical Operations Center, the DTOC. Each night, the clerk-typist for the Daily Bulletin would leave the stencil for the next day’s Daily Bulletin in his typewriter, just in case the morning brought the need to add an item at the bottom of the stencil. That done, the clerk would padlock the door and hit the sack.
Noting we had an identical padlock on hand, I had one of my captains switch locks. When the clerk locked up that night, he unwittingly locked up with our lock. In the wee hours, we typed this addition to the Unofficial Section of the Daily Bulletin: ‘The organizational meeting of the Phuoc Vinh Flying Club will be held at 1900 hours, on 20 November, 1969, at the USO Center. Soldiers wanting to learn to fly should report 15 minutes early with their health records in hand.” That done, we switched the lock and stole back into the DTOC.
About 0800 hours the next morning, when the division chief-of-staff read his copy of the Daily Bulletin, a 200-decibel bellow erupted from his tent. He ordered the Military Police to find the culprits. Rather than see precious resources wasted, I confessed to my boss, the G-3, who gave me a quiet, but stern, talking to.
Years later, the chief-of-staff, a newly minted Major General, came to speak at the Naval War College. Sitting next to him at lunch, I asked, “Whatever became of the Phuoc Vinh Flying Club?” He said, “You S.O.B. I always suspected that was you!”
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