During the final months of my Vietnam tour I was assigned to a support battalion at Camp Debeau on the Tan Son Nhut Airbase perimeter outside Saigon. Most officers lived in a Saigon hotel, but I was one of five who lived in two man “hooches”. Since American involvement in the war was winding down, the other occupant of my hooch was not replaced when he returned to the States. I had it all to myself.
A previous occupant added a sign identifying the hooch as the “Saigon Hilton”. Like the other two hooches it was a small structure surrounded by “blast barrels,” 55-gallon drums filled with sand to absorb shrapnel.
(Note blast barrels around each hooch.)
One of Camp DeBeau’s attractions was a pack of semi-wild dogs. These dogs knew that if they appeared outside the mess hall at the end of the day, they would receive any leftovers. You could set your watch by those dogs.
My favorite thing about the dogs was that they would bark at any Vietnamese who entered the camp. As the only Infantry officer in the battalion, I was responsible for defense of the camp and felt that the dogs added a bit of security.
So, it was with some concern when in the middle of the night I was awoken by barking. It seemed to be coming from the far side of the camp, near the generator – a likely *sapper objective. Soon, the barking got louder as the dogs charged in the direction of my hooch, clearly in hot pursuit. As was the case with everyone except the guard, I was unarmed. I took some comfort knowing that about 50 feet away the officer and non-commissioned officer of the day were in the headquarters building and were armed.
There wasn’t much time to wonder what to do as the intruder jumped on the blast barrels and leapt on my roof. The dogs surrounded my hooch and the barking reached a frenzy. Clearly panicked, I heard the intruder’s footsteps run across my roof as he tried to leap to safety. As he leapt, the dogs went wild – and were suddenly quiet. A few sniffs and huffs, and then they dispersed.
A quick look out the door, and I ran to headquarters. The officer was asleep in a cot, and the non-commissioned officer had his head down on a desk, also asleep. I woke him up, but obviously he had heard nothing.
The dilemma now was whether or not to sound the alarm. Had the dogs vanquished the intruder, or might he return with reinforcements? For reasons I can’t explain (or remember), I did not sound the alarm.
In the morning I walked around the hooch to look for signs of the enemy. I found his body behind the hooch, between the wall and the blast barrels. Clearly his leap had ended badly, as his neck was obviously broken. One less cat in Vietnam.
*Technically, a sapper is a military engineer. In Vietnam the term was used to indicate someone who could infiltrate through the defensive line, disarming booby traps and possibly placing explosives.