By early 1971 the situation in Vietnam became so unstable that I was more afraid of being robbed and killed by one of our Vietnamese Allies than I was the communists. I returned to Vietnam after being discharged from the U.S. Army. I took a job with the Federal Electric Corporation (FEC). This company had a contract with the U.S. Army to assume responsibility for the military telephone system in Vietnam and later Thailand. Basically I returned to Vietnam for fun and adventure; not the money. This company was one cheap Charlie outfit. Anyway I am back in Qui Nhon in early 1971 and I could really sense that something was different in this coastal city.
American was withdrawing from Vietnam. The more U.S. military personnel that left Qui Nhon the more dangerous the city became. There were hoodlums just about everywhere. They were called the cowboys by the Americans. Besides just out and out robbing you these punks would rip off your watch, camera, and anything else you might be carrying. One of their favorite tricks was to jerk your watch off of your arm and run off or hop on a Honda 50. . My boss lost his Rolex this way. As long as you were inside military facilities you were safe but once on the outside you had better watch your surroundings.
As civilian contractors we were not allowed to have weapons. Be assured many of us acquired weapons. In Qui Nhon departing GIs would often give me weapons. I never asked where they got them from. At one time in my villa in Qui Nhon I had 4 or 5, M16’s, 1 AK 47, 1 Thompson machine gun, an Army 45, and a case of grenades. When I was transferred to Saigon in ’72 I had to leave the weapons behind but once down south I picked up a nice derringer and a Colt Commander. FEC told us the Army and local authorities would protect us. Bunk!
I was a telephone cable splicer working on the exact same telephone cable I worked on as a Soldier. On this contract we had to use the same crap trucks and the same crap telephone equipment the Army used. Matter of fact the Army just transferred their equipment to FEC. I thought we’d be given commercial equipment to keep this telephone system operational. I got to work on this old system for a whopping $2.85 an hour for 56 hours a week. By the way, overtime was paid straight time. Your 40% yearly bonus was paid on a 40 hour week. Some people in company management actually expected us to work like galley slaves and get this system ready to turn over to the Vietnamese Army.
After 18 months in Qui Nhon I was assigned to the company engineering department in Saigon. I actually got paid almost a fair wage in this position. For any of you old FEC or GHO hands who might be reading this I will tell you what I know about some of our employees in company. Over the past ten years I have been in contact with Marvin Curtis, Dick Posey, and Fred Wheat. The following are deceased, Gerry Cronan, Al Kee, Mike Brown, Bob Canlett, and Bob Frase. Gerry and Al are in the VA cemetery in Las Vegas. Mike Brown is interred in the VA cemetery in Riverside; CA. Bob Canlett is buried in Petaluma, CA. I would like to know what happened to Jim Harrison (James C. Harrison, originally from Indianapolis).