"Sharing can be a way of healing. Grief and loss can isolate,
anger even alienate. Shared with others, emotions unite
as we see we aren't alone. We realize others weep with us."
~Susan Wittig Albert

Through our writing, we walk out of the darkness into the light
together, one small step at a time, recording history, educating
America, and we are healing.
~CJ/Todd Dierdorff

Monday, July 26, 2010

Michael Van Strien: Phu Bai 1970

God Bless the Red, White, and Blue - "These colors don't run!"

I'm proud to introduce my friend, Michael Van Strien (3/17/49). During 1970, he served with the 101st Airborne Division's 34th Public Information Department (PID) as a combat correspondent. He was stationed in Phu Bai in Northern I Corps, which is approximately twenty-five miles from the DMZ.

Michael has been happily married for twenty-seven years. He and his wife, Jackie, have one son, Micah. He has a B.S. and an M.S. in Communication Theory from Illinois State University, and an A.A. in Speech and Drama. Michael is an Associate Professor of Speech and has taught at Richland Community College, Decatur, Illinois, and Tri-County Technical College, Pendleton, South Carolina. He was also the Director of Forensics (Competitive Speech) at both schools. In 1989, they won the National Tournament for Small Schools.

An Excerpt from the Book
"A Screaming Eagles' Tales"
by Michael Van Strien

The date was 1970. I had just finished my advanced training as a Combat Journalist and I was just about to head to Vietnam. The night before, I had let roughly fifty of my friends throw a tremendous going away party for me and it really rocked.

The next morning, before it was time to leave, I had breakfast with my mom. As I hugged her goodbye, I tried my best to reassure her because she was visably nervous. I told her not to worry, I'd be fine, and I headed for Bill's Thunderbird and a ride to Chicago's O'Hare Airport.

After flying to Newark, New Jersey, I got a cab to Ft. Dix. I spent two full days there, before we all got on board the longest jet I ever had seen. Eighteen hours later, we arrived in Hawaii. From there, we were escorted to a private bar area where we were put under guard ... like we'd all run away, or something. I mean, we're on an island! Then, we got back onto the plane with the next stopover in Guam ... I mean GUAM ... it was a very small stopping place.

At last, we landed in Lng Binh, which was a HUGE base in country. We were trucked out to a temporary billeting area for incoming troops. Twenty minutes later, we were in housing when the first rocket attack took place. Needless to say, we were terrified. The troops that were stationed there acted like this happened all the time -- like it was a walk in the park. Geez, were we ever the FNG's (Fucking New Guys)!

Three times a day, they called everyone out into the main yard and called out your name and the last four digits of your SSAN. Then, they announced where you were going to be stationed. Now, to help you KNOW where that is, they have a mapboard made out of six sheets of 4 X 5 plywood with the whole map of Vietnam on it. When they called our name and unit, we went over to the map. You always had to start at the very bottom of Vietnam to start looking for where you were going to go, moving your finger up slowly, looking at the same time you're tracing the units with your finger.

So, what I was looking for was where the 101st Airborne Division was. I started out looking in the most southern part of the map. I traced the units with my finger very slowly, not wanting to miss it -- but the place NEVER comes up. I kept looking, but there was no Screaming Eagle! Then suddenly, when I got within an inch or two from the DMZ (North Vietnam), I saw it -- there was the picture of the Screaming Eagle --- Oh My God! I'm going to die!

Well, I headed out to find the correct helipad and then I started the hop to the airport. From there, I was put on a C-130 with what were obviously new guys, and a couple of older guys who had been there for a long time.

One of the guys asked where I was headed and I told him, "Phu Bai, near Hue."

He said, "Oh man, you're going to love it there -- they have hot C's."
What he was saying was, we would have hot C-rations -- canned food that was heated in garbage cans full of hot water.

I asked him how long he'd been there and how old he was. He told me he'd been there for eight months. He said he was eighteen, freaking eighteen. I mean, I'm twenty! Oh my God, this was going to be a weird place.

Anyway, I signed in at Phu Bai. This was to be my new place of work, and it was on a HUGE base. I had to get ready to go out with the troops to gather information for stories, take photos and just generally stay alive in the process. I never thought I would meet so many incredible men and have such fine co-workers like my buddy, Craig Latham. I learned a lot about myself during that year ...

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