Life in Saigon was not all it was cracked up to be. While one might think that the city was the place to be it had more negative than positive aspects. Take security for example. In the base camps there was perimeter security and one could feel relatively safe, barring the odd mortar, rocket or artillery round flying in from outside the wire.


Saigon was another story. It had all the same fly-ins but in reality it was an open city. Checkpoints could be either bypassed or papers for passage easily forged. Goods of all types could be moved in, around and out of the city, secreted in hidden compartments. Soon after I arrived, I remember seeing a people mover Lambretta, that had three 122mm rockets belted to the undercarriage of its passenger bay, suddenly take off down the boulevard. One of the rockets had evidently been too close to the Lambretta's exhaust and ignited, propelling the astonished passengers and their conveyance into a wall. Viewing the resulting explosion was not a great way to start the year.


In general, there seemed to be security by consensus. In other words, I won't try and get rid of you if you don't try and get rid of me. However, that could quickly be put aside for political, emotional or economic reasons, the result of which caused unneeded suffering and death. If the hit was personal the going rate to get someone snuffed was $50US. All one had to do was find the right person in one of the many 'cowboy' motorbike gangs that plied the city and grease their palm. The problem was that both sides used them so one really never knew just who was doing what to whom. Daily there was the odd satchel charge or hand grenade tossed from a motorbike into a facility or a passing jeep. Not knowing when a strike would occur kept one alert. Then again, if one's number was upů


A lot of what happened seemed to be known ahead of time and, although it was being decoded in the communications center and classified, it would be announced in the Stars & Stripes. 'Rockets to hit the city at 2000hrs' to paraphrase one of the headlines I seem to remember, made it seem like it had been orchestrated, an exchange of scripts comes to mind.


Sure the clubs and bars on Thu Do were close and if you wanted something more adventurous there were the cat houses or the seedy district across the railroad bridge off Ham Nghi, but so was the chance that you wouldn't come back. Many who ventured too far ended up in the morgue or worse in the Saigon River overdosed with drugs and/or a bullet in their brain. All in all, a lot of what did happen didn't seem to be covered in the press. That was probably just as well but it did give an impression of stability in a city that was always in turmoil.