174th Assault
Helicopter Company

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The Diary of a G.I.
by SP4 Horace Cassels


The Vietnam war is seen in the following dispatch through the eyes of a young American soldier actively involved in it. Spec. 4 Horace M. Cassels, son of UPI Senior Editor Louis Cassels, has been in Vietnam since March (1969), flying as crew chief and doorgunner on an assault helicopter (in the 174th Assault Helicopter Company). His journal, mailed home in irregular installments, is a vividly personal account of the experience of going to war, from port of embarkation to combat. Below are some excerpts:

by SP4 Horace Cassels
13 July 1969

FORT LEWIS, Wash., Feb 26- This is the main port of embarkation for Vietnam. I arrived at Seattle Airport about 3 p.m., and boarded a bus for the 45-mile trip to the reception station. By 11 p.m., I had checked in, drawn my sheets and found my barracks. It's an old yellow wooden building put up hastily in World War II. The floors are covered with dust and trash. The only light comes from bare 60-watt bulbs. On each side of the long room, in rows of 10, are double-decker metal bunk beds covered with stained mattresses. It's not terribly homey. I guess they don't want us to get too attached to the place...

Fort Lewis, Feb 27 - They let us lie around in bed until 4 a.m. today then routed us out for work details. I ducked out of mine about 10 a.m. and went over to quartermaster to turn in my dress uniforms and draw jungle issue. It's a good thing green is my color...

Fort Lewis, Feb. 28 - We're leaving tomorrow. To celebrate, Gerry and I went to the PX and played the pinball machines. There was a movie I'd already seen - The Beatles in "Yellow Submarine." It didn't go over very big with the GI audience here. I don't see how anyone can expect soldiers to enjoy a flower power movie just before they take off to fight in Vietnam.

En route to Vietnam, March 1 - We got up about 6 a.m. to turn in our bedding and take buses to the airport. We were supposed to take off at 11:00 a.m., but as usual, everything ran late and we didn't get away until 3 p.m. We're flying on a chartered commercial airliner - a Boeing 707 jet. The flight to Vietnam takes 18 hours. A private sitting beside me said he wished we were going by boat instead of plane. I asked him why, and he said, "I can swim but I sure can't fly."

Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, March 2 - This is our first stop in Vietnam. We'll be here until they sort us out and decide where to send us. I'm thinking of putting in for Hawaii. Cam Ranh is a pretty plush base. They have running water and electric lights. The latrines are like outhouses and there is one shower building at the end of the compound. The weather here is pretty hot - 95 degrees this morning and they tell me it can get as high as 130.

Cam Ranh Bay, March 3 - I think there are people here who don't like me. The reason I have this impression is that someone is shooting at me! I was asleep in the barracks last night when suddenly the sirens started going. The freshly-arrived troops set some new track records getting out of the barracks last night and into the bunkers. We didn't know what in hell was coming off. Turned out to be no big thing. Charlie was dropping a few rockets around but we didn't get any direct fire.

Chu Lai, March 5 - I have left Cam Ranh and am now at Chu Lai, which is in the I Corps area, about 90 miles from the DMZ. A little too close to Charlie's hometown for comfort. Last night, they lobbed some rockets in about 300 yards from my hut. Once they started to come in, we wasted no time getting into the bunkers... Our hut is right on the beach. However, I do not think this place will catch on as a resort area. Aside from Charlie, the South China Sea has such a strong undercurrent they have forbidden us to swim in it. If you get shot, that's one thing, but if you drown it looks bad on the general's safety record.

Chu Lai, March 9 - The sea really is beautiful. As I look out from the beach I can see mountains jutting out from the coast. The water changes color as it moves into shore, going from a thick rich blue to greenish blue and then turning greener and greener until it washes over the reddish white sand. The only thing that spoils the picture is the barbed wire... endless rolls of it, about 40 yards offshore.

Chu Lai, March 10 - We've been taking classes on survival. Our instructor is a tough Green Beret sergeant who has survived plenty of hand-to-hand combat in World War II, Korea and 'Nam. He has taught us some methods of killing that are so bizarre all I could do was laugh. It's hard to believe how human beings can behave sometimes.

Duk Pho [sic], March 12 - I've finally been assigned to my combat unit - the 174th Assault Helicopter Co. We are at a small base just outside the town of Duc Pho in the southern I Corps area. I have a room of my own in the barracks, and I've hired two South Vietnamese civilians to help me fix it up. They charge $1.50 a day each. That's not AFL-CIO scale, but they do pretty good work. We have put plywood paneling on the walls and are building a desk. You should hear me try to talk to these guys in Vietnamese. They seem pretty friendly, but they may turn out to be VC spies. It's hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys. The other day, they caught our post barber setting up reflectors to guide rockets into our area. He turned out to be an NVA (North Vietnamese) officer...

Duk Pho [sic], April 2 - Wow, I've really been busy. I am crew chief and left doorgunner on a Huey H-model chopper. It has a crew of 4 - two pilots, two gunners. We fly 8 to 10 hours every day, and after we land I have to do the maintenance on our ship, so I put in some pretty long hours.

We've been getting plenty of action. Too much, in fact. My first time out, the man next to me was killed.

We were on a charlie-charlie (command and control) flight. That's a mission where a colonel rides with us on a low flight around his area of operations, directing his troops from the air. We also hunt Viet Cong. We were flying over the beach and spotted two VC crossing a sand dune. Dropping down to about 100 feet, we opened fire and killed the two VC.

At the same time, some VC hidden in the jungle nearby opened fire on us. A bullet went under my leg and hit the sergeant next to me. The bullet entered his thigh and went up into his chest. His blood splattered all over me.

I got chewed out because I quit firing my machine gun and tried to stop him from bleeding. The colonel said I should have kept on firing and let someone else help the sergeant. But at the time, he sort of shook me up. He had only five days to go before going home and his wife was already waiting for him in Japan...

I bought a tape recorder at the PX and have begun to accumulate some good sounds on tape - The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Dionne Warwick. I turn it on when I get to my room at night and let it play real loud. It keeps you from going crazy.