Meeting a Buddy at Cam Ranh Bay in 1969

Ray Mederios

We arrived at Cam Ranh Bay in two C -141's on 3 January 1969 and were the second half of the rotational personnel for the 555 Red Horse Squadron, a self-sufficient construction unit located just outside the main gate of Cam Ranh Air Force Base. REDHORSE was a concept, similar to the SEABEES, developed by Air Force Civil Engineering in 1965/66 to meet the unique facilities requirements of the Air Force. Each unit was comprised of 400 military, with 16 officers, including one Doctor. We employed over 1000 Vietnamese who performed most of the unskilled heavy labor. The Squadron was equipped with heavy earth movers, bulldozers, cement mixing plant, asphalt pavers, and 5 and 10 ton Mack trucks etc. At Cam Ranh Bay we also had a rock crushing plant and made concrete blocks. We had various Detachments located throughout Vietnam. I was assigned as the Deputy Commander.

A couple of months after being in place some of our officers told us that they had been to the south end of the island at Market Time, and the Navy had a real neat Officers Club overlooking a beautiful, sandy beach. A few of us decided to revisit the base a few evenings later to partake of their hospitality and their sunset. Arriving on base, I saw a sign indicating that a Capt. Hoffman was the Commodore on the base and his Executive Officer was Charles Plumly. Hell, it was only 14 years, and a reputation and name like Charlie Plumly stays with you for a lot longer than that. We easily located Charlie and invited him and the Commodore to our hooch for some spareribs, etc. on the next weekend. Charlie behaved well, and the Commodore enjoyed his stay and, in return they invited all 16 of our officers down to their Wardroom Mess at Market Time for a dinner. Our young officers were quite impressed with the linen table cloths, the waiters and wine. Little did I know that Charlie had a devious purpose in inviting us there. It seems that the Army was responsible for the maintenance of all general areas on the island. This included the improved dirt road, which was the only land access to the base from the North. The Army had the equipment necessary, but due to tactical requirements elsewhere never considered improving the access road to Market Time of high enough priority. Charlie had invited us down right after a heavy rain which made access to Market Time difficult even for our M-series Jeeps. While sitting in the wardroom mess, eating our pie à la mode dessert, Charlie asked whether or not we could help just a little bit in making their road passable. Col. Hamilton, my boss, was close enough to hear Charlie’s request and indicated that we might be able to assist them. I then asked Capt. Moore to check the road condition on our departure, and the next morning he reported that the problem could be solved with about 30 loads of crushed rock by our 10K Mack trucks and a day of grading. Fortunately, our own work schedule allowed us to start work the following day, so that the complete job was done in three days.

Charlie showed up at our hooch the following weekend to express his and the Commodore’s gratitude and wanted to know what they could do in-kind. Although we couldn't think of anything at the time, (no one was keen on taking up on his offer of a two day cruise up the Delta in one of their Swift Boats); while we sat in the lounge and bar area Charlie looked at our furniture and indicated that it was getting pretty shaggy and worn out, and that he would be pleased to replace it with fine rattan furniture straight from the Philippines; and he commenced to take a complete inventory. Lo, and behold a week and a half later, a Navy truck arrived, and the driver was in our office asking where he could deliver our new furniture.

We had some fine times together during that summer, including baptizing his new Commodore, Capt. Nicholson; but, alas, it came time for Charlie to take the Freedom bird and return home to his Sibyl. He arrived early one morning at Triple Nickel with his luggage and ready to go. We proceeded over to the terminal building to take care of all the administrative matters and check in his luggage. There was a bit of time before the flight loaded so we returned across the base to our hooch to have a few more farewell drinks. Charlie was a bit apprehensive because it took about 20 minutes to travel from Triple Nickel at the SE end of the base to the terminal on the other side of the airfield at the NW side of the runway. He exhibited this concern on a few occasions as time passed and glasses were emptied. Finally, with not too much time to spare we embarked in 555’s M-series ambulance with mobile communications to the control tower, a siren and flashing red lights and received approval to cross the runway directly to the terminal apron ( 5 minutes) where Charlie's Pan-American flight was waiting for him. We drove up to the plane with time enough left to have one last farewell martini from the hanging Plasma bag in the back of the ambulance, after which Charlie walked up the gangway; the door closed, they rolled the gangway away, the engines revved and Charlie was on his way.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

PS: for the rest of the tour, every time we recreationed in our lounge, we thought of Charlie, and lifted a few to Market Time.