After graduating from Montana State University in 1970 with a Bachelor of Architecture degree, I faced the draft into the Army directly (I had a low draft lottery number) by enlisting in the Navy as a naval officer instead. While I was firmly against the nation’s war in Vietnam by that time, I knew I could not in good conscience flee to Canada or go underground. I hoped I could do something positive in the Navy by managing construction as part of the Navy’s Civil Engineer Corps. My father had been one of the first Navy enlisted men in the famous Seabees (construction battalions) in WWII, and his experience was a part of my decision to become an architect and then to go into the Navy.
After Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island in Spring 1971, I headed to Civil Engineer Corps Officer School at Port Hueneme, California. While in this school, I specialized in contract construction management, and spoke with the “detailer” about my first duty assignment. There were several “Assistant Resident Officer in Charge of Construction (AROICC)” assignments available at remote locations such as China Lake Naval Weapons Center in California. AROICCs are essentially construction project managers. There was also an AROICC position in Saigon. Like an out-of-body experience, I heard myself volunteering to go to Saigon for a year. Part of my decision was a desire for adventure -- part was the prospect of more interesting projects with interesting contractors.
In October 1971, I arrived in Saigon at Ton Sun Nhut airport on a flight originating at Travis Air Force Base in Northern California. I knew life was going to be different from the normal military life in Vietnam when the person I was to relieve picked me up directly at the airport so that I bypassed the normal week’s orientation at the Navy headquarters at the airport (NAVFORV). Bear in mind that I did not receive any weapons training to speak of in the U.S.. After expressing my concern, I was told that our objective while in Vietnam will be to stay out of trouble and look and operate like civilians as much as possible. Since we were working with civilian constructors, this is exactly what we did.
Nevertheless, I was still a naval officer, and as an Ensign, I was the youngest, freshest, most junior officer assigned to the Officer in Charge of Construction, Republic of Vietnam (OICC-RVN). This agency was responsible to the Department of Defense for all civilian and civil construction in Vietnam. We were not combat engineers, nor were we involved in building forward bases. Our customers included the U.S. Agency for International Development for Vietnamese government public works capital projects, as well as capital projects for the Vietnamese military with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as our customer.
Our headquarters was in downtown Saigon on Hai Ba Trung Street a few blocks from the U.S. Embassy, and our residence was a hotel on Dang Duc Sieu between Saigon and Cholon. Subsequent posts will explain the construction projects we completed in Vietnam, as well as how we managed these projects. There will also be pictures linked to Flickr showing the beauty of Vietnam in 1972 as well as the projects we built there.