During my return to Vietnam trip in 2001, we visited Dong Ba Thin, because it was the headquarters for the 183rd Aviation Company. We looked forward to arriving at Dong Ba Thin because we all had spent time there. We knew that Dong Ba Thin was right across Cam Ranh Bay to the West. We also knew that the runway paralleled Vietnam’s Hiqhway One. We had heard that the headquarters area was no longer in existence, but the runway should be in place. When we arrived we noted that the runway was in place, but it was a PSP or metal runway and was now asphalt runway. We were told by our guides that we were NOT to film anything from the runway because that area had a military value because we could see Cam Ranh Bay and the old ROK (Republic of Korea) troop building from the runway. We all got out of the van on the South end of the runway and noted that the tents of and headquarter of NOT in existence. In the place of the headquarters area was a sugar factory.
We all exited the van to survey the situation. It was the middle of the afternoon and I looked toward the old ROK headquarters to see troops doing calisthenics in the hot afternoon sunshine. After a few minutes I noted about 6 troops heading out way. They ran directly toward us. They ran across the adjacent field and up and down the drainage ditch, across the road and up and down the drainage ditch on our side of the road. At that point they were only about 200 feet away. At that point I noted that they all had AK47 rifles. The next thing I know we were all looking down the barrel of their AK’s. The NVA soldiers were only about 3 feet from our heads! We decided to get back in the Ford van, but leave the sliding door open. I noticed that their uniforms we Navy uniforms. We found out later they were NVA special forces and NVA seals.
When in the van we all decided NOT to make eye contact. They were all very young and estimated to be 18 or 19 years old. I can still see the brown beady eyes of the small Vietnamese soldiers looking directly at me with his AK also pointed at me. We had two Vietnamese guides, one being a driver and the other being our Vietnamese guide. At that point an officer arrived on a 100 CC Honda. We immediately noted that we could smell liquor and that he had been drinking in the afternoon. Our guides and the officer immediately began yelling at each other. The outcome was that we were directed to drive to their headquarters building. On the drive I put blank film on both of my cameras. That is exactly what we all did. During the drive I determined that they were probably going to take our cameras or best case they would take our film. We were directly to stay in the Ford van while our guides were directed to enter the headquarters building with our cameras. We discussed what our fate would be, while we sat in the van? Should we fear for our life’s? We had all spent a year in Vietnam during the war. What would be our fate after surviving the war?
It was the longest 25 minutes in my life? Our guides emerged from the building and I could see our cameras were hanging from his neck. They could have kept our cameras, which had a large value in Vietnam. They did keep the film. Our guide told us that they would let us go if we gave them $50.00 in United States money and never come back? We immediately came up with $50.00 and drove to NaTrang as fast as we could. I remember we had very few words to say to each other on the drive to NaTrang. We felt that we were lucky to be released and that the circumstances could have been far worse. By the way, our guides told the communists that we were CANADIANS!