That’s how Robert “Bob” Haseman landed there in 1969, on a jet from Okinawa complete with hot meals, stewardesses and fellow troops. When many of us picture the Vietnam War, one image that doesn’t come to mind is troops arriving for war on commercial airlines flying into Da Nang, Vietnam.
Haseman estimates that the day he arrived it was probably 110 degrees Fahrenheit — very hot, very humid and very typical for Vietnam.
He was 21 years old and a freshly minted second lieutenant just out of Officer Candidate School.
The son of a World War II vet, Haseman, like many of his fellow infantrymen, enlisted in the Marine Corps an idealistic young man wanting to follow in his father’s footsteps.
But Vietnam turned out to be a very different type of war.
Now 47 years later, Haseman, a retired Helena businessman, has written, illustrated and self-published a book about those experiences, “The Sun Sets on Vietnam: The Firebase War.”
It gives a glimpse of what that war was like and how Haseman has come to grips with it decades later.
The day after landing, Haseman was in a jeep bumping down a dirt road on his way to Vandegrift Combat Base (VCB), or firebase, in Quang Tri Province.
“Most of the time, you didn’t see the enemy, or allies or other platoons,” he said of his stint in Vietnam, where he commanded a Marine Corps infantry platoon in Lima Company.
But things could rocket from dull to “very, very scary” instantaneously, he recalled.
“This was the beginning of the most dangerous and adrenaline-charged period of my life, where you could go from complete boredom to stress-filled anxiety in a second,” he writes.
Haseman’s unit defended about one-sixth of the VCB perimeter, he writes.
Some of the most frightening times in Vietnam were for those who were manning the listening posts.
This is where a two-man team with a radio sat in the dark outside the base’s perimeter, listening for “sappers” — North Vietnamese soldiers carrying satchel charge bombs who would throw the bombs into the perimeter.
But it wasn’t just the sappers that could kill you, he said. It could be “friendly fire” if the team had to rush back to the perimeter in the dark.
And it was in chaos such as this that one of Haseman’s men would kill his own best friend.
That is just one of the incidents featured in his chapter “Anxious Thoughts.”
That chapter and the final chapter, “A Letter to My Children About Vietnam,” are two of the book’s strongest parts, said Haseman.
It’s this final chapter, where Haseman retraces some of the history leading up to the war and “why many of those decisions were mistakes.”
It’s also where Haseman writes, “it is past time for the anger, blame, and resentment about Vietnam to end.”
It’s “really the reason I wrote the book,” he said.
How did Vietnam change him?
“It certainly made me less naive,” said Haseman, a Missouri native. “I was a bumpkin. People would tell me something and I was willing to believe it.”
“My experience (in Vietnam) was little things,” said Haseman, who is a retired financial adviser and founder of the Helena Edward Jones office in 1981.
He decided to write this book based on some of the stories he had told his wife and friends when he first got back from Vietnam.
Reading the novel “The Things They Carried,” based on author Tim O’Brien’s experiences in Vietnam gave Haseman a place to start with telling his own story: “I can write about little things.”
Writing about those “little things” has brought some closure on that part of his life.
So has the belated recognition and thanks that Vietnam veterans are finally receiving from their government and fellow citizens. “We shouldn’t feel guilty. We should feel proud of our service.”
Reporter Marga Lincoln can be reached at 447-4083 firstname.lastname@example.org