Eye Witness Testimonies: Bennie White
Edited from interview by Kyle Dorman and Emily White, May 2005
I am Bennie Wayne White and I was born on January 17, 1945, in Lynchburg, Virginia. I am the oldest of four children. Before Vietnam I was in high school and joined the United States Air Force in July after I graduated. I never received a draft notice but many people I knew received them. Many of my friends were in the military when I enlisted. A friend of mine joined with me but I never saw him after basic training. My family pretty much realized that this was going to be my choice. The Civil Air Patrol had made me think about going into the Air Force and previous to Vietnam, I had expressed an interest in entering the Air Force. I enlisted in Lynchburg with a recruiter whose son was in my high school class. A motivation for entering the Air Force was the thought of being drafted into another branch of the armed services.
I was stationed at Phu Cat, Vietnam. It was in the Binh Dinh Province in Central Vietnam just North of Qui Nhon. I was in Vietnam for one year. The formal title of my job was Material Facility Specialist, a warehouse worker; I learn to stack boxes very well at a government expense. Unlike the Army and other forces we stored parts, equipment, and materials and issued them to units, as they needed them. As an Airman I received few benefits for my rank. The Airman’s Club and the NCO club were practically the same in Vietnam. There weren’t many privileges given to enlisted soldiers but some officers received privileges. The Air Force, unlike the Army, assigned people as individuals and not as a unit. I was assigned to Edwards, from there some people were assigned to Tuy Hoa, some went to Phu Cat, others went to Da Nang, Ben Hoa. The Air Force didn’t have cohesive units like the Army so there wasn’t as much of a chance for people to bond.
The attacks on the air base were a nightly affair. You’d work all day and then at night around one in the morning the Vietnamese would start lobbing in recoilist rifle and other shelling and small artillery; you’d get maybe another hour or two of sleep and go back to work. Daytime they did not have much attacking but at nighttime it was almost a nightly affair. There were fourteen hour workdays, and you got rest where ever and whenever you could. You could almost count on being awaked and spending some time in a bunker at some point during the night. The most memorable experience was a night when fighters were flying over the mountains dropping napalm, and the napalm seemed to follow the fighters into the night.
Also people’s personalities changed. After a shelling at the outdoor movie theater a man who couldn’t be kept quiet came into the barracks and didn’t say a word. Another man from our barracks came in and he was usually very quiet and reserved. That night we couldn’t get that man to be quiet. Vietnam was a place where you never knew what was going to happen.
It wasn’t the first time I was away from home at Christmas, but it was a lonely feeling. Even in the hot tropical climate I was able to find a small tree and a few decorations and made my own Christmas tree. Everyone in their own way was trying to make their own Christmas. If you got a care package from home with perishable items you shared. The heat and humid made things go bad quickly. Vietnam winters are a lot like our summers; the low to mid eighties was a cool day in Vietnam. Vietnam was a very humid place, and it smelled. Go down to a waste treatment plant on a hot day and imagine spending a year there. In the movies from Vietnam it’s one of those things that you can’t put in a movie, if you did the audience would leave immediately. The insects were horrible, when you’d leave in the morning and come back for a break in the afternoon you’d have to clear your bunk of spider webs. If you left leather alone, like your boots, within a few days they would turn green with the humidity. Being in the Air Force we were never really affected physically. We had flights coming in from the States and other places and we were landing jets. We had fresh salmon and fresh turkey there was no physical deprivation unless you considered cold showers. Being on an air base is not roughing it.
I was in Vietnam from mid-December 1967 to mid-December 1968. I was in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive. The good Lord was looking after me, because the base I was on was smaller, several thousand men, and fairly new so it didn’t receive the attention that the bigger bases did. The base was still being built when I arrived. We didn’t receive any of the major attacks, like Da Nang and the larger bases suffered. We had fighters that flew missions up to North Vietnam and flew cover missions and campaigns in South Vietnam. Pilots, mechanics, and warehouse people were what took up much of the population. Next to our base was a Korean Base that would fire artillery during the daytime. We could watch the explosions on the mountains that surround Phu Cat; we could see tracers from units that were fighting around us.I was an Airman First Class on my discharge, which would be a Corporal in the Army. For the first few years after we returned I kept up with some guys but it has been about twenty-five years since I talked to any of them. When I returned home I wasn’t treated differently. I never got a lot of bad treatment. When I returned to the states I received my discharge so I wasn’t traveling a lot and no longer was military. Although I never had any problems with this, I know a lot of people did. When I returned home I tried to keep up with people in Vietnam. I visited one of my friend’s parents on my way home, and sent him a wedding present when he returned a few months after I did. We really didn’t keep touch the way the Army and other units did. I didn’t try to keep up with events, but like everyone you had daily TV reports and Time Magazine. After the war ended it took me a long time to go back and read events from a study point of view.
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