RIOT AT LONG BINH JAIL

The Long Binh Jail was established in summer 1966, when the stockade was moved from its original location at Pershing Field, the sports field by Tan Son Nhut Air Base, where the prisoner capacity had been about 140. As the U.S. military buildup continued, so did the growing demand for confinement space for American soldiers who went awry of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Those men either served their terms at the Long Binh Jail or were sent to the U.S. Army Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

By mid-1967 the entire U.S. Army, Vietnam, command had become centralized in Long Binh as part of Operation Moose. This massive logistical undertaking made Long Binh the largest military installation in the world, with 50,000 troops on base. Long Binh was a major objective of the VC during the 1968 Tet Offensive.

The stockade quickly acquired the dubious nickname of ‘Camp LBJ,’ a contemptuous reference to President Lyndon Baines Johnson. It was not long before Camp LBJ became a reflection of American society 12,000 miles away. Voluntary social segregation became the norm. Black and Hispanic inmates stayed together, as did the whites. The environment was dangerous and frustrating for inmates and guards alike, with morale a daily challenge for both groups. The guards, many of whom initially had little corrections training, were faced with the daunting daily task of controlling a restive population. According to one Judge Advocate General Corps officer who conducted investigations into allegations made by inmates, there were few incidents of overt brutality. Often, what appeared to be brutality was a lifesaving response of a guard or the physical restraint or movement of a belligerent inmate.

Under the overall command of the 18th MP Brigade, the direct supervision of LBJ fell to the 557th MP Company, 95th MP Battalion. The compound had gone through four confinement officers (wardens) by the time Lt. Col. Vernon D. Johnson took command on July 5, 1968. Johnson had an academic bent and tried to be sympathetic to the needs of the inmates, almost at the risk of eroding guard authority and credibility.

Inmates spent their days in tedious work details and mundane recreation. For those not inclined to follow the rules, there was always ‘Silver City,’ the maximum confinement area made up of converted Conex shipping containers, where temperatures could exceed 110 degrees. Some inmates considered this a form of torture, and Silver City dramatically contributed to LBJ’s reputation as the worst place to be in Vietnam.

For most of the inmates interned in the nearly eight-acre compound, the racial tension was made worse by overcrowding. Designed to hold 400, the facilities housed 719 by mid-1968 and had not been expanded to accommodate the population surge. Each prisoner had originally been allocated 70 square feet of living space, which soon dwindled to 36.5 square feet.

Blacks, who represented nearly 90 percent of LBJ’s inmate population, demonstrated their defiant identity with ‘Black Power’ signs and intricate hand gestures. All the while the predominantly white guards had to come to grips with the environment of rising black identity that was surging through the rest of American society.

LBJ had been a problem virtually since its establishment. Thanks to a public relations campaign during the war, most of what went on at LBJ remained essentially quiet, despite previous inmate uprisings in 1966 and 1967. But by August 1968, the embers of the flames from the American cities that had burned the previous two summers, exacerbated by the April 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., finally ignited the smoldering environment at the Long Binh Jail. Racial tensions, combined with allegations of rampant drug use, were the primary causes of the uprising. Accusations of abuse and neglect, combined with overcrowding, frustration and drugs, served as the catalysts.

The new policy of strip-searching inmates in an effort to stem the proliferation of drugs at LBJ was perceived by the inmates as the ultimate act of degradation. On the night of August 29, 1968, the lid blew. For months the inmates had planned a prison break, but instead they switched to staging an overt act of aggression.

A group of black inmates became high on drugs, mostly marijuana and the popular Quaalude Binoctal. The drugs allegedly were provided by one or two of the guards. At 2345 hours, once the inmates were comfortably stoned, they approached the administration area and attacked the fence guard. From there, total chaos erupted. The frenzied inmates began to set tents, mattresses and trash on fire. The mess hall, supply building, latrine, barber shop and administration and finance buildings followed.

Guards and many of the inmates were caught by surprise. When they realized what was happening, many other prisoners joined in the riot. A group of 200 began systematically destroying the camp, while beating white inmates and guards with any impromptu weapon they could get their hands on, including wood planks and bars from dismantled beds.

Only four verified escapes were made during the confusing early stages of the uprising. Despite the wholesale violence, the only fatality was Private Edward Haskett of St. Petersburg, Fla., who was beaten to death with a shovel.

Around midnight, Colonel Johnson and Lieutenant Ernest B. Talps entered the compound in an attempt to calm the rioters. While he was addressing the mob, Johnson was viciously attacked, sustaining severe head wounds before he and Talps escaped.

By that time the prison guards were shoring up perimeter security, with fire-trucks standing by. A significant number of both black and white inmates opted not to join in the riot. Within 30 minutes, they were escorted to a secured field adjoining the prison where they waited out the night under close guard.

It was on the next day that Pfc McKeon was told to muster with the reaction force from the 720th MPs. Under the command of Lt. Col. Baxter M. Bullock, the force walked in formation across the Long Binh base to the stockade front gate where it assembled in a V formation. According to McKeon, ‘Every time the front gate opened, we formed a barrier to follow whatever vehicle went in.’

By August 31 the mood had swung from one of racial discord to one of revolt against the Army. Black and white inmates began to throw rocks and debris at the 720th MPs, who by then had established an outer perimeter. Tom Watson, who was among the reaction force MPs standing 12-hour shifts by the front gate, recalled that there was a strong pungent smell of burning debris from the fires and a thin layer of smoke that held close to the ground because of the humid night air.’

Once the perimeter guard was established, the waiting game began. Lieutenant Colonel Eugene Murdock had assumed command from the injured Johnson by the end of August 30. Personally selected by USARV deputy commander Lt. Gen. Frank T. Mildren, Murdock took the conservative approach of waiting out the inmates. Lieutenant Colonel Eugene Trop, another seasoned MP officer, assisted Murdock. The patient approach they had adopted undoubtedly saved many lives.

‘Throughout the entire [12-hour] shift [the prisoners] constantly cursed at us and attempted to bait us into approaching the fence,’ Watson recalled. ‘If you happened to venture too close they would try to spit or piss on us.’

During the evening of August 31, several truckloads of blankets, cots and food were brought in for the prisoners. ‘We had to form a skirmish line at bayonet point so the gates could be opened to get the trucks inside, unloaded and removed,’ said Watson. ‘It was a very strange feeling having a bayonet-tipped and loaded rifle pointed at another American, knowing you might have to kill him if he rushed you. I’m grateful it didn’t come to that.’

Once the gates were closed, some of the prisoners set fire to the new supplies. The situation then remained at a standoff for about a week, during which time the number of holdouts dwindled to 13. The steady attrition was precipitated by Trop’s announcement that anyone who didn’t give up would be charged additionally with attempted escape. Trop knew that the inmates did not want any more time added to their sentences.

The remaining stalwarts finally succumbed to boredom and isolation and merely gave up. The uprising had left 63 MPs and 52 inmates injured; Haskett was the only fatality. Following the incident, 129 courts-martial were levied against the insurrectionists for charges including murder, assault on a superior officer, aggravated assault, mutiny, aggravated arson, larceny and willful destruction of government property.

The irony of the LBJ riot is the sparse coverage the event received in the American media, despite the fact that the Army gave the story to many members of the press. The Army’s reports highlighted the fact that the riot was racially motivated and was patiently quelled. Unlike other incidents during the war, the 1968 riot at LBJ was a public relations tactical victory for the military.

Until the eventual turning over of the Long Binh base to the South Vietnamese in February 1973, conditions at LBJ improved. There were a few more minor skirmishes between inmates and guards, but nothing comparable to August 1968.

The article was written by Joe Kolb and originally published in the December 2004 issue of Vietnam Magazine.

 

“The Promise”

“We were young and so far from home. In a place that we had never known. But we were happy and scared. So alone.”

That’s an excerpt from “The Promise,” a song written by Vietnam veteran Jack Murphy. He sings the solemn tune while playing his guitar. The music video on YouTube shows images of his unit, the 199th Light Infantry Brigade, during the Vietnam War. The video has been viewed 19,000 times so far.

Murphy, who resides in Delran, New Jersey, wrote the song in 1995 as a tribute and sent cassettes to veterans he knew. He said he never wanted to sell the song, just express their feelings. Years later someone with his unit asked to use the song for a YouTube video. Murphy put the tune on CDs and sent hundreds across the country.

“It’s all for free,” he said. “It’s just to honor the guys who have fallen and for people who have served.”

Murphy, 71, has been writing songs since he was 15. He played in rock bands in the 1960s and 1970s.

“I’d always wanted to write something about Vietnam but just couldn’t,” he said. “I guess it’s just the same mindset of not wanting to talk about it back then. Nobody wanted to talk about it or hear about it. And I just couldn’t make it come out back then.

“Until one night (in 1995), I just picked up my guitar, sat on the bed and within 15 minutes I had this song. It just flowed right out.”

His song struck a chord in the veteran community. It has been used on various websites and on public television. In 1996 it was played at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. Murphy would spend every Veterans Day and Memorial Day at The Wall for more than 15 years.

With the song, “I just wanted to touch as many veterans as possible,” he said. “I like to think it’s their voice, their feelings coming out. It’s everyone’s story, in other words.”

Murphy is originally from Croydon, Pennsylvania, which is 20 miles north of Philadelphia. He served in Vietnam with the Army’s 199th Light Infantry Brigade from March 1969 to March 1970. The 20-year-old private first class spent the first three months south of Saigon.

He was wounded to the face and leg by shrapnel from a booby trap. He spent two weeks in the 3rd Field Hospital in Saigon and two weeks in a convalescence hospital in Cam Ranh Bay.

When he left the hospital, his unit was moving up north to the jungles in Xuan Loc. Murphy became an infantry radio/telephone operator.

“That was an experience going from fighting the Viet Cong down in the rice paddies (south of Saigon) to fighting the North Vietnamese in the jungles,” he said.

He was a specialist 4 when he left Vietnam after his yearlong tour. “Terrible,” he said of his war experience. “Frightening; 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, you’re scared to death.”

Except for his family, he received a “very cold” reception when he returned to the states.

“I remember walking through the airport (the Philadelphia International Airport on March 5, 1970),” he said. “And people wouldn’t look at me. Ignored me. Here I was proud with ribbons and stuff, and people wouldn’t even look at me.”

After his three-year enlistment, the awards he received from his war service included the Combat Infantry Badge, the Purple Heart, three Army Commendation Medals, and an Air Medal.

Murphy has lived most of his life in Pennsylvania. He worked in a steel mill for 13 years. Next, he worked 11 years at the Naval Air Station at Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, and retired in 2002 as a driver for the medical clinic. He is 100 percent disabled with post-traumatic stress disorder and a history of heart disease.

His wife of 13 years, Eileen, is also an Army veteran. They moved to New Jersey from Palmerton, Pennsylvania, three years ago. Murphy has a son, John, of Levittown, Pennsylvania; a daughter, Lisa Kamaras, of Cinnaminson, New Jersey; and four grandchildren.

When he can, Murphy attends reunions of his platoon from the 199th Light Infantry Brigade. He likes to write songs, play acoustic and electric guitars, and ride his motorcycle.

Murphy shared his thoughts on this nation’s commemoration of 50 years since the Vietnam War. To him, it’s like the belated fulfillment of a promise to those who served in Vietnam.

“I think it’s terrific that they’re acknowledging the Soldiers and the people involved in the Vietnam War – the people at home, the parents, the brothers, and sisters,” he said. “It affected everyone.”

Listen to the song “The Promise”

Nation finally fulfills promise to Vietnam veterans
By SKIP VAUGHN Rocket editor skip.vaughn@theredstonerocket.com
Feb 12, 2020 Updated Feb 12, 2020

THE SOLITARY WORLD OF A VET

It is important for those who have never served to take a moment to understand the solitary world of Veterans.

Millions of Veterans are and have been successful in all endeavors. They are doctors, lawyers, business people, and a thousand other professions. Not all have PTSD; not all are the troubled, brooding, street corner homeless guy, although they exist and need help desperately.

No matter how successful Veterans might be, more often than not, Veterans are often alone, mentally and spiritually each day and for the rest of their lives.

Veterans stories are all different, but some elements of the common experience exist.

They also lived a daily camaraderie that cannot be repeated in the civilian world. In fact, many veterans spend the rest of their lives seeking the same esprit de corps that simply is absent from their civilian lives and jobs.

They long to spend just 15 minutes back with the best friends they ever had, friends that are scattered to every corner of the earth, and some to the afterlife itself.

All Veterans have these thoughts nearly every day. Some may experience them for fractions of a second, or for minutes at a time. They replay over and over again like an endless 24-hour war movie.

Part of the solitary world of the veterans is being able to enjoy complete bliss doing absolutely nothing.

This is a trait grating to civilians who must constantly search for endless stimuli. Unbeknownst to them, the greatest thrill of all is just being alive.

A lot of veterans have an Obi-wan Kenobi calmness. After what they went through, how bad can anything really be?

So many, if not all Veterans are haunted by visions of horror and death, by the guilt of somehow surviving and living the good life, when some they knew are gone. They sometimes, strangely wish that they were back in those dreadful circumstances, not to experience the dirt and horror and terror and noise and violence again, but to be with the only people a Vet really knows, other Veterans. As a result, they walk around each day lost in their own special story.

Most civilians are oblivious to the solitary life of the Veteran. But, it’s there. It’s the same eternal and universal philosophy, whether you fought in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq or Afghanistan. The experiences may have been different, but the emotions are the same.

A problem with the solitary world of the vet is that the Veterans have a hard time explaining what he or she did to those who didn’t serve. Some vets want to talk, but they have no outlet. Maybe their only outlet is watching a war movie or reading a book about the conflict they were in.

How often do people say, “Grandpa never talks about Korea.” That’s because Grandpa knows no one can understand except other vets. That’s because Grandpa knows most people don’t care.

Civilians must understand that for Veterans nothing is ever the same again. Their senses can be suddenly illuminated by the slightest sound or smell or sights of death all around, a living version of Dante’s Inferno; sounds so loud that they can only be described as Saving Private Ryan in surround sound on steroids; smells vast and horrific; rotting death, burning fuel and equipment, rubber, animals and…people.

Part of this taciturn mentality is that vets speak another language, a strange and archaic language of their past.

How do you talk to civilians about “fire for effect” or “grid 7310” or “shake and bake” or “frag orders” or “10 days and a wake up” or a thousand and one other terms that are mystifying to the real world?

You can’t.

All of this adds to the solitary world of the vet. Some are better at handling life afterward than others. Some don’t seem affected at all, but they are. They just hide it. Some never return to normal. But, what is normal to a vet anymore?

The Best Ways to Give Back to Those Who Served Our Country

We all benefit from the sacrifice of veterans, service members, and their families. They offer themselves in protection for our country’s freedom and values, and through their sacrifice, we are allowed to pursue our hopes and dreams.

In exchange for all they do and all they have done, there are a few things we can do for them that might seem small, but they can also be meaningful and important.

Assist Your Local Senior

Veterans are usually entitled to health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs, and while most of them are well aware of that fact, there are challenges involved in getting the help they need. As NPR explains, many veterans are unaware of the benefits available through the VA system, and the application to access those benefits can be difficult for them to complete.

Like many things these days, veterans can apply for benefits online, but many seniors are intimidated by the internet. Why not help a veteran you know through the enrollment process? You can head to the Veterans Affairs official website to get started. However, if you have any trouble, Cariloop offers additional information.

Along those same lines, many veterans don’t realize they are entitled to Medicare. The New York Daily News explains that veterans age 65 should enroll in Medicare Parts A and B, which will broaden the medical facilities where they have coverage.

There can still be a number of out-of-pocket expenses, particularly if there is an emergency and they are taken to the closest hospital rather than a VA hospital. To control that expense, a Medigap plan can help. In particular, Plans F and G provide more coverage than other Medigap options. Note that if the Part B deductible is a concern, Plan F will pay it, while Plan G will not.

Exercise Your Skills

You might not know an older veteran, or maybe you’re interested in providing a different kind of help. There are plenty of opportunities to explore in other areas, and there are veterans, military personnel, and their families with needs. Think about your skillset, and as the Huffington Post notes, chances are there is a place you could volunteer.

For example, there are groups that build homes for families on military campuses, organizations that train veterans for jobs, and people who arrange events and entertainment for those on active duty. There is even an organization called Pets for Vets that pairs veterans with shelter pets — it’s a great way to combine interests if you’re also passionate about helping animals.

Hire a Vet

If you’re an employer or know someone in a position to hire, you can help veterans in a unique manner. Veterans have much to offer employers. They are often educated, detail-oriented, highly-skilled, used to following through, and are hard workers. On top of all that, there are tax incentives available to employers who hire veterans. If you aren’t sure how to get started, consider contacting an organization that connects employers with veterans looking for work.

Similarly, military spouses can struggle to find employment. Because of frequent moves, many employers are reluctant to hire them. On top of that, those who need state certifications, such as beauticians, veterinary technicians, and social workers, often need to revisit the certification process following a move, delaying their employment — if they can find employment at all. Add a military spouse to your staff and you can reap the rewards of helping a family in need.

If you know a military spouse seeking employment and aren’t in a position to help directly, consider pointing your friend toward an employer known for hiring military spouses.

There are plenty of opportunities to help those who serve or have served our country. Consider helping a veteran, someone in the military, or their family members. Whether you connect through an organization or one-on-one, your efforts are sure to be appreciated.

 

Army Life After Vietnam

Over the years, I have had a number of people say to me that being in the Army must be just like having any other job. Of course, these are people who never served—and likely never would have if called upon to do so. There is no feeling like the despair in having absolutely no choice but to do your duty, no matter how distasteful. And when there is no choice, despair can be tough to avoid.

One day, years later, when I worked for the State of California, one of my fellow employees said something like the above-mentioned comment. I explained to her it would be like taking everyone on the same floor of our office, and for the next year eating with them, showering with them, partying with them—in other words being with them 24/7. And you could not disobey your supervisor without going to jail. She admitted she would not like that at all, and I said, “Well, that’s the service.”

Perhaps this is a good place to discuss the gap between GIs and civilians, and the almost contempt in which we were held. Maybe contempt is too strong a word, but all I know is that it was a lot different then than it is today. I laugh out loud today when I see people talk about the troops and heap accolades upon them when given half a chance. Back then, I had a friend who, upon returning from Vietnam, could not even get a cab home from the airport. Finally, somebody who was there to drop off his mother gave him a ride home. So when I see people today talk about the troops or see advertisements on TV, I don’t know whether to gag, or cry, or cuss and shout.

So, it was almost us versus them back then. And everyone was apparently comfortable with the fact that we lived in crowded conditions, with none of the amenities of the surrounding area. That was OK because we were GIs. I have always found it odd that, during those days when people seemed so upset about the war in Vietnam and the men who were dying there, they treated the GIs in their own hometowns so poorly, as if the war were our fault. Back then, it was a true dichotomy if I ever saw one. So when I talk about the gap between civilians and GIs, it was more of a gulf, almost a culture clash. I mean, it is nice to see GIs today receive what is due them, but it still hurts sometimes.

And we wanted to join the other side and be called “PFCs,” which stands for “proud fucking civilians”—but our service had forever changed us, and there would always be a chasm between us and those who had not served. We wanted to join the other side and they would not let us because of our past.

And of course, the Army did not help men who came back from Vietnam. To expect men to come from one Army in Vietnam to another Army Stateside was asking a lot. I’m really surprised that so many men accomplished the transition fairly smoothly. But no thought was ever given to what had happened to us during our tours overseas. We were just expected to switch over, and that was that. But some men had a hard time just getting used to civilian life, much less the Stateside Army, with all of its spit and polish. They ended up paying a pretty heavy price for it; ultimately we all did.

McCormick, William B.. Time to Serve: Or…Was There Life After Vietnam?. Hellgate Press, available on Amazon