Thank You, Polaroid

By Tom Hain

I received two old pictures from my college friend, Charlie Henry, in the mail recently; and the thought passed through my head that I wouldn't have any pictures from Vietnam if it wasn't for the Polaroid camera. I never owned one, but they were always available -- I was either able to talk the guy into giving them to me or I paid a buck for it. That was the going rate for pictures back then. That's how guys paid for the camera and film -- sell half the pictures to pay for the other half. Most of the time, you could find a guy with a Polaroid by the PX or the ship's store. When we'd come in from an operation, there was someone there with a Polaroid. You could always find someone to take your picture if you wanted to.

After not seeing these pictures for about 30 years, I've forgotten the names of the guys in the pictures with me; and it's driving me buggy! If anyone can help me out here, I would be very grateful. Please send any information to me at:

I think that the guy on the left in this picture is Rene Pelletier (pronounced Rainy) without his glasses on. It's hard to tell after 30 years. We were drafted together, went through Leaders Orientation Course at Fort Leonard Wood together, then were sent to different basic training companies, and were together again for infantry training at Fort Polk. We went to San Francisco together a day early to see the sights before we reported to Oakland Army Terminal for transportation to Vietnam. We played cards together on the plane on the way over there. We were assigned to five days of KP in Saigon together on our second day in Vietnam. We went through In-Country Training together at Bear Cat. We saw our first dead VC together on our way to Dong Tam by truck.

We were assigned to the same battalion (4th of the 47th), but we went to different line companies -- he went to Alpha, I went to Bravo. I saw him every so often between operations and a couple times in the field when our paths happened to cross. Then he got a job in Headquarters Company. S3, I think. I don't know how he finagled that, but he helped me to get a job in the Battalion Tactical Operations Center (TOC), too. My pay records show that it was in November, after eight months in the field. He undoubtedly saved my sorry butt by getting me that job. We worked together until we went home in May. We both extended our time in Vietnam to take advantage of the Early Out program that was in effect then; but, for some reason, his orders came in for one day sooner than mine. I had to spend one more day in Vietnam than he did. Doesn't seem fair, does it? We got together a couple times after I got home to drive transit cars from an auto auction on the south side of Chicago to the dealer's showrooms that bought them. I haven't seen him since. He was a great friend through the whole ordeal.

Thanks, Rene.

But, it doesn't really look like Rene. It could just be someone I never met, who just wanted to have his picture taken. He's hanging onto me like I owe him money. Maybe he's just hanging on to keep from falling over or to keep me from falling over.

We are standing on a pontoon that's tied up to one of the ships in the river; and sometimes when the boat traffic was heavy, you had to have your sea legs. Refreshments were served on the pontoon when we came in from the field, after we were washed off with fire hoses. Navy regulations forbid alcohol on board ships, so we did our drinking where it was much easier to fall overboard. I used to head right for the guy passing out the beer when we hit the pontoon, but I learned that sometimes it was better to quench your thirst with Canfields Lemon/Lime Soda. We sat around drinking and drying out, and tending to our equipment. The pontoon was a nice place to be sometimes. The smells that I remember from there are of wet canvas, fish, and diesel exhaust.

I can't attach a name to the guy on the right in this picture either. I think he was the battalion commander's radio operator, but I don't know why he would want to be in a picture with me. As I remember, we didn't get along too well. It seems that I forgot to wake him up one morning, and the CO and his helicopter pilot had to wait for him. As I remember, he took the heat for that; but it didn't endear me to him.

Or these could be two guys from my old line company. Damn! I wish I knew!

When my friend Charlie wrote me about the pictures, he said that in this one the 3.2% beer looks like it has added up to about 9.6. On the back I had written, "Notice the Sgt. pins on my collar?" You can see one in the original, if you use a magnifying glass, in the right light . . . really! At least it narrows down the time period to February to May, 1969.

This was taken on the bow of a Monitor. The object right behind me is a turret with a 40 mm Bofors gun in it and a big white star painted on the top. Right behind that is the well deck with what looks like the Naval version of the 81 mm mortar with a pile of laundry on. The pipe I have clenched in my teeth was an attempt to make me look more studious. I'd smoked a pipe in college every so often. No one ever questioned if tobacco was the only thing I smoked in it (it was). This was probably taken during my last attempt to quit cigarettes before I went home.

Although you can't see it very well in this picture, I did have a mustache. I shaved it off before I came home; but I grew it back again, and I've had one ever since. Now it's mostly gray, and my daughter thinks I should shave it off.

On the left you can see two guys carrying some boxes on their shoulders. They are in front of a supply shack built on a pontoon tied to one of the ships of the MRF. I wish I knew which ship it was. It could have been any one of three that I was assigned to.

I very seldom wore any rank insignia. Too much hassle. We didn't need it out in the field or on the ships either. But I had a CIB (Combat Infantryman's Badge) sewn onto all my uniforms. That pulled more weight than sergeant stripes sometimes. It did for the Bob Hope show. The infantry sat up front, right behind the wounded.

I wish I could remember this guy's name! I'm the one on the left with the hat on. I only saw busses like that one in the background around Saigon, Long Bin, and Ton San Nhut. I was in Saigon a few times but only twice at Long Bin and Ton Son Nhut, to and from Vietnam. Those are pre-poptop Coke cans we're holding. Remember church keys? You're showing your age.

I met up with some of the guys I went through training with at Long Bin on the way home. This could be one of them. I remember meeting a guy from my LOC class who had gone to the 1st Division. He'd had a tough tour, and I don't remember him smiling as much as the guy in this picture is. I also met a guy there that I'd talked to on the radio for four months, but I hadn't met until then; but I only saw him once at the NCO club, the night before I left.

This is my basic training company at Fort Leonard Wood. I'm the guy on the left end of the third row. Although you can't see them, I had Acting Sergeant stripes on, too. I got them by going through the Leader's Orientation Course before Basic training. My title was Assistant Platoon Guide. I had a private room in the barracks that I shared with 37 M14 rifles. Every morning, as soon as the PA system blasted Reveille, I had to hand them out; and every night, I had to collect them. The smell I remember most from Basic is of the cleaning solvent and gun oil. I walked to the right front of the column when we marched.

I know of at least two of these guys that were killed in Vietnam.

Copyright © 1999 By Thomas J. Hain, All Rights Reserved