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Excerpts of letters written by A2C James Calvin Henneberry
Radio Operator, United States Air Force
Home of Record:  Pittsfield, Massachusetts

James Calvin Henneberry 

"This will probably be my last operation."

A2C James Henneberry was killed in action on June 30, 1965.  Special thanks to Gale (Freyenhagen) Studna for sharing this truly wonderful gift of letters that she received from her friend Jim.

November, 15 1964 8PM

"...My first day here was rather hectic.  Wrote a few letters + ate chow.  Nothing spectacular up to there, though.  I have a little trouble trying to concentrate.  Mortar shells are going off in the background.  Last night it was rather bad.  Didn't get to sleep till 4AM.  None of these shells are going off on the base, but it still gives me an eerie feeling--two weeks ago Bien Hoa (18 miles from here) was attacked but that couldn't possibly happen here (ha ha).  Actually it isn't all that bad.  In fact I think that I am really going to like it here.  There is a little danger, but very little.  Tan Son Nhut is a well fortified base.  In fact they have two tanks + three sub machine gun nests at each gate.  When I first got here I thought that I would be leaving shortly.  But it looks like I might be staying.  They are opening up a few new circuits + will need radio operators here.  If I do go out in the field it would be a lot more dangerous.  I don't exactly know what I want right now.  If I did go into the field I would make $150 a month more.  But that wouldn't be the main reason why I would want to go.  It's just that I want to get a first hand account as to what is going on.  I think that I would find my job here rewarding in one sense.  At least a lot more so than at Westover.  The drawback about going into the field is fear.  I don't think that I would be afraid, but I've never experienced fear, and don't know what I'd do if someone shot at me.  Am I making any kind of sense to you?  This is the first time I have ever tried to write my feeling about anything down.  It is clear to me, but awfully hard for me to make clear to someone else.  Well enough about that."

"...Got up at 6:30AM this morning + went to church.  It seems that everyone goes to church here.  Talked with a bunch of guys afterwards + then went to chow.  It was a real good meal.  Steak, mashed potatoes, gravy, etc.  The only thing that was missing was milk.  No milk here, + I love milk.  That is the first thing I am going to do back in the states.  Have a nice tall glass of cold milk.  Can't wait."

December 8, 1964 1AM

"Things must have cooled down somewhat politically wise around here, because the curfew has been changed to midnight again.  It used to be a pain in the neck to have to come back to the base at 10PM.  It won't be long before it changes back to 10 though, because every other week there is a big demonstration in town.  I have been lucky, though, and haven't been in town when these demonstrations take place."

December 16, 1964 4AM

"The days are still flying by faster than I can say your name.  I've been here over a month and every day I feel so much better that I volunteered for this assignment."

"If I go into the field, I really do believe that my tour will be much more exhilarating, a lot more fascinating, and possibly a little more dangerous."

"Another thing that really depresses me (which I know I have written before, but I can't get it out of my mind) is when I see a military funeral.  You couldn't possibly imagine the feeling one gets from seeing the flag-draped caskets of soldiers killed in action."

"Seeing poverty is also depressing, but seeing the hope and friendliness in the faces of the people of Vietnam more than make up for this."

"I feel better than I have in years.  I am finally finding myself, and have for the 1st time in an awful long time begun to think about a future which seemed so hazy in the past, and now looks so much brighter."

"I will appreciate my home a lot more when I get back.  I've seen how other people live and how different their customs are from ours.  I've seen what the people are fighting for over here, and am beginning to realize why our country spends in excess of 415 million dollars a year in a land 10,000 miles away.  I'm getting a truer meaning of what the words freedom & democracy mean."

December 20, 1964

"Things are going on as usual here.  They expect an attack on the base between now and the end of the year, but I doubt very much anything will come of it."

" I guess I am not in one of my letter-writing moods tonight...Maybe it's just that I am thinking quite a bit about home.  I will probably be out of this mood shortly after Christmas."

December 26, 1964 3AM

"Merry Christmas from Vietnam.  Had a wonderful day, and I hope your Christmas was as enjoyable as mine.  I really had a good time - Bob Hope saw to that.  Of course, Jill St. John, Anita Bryant, Anne Sydney (Miss World) and Anna Maria Alberghetti helped brighten my day also.  Look for me on TV on January 15th.  The show is being televised.  I'm sitting in the front row, lower left hand corner facing the stage."

"I hope I get a chance to leave here in the next few weeks.  All that I ever hear is how great it is to be in the field..."

Monday, December 28, 1964 8PM

"Since the little excitement in town last week, little has happened.  Last night I went into town with a few of the radio operators, seeing that I had nothing better to do.  That hotel that was bombed was quite a mess."

"Living conditions have been on the downward trend.  Especially the last few days.  Now that the dry season is here we have running water for only an hour in the morning & an hour at night.  I woke up too late to take a shower this morning & am working tonight.  I feel like hell.  I better not oversleep tomorrow morning."

Monday, January 11, 1965 4AM

"Well I am still here at Tan Son Nhut - but I am counting the days till I leave here."

"I have a good chance of leaving here permanently by the 1st of February.  A base about 100 miles south of here is requesting another radio operator PCS (permanent change of station).  If I do go there, I'll be making an extra $65 a month & will have less opportunity to spend."

"The other day I was reading in the Air Force Times that they are trying to put a bill through Congress which would give Veterans who have served in the Korean War or in Vietnam $50 a month for furthering their education.  That would be perfect for me, because I do want to go back to school, and can use all of the financial help that I can get.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed."

"Things are still pretty much the same here in Vietnam.  You know just about as much as to what is going on as I do.  I never see any of the fighting that is going on, and yet a lot of it is going on within 10 or 15 miles from here.  Saigon is in the southern quarter of Vietnam & the Viet Cong hold 75% of the area.  They completely control most of the towns & villages that surround Saigon.  The other guys who came here from Westover are getting a first-hand look at this.  They are seeing some of the actual fighting."

"P.S. Only 295 days to go!!"

Monday, January 25, 1965 5PM

"I hope that I will be able to write a little more often than I have, but here at Vung Tau I have very little free time.  I write all my letters while on duty, and because of the many interruptions, I find it rather difficult.  It is impossible for me to write letters during my off-duty time, because the flies & mosquitoes drive me crazy."

"Working here I get a closer view as to what is going on.  I work with officers who actually bomb the Viet Cong.  Starting next month I should get a chance to fly with my ALO, and that will enable me to draw hostile fire pay.  Don't worry - it isn't as dangerous as it sounds."

"I find it very difficult telling you about the actual work I am doing here, because right now I am still feeling my way around.  And it probably wouldn't make much sense to you if I was able to describe it to you.  Here I am getting a chance to operate different kinds or types of radios, and learning a lot more about the Vietnamese people."

Friday, February 12, 1965 4:30PM

"Well I am still here at Vung Tau.  It looks like I will be here longer than I thought I would be.  I actually expected to be back at Tan Son Nhut by this time."

"It hardly seems possible that I have been gone from the states for almost 3-1/2 months."

"I heard a rumor the other day that when I leave Vietnam and return home next November, I will be getting $300 from the state of Massachusetts for spending a year over here.  That would be very nice if it were true..."

"In the past week or so you must have read about a stepped up war in Viet Nam.  The only way it has affected me is that I am working longer hours."

"I haven't eaten since this morning and right now I am starving to death.  Of course as soon as I walk into that chow hall tonight, I lose my appetite.  The food here is #10."

Friday, February 19, 1965 10:30AM

"Right now I am the only representative of the USAF in the building.  The officer that I work for left for the states last Friday, and the other officer & his radio operator left Tuesday for another location.  At last report I am or will be staying here at Vung Tau until everyone leaves this place."

"Back from dinner.  Had a little accident on the way to the base.  The jeep I was riding slammed on its breaks and my chin hit my knee.  It gave me a nice cut lip.  It wasn't bad enough to require stitches, but my lip is all swollen up and it looks like I just had a fight.  This afternoon it looks like I will have a hard time trying to articulate when I talk into the microphone."

"From the sound of this letter and my last few, you probably get the idea that I am losing interest in Vietnam, and that I am actually getting to hate this place.  At times I get extremely disgusted as to the way things are going, but I have and never will be sorry for coming overseas.  Since I have been over here, I have a great feeling inside of me.  More and more I realize how lucky I am to be able to see how other people live."

Friday, February 26, 1965 10AM

"This letter will be quite short.  Just wanted to let you know that I am leaving good ole TSN.  I presume that Sandra told you that I returned from Vung Tau.  This should be my last move while in Viet Nam.  Monday morning I leave for a place called Pleiku.  I don't know if I like the idea of going there or not.  I guess about the only advantage that I have is that the town is off limits and I won't be able to spend very much money."

"Last Monday is one day I'll never forget.  I spent the night in the hospital with a case of Tomaine (spelling sic?) poisoning - I just about wanted to die."

Friday, March 5, 1965 6AM

"This place isn't quite like the United States.  Of course, I could go down to Saigon every break, but that only costs money."

"Food at Vung Tau is #10 (no good).  It is really great here (not homecooking) but a helluva lot better than Vung Tau."

"It really gets cold here at night.  I have a jacket on right now.  There is no such thing as a heating system in these make-shift buildings, so it is just like working outside."

Wednesday, March 17, 1965 11PM

"All of the traveling that I ever do in Viet Nam is by plane or helicopter.  It is too dangerous to travel much of a distance by truck or jeep.  If I ever did try and drive to Saigon, most likely I would never make it."

"I seem to be falling into a set routine here at Pleiku.  But it is 100% better than Tan Son Nhut.  Working conditions are really great...I wouldn't go back to TSN for an extra $20 a month.  I really love it here."

"It seems that the longer I stay in Viet Nam, the less I can think of to write about.  And yet I still feel the same way about the place.  I never have been sorry for volunteering for this place, and doubt that I ever will."

Saturday, March 22, 1965 5PM

"In my next letter I will send you a few pictures.  I took a few from a helicopter.  I hope that they come out.  That is one thing I really enjoy about my tour.  I am getting to travel around quite a bit in all types of aircraft.  Last week I was flying with one of the officers, and he gave me the controls for a couple of minutes.  It was a blast, and I can imagine what I looked like from the ground."

"Well it has been nearly 5 months since I left home...I think that coming to Viet Nam was a smart thing.  I really have enjoyed myself thus far, and everything in life seems so much clearer to me."

"Well the rainy season seems to be arriving here at Pleiku.  In some ways I really dread that...Clothes have a way of rotting over here in humid weather."

April 28, 1965 11:30PM

"I have been rather upset this past week, and that is why I haven't written.  More about that later in the letter."

"Do you realize that I have a little more than 4500 hours remaining in Viet Nam?  I am really beginning to get short.  I go over the hump on Sunday."

"This next thing that I am going to write about isn't exactly pleasant.  A major who I worked for my first few weeks at Pleiku got killed last week on a flying mission.  And he was supposed to leave the country April 18TH.  He got extended for two weeks and on April 22nd his plane was shot down."

"You can't imagine how hard that hit those of us who knew him.  This major was an AOK officer.  This shows what time of man he was, Officers and enlisted men alike called him "Mac."  Can you imagine calling an officer "Mac" at Westover?  He is the 2nd officer that I have known who has been killed.  The 1st one was a young 2nd LT who flew me to An Khe.  This is the one aspect of being in Viet Nam that isn't pleasant.  For 5 months, nothing happens and then all at once 2 officers that I know got killed."

"I hope you don't take this wrong.  I still am in no danger.  These pilots were men that flew on hundreds of missions while in Vietnam, and were constantly subject to hostile fire."

Sunday, May 9, 1965 7:30PM

"Did I tell you that I planned to go back to Westover (definitely) upon leaving Viet Nam?  All of the paperwork is in.  I will be extremely disappointed if I don't get Westover as my first choice...But I should get it.  I had to extend for 4 months or would have been discharged upon leaving.  My reasons for not getting out at the end of my tour are long and varied - but I am definitely getting out August 23, 1966!"

"Next Thursday I am going TDY again to An Khe.  I will be gone this time for 11 days (at $9.00 a day).  Now you know why I am able to save a little money.  Of course I also make an extra $55 a month for hostile fire pay (That is a gift, for I have never been shot at in my first 6 months!)."

"A place similar to An Khe got attacked and radio was their only means of communications.  I had about 15 messages in the two hours, and was really hopping.  It really makes me feel good to be accomplishing a little something.  I don't think I would like to be anything but a radio operator over here, and there is nowhere I would rather be right now - even though I miss home immensely.  In fact if I was staying in the service I would volunteer to come back to Viet Nam after spending 6 to 8 months in the states.  I only wish I had some way of putting down on paper what this tour has meant."

Sunday, May 30, 1965 1PM

"A few weeks ago I went TDY again to An Khe for 10 days.  It was really quite interesting because I went out on a 6 day operation.  The purpose of this operation was to look for VC, though the whole operation only netted 13 captured.  I stayed at a rear CP and was fairly safe.  But I was still a little nervous moving around in a convoy."

"Last week my best friend died in an accident over here, and I feel really bad about it.  He was my roommate at Westover for 13 months...I doubt very much if I would have volunteered to come to Viet Nam if he hadn't gotten orders first...(he) and I used to spend all of our breaks together in Saigon."

"He was probably in one of the most dangerous areas of the Republic.  When I saw him last Easter he told me how anxious he was to get here.  He had seen friends of his get killed and told me that he used to wake up with nightmares of the compound being overrun by VC.  He said that if it wasn't for his trips to Saigon, he would probably go crazy."

"I really don't know the complete story as to how he died.  On Tuesday night (May 18) he was recovering a white phosphorus rocket from an L-19 aircraft, and the safety pin fell out.  He was told to put it gently on the ramp, but in doing so it exploded, and he suffered 2nd & 3rd degree burns over 60% of his body.  He was in critical condition for 2 days, but his conditions improved and on Friday he was flown to Clark "in good condition with no complications."  But the next day he developed bronchial pneumonia and died."

"I never found out about the accident until the day he died, but at the time didn't know he was dead.  They called me from Tan Son Nhut the day after it happened, because he had asked for me."

"Monday night I was at work, and there were several of us here fooling around with a tape recorder.  I was in a really good mood.  But then I got the phone call saying that he had died.  You can't imagine what that did to me."

"He was the first radio operator to die in Vietnam.  The sad part of it is that he was an only child.  He was only 20."

Wednesday, June 23, 1965

"Received your letter yesterday and will answer now while I have a few minutes.  This letter will probably be very short, because I am very busy today.  I'll be going TDY on another operation for a period of 8 days & won't be able to write during that period of time."

"Just about 8 months are finished now, and only 4 to go.  I sure am anxious to get home.  Time is still flying by, but have started counting the days now.  On July 24TH I'll reach the 100 day mark."

"Gale, for the first time I am beginning to feel quite nervous about an operation.  This will be my second one.  The first one I just set up my radio in the rear, but on this one I will be walking through a wooded area.  It probably won't be bad once I get started, but I will be glad when it is finished...This will probably be my last operation.  In a way I hope it is."

"I called home last week & talked for 4 or 5 minutes.  It was really nice to hear my sister's voice."

"Well have to close.  Sorry the letter is so short but have a million things to do.  Next one will be a little longer - promise.  Be good and write soon.  Love, Jim."

    
Photograph above:  Radio Operator Jim Meade (VN 65/66) in the field on an operation similar to that which Jim Henneberry would have taken part in.

(page last revised 07/04/2006 12:43 AM -0400)


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