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Interview with William Dean Kleinert [11/19/2003]

Eileen M. Hurst:

[This is a partial transcription of interview] Today is November 19th, 2003.

William Dean Kleinert:

No, it's November 20th.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Today is November 20th, 2003. We are interviewing Dean Kleinert at Central Connecticut State University. Interviewer is Eileen Hurst Downey. Thank you, Dean.

William Dean Kleinert:

Well I know it's November 20th because the whole thing started on November 20 in '69.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Really?

William Dean Kleinert:

Yes.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Oh then this is really an appropriate date. I can't believe that.

Eileen M. Hurst:

What branch of the service were you in?

William Dean Kleinert:

The Air Force.

Eileen M. Hurst:

And what was your rank?

William Dean Kleinert:

I left as a staff sergeant, E- 4.

Eileen M. Hurst:

And when did you serve? What were the dates?

William Dean Kleinert:

I went in active duty on Valentine's Day, February 14th, 1969, and I left on January 13th of '73. Segment 2: Jogging Memory

Eileen M. Hurst:

Were you drafted or did you enlist?

William Dean Kleinert:

Well both ... I had started Law School in the fall of'68. In 1968, when I was a senior and making my plans, you could get a deferment for graduate school. In February of that year, the National Security Council met and decided they needed to end the deferments for graduate school because of the need to get more people for the draft. So I went ahead. I didn't know what to do. I went ahead with the plans I had made. I had got into Law School so I started Law School in September and I got a draft notice about six weeks later. And I checked all my options and it turned out that if! could go into the Air Force on what they called the delayed enlistment plan and join the inactive reserves by the date that I was scheduled for the draft that I could avoid the draft and choose the service that I wanted to go into. So that's what I did. And my original draft date was November 20th. So I went to the induction center in New Haven on November 20th 1968, I guess it was actually, and signed up for the inactive reserve for the Air Force. And the deal was that you got to pick the specialty, the training specialty that you would go into and that you would start your active duty within four months of the time. So I enlisted and then just left and went home. Everybody else went off to the service. Ijust left and went home. And then they told me, and they contacted me about two months later and said that you'd have to report for active duty on February 14th.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Did you know that it was going to be that quick that they would call you up for duty?

William Dean Kleinert:

Within that time frame? Oh yeah. I knew at the outside it would have been four months.

Eileen M. Hurst:

at the most.

William Dean Kleinert:

Three months. So you knew that was coming. It gave you a little bit of time to make plans.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Where were you living at the time?

William Dean Kleinert:

Well, I was living in New York City. I was in ... .I was at school. So I was going to schooL I had an apartment over in East Village. Law School was down around Washington Square in New York. But my home of record was Connecticut so all the draft activity and the enlistment went through the induction center in New Haven.

Eileen M. Hurst:

And it was New Haven that you had to report to?

William Dean Kleinert:

Yes.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Why did you join?

William Dean Kleinert:

Why did I join? As opposed to going to Canada? There were a lot of options in those days. I certainly didn't support the war. I was very much opposed to it. And there was a lot of speculation of what would you do. I actually Barbara Walters step son was in school with me at NYU and I remember that one of the more radical proposals that we would form a pact and shoot each other in the foot so that we could avoid service. That one didn't sound too practical. There was ... , you know the ... .I didn't really feel that I was a conscientious objector because at that time that was really defined as being based on religious, formal religious beliefs. And I didn't feel with any integrity that I could make that claim. I just felt from a humanistic basis that the war wasn't right. I could have gone to Canada, but I felt that it had so many implications for the rest of my life. I really wasn't comfortable doing that. So I tried to make the best of it and picked the Air Force because I thought it would have the least chance of getting me on the front lines, and it would be the least amount of danger in a frankly very dangerous time.

Eileen M. Hurst:

In hind sight, are you happy that you made the choice of the Air Force?

William Dean Kleinert:

Well, I have a wonderful story about that. On the day that I went down for enlisting in the inactive reserve, the day I would have been drafted, they have an induction ceremony where all the people who are going into the service are inducted at one time. You go into the induction room. It's a wonderful military scenario. It's a room fairly empty with lines painted on the floor and you line up on one of these various lines and the enlistment oath is painted on the wall with blanks left ... "I", blank for your name, da da da, "enlist in the", and it's left so if you are in the Air Force you say," Air Force". If you are in the Marines, you say "Marines", you know. And everybody does this all together. And I had figured that if! was going to be drafted I would have gone into the army and while I wasn't in great physical shape and I had no idea how I would actually go through the rigors of that training. I figured, well, it's the army. But when we got into the room as we were about to take the oath, a Marine drill sergeant came in and he said, "I need seven marines today. Who are the draftees?" And all the draftees had to raise their hands, and he just went down the line and randomly picked seven of them. So people who had arrived at New Haven thinking they were going to Fort Dix for army training ended up marching off to Paris Island. And I think that if that had happened to me I would have fallen over dead on the spot. So [chuckle] that was always sort of in the back of my mind. Did I make a right choice? Well, that was the frame of reference.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Why did you pick .... You told us why you picked the Air Force as opposed to the Army. Do you recall your first days in service?

William Dean Kleinert:

Yes, vividly.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Do you want to describe that for me?

William Dean Kleinert:

Well, first of all, when I got to New Haven we had had a very bad snow storm in New England. It was one of those things that had shut down everything for a week. So what you did was to sign in at New Haven. There was a physical and a certain amount of processing that you had to go through. And then you got ready and you had to take a bus down to Kennedy Airport as a group. Once you had been sworn in and they had taken the information you were sent off as a group down to Kennedy Airport to fly to training which was in Lachland Air Force Base in San Antonio ... So, you know, there was the hassle of getting to New Haven with the snow and stuff. I got there. I think I got there in time around 8:00 o'clock in the morning. But it seemed to take them until around 1:00 o'clock to get us ready to get on the bus. And then it took four hours to get to Kennedy because of the snow and the traffic. So we left on our flight somewhere around six or seven and actually never got to Lackland til about 11:00 o'clock at night. And of course, you're just greeted at the bus, and they begin this whole process of just stripping away your humanity; this this indoctrination period. So they just took us to the barracks and said get into bed, and everybody just sort of crashed. And in the morning the next day the whole thing started. When you get to basic training on a weekend as we did, Friday night and end up Saturday, nothing formally begins until Monday. So you're still organized into flights of about 50 guys, who all live in a barracks . You do everything together; very regimented life style. So the first part of it we sort of began finding out how to fall out, how to get in line, how to march. But we didn't have our uniforms. We looked like Everybody else on the base was marching around in uniforms. We hadn't had our hair cut off. We still had these rag tag civilian clothes, so you really stuck out. Everybody pointed at you. That was sort of a shock. But it wasn't til Monday morning that everything really got going, and you realized that the stress and the severity of the whole process you were going to go through.

Eileen M. Hurst:

And then that was called boot camp?

William Dean Kleinert:

Basic Training

Eileen M. Hurst:

What do you remember about your experience in basic training?

William Dean Kleinert:

Oh, lots of things. [chuckles]

Eileen M. Hurst:

Do you remember any of your instructors?

William Dean Kleinert:

Yes, actually, I felt that the main person that we had boot camp in the Air Force was six weeks. It wasn't as long as some of the others. He was, I would have said an older person. He was obviously younger than I am now. I think he was probably in his early forties. He was stem but, I had a feeling that he was basically fair. Whereas, some ofthe other instructors sort of had a mean streak. I didn't feel he had that. He could be a real pain, but you know at some level, I felt there was a reasonableness to him. I remember one of the things that really concerned me was just being able to make it through the process because I wasn't in real good physical shape going into it. I had always been sort of overweight as a kid and never into athletics. There was a physical training requirement; probably the least rigorous of all ofthe services. But we did a series of exercises, and to get out of basic training you did have to do a certain number of push ups, a certain number of sit ups and run some distance within a reasonable time frame. And there was a graduated training program. So in physical training every day, you would start off with 10 repetitions, and the next week it was 12. You could work your way up. But even at that, it was hard for me so I was really concerned. I used to do extra push ups and things at night because if you fell behind in the progress you were supposed to be making, they would pull you out of your group and put you into one that was a week behind. So in other words, if it was supposed to be six weeks, if you couldn't do the push ups, it might take you seven weeks. At week four you might be pulled out and said ok, repeat week four with this whole new group of people Of course that's stressful because, you know, there is some comfort in getting to know the people. So you'd have to meet a whole new group of people. And then just think it's going to go on longer. I want to get out of here. So that was one ofthe things for me; the press to make sure I could keep up.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Were you able to complete it in six weeks?

William Dean Kleinert:

Yeah, yeah I stayed with the flight and was able to do that. It was tremendously regimented and to me it ... Well, the whole purpose of basic training I think was to get you to stop thinking as an individual and start thinking as part of the group. So I guess my basic operating philosophy in life is if you try to do the right thing and show that you are making an effort people will recognize that and try and work with you. Well, that's not what they are doing. No matter what you do they want to make you feel that you are wrong so they'll break your individual spirit and make you feel that you are part of the group, and until you begin to realize it, the whole thing seems totally irrational and antagonistic. And I think there was a point When I got there First of all, I could never believe that I was actually going to be in the military. I mean I just never conceived of myself as someone who could even meet the physical requirements. I kept thinking they'll see this, you know. They've obviously made a stupid mistake and at some point they are going to realize we don't want him. We don't want him. There is no way that you are going to be able to do this. And they'll send you home. And at some point you realize that's not going to happen. No, this is it.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Did you realize that in basic training?

William Dean Kleinert:

Well, yeah. I mean, it was like the third or fourth day and, you know, and I said, "This is it." And I'm in this and it is going to be four years and it was like. . ... I was 22. A lot of people were18 at that point. It was young. Four years seems like a life time. And there was... ... ... my reaction at that point was complete depression. I mean I was walking around hoping a lightening bolt would hit me. I really was so overwhelmed by this that I just wanted something to come along and end my existence. And then, I think it was somewhere in ... someone did in one of the classes sort of explain the idea that why it was so important to feel that you were part of the group and had to follow the rules explicitly. I think the example they used was that if you were an aircraft mechanic for instance and the manual required that on an F4 a certain bolt had to be tightened to a certain tension level or the plane would explode. I mean, you can't stop and think about that. You have to know that if that is what the manual tells you to do, you have to do it no matter what happens. I could begin to see the logic of that. I guess, you know, I didn't enjoy the experience a lot more, but it helped me to accept it

Eileen M. Hurst:

Which wares) did you serve in?

William Dean Kleinert:

Well, I was the Vietnam era veteran.

Eileen M. Hurst:

And where exactly did you go in Vietnam? After basic training, did you ship out immediately?

William Dean Kleinert:

No. No, what happened actually, I didn't realize there was two stages to basic training. You know, it was six weeks. And I thought," Oh boy, I am getting out of it." It was interesting. It was punctuated by sort of inappropriate holidays. I went in on Valentine's Day and left on April Fools Day. And what happens ... Basic training is six weeks; it's how to salute, what the regulations are. It really doesn't prepare you to do anything; it doesn't vocationally. It's simply the indoctrination to military life. And the second part of it is you go to your skill training. And that can be anything from a six week program to almost a full year program depending on if you're going ... I think some of the emissions programs are actually like a 42 week training program. When I went in, part of my deal in this delayed enlistment program for the Air Force was that I was selected to go into photography as a lab technician. Originally I was supposed to work in still photography but it switched to motion picture photography.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Did you get any choice in that skill or did they just assign you where you were going to be trained?

William Dean Kleinert:

No, well, they, no, they gave me a choice. I mean, it's kind of odd that somebody sits down ... I tested very well. When you go in as part of the enlistment process they do a series of tests. They have four categories; electrical, mechanical, general and engineering. I don't know the range of them. and, you know, I tested very well and could go into anyone of the ones I wanted to. So they said, "What do you want to do?", and I says, "Well, what do you have?" You know, it's kind of hard to make the choice, and then they also have you fill out a form of what you did in high school, what courses you took and what your hobbies were, and I put down photography as a hobby. And so that's how they selected that I would go into motion picture photography. My brother, for example sort of faced the same situation. He was eighteen months older than I was. He had worked in a hospita1. He went into hospital administration as his field. While he was in college, he worked in a hospital in Baltimore in the Personnel office. So, of course, they tapped him for hospital administration.

Eileen M. Hurst:

How long was your photography training? So after the first half was over then you went into your skill training.

William Dean Kleinert:

Well, the skill training was a 12 week course. And these skills there are several of these training bases were around the country. The photography program was run out of Lowery Air Base on the outskirts of Denver. So, on Aprillrst I left Texas and went to and of course you feel like you're getting out of basic training, and you're so thankful to get out of there, you get on the plane and you go up there, and then you get to the airport at Lowery and bang someone hits you and starts yelling at you again. And you go into the same kind of indoctrination. It was very regimented. I was in .... My class met in two separate time slots. It was almost a 24 hour operation. School was 6 hrs. a day. And there was one set of classes from 6:00 AM to noon, a second one from noon to 6 PM and a third one 6:00 PM to midnight. So you were either on the A, B, or C shift and lived your life accordingly. If you were on the A shift, you got up at 4:30 in the morning. And again you lived in the barracks. The barracks in basic training was just two open bays that half of the guys lived down stairs and half of the guys lived upstairs in a big room with a line of cots in it. Once we got to Lowery, again they looked like sort of WWII era wood frame buildings, but this one was divided up into four person rooms so you'd have a downstairs; it was a central hall, and there were rooms off each side with four guys in each room. But you still functioned as, as a barracks. So at 4:30 you had to fall out. There was a procedure. You had to get dressed. You had to leave the room in inspection order. So there were You had to make sure the bed was made to very certain specifications. Everything was dusted. Everything was lined up and where it needed to be. Your shoes were in a certain order. Then you had common duties that you had to do. You had to make sure the halls were swept, the latrines were cleaned and, you know, those. And you'd get all those things done and then you'd fall out. So maybe you The lights would go on at 4:30. Someone would come in and throw the switch. And everything was suddenly light. And you begin this frenetic activity to do all these things - get dressed, to get into the bathroom at the same time and, you know, to get out there. And then you fall out at 5:00 o'clock; out in front of your barracks. And then all of the other barracks are also falling out. So you have this whole collection of maybe ... Well, let's say you've got 40 guys in a barracks and ten barracks in your area. So you've got 400 people who then all form up in a phalanx, and you march to chow, which was about .... oh, I don't know how far down, maybe a quarter of a mile down. So you march down. And then you line up. And you fall out one by one and you'd go from your formation right into the food line and march through the food line, get your food, and then you got out to a table. When you get into this huge cafeteria, you would ... .ifthere was no empty table, you'd go to a empty table and you'd hold up your hand and the next four, three people would have to go to that table until the table was filled. And then you sat down. And the next person went to an empty table .Ifthere was no very regimented. At least you could talk while you ate. And then you had like maybe between your eating and a little break time you maybe had ten minutes. But then you had to fall in again outside the chow hall, and you all marched over to the school.

Eileen M. Hurst:

When you fall in like that, are you supposed to get back in the same exact order?

William Dean Kleinert:

Oh yes, yes, yeah. And it was arranged by height. It was, the whole procedure; taller tap. [chuckles] It was this thing, you'd line up and if you were taller than the person in front of you, you would tap him. So you'd get ... .It was a column of four. You did this march. And when you have to get in a single line, your left column went first and then the right. So then we would all march over to school, and then we'd break up. Actually school was relaxing. It was I enjoyed school. It was fun. And then, you know, at 12:00 o'clock, school was over, and we formed up again and we marched back to the chow hall. And you had lunch. You had some free time to go to the BX, but then at 1: 15 you had to form up again. And then you'd march back to the barracks. And you had a work detail. And then you'd do When the work detail was over, then you had an hour for studying or something like that. But then you had to fall in and march back to the chow hall, have supper, and then march home. And then you had maybe an hour to clean the barracks and You were in bed by 9:00 o'clock. I'm pretty sure that 9:00 o'clock was lights out. Now the good thing about that as opposed to basic training, basic training was seven days a week. This, at least you had the weekends off. So, this was like essentially Sunday night, you know, at 9:00 o'clock you fell in ends and Friday night at 6, you know, at 6:00 o'clock when you came back from your work detail, you were released

Eileen M. Hurst:

Could you basically do anything you wanted on the weekends?

William Dean Kleinert:

Oh yeah.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Could you leave the base?

William Dean Kleinert:

Oh yeah, yeah. And actually I sort of I think the first or second weekend I was at the base; I went down to ... .1 don't know if you know Denver at all. Sort of the main drag is Colfax Avenue. It runs through town. It was a couple blocks off of base. I found a used car dealership. And this was like 1969. I bought a 1960 Corvair for $350. It was, you know, the basic little boxy four door thing, and so and Colorado is beautiful. I mean, I really loved I went up in the mountains and explored and things like that. The other nice thing about it was that they never inspected the cars so, you know, everything in your room had to be, you know, folded and clean and so, your junk you could just throw in the trunk of the car, and you didn't have to worry about it. It was sort of an escape valve, you know. So, yeah, that actually All right, you asked about the instructors for boot camp. The guy we had as the ... at the squadron, not at the photo school, but the guys we had at the squadron were more the kind of nasty irrational hard asses. So that was a little unpleasant. But basically, you know, everybody got along. It was a fairly decent time. And then activation in August. I was ... Following that, I was assigned to Vandenberg Air Force Base. There was a photo lab. Vandenberg is out north of Santa Barbara. It's .

Eileen M. Hurst:

California?

William Dean Kleinert:

In California. It's about oh 150 miles north of Los Angeles and 350 miles south of San Francisco. It's beautiful, sort of open, country. It's actually the Pacific missile range. It's where they fire missiles from the west coast. A lot Strategic Air Command Base. What they did then was ... That was the time they had all the missiles planted all over the country to shoot at the Russians. And in these bunkers. And periodically you had to test the missiles. So if you were in North Dakota, you know, and assigned to the missile squadron out there, periodically you'd have to test your missiles. If your number was called, you picked up your missile, put it on a truck and came out to California and shot it off. Because you didn't want to waste anything, you'd shoot it way down to the Pacific and then there was a detachment the Navy had down at Johnson Atrol and they took practice in shooting it down. Fortunately, none of these were armed. I don't think they were armed. And so that was the other part of the game. But, it was, it was, a huge coast line; had very bad tides. You couldn't go swimming because there were really bad rip tides. But it was really a beautiful piece of real estate. I found it very tranquil after all this this training. And I was there for about ... got there right around Labor Day. And I was there for about two months, September and October. And there was an opportunity, or I got assigned to go back to Colorado for a second training course, sort of an advanced level course, and I should have What was happening was called, "Com dot", combat photo. But it was, it was sort of the same thing we did in, you know, how to process the movie film. And so, I was looking forward to it. I enjoyed California, but I really wasn't making much money as an airman. I think after. . .1 traded the old Corvair in for a newer Corvair. I had quite an adventure getting out to California. The starter motor gave out right outside Las Vegas, and, you know, the car was old I traded it in and they said, " Well,you've got a salary now. You can go to the credit union and get a loan.",so I did that. I think, after paying the loan and my other expenses, I had about nine dollars a week to live on. I mean all of your food was provided, you know, through the chow hall. And gas did cost twenty five cents a gallon, you know. Prices were different, but I didn't have a lot of money, so, you know, I liked being out there but didn't have that much freedom. So, I went back to Colorado, and I remember one day while at lunch time, while we were doing the school, we'd walked over. ... At this point you didn't have to march any more. When you went back to these upper level schools, you were treated more like a guest scholar, if you will. And we just had an informaL .... We lived in the barracks, but it wasn't as structured as it had been the first time. Your time was your own. And we'd walked over to the mailroom after lunch. This other fellow, who had gone out with me from California, and he got a letter from somebody else back in the squadron at Vandenberg, and he's sort of walking along, and he's reading this letter and he comes to this line that says, "Oh,Me, Jones and Nitserkoff got orders for Vietnam today." ; or, or, "Me, Jones and Kleinert got orders". That's the first I heard of it, you know.

Eileen M. Hurst:

You're kidding?

William Dean Kleinert:

reading this letter from a friend of mine that I had gotten orders to go over to Saigon.

Eileen M. Hurst:

That is how you found out that you were going to Vietnam?

William Dean Kleinert:

That's how I found out. Yeah.

Eileen M. Hurst:

What was your reaction when you heard that?

William Dean Kleinert:

Well, I wasn't happy. But, you know, I think I un ... , I understood what was happening a little bit more. First of all, the photo field was fairly narrow. I mean, it was, you know, it wasn't like 5,000 people or anything like that. So I knew the detachments that we had over in Vietnam. I knew we had the main photo lab at Tan Son Hut, which was the Air Force Base, the head quarters base, you know right at part of Saigon. There was another major facility up in Da Nang fairly close to the DMZ, and I knew that one was more risky. People liked it. I could never understand it. They said it was a beautiful spot, and people liked the service over there. But they were forever getting shelled, [chuckles] so that didn't seem to be too cool to me. And then we also had bases in Thailand. And that was pretty good service. But, when I found out that I was getting my orders to Tan Son Hut, you know, I knew, I had some sense of what to expect; that it was the headquarters base, that it was fairly well protected. I knew some of the people who were there. Basically what they were doing was training all of us, so they had to have a cadre of people who would rotate because your service in Vietnam was a year. Then you could come back. So, you had to have some place in the states to work while you were waiting for YOUR turn to go over and staff the labs. So I wasn't quite as flipped out about it as, as ifI'd been in the Army and knew I was going to go over there and go out, you know, on the front lines and slosh around through the jungles.

Eileen M. Hurst:

After you found out that you were going to Vietnam, how soon after did you actually ship out and go over?

William Dean Kleinert:

Oh, that was probably right around this time of the year. I think it was actually early December, and I was going over in, right around the first of February.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Do you remember arriving in Vietnam?

William Dean Kleinert:

Oh yeah.

Eileen M. Hurst:

What was that like?

William Dean Kleinert:

Well, the whole process was kind of interesting. For one thing, I went home for Christmas, back in Connecticut. And I decided I wasn't going to tell anyone. Because, you know, I mean, I, I guess I had a sense of what it was going to be and I think sort of a realistic sense, and I knew my family would have a completely irrational sense, you know, and they would probably figure it would be like that if that person already died, and I didn't want to do that. So I went home and I had Christmas for like five days, and then I went back and finished the training. And then I went from Denver back to CA picked up my car and I drove East. I sort of arrived, with my car, and I said, "Well, you know, I didn't want to tell you but I am going to Vietnam." And I sort of waited until the last minute to tell them. So I left my car and all my stuff and then packed off. What you do; I flew from Kennedy to San Francisco. I think I actually had a flight that left at 6:00 o'clock at night and got into San Francisco about 4:00 o'clock in the morning or some crazy time. And then you got a bus. You got shipped out to Travis Air Base. And then it got up to Travis, and you had to sign in there and it was; it was like a huge cattle depot almost. There was all these people going over. And you waited around for a flight and everything. And the flight itself was kind of horrendous. Because you did it in a series of jumps. You, They had these planes that were run by sort of, I think it was Trans America Airlines or something. It was sort of a contract air carrier for them. And they took the old 707s and just made them all one class; you know, six seats across like a big cattle car. And you had this series of five hour flights. You went from Travis to Honolulu; Honolulu to Guam; Guam to Wake; Wake to the Philipines, and then the last one from the Philipines into Saigon was only about three hours, so it was shorter. I had a nice break, a little break in that, because my brother was stationed in the Philipines at the time. He had gone in about six months before I had, and his overseas duty was at Clark Air Base, where the plane stopped. So, my brother, (and his wife had joined him over there), and so my brother and sister in law came down to the plane when we got there, and we had a chance to visit, about an hour to visit while we were there. That was ... That broke it up a little bit. But, I mean, you are getting exhausted. You know, you left at ... You have no concept of what day it is. You're flying across the date line and all this and when you got to Vietnam, they operated they .1 never quite understood what the issue with American currency was. But they forbid you to use American currency in Vietnam. It was; It was against the law to possess green. You had to trade in your money for what they called military payment certificates, which was sort of monopoly money; all bills, no coins. So you had like a five cent bill. They didn't use pennies. Everything was rounded to the nearest five cents, and so you had a five cent bill, a ten cent bill and a twenty five cent bill and then dollars. So this was ...

Eileen M. Hurst:

This was even on the base?

William Dean Kleinert:

Oh, every place, yeah, yeah absolutely. It was absolutely for ... There was for some reason they said that the communist Viet Cong was trying to get green dollars and allowed them .it was, I never understood the economics of it. You, that was the the currency So, you had to trade in your currency and do that first and then ... And you arrived with everything packed in your duffel bag. I mean, you didn't have a suitcase. And so you went to a temporary holding barracks, well actually squadron where they just had, you know, beds and latrines. And what you did was you got into a bed and you took your duffel bag and pad locked it to the headboard and went to sleep. And I passed out. And it was, it was like I have no idea how long I slept. You passed out, and you would; your eyes would sort of open and you would say not yet and pass out again and at some point, you know, you are ready to resume consciousness. So I got up, and then I went to the squadron and checked in. But, as I say, I knew some of the people already. I was in the field so it wasn't that much of a shock. And we had a fairly decent living conditions over there. We had a compound. We had. We actually had two barracks for the photo.

Eileen M. Hurst:

And this was all right in Saigon?

William Dean Kleinert:

Yeah, Tan Son Hut Air Base is right on the outskirts of Saigon and there was a ... There was actually a helicopter. The heliport was in one area, and the barracks was immediately adjoining it. I think there might have been eight barracks in the compound. And when you crossed the street, the photo lab was directly across the street so you'd go from the, from the barracks right over to the photo lab. We had, you know, a fairly heavy work schedule for I think from seven to six, six days a week. You got one day a week off. And, you know, when I say it was from seven to six, it was sort of dependent on the schedule for what we were doing. When the lab was operating, we did a couple of different kinds of jobs. One of them was processing the, the sort of automated film, the film from the automated cameras that were put on the gun ships. So, for instance, if somebody went out in a bombing run the night before, they would have cameras actually mounted on the I guess on the wing; I don't know where they were exactly; and as they were going along dropping bombs or something the cameras would go on when the, when the firing mechanism was activated, so you had these clips of film that when they came in from their run one the ground crew went down they would get the camera and get the film out of it and ship it off to the film process, and every morning when you came in there was this load of these little pieces of film that had to be processed. And movie film gets. It is it's essentially like slide film and in really long strands, So what you would do is you would take individual pieces of film and splice them into one large piece, and then you would run it through the processing machine. My, my primary job in the lab was quality control. So it was my job to make sure that all the chemicals were at the right temperature and the right strength and the process would go. So when you would go in in the morning, the first thing you'd do was to tum on the machines and bring them up to temperature, and you run a test strip for each machine. I don't want to get too technical, but there were like seven or eight different chemicals that it has to go through and each one has to be at a certain level, and you can process a strip of film with various shades of gray on it, and you can do density readings on that and if the reading is off in one area, you can say, "Well that's the developer", and ifit's something else happens, you say, "Well, that looks like the bleach isn't working right." So you would do that analysis. If it is ok You're ok to run. If it isn't you had to say we have to change that chemical or something like that. That was one of my jobs. But on an operational basis, we used to do also was to make up this film, so every morning you had to go into the dark in the dark room. I had a little dark room that I worked in, and it would take about 45 minutes to take this film. You had to check and make sure there were no defects and, you know, and that is wasn't deformed so it would break going through. You put it together in big roll. You had a tape recorder, and put on some Beethoven or something and listen to it while you worked in the dark. It was fairly relaxed, and, you know, you'd do that. And there were, there were certain steps in it where there were times when you had to wait, so when you would get it made up and do the initial run. And then you might have an hour break before the next step needs to be accomplished. So you'd go down to the barracks and take a long coffee break or something like that. So it wasn't twelve hours of physical labor. I don't know. It was reasonable

Eileen M. Hurst:

What other kinds of film were you developing for the Air Force?

William Dean Kleinert:

Well we also ... we had photographers in addition to this sort of film, we had photographers who were covering what was going on in the war. Sometimes they would cover a combat operations, and we did lose some of the photographers. That was hard. I didn't go out because I was tied to the machines, but the photographers did have to go out in the field. And then, the other thing that was happening ... I got there in 1970 in February of '70. It was just about a year from the time I had gone into the service, and the Tet Offensive had been in '68, and that had really been the death of the military, and what they had done as far as I can tell following the Tet Offensive was to go out in the area surrounding Saigon and just devastate it. So, I think that if you went out you would have found a band of insulation that no one could really get through. And so it tended to make the base really safe. Because they had come infiltrate to make sure it wouldn't happen again. So, I think because the war was going so badly and they were so desperate to find a way out, that they hit on this Vietnamization strategy; just tum everything over to the Vietnamese military and strengthen the government so they would be able to take over on their own, a strategy which ultimately didn't work, of course. But, we spent a lot of time documenting this Vietnamization process. They would be forever going out and turning over some tanks or training a squad to do maintenance on something and they would want to document the ceremony. So we did that. And actually although we were set up as just really to process sort of front line, you know, the usual, we sort of became a mini production studio, so we did a little newsreel that we put together and then we would have to make 90 copies of it. So you would have to make an original and run it through the printer and process all these copies. It was a different kind of work that we got into.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Did you see combat?

William Dean Kleinert:

No, no. We had guns, but they made sure that the guns were locked up. We had a locker. It was a steel locker within the photo squadron, and your gun was kept there, and I think there were only two occasions late in the when I had to put on my flack jacket and helmet and go get my gun and be ready for something, which never materialized.

Eileen M. Hurst:

So you were in a location where you were not shelled regularly or anything?

William Dean Kleinert:

No. We had ... there were as you say once or twice there were, the sirens went off at night. And they had some reason to believe that someone might be launching an attack against the base, but it never happened. On the other hand, I had ... the barracks were ... it was a semiitropical climate, so there was this building that had walls; the walls were essentially screening, screening material. They were wood framed buildings, and they had wooden slots part way up, and the rest of it was just open screening and then a roof over it. And there were a couple of places in the roof where there was some shrapnel marks there. So you knew at some point something had happened. And then, of course, the barracks was surrounded by a dirt bunker that was built and was about chest height. So, certainly you were aware of the potentiality threat, but it wasn't ... It actually was a very calm time for Saigon in the total context of the war.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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