Virgil N Kovalenko-Vietnam War

As a native of Arizona, Virgil served in both the Korean and the Vietnam “Wars. During his Vietnam tour he was the political warfare advisor and community relations advisor assigned to the Political “Warfare Division, Vietnamese Air Force Logistics Command. At that time he was also the group leader of the Bien Hoa LDS Servicemen’s Group. Currently he is a Spanish professor and resides in Utah. He was a founding member of VASAA (Veterans’ Association for Service Activities Abroad), the LDS veterans’ association from 1982-2000. VASAA officially terminated all humanitarian projects and programs in a formal ceremony at Fort Douglass on June 6, 1998. Two years later, all legal activities ended and the organization was disbanded, having accomplished its major objectives.

A beautiful day for the most part, it is bright and hot. As I make my usual routine, I checked out the air force bus from the motor pool. We’ve taken to calling it the Mormon Battalion Bus Line on Sundays. It is kind of funny, in a way, because when I am driving, the other LDS men provide a buffer from the catcalls and comments of soldiers we pick up during our rounds. When those men complain and want to know why they can’t smoke or swear on the bus, our fellows tell them it’s a chapel bus for the day. “Oh,” say some, “is this the God Squad?”

Priesthood had seventeen present. Warren Soong conducted. As we were starting, Charles Merill, the district mission president and Wayne Heffords, a Seventy and district counselor drove up. They both addressed us and left some pamphlets with us along with more copies of the Book of Mormon. Sunday school saw twenty-two present including Phuong and Ky, our investigators. We had some kind of hassle with the Vietnamese gate guards, again, to get Phuong onto the base. This is not unusual, but it does bother us somewhat. I guess they think she’s a prostitute and don’t understand her desire to attend religious services with the Americans. Our sacrament meeting speakers were John Walton and Paul Simkins. John spoke of what the words of “Come, Come Ye Saints” mean to him, and Paul spoke of the meaning of Christmas to him, and he related the story of the Lord’s birth to his understanding. The singing tonight was rousing and wonderful. It really must have been something because there were quite a number of Vietnamese airmen standing outside the windows and doorways lis­tening and watching. With Brothers Chuck Lindquist and Nicholas North in the music department, we surely have some good singing going on now.

We had to adjourn quickly because of artillery activity. While driving on the army side of this big base complex and making the rounds of the smaller camps, we heard and saw some rockets explode on the air force base. The sirens began screaming and people were running every­where. What a heck of a position to be in, driving a big bus-a great big target, friends, and full of the Saints. Peter Bell was standing behind me and calling out the names of the camps. When a man would stand up, Peter yelled, “Stand in the door,” and when I came skidding into the area, Peter put his foot on the man’s rear and pushed as he hollered, “Airborne!” I drove fast and with the lights off because of the sirens and rockets. I quickly got everyone back to his hooch or unit, in a driving rain, no less with lots of lightning. I made a run for the guard shack or gate leading from the army to the air force side of the base. The guard stopped me there, one corporal with his M 16 at port arms. I yelled at him to get out of the way but he told me in no uncertain terms and with much profanity to move my blankety-blank bus off from his road. I protested again, and he leveled his gun at the bus and me. Nothing to do but to drive off the pavement, down a gully, and into plain sight in a field, which I was certain was mined. So there we were, in the rain, with lightning, rockets exploding, and artillery blasting, and flare guns going off near us. The guys at the guard shack set up a mortar and were firing from that position, which was interesting for us because of the concussion effect, especially in the rain.

I don’t think I was frightened for my safety or of Merwin Ruesh who was on the bus with me. Peter is a seasoned Green Beret so there was no worry about him. I was concerned, how- ever, about getting the bus back to the motor pool. What was amazing to me was the calm which came over me. When Merwin asked me what we were going to do, I told him, “Well, we can’t go anywhere for now, so just start compiling the group reports for the district.” About that time, I sensed something extraordinary happening. It seemed that from behind the rear of the bus a giant, transparent bubble came over the top of the bus and closed in directly in front of us. We could hear and. see everything that was going on. I watched a VC [Viet Cong] rocket explode inside one of the revetments where the F-5 aircraft are sheltered. Our side of the base was taking a pounding. About twenty minutes later, the all clear sounded and we took off in a hurry. I backed the bus up onto the road, not daring to attempt turning around. Just as I fired up the engine, the bubble I saw retreated back over the bus and disappeared. I even looked in the rear and side view mir­rors to see if I could watch it. It just disappeared! During that time we had waited, I had given Merwin the minutes of our firebase trip, which I instructed him should be entered in the group’s history. The time in the bubble was well spent, if a lit­tle on edge.

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