I arrived at LSB Cam Ranh Bay 1/3/1971 and found a U.S. Navy operation in bad shape. My Navy advisors and their VN counterparts were not speaking and my main mission was to train the VN’s to take over base operation by the end of the year to demonstrate that the ‘Vietnamization Project’ was doable. Since no one spoke the others language I could see there was a problem of trust. My counterpart, LT Pham Van Bay was easy to train as a start. So a week later to get everybody’s attention I had the doors to our operating quonset hut painted International Orange,(IO), the color of life jackets.
The next day talk was buzzing as both sides were wondering if I was an idiot! So, as we were being rocketed daily from across the Bay by the Vietcong, I next got a ladder and climbed up on top of our quonset hut and painted a big IO target which really got their attention. I explained that the Vietcong would never hit the target because they knew we’d come after them immediately. And they never hit the target!
Both sides now starting explaining things to each other and I was amazed at the teamwork that was progressing. We were tasked with supporting a Navy Seals Team, many Swift Boats, U.S. Navy destroyers, U.S. Coast Guard ships, Civil Engineer Battalion, and Underwater Demolition Teams. These crews never had support like they were getting now so they could deploy and operate against the enemy. By June Lt Bay and I had truly built a team who truly supported the folks who needed it. We were lucky in a lot of ways including the Republic of Korea (ROK) Marines showing up in April and wiping out the Viet Cong rocket launchers across the Bay!
In late June we were surprised when a Navy Admiral showed up to inspect our operation because he was hearing good things about LSB Cam Ranh Bay. He and his staff looked at everything about us from inventory control to customer service to morale, etc. The Admiral then got everybody together and spoke to how the Vietnamization Project was the first successful one in Vietnam and he said “LSB Cam Ranh Bay is #1.” Well, our troops loved it and in a few days built a 6 foot wooden #1 sign, painted it International Orange and put it up in front of our office! Morale was roaring and it continued throughout the year. My men and I were recognized by the VN leaders and awarded many decorations for successfully turning over the support operation to them in July 1971.
I well remember a few days after one of the attacks when one of my Navy Advisors was greatly wounded and we were sending him off by helo to get medical attention he looked up at me, grabbed my hand, and said, “What we did was worth it Boss, I’ll be okay, God bless.”
Service Awards: Bronze Star Medal/Republic of Vietnam Staff Service Honor Medal 1st Class/Navy Unit Commendation/Meritorious Unit Commendation/Vietnam Campaign Ribbon/Expert Pistol Ribbon/Vietnam Cross of Galantry with Palm/Vietnam Civil Action Ribbon
Captain Leonard Sapera retired from the US Navy in 1990. He served in Vietnam during 1971 as Lieutenant Commander/Senior Supply Advisor for MACV in Military Region II & Supply Officer, Logistics Support Base, Cam Ranh Bay(LSB). A 1962 graduate he earned B.B.A at Tulane.