every year the memorial day holiday seems to come around with ever increasing speed. other holidays do too. it’s one of those getting older things. however, memorial day
is somehow a much more personal holiday to those of us who served in one of our never ending wars.
this first appeared a number of years ago and was re-run a couple of years ago. yeah, i have other tales of my time overseas like, the old west meets the old east, and others still unwritten. however, desire and and the muse must first meet for them to see daylight. which may or may not ever happen.
at any rate, happy memorial day to all who’ve served especially to all who gave everything. to my nam brothers and sisters, welcome home. once again.
while noodling around yesterday i came across the yahoo, and elsewhere, story of a young soldier over in the middle east who went to his firing position in his boxers and flip flops, during a fire fight. seems like the secretary of defense, robert gates, is all a gog over the situation. he’s happy about it. well, it’s memorial day weekend or more to the point, dead soldier weekend, and i guess they needed to sound pro troopers and military. plus, i’m sure folks everywhere are getting a kick out of the story.
it makes me think back to my time in nam. i’ve written any number of things about that experience here and other places. if you are a regular, i have no intention of bothering you with details you may or may not remember. if you aren’t a regular reader, you can always go through the archives or rummage through the vault. or just wait for me to trot the old stuff out again. but i digress.
while attached to macv advisory team 48, in nam, we had this major on the compound. he was either s-3 or s-1 or s-2. military jargon for stuff. not really important to this story. other than the fact, he got his pink boxers all tied up in a knot about us peons and other soldiers hitting our firing positions in levi’s and flip flops, bermuda shorts, flip flops and no shirt(my personal favorite) or other variations of civilian attire, or maybe just our regulation gi boxers and flip flops, during alerts.
yeah, civilian attire. it was macv and they didn’t care what you wore on the compound if you weren’t on duty or working. well, most of them. any the ways, this particular major was not happy about the way we fell out during those alerts. he made it his mission to see that we all hit our firing positions and bunkers in full regulation military gear. yes, sirree. no more of this civilian attire or gi boxer nonsense. there was a war going on after all, and said war, demanded we be properly dressed for the occasion because mr charlie might not like it. boy, howdy.
said major, even held a few ‘practice alerts’ and those ‘practice alerts’ weren’t over until he personally inspected each position to see if things were being done to his strict liking. yes, indeed. practice alerts for dress code violations in a war zone. no showing up with your weapon and ammo in boxers. nope, not for that major. not good enough. thank you jesus. thank you, lord, for some damn fine smoke and drink to help us all through the night.
well, we suffered through a couple of his practice alerts held in the middle of the night. a lot of pissed off troops and lifers as well. yeah, he wanted every swinging dick on board for his madness.
as it turned out, things were very quiet during the time of his practice alert stuff and everyone passed with flying colors. like what else were we gonna do? frag him? it was bullshit but it wasn’t worth a capital crime and/or offense.
one night, a few weeks after all the hoopla about the dress code and fighting charlie, i was working the night shift in the commo bunker. at the time, macv was using our commo bunker for their toc(tactical operation center) while their toc was getting a face-lift. charlie or the nva, lobbed a few rockets or mortars into our general vicinity.
the alert was sounded and it was all hands on deck. everyone was to go to their alert positions and deal with whatever in full military uniform. thankfully, due to the practice alerts, it was decided, by my signal sargent, my alert position would be in the commo bunker. lucky me, i was already up, working, in uniform, where i was supposed to be and with my m-16 and ammo. woo hoo!!
the incoming rocked my little world but i just opened my secret area door and casually leaned on the door jam to watch the deal go down. a total lapse of military protocol but whatever. i was probably somewhat loaded and had been listening to, ‘spooky tooth’, and reading porn at the time. another breech of protocol i’m sure.
on a side bar drift, the secret area was a perfect place to have a nice non-legal smoke. or take a nap. we had it set up so even if you were dead an alarm of sorts would wake you. though in hindsight it wasn’t necessary. incoming was incoming and could wake a dead man. count on it.
the drifts just keep on coming. WD40. the perfect weapon cleaner, for us lazy folks, was also a very good and efficient smoke cover-up. better than incense. yeah, ok. i did take my m-16 down to the firing pin assembly at regular intervals and properly cleaned it. so there. i could be a good soldier if i felt like it. my life depended upon it.
at any rate, i was just waiting for orders and THE word to send something to somebody somewhere about something or another via my secure radio teletype. real alerts were always something. some worse than others. but always angsty and an adrenaline rush regardless. while i was standing in my doorway watching stuff, in came the major of dress code and practice alert fame.
ah, yes, goddamn. he was resplendent in his steel pot, m-16, ammo, un-tied jungle boots, gi issued undershirt and boxers. yep. that’s it. nada mas. no one, of course, said a word about his poorly dressed alert apparel. lots of subtle snickering to be sure but not a word. after that night, it went back to come as you are for alerts, and the only thing that mattered was the m-16 or some other weapon with plenty of ammo when you got to where you were supposed to be.
it’s interesting to see how things have or haven’t changed. i wonder how melvin laird would have felt? or perhaps dean rusk? or macnamara? at any rate, it’s dead soldier day weekend. a time to say a prayer for those brothers in arms who never made it back. a time to say just how much you appreciate the sacrifice of those who didn’t come back and those who are serving or have served and did come back. whole or not. seems like none of us ever come back whole. a tragic veer if there ever was one.
dead soldier weekend. a proud american tradition since the civil war from whence it got it’s origins. you may not like war, this current one in particular. you may even be in the support the troops but not the war politically correct crowd. tell you what. god bless the child that wears his boxers to a fire fight. at least he showed up and was ready for trouble. god bless anyone who even shows up for the coming fire fights.
make no mistake, it’s not what you wear to a fight. it’s what you do when you get there. happy memorial day weekend!! light a candle for america.
the historical day and week are almost upon us. that fifty years ago thing with bad back jack. an avid family footballer even with said bad back and all his other psychical and medical problems. he and elvis. a game of football at the drop of a hat. no, not together but they could have shared drug knowledge stuff and scripts if they had. yes, the world changed that afternoon 50 years ago. the biggest seismic event to proceed it was pearl harbor. i guess we’re still waiting for the next big one. yeah, of course, 9-11. although i’m almost to the jessie ventura state of mind on that event. i digress. no, more like hitting a patch of black ice on a mountain road late at night.
i was sorta looking forward to this 50th anniversary that began our slow ride to perdition. not anymore. the point being, all the network suits, ties, hacks, douche bags, hustlers, grifters, shysters, morons, pathetic con-men, long dead, or we thought they were, news hucksters, oliver stones, flacks, and just the general ass hats of society have ruined what should have been an attempt at some sort of closure for those of us who sat through that sad long four or five day TV weekend 50 years ago that forever changed us all. many of us out here in the once bucolic farmland hinterlands of the lotus land megalopolis who on sunday night just said, enough, then left the TV madness and packed a local movie house that was running ‘lawrence of arabia’. a very large standing room only crowd. maybe the fire marshall didn’t get the memo. or he was among us trying to hide out as well.
the same movie house that not that many years later turned into a porno palace and ran ‘deep throat’ all day and night for what seemed like months upon months. that sad lonely road to perdition. the road we’ve been on ever since that november long ago. a gloomy, dark, and rat infested highway deep into the very bowels of hell. yup, a sort of luke the drifter veer. though i think apt none the less.
something was written not long after the tragic event by someone who could actually write and hold a thought or two together penned: “johnny boy, we hardly knew ye.” and ourselves as well. after all these years we have no one to blame but ourselves.
there has been much speculation as to just who, elliot john kamradt is and more to the point who his parents were. those waters are a bit murky but i’ll try and clear them up a bit. you see, i’m elliot john kamradt. though these days i go by a different name, john hauge. however, that’s jumping ahead a bit in the story.
at the turn of the 1900’s one aspect of the kamradt family that had remained hidden for more than two centuries finally made their way across the atlantic to america from either poland or hungary. things are still sketchy in that regard. suffice it to say, they remained hidden in america for the most part as well. it’s been such a long time that no one even remembers why that branch of the kamradt family chose to stay hidden from the rest of the family tree and most of society for that matter.
historical records that can be found and accessed show peter paul kamradt and his ever lovely wife, jacqueline marie bouvier-kamradt, were a handsome and fun loving couple. peter worked as a butcher in various butcher shops from new york city to detroit, michigan. though at some point in detroit peter and jackie moved away very suddenly. reasons for the move remain unknown to this day.
there is one theory about the move that relates to a string of unsolved chicken burglaries and thefts that just might be traced back to peter kamradt. though once again, the facts are sketchy and perhaps a family feud was involved relating to some family strife that began in the old country centuries before.
be that as it may, peter and jackie turned up in beaumont, ca not long after their flight from detroit. peter gave up the butcher business and started a chicken ranch in california. some wags said he brought stolen chickens from detroit to start the ranch. though none of that was ever proved to be true. gossip is just gossip, as peter was fond of saying.
once settled in beaumont peter and jackie bore two children. a daughter, ethel and much later in life a son elliot. yours truly. the kamradt bouvier chicken ranch thrived and the little family was happy in the hills of beaumont. though that would change one winter day long ago.
in one of the rarities of california life a rain storm struck and stuck around for a week or two raining buckets non stop. flooding ensued and tragedy struck the bouvier-kamradt family. while on a family trip to collect much needed supplies or as some locals still say, to steal chickens, the family was literally sweep away in a rain swollen creek sending them to the pacific miles away and their deaths. save for elliot john kamradt.
elliot was bumped from the back of the family truck and was saved from his early death. he lay on the ground crying for an hour or two when a turnip farmer happened upon him and saved little elliot john kamradt. little elliot was thrilled to say the least. but the thrill didn’t last long. he fell off the back of the turnip truck only to be saved this time by ollie and doris hauge.
ollie and doris semi legally changed elliot john kamradt’s name. how they even knew the little tykes real name is also shrouded in mystery. at any rate, elliot john kamradt thus became john hauge. simple easy. john went on to have a semi sort of life as a bon viant and is now a retired loafer of some note.
there you have it. i assure you all of this is true and thus proves by any sane reasonable doubt i am a kamradt by birth. to say otherwise would be heresy. that means you carl. michael, matt, and mr. jonny know better.
there’s a gentle rain this morning and it’s very quiet around here. the cat is on her perch, curled up in a tight little ball and gently snoring. the brown eyed girl has finally fallen asleep after a tough night of whatever it is she is ailing from. this post first appeared here on the front page almost a year ago. for any number of reasons, i think it’s time once again.
the other day i finally got around to making a trip back to my childhood. specifically, i had been wanting to take some photos of the old padre winery just down the road in rancho cucamonga, ca. i’ve mentioned the winery in a few blogs and a fiction piece here but there were no photos in any of them. so, what i thought i’d do was take some photos and stick them up here then sorta run the deal down one more time.
padre winery has been around since the late 1800’s. and it was the first winery in california bonded by the feds, allowing them to sell wine and brandy. the original building is still standing. amazingly enough even after all the semi sorta large earthquakes that have rumbled through the area. i guess it gives testament to some thing or another. over the years the winery has been owned and operated by a few different folks. it has had a few other names as well. but to us long time cucmongaites it was and always shall be, padre winery. sadly, it no longer produces wine. those days are long gone.
my mother’s parents lived in a house a few hundred yards west of the winery. that old wonderful house with the root cellar, in which my grandfather made wine and vinegar, no longer stands. my grandfather worked at padre winery up until the time he retired. he’d been there for many years. i spent a lot of time with my grandparents when i was a kid. soaking up old world italy and wineries. that is up until the time my folks thought i was old enough to manage on my own during the summer. though soaking up stuff never ended.
when my grandfather worked at padre it was owned by the vai brothers. i loved walking over to the winery and wandering around looking at stuff. perhaps more importantly smelling the wonderful smells that can only come from a winery.
these days the winery is owned by a local family that has long roots in the area. wine roots. they gave it a go trying to make it a producing winery over the years but money being what it is things never panned out. padre winery is for sale. there are a few businesses where the old redwood wine vats used to be and it’s kind of sad. especially to me. i worked at padre winery myself for a year or so back in the early to mid 70’s. i’ve recounted that tale as here as well.
i’d been by the winery a number of times over the years. once even stopping with the brown eyed girl so she could see the place. old padre winery. at any rate, i was alone the other day as i wandered about taking these photos. alone with my thoughts and my youth.
as you will see there is still a beauty to the winery. an elegance and charm not seen these days in much of any kind of architecture. there was something else present as i walked around. something mystical and wonderful. or maybe it was just the fact that padre winery has been around for years and years and saw a huge amount of wine in various stages pass through the grounds. it was a smell. the smell. that wine smell. a sour tart vinegary musty smell now. but still a wine smell. the old girl still has it. a complete package other than the fact the wine itself is long gone. the elegance and the smell have stuck to her and she wears them well.
i hope the old lady remains standing. standing as a monument to old california and old cucamonga. not swept into some re-development black hole and razed. re-development. the good old boy deal where the pols and hucksters make money hand over fist and we the people lose our history and magic that comes with the old things. old wonderful places like padre winery.
padre winery and the old tasting room.
the old cellars.
the still where the lees and muck were processed into 180 proof alcohol.
the old girl is still looking good.
the re-runs keep on coming this summer. this particular one first appeared almost three years ago. originally it was a two part story. this time around i’m running it as one part. it is what it was and it’s more of my history and yours as well. life throws you knuckle curve balls that can sometimes change everything. even if you just stand there flat footed and watch the ball dance by. there are also odd circumstances in history/life that occur in which you are part but just a minor footnote. also, in case you haven’t noticed it, life can deal out irony like nobodies business. thanks for reading.
gentlemen the marines are drafting this month
it had already been a bad morning. a very bad morning. however, those seven words sent an electric shock through the hundred or so plus odd souls in the downtown los angeles army induction center, circa dec 1969. things were bad but they were just about to go completely sideways. but i’m getting ahead of myself.
that december day was the second time i’d been drafted by uncle sam. i’d received an induction notice back in may of the same year. i’d managed to get out of that one. i was still in school and actually doing ok for a change. meaning good grades. hell, i was even on the dean’s list. the school got me out of it but warned me if i didn’t go to another school in the fall i’d be history. i’d already spent one of my lifetimes going to that local community college. three years to graduate from a two year school. it was a good thing i drifted into the theatre department. it meant good grades and a sorta reprieve from the inevitable.
yes, it was inevitable. it was all written a few months before i was born in 1948. harry truman re-signed the draft law act and i was doomed while still in my mother’s womb. oh, sure i could have gone to canada but that really wasn’t an option. my father, my uncles, and my godfather. yeah, my godfather, a lucky to be alive heavily decorated big time ww2 combat vet and at the time still in the army. my dad’s best friend. get the picture? doubtful in these weird times.
there were other various ways to avoid the draft. some of which must have worked or the folks in the draft resistance centers wouldn’t have told you about them. though most of the stuff wasn’t something i’d like to try and pull off. say, like crapping in your pants and peeing in them as well for a week or so before your induction physical. that riff was supposed to work as quickly as it took them to get you out of the building. something i didn’t think any sane person could manage. there was another one not quite as bad. it involved a rotten fish, some thread, a needle, and the guts to string the thread through the fish then leave it there to rot along with the fish. after a few days you would take the needle and thread then somehow or another run it through your knee. either one it didn’t matter. this made for an interesting infection in your knee and with the string left there it made for an even more interesting x-ray. no, i don’t think so. thanks, anyway.
another way to avoid the draft if you could come up with $300 or $400 there were doctors that could get you out. maybe. that was the catch, it was only a maybe. however, $300 back in those days might as well have been $100,000 today. plus my folks were just working class stiffs and salt of the earth types. not much cash at that time and one of the reasons i went to the community college to start with. oh, i had some cash but it would have wiped me out. better to just go with some odds and roll the dice. then see what happens. youth, guile, and bluster.
i’d worked through the summer. sorta. i spent a lot of time at the beach or just dicking about. the fall rolled around and i had no plans for school. i was just going to totally lay around and wait for my next draft notice. my parents weren’t happy about this so called plan but then nothing much they could do about it other than bitch. especially when i told them why would anyone want to hire someone who might get drafted next month? i wouldn’t. that usually kept them out of my hair for a few weeks at a time.
the first or second week of november i got my second draft notice. i recall just sitting in the den holding the unopened letter. it wasn’t a pleasant experience.
the swan song of my civilian life was seeing the rolling stones at the forum in inglewood. the infamous 3am show where mick laments he should have brought along his toothbrush. it had been scheduled for much earlier in the evening as the second show of the night. the first show got started several hours late and things just snowballed from there on out. my girlfriend at the time did manage to score peter fonda’s autograph. i finally made it home after the sun had been up for awhile.
just as a drift since i haven’t drifted yet…that particular girlfriend’s parents hated me. i would be in her college dorm room fucking her or she would be giving me head and the phone would ring and it would be her parents or older brother telling her to dump me. the call would go on and on. we would just lay there naked while they ranted on about me. i didn’t care about the call, her brother, or her parents. she swallowed. then she would make some tea to clear her palette as it were. hey, older brother, listen to this. yes, well, my bad.
the fatal morning finally arrived. it was an early morning ride in the dark from de onta out to san berdoo and the swing auditorium for the draft call cattle call. the first stop of the day. the first stop in what was to become an almost two year long living breathing real life twilight zone episode.
it was a sad farewell. parents hugging kids. girlfriends crying. parents crying. young men trying not to cry. it was a sea of misery. then it came time to board the buses for the trip to downtown l.a. a long silent ride in the early morning darkness. private thoughts and prayers hung in the air like a thick fog.
once into the induction center it was the standard army cluster fuck. sorta. take your clothes off put em back on take em off again and wander around naked for awhile going here going there seeing that doctor getting a needle stuck in a vein. yeah, that deal went down with army medics. probably just out of medic school. medics who got lucky when they were sent to the induction center and not nam. at least for the moment.
standing naked in a line with a bunch of other naked guys is no fun. but standing in that line and watching some guy trying to hit pay dirt with a dull seemingly square needle was even worse. i have never seen anything like it. stab, miss, stab again, miss again. no more stabbing just twist the fucker around until the vein was popped and blood drawn. an amazing sight. some of the more feint hearted souls actually passed out watching that action being played out right there before them in living and breathing color.
after the probing and stuff we were given some sort of written test. i don’t recall anything that was on it. though it would play into what was to come later in the morning.
then came time to sit and wait. a game we would all come to play very well. a game that i can still play today. at some point or another we were taken into a room, 30 or 40 of us at a time. it was in this room we heard those fateful words, gentlemen, the marines are drafting this month.
it was more or less fine and dandy we were going to be stuck in the army for a couple of years. well, not fine and dandy but we were at some sort of peace with ourselves and the whole deal. however, this card from the bottom of the deck was more than any sane person could take. suddenly things got even more grim. i’d heard stories about marine corps boot camp from ex-marines during that time period and it’s something i had no wish to experience. the army experience would be more than enough, thank you.
the army officer who had made that statement let it sink in for a few seconds. not that it hadn’t already shaken everyone of us to the core. in those few seconds i came to the realization, that fuck it, i’m going out the open window if i hear my name and the marine corps mentioned in the same sentence.
sure the open window was 4 or 5 floors up from the street but what’s your point? i didn’t care. there were no windows on the lower floors as my friend, jwfh, pointed out and reminded me of yesterday. they had all been bricked over. all of the escape routes covered. either by bricks or army corporals whose sole mission was not to let anyone out of the building. i guess they didn’t think anyone would be fool hardy enough to take a dive from the 4th floor. yeah, well, think again.
they had taken all of our folders and put them in stacks on a a table at the front of the room. each stack had a separate number and letter code. we all had a number and letter code on our folders. say like 6c or 3a. i don’t recall what mine was. plus, i have no idea just how they came up with that number letter code. something to do with mental and psychical shape i’m sure.
after the stacks were completed the officer announced that the marines needed say, 4 6c’s. so the sargent randomly picked 4 folders from the 6c pile. those names were called out and the young men were told to go wait outside in the seating area. then he told the sargent the marines needed 6 3a’s. more random picking and more very very sad young men told to go wait outside. a different number of folders was selected from each of the piles. it wasn’t over until it was over. the group was thinned out by maybe a third and those among us who’s name hadn’t been called were then given the induction oath by the same officer. you’re in the army now.
once that was completed we were told to go wait outside and another group was called into the room. sitting outside, i have never seen more forlorn faces in my life than the faces on those poor guys who were going to go down to pendleton and marine corps boot camp. on the other hand those of us who hadn’t been ‘selected’ were almost ecstatic. go figure.
we waited around until the marines got what they wanted. we were given a bible, a box lunch, some toiletries then we boarded more buses for a 10 hour ride up to ft ord, on the monterrey peninsula. we were supposed to stop for restroom breaks and an evening meal but the driver was having none of that. there would be no one jumping ship or the bus on his watch. no, sir.
we arrived at ft ord around 11pm or later. exhausted and wired in that weird way. life was to become very very different for us all very very soon.
i do not mean to disparage the marine corps. no way. the story is true and was what it was in those times. pure and simple. without the marine corps we would all be in a bigger fix than we are already in. thankfully, there are those among us who still heed the the call of duty, honor, and country. may god bless them one and all. hopefully, some of those blessings will slop over to the rest of us.
i make no apologies for my time in the army or my time in vietnam. it was a sorta righteous deal that went askew. big time. shit happens. it will never be 1941 again. ever. however, that doesn’t mean some sort of applied force someplace is not warranted. iraq seems to be another vietnam. in the last 40 years it’s the only thing teddy kennedy ever got right. pure and simple.
the main problem with vietnam was we just up and left. a sad bad choice. left them to die by the millions. left them to die or worse in the re-education camps. re-education camps right out of mao and the chinese in the 60’s and 70’s. packing up and leaving without finishing the job was bad juju if there ever was bad juju. that bad karma continues to haunt this once great nation. the worst and nastiest re-education camp in vietnam? the old macv advisory 48 compound in ham tan. the place where i spent my year.
this is the final chapter of the saigon trip. i hope you enjoy it as much as the other two chapters. i want to thank all of you for reading. i appreciate it very much.
saigon holiday, 1971 part 3
we had to get a cab to the nearest boq. way too hung over, plus too hot and humid to walk. after an overly zealous breakfast and along with the cab fare we were broke again. two more days in saigon and no money give us an idea of sorts. finally. grab a cab to air america. catch a flight and just go back to ham tan. this means stiffing the cabbie at the gate but we are too broke to care. we caught a cab and it deposited us at the air base entrance. we bolt and run like rabbits. the cabbie to old to catch us and he’s unarmed.
feeling better about things we hit the air america terminal and ask about a flight back to ham tan. we are told nothing is available for the next two days. the only flight we can get is the one we had already booked two days down the road. sleeping on the floor of the cia owned and operated airline for two nights is not allowed. probably not even for five minutes. the cia doesn’t run flop houses.
there’s a soldier in the air america terminal who hears of our plight. he tells us to go to the chopper pad about half a mile away and see if we can hitch a chopper ride back to ham tan. this lifts our spirits as it’s still early morning. however, by noon we are beginning to realize we were stuck. no chopper rides today.
we seem doomed to some sort of living nightmare. when out of the blue this vietnamese army guy with a jeep walks up and says, you guys want a ride? yes. where to? ham tan. no way, way to dangerous. so bill comes up with a plan. i’ll give you this watch if you take us to bien hoa. we figure we can stay in our company area and go unnoticed for a few days and somehow manage to get back to saigon for our flight back to ham tan. the guy says, let me see the watch. of course he doesn’t want it as it’s total junk and had already stopped running. so no ride. the viet then says, hey you guys got ration cards? yeah, we have ration cards. virgin ones.
you see with ham tan being out in the nowhere boonies the army gave you smokes for free and there was booze on the compound. you didn’t need to use the ration cards. so they stayed virgin. this changed later but at the time it was so.
with that information the viet’s eyes light up. he says, ok, i give you money. then we go to the px(post exchange) and you buy all the cigarettes and beer on the cards for this month. then i’ll take you to bien hoa.
this was actually a mother load for the viet. the black market value for all the smokes and beer was a nice hefty amount of coin in any man’s language. having learned a lot in the past day or so we say, nah, for all that you take us to ham tan. once again, no way, too dangerous. ok. we counter with, xuan loc, which is about half way to ham tan. we know a few guys there and we figure we can spend the night and worry about tomorrow later. ok, deal, says the viet. with that it’s off to px we go.
after wards we load the guy up with the smokes and beer. he then says, ok now we go to bien hoa, driving to xuan loc is too dangerous. we counter with, ok. we’ll throw in the junk watch and you don’t get shot right here and right now. and we go to xuan loc. the viet takes the watch and drives us the forty miles or so to xuan loc.
it was late afternoon by the time we got to xuan loc. the viet guy bitching the whole way. he dropped us off at another macv advisory team compound and went off to find a place to spend the night. we ate some dinner, watched a movie, then slept in guy’s bunks that were working the overnight shift in the commo(communication) bunker.
there aren’t many mosquitoes in ham tan. the beach and all. too dry or something for mosquitoes even in the monsoon season. however, in xuan loc they were thick and nasty. the smell of fresh meat drove them particularly insane that night. even with mosquito netting they were relentless. waking up in the morning we found that our sheets were spotted with blood. our blood. spotted from rolling over in our semi sleep and squashing the little sated bastards into the sheets. the guys came in looked at their now blood spotted sheets and were not happy. xin loi, sorry about that. it was time for breakfast and planning. something. anything.
someone at breakfast suggested we hit the chopper pad and talk to the
air traffic controller. we say that didn’t work in saigon. we are told not to worry. so off we go to the chopper pad. a very busy place. even busier than saigon. you see, in xuan loc there is a war going on. the air traffic controller tells us ham tan is no sweat. unless the chopper is on a medivac or a mission, he’ll have them come in and pick us up, for he is the lord of this air space.
not long after that a chopper lands and we are pointed to it and told to hop right in. well, of course the chopper is already full and i have to sit with one leg out in space while i hang on to the door frame. all this while trying not to get in the door gunner’s way. my first chopper ride and when it was over i would never want another. we didn’t know if the pilot was unhappy about being made to pick us up or if he was trying to avoid shit on the ground. we never found out. none the less, it was an even worse ride than the flight to saigon on air america. hard to believe but true.
ham tan in sight. finally home again. that’s how it felt. it always did. we get back to the compound and everyone is surprised to see us back so early. before we can explain why in walks our company commander with the executive officer and first sargent in tow. we of course are counting our blessings. thanking everyone from god and buddha to swami vishnu the air controller didn’t flag down their helicopter. finally some good luck or so it would seem.
this is indeed a rare visit as the company commander never came out to ham tan. it was too dangerous for him. he always sent the executive officer out on pay days or for whatever. but today he’s in ham tan and feeling fine. noticing bill he says, hold on there lad. we were trying to get out of the bunker. is that a .38 special you have there? first sargent, write him up for that unauthorized weapon, and that boonie hat as well. yes, sir. for you see, macv didn’t care what kind of weapon you carried as long as it worked and you could shoot it. the rest of the military were locked solid into the bullshit. hats were the same with macv as well. some other units too but not our signal unit. as bill was getting reamed i sidled out of the bunker before someone decided to go off on me. off to the hootch, my bunk, and home for some much needed sleep.
the photos in the story were just taken from various places on the net. googled, in other words. i want to thank whoever for having them on the net for me to find and use. i’m not making any money on this deal so i suppose it might be ok. any the ways, thanks again to whoever, the photos added to the story.
i used to have photos taken in nam. even a few from saigon. those i lost long ago. moving frenzies being what they are. frantic. i also had some photos of ham tan and the advisory team. those are now being cataloged at texas tech university and their vietnam center and archive. at some point you will be able to be view them on line in the archive. you should visit that site: http://www.vietnam.ttu.edu/ i think it’s the best vietnam archive in the country.
yeah, i know the ending is sorta anti-climatic. it was what it was. all in all, i think it’s a good story. thanks for reading.
this story/idea is registered with the writers guild of america, west.
the saigon, circa 1971, true story continues.
saigon holiday, 1971 part 2
the hotel we decided upon was the caravelle. the place where all the reporters stayed while in saigon. plus, we had heard the ladies up on the roof were amazing. the only trouble is they threw us out. we weren’t officers or reporters. just lowly draftees. so we caught a cab and went to a hotel both of us had stayed in on previous saigon trips. a decent enough place but not the caravelle.
we arrive at the hotel and check in. the hotel staff are not pleased with the sight of bill’s .38 pistol and low slung holster. give it to us. no. this goes back and forth for a bit but in the end they let him keep the pistol. we unload stuff in our rooms then head off to get more vietnamese money. i wanted to go to the uso for my exchange and bill still wanted to go for the street deal. who’s going to fuck with us?, he says. i have a 38. ok fine, but first we go to the uso. another mad cab ride in one of the ubiquitous old yellow and blue renaults. they were always mad dashes in those old dented wrecks.
saigon traffic, 1971. note one of the blue and yellow taxis on the left of photo.
the uso in saigon, a sadder place on earth would be hard to imagine. the place was totally depressing. it was as if someone had tossed a wet blanket over saigon. none the less, i got my money changed. we head back out on the street and bill searches for the rate he wants, the perfect deal.
there were plenty of saigon cowboys to wheel and deal with. however, before he got around to his money exchange he buys a watch from one of the cowboys on the street. the amazing thing was he was conned into buying the watch with gi money. bottom line, it was an incredibly stupid deal but what could i say? he wouldn’t have listened anyway. equally amazing is neither of us was drunk or stoned yet.
bill finally finds the rate he wants from some other sleazy saigon cowboy and the guy says, follow me. the guy leads us around and around and we end up at the opening of this very dark alley. dark and it’s the middle of the afternoon. bill says, hey, we aren’t going in there and remember i have a gun. the guys says, ok wait here. then he splits. when he returns he shows bill a roll of vietnamese money wrapped up in a tight roll with a rubber band around the roll. bill takes the money, looks it over carefully and says it’s all there. somehow the guy gets the roll back. bill then hands him his money. the saigon cowboy hands bill back the roll then poof he’s outta there. he runs down the alley while yelling something about mp’s(military police) but there aren’t any around. bill checks out the roll and finds that only the two outer bills are large denominations. the rest of them are just ones. useless vietnamese ones. about the only thing they were good for would be toilet paper. bill just got ripped off for two or three hundred bucks.
we are in saigon for three days and now half of our money is gone and there’s nothing we can do. no idea where the cowboy went and even if we did it would have been suicide to try and get the cash back. the cops? yeah, right. no way. street money exchanges were illegal. so it’s another mad taxi ride back to our hotel then up to the hotel’s top floor for some booze, smoke, women, and hopefully solace.
roof top view from one of the old saigon hotels. maybe even the hotel where the story takes place.
all the hotels i ever stayed in while in saigon were pretty much the same. the top floor elevator doors opened into something that must have been experienced to fully appreciate. at least a dozen or more ladies converging on the elevator doors as they opened. just another insane saigon scene. all of the ladies trying to grab your private parts at the same time. grabbing your privates trying to get your attention in hopes of making a ‘connection’ as it were.
we weren’t in the the mood for that action just yet. we shooed the ladies away and went to the bar for some drinks. after a few drinks we were more in the mood for the ladies. we make a connection and two of them sit at the table. more drinks are ordered. after a few more rounds the ladies said they were hungry and they wanted us to buy them dinner in the hotel cafe. by this time we were drunk enough to agree. hamburgers all around. some mystery meat that reeked of god knows what. amazingly we didn’t get sick.
after dinner it was more drinking and scoring some smoke for later. at some point, and to this day i still have no idea how it happened, my ‘date’ got a hold of my wallet. things had been bad but were about to get dire in an instant. yelling about the deal would only have gotten us tossed out of the place. then it would have been, no room, no sex, no money, no nothing. when i got my wallet back there was only enough money left to pay for the services of the two ladies for the night. meaning around $40 or so. at least we were drunk and about to get loaded with our dates then have some more fun. tomorrow’s problems were the furthest thing from our minds.
saigon night life, 1971.
that night passed blissfully. the early morning as well. while the two ladies shower up bill and i met and wondered just what we are going to do. now broke and no one to turn to for a loan. we were stuck in saigon for two more days with no money. a very sad prospect.
bill’s lady turns out to be a hooker with a heart of gold. sorta. she gave us $5 in military money. then said, that’s enough for breakfast at a boq and a cab ride back to air america. boq, bachelor officer quarters. a boq but any soldier could go into any mess hall in nam and eat for a very nominal fee or for free. viets knew air america as they could fly it as well. sometimes.
we were so happy we could shit. after the ladies left bill did just that. a huge turd that refused to be flushed. a turd the likes of which neither of us had ever seen. we found the mamasan and she sent some old woman to get the turd to flush. the old woman was not happy as waved her shit stick about. cursing in loud vietnamese the old lady finally got the turd to flush. mamasan then tells us to get out. she already knew we had no more money. it was goodbye and get the fuck out of here, gi.
story registered with the writers guild of america, west.