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Revisited: Vietnam, circa 1969 . . .

This posting was originally unleashed on an unsuspecting audience almost ten months ago on June 9, 2009. It has languished in the bowels of Word Press since that time. The number of visitors the posting has drawn, for whatever reason, is unknown, but the number that bothered to rate the posting is known—one, and in the interest of full disclosure I must admit that the one vote is mine. I briefly considered commenting on the posting’s excellence, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it and remain anonymous. However, when I reread the posting I was so pleased with myself that I gave it a vote of excellence, but no one knows I did it because voters are not identified. Given its poor performance in attracting readers, voters and comments I decided to bring it out into the bright light of 2010 for the enlightenment of those that, for whatever reason, may find it in their wanderings around Word Press.

I beseech you, visitors to this posting, to leave some evidence that you were here—a footprint or a finger print or an old sock or cigarette butt or a few marijuana seeds or a burned bobby pin or a beautifully crafted joint holder—anything to show me that someone was here. Whether the story pleases or displeases you, please take the time to vote on it and leave a comment, either positive or negative. And whether you like it or hated it, tell me why your liked it or hated it—if I know why you hated it, I can change it for the better, and if you liked it I can change it by making it doubly better—or I’ll make it worse if you insist. See how that works?

The original posting follows—view it at https://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/2009/06/09/554/

In the spring of 1969 I began an extended vacation in Southeast Asia in Vietnam, one of the most beautiful countries on our planet, courtesy of the United States military with all expenses paid. My trip over was on a commercial airliner, with a brief stop on Guam. That stop was probably meant to prepare us for the sweltering heat we would soon be enjoying at Tan Son Knut air base on the outskirts of Saigon, Vietnam’s capital city, renamed as Ho Chi Minh City when Saigon and the rest of South Vietnam fell to the communist forces of North Vietnam.

My visit at Tan Son Knut was all too brief, but it lasted long enough for me to enjoy the last three months of the southern monsoon. According to our briefings, Vietnam has two distinct monsoon periods, six months in the south and six months in the north, cleverly labeled, respectively, the southern monsoon and the northern monsoon, with one beginning when the other stops. When I was transferred to Da Nang air base in the north, very much against my will, I was privileged to enjoy all six months of the northern monsoon, for a total of nine months of rain while in the country.

Monsoon, by definition, is a seasonal prevailing wind that lasts for several months. A monsoon typically includes the monsoon rainfall, a period during which a region receives the majority of its rain. On my vacation I was granted the opportunity to be drenched almost daily over a 9-month period.

I was wet every day that I spent in Vietnam, one way or the other, either drenched by rain or soaked with perspiration—one is supposed to be cooled by the evaporation of sweat, but in that climate perspiration could not evaporate because the air was already full of moisture. Shoes, boots, wallets and anything else made of leather, if left in an enclosed space for any length of time, would come alive with a solid coat of mold, looking like something in a Japanese movie on late-night television, more realistic, of course. By eight o’clock in the morning my undershirt was soaked with sweat and clung to my body like glue—I learned to not wear an undershirt, and I continue undershirt-less to this day. I also learned to wrap my wallet in plastic to keep it from imitating a Japanese horror monster.

My vacation tour of Vietnam was scheduled to last only 12 months—the thirteenth month was the result of a death in my family. I was allowed a 30-day respite from my vacation activities, but was allowed to complete my original commitment by staying an extra month on my return to Vietnam. The purpose of the thirteenth month was to make up for the break in my vacation tour—incidentally, the U. S. Air Force generously debited the 30 days from my accumulated leave time.

What a gift!

I have much more to tell about my tour of duty in Vietnam, but for this posting I’ll cover little more than the emergency 30-day leave—how it came about, and how and why and by whom it was initially denied but later authorized. I’ll try to be brief, and then return later with more details of my vacation.

Early one morning I was summoned to the office of the Red Cross representative at Da Nang to be informed of the contents of a telegram received from his counterpart in my home town. The telegram stated that my stepfather had died peacefully in his sleep, and that “… the mother is doing well and requests that the service member not return home.” That request not withstanding, I took the telegram to my Personnel Officer and requested a 30-day emergency leave in order to be with my mother to console her in her time of grief. I told him my late stepfather had held that title for 28 of my 37 years, except for a brief period during a divorce from my mother, a divorce that was soon followed by remarriage to my mother. I told the Personnel Officer that I felt that I owed my stepfather a return home because he was the only father I ever knew.

The truth of the matter? I desperately yearned to leave beautiful Vietnam, if only for a brief period, and 30 days of emergency leave was authorized in such circumstances as the death of my stepfather.

The Personnel Officer, a major, denied my request because the telegram stated quite clearly that my mother did not want me to return. My initial reaction was anger, but I calmly—well, sorta calmly—said to the major, “Sir, if my mother had requested my presence and I did not want to return, would you have ordered me to go?” He responded to my question  with these exact words, uttered with strength, volume and passion:

“Sergeant, that’s insubordination!”

I considered that for a long moment and then said, “Thank you, major.” I saluted, did an about-face, left his office and the building and hotfooted it to the Non-commissioned Officer’s Club, an organization that I was a member of and a very frequent visitor to, and I was also a part-time off-duty worker—I considered the Club Manager to be a good friend.

I briefly explained the situation to him and asked if he could get a call through to my wife in San Antonio. He immediately picked up the phone and established a connection with a U. S. Navy vessel anchored off-shore from China Beach. From that ship the call went to a satellite, from that satellite to the ground somewhere in Scandinavia, then up to another satellite and from that satellite down to my home phone in San Antonio, Texas, all in a matter of minutes.

My friend handed me the phone and I heard my wife’s perfectly clear “Hello,” as distinct as if she were in the room with us. I told her not to talk, just listen and do what I was going to tell her to do. I told her to call my mother in Mississippi and tell her to go to the local Red Cross immediately and tell them that she desperately needs her son home from Vietnam, that she is suffering mightily from her recent loss and wants her son to come home because she feels he will be able to assuage her anguish and grief—and tell her that time is of the essence!

I used several unrepeatable words and phrases to emphasize the importance of the call to my mother. I told my wife to tell my mother that if she failed to convince the Red Cross to authorize my absence from helping lose our war with North Vietnam, she would never, ever, see me again or hear from me again. This was not a threat—it was a solemn promise that I intended to keep. My wife said she understood and we terminated the call. This was no time for small talk—time was of the essence!

I felt no pride in what I was doing, nor do I feel pride in it now. It was necessary and needed to be done, similar to the ultimatum given to the defenders of the Alamo when surrounded by the Mexican army: They were told, “Surrender now, or we will give no quarter.” I wanted my mother to surrender and deliver, and to understand the consequences if she failed—I would give no quarter. There was no time for deliberation, reluctance or self-recrimination—I needed action, not excuses—time was of the essence!

Early the next morning I was again called to the office of the American Red Cross, and  the local representative gave me another telegram and told me to take it to the Personnel Office. Always one to comply with a direct order, I hastened my return to the office of the Personnel Officer. I was again ushered into that worthy’s office, wherein I saluted smartly, placed the telegram on his desk, stepped back and remained at attention while he read the message, a message which consisted of the things my wife told my mother to say, but without the unrepeatable words and phrases.

The major, apparently speechless, said nothing. Not a word, at least not vocally, but his face spoke volumes. He stamped the telegram APPROVED, with almost enough force to make a dent in the desk. I retrieved the approval, said “Thank you, sir,” saluted smartly and smartly pivoted 180 degrees (an about face), and went to the Administration Section to process for my return to the land of the big PX and round door knobs.

I departed Da Nang the same day on a commercial airliner, stuffed mostly with military personnel who had completed their Vietnam vacations. At the exact moment the wheels broke ground, a concerted and prolonged cheer erupted from the throats of some 200 men—I didn’t expect it and it scared the hell out of me, but I managed to join the choir, albeit somewhat belatedly.

I returned to Da Nang 30 days later to complete my tour in Vietnam—I never saw the major again, something we both can appreciate.

That’s all for now. I’ll have to get back later with more details of my vacation in Vietnam. It was one of the most memorable times in my life, a life which has, to date encompassed beau coup memorable moments.

See there? Even the word “beau coup” brings back memories of Vietnam—France occupied and fought in that country for many years. They no doubt took many mementos home with them, but also left many mementos behind when they left Vietnam, including a substantial number of Vietnamese mothers with children fathered by French soldiers. The French efforts in Vietnam were, of course, a prelude to American soldiers leaving similar mementos, probably in even more substantial numbers, of Vietnamese mothers with children fathered by American soldiers.

The plight and the beauty of those children deserve a separate posting.

I’ll get back to you later with more details.

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Third time is charm—but not always . . .

In March of 1969, I had the privilege of taking a 13-month tour of South Vietnam with all expenses paid—my tour began in the the capital city of Saigon and ended at Da Nang Air Base in April of 1970. While at Da Nang I made two week-end visits to Hong Kong. The first was rather harrowing, but turned out okay. To read my posting on the first flight click here.

The second week-end trip was even more harrowing, and I wisely declined  all invitations for additional trips. Had another aircraft been available—another model a bit less vintage, I perhaps would have returned—no, belay that—the only circumstance that would have gotten me on a third flight to Hong Kong would be the imminent fall of Da Nang to North Vietnamese regulars. In that case I would have made a third flight to Hong Kong on any conveyance that could get me off the ground, whether on the Gooney Bird, in a lawn-mower-powered ultra-light or under a parasail towed by a child in a rowboat.

This posting will reveals the details of the second flight, details that would cause anyone, particularly my mother’s youngest son, to forego a third flight to Hong Kong.

Saturday dawned bright and clear at Da Nang, South Korea on a day in 1969,  and we lifted off for our flight to Hong Kong, the star of the Orient. We were ensconced in a C-47 transport plane affectionately nicknamed Gooney Bird. Powered by two reciprocating engines, our Gooney Bird was assembled in the late 1930s or the early 1940s—a durable bird, but not exactly a state-of-the-art conveyance. However, its age and its continued use by the United States Air Force were testaments to its reliability.

Our flight from DaNang to Hong Kong was routine, uneventful, with nothing to portend the nature of our return flight to South Vietnam. We arrives at Hong Kong in mid-morning and passed the the day shopping—I purchased a a reel-to-reel tape recorder, one of the finest units available at the time, along with a plentiful supply of tape, some jewelry for my wife, and a wooden model of a Chinese junk—the recorder was junked, the jewelry is part my wife’s heritage to our three daughters, and I’m still stuck with the Chinese junk—it’s still accumulating dust and it’s still an eyesore. I can’t decide what to do with it—I’ve offered it as a present to several people—all expressed their appreciation of the offer, but none accepted it. I hate to give it up, and I hate to keep it—bummer!

But I have digressed—back to our return flight:

We left Kong Kong in mid-morning on Sunday. Our flight was routine until a short while after passing the point-of-no-return to Hong Kong—regardless of circumstances we were required to press on to Da Nang—if an inflight emegency should 0ccur, our options would be to ditch into the ocean, land somewhere in China, either on an island or on the mainland, or land somewhere in North Vietnam.

An emergency did in fact occur, and a mayday call—a call for assistance—was made to DaNang. Our #2 engine—that’s the engine on the left if one is facing the nose of the aircraft—began coughing, a series of sounds indicating a problem with fuel intake or ignition problems. The coughs were infrequent and minor at first, but soon  became more frequent and longer in duration. I was privileged to be seated at the window closest to that engine, and each time it coughed the propellers would stop, only for a tiny instant at first, but the stop  was clearly visible.

Our loadmaster told us that a mayday message had been sent to DaNang and that a Navy PBY, an aircraft with the ability to land on water as well as land, had been dispatched to meet us in the event that our aircraft had to be ditched in the ocean. The loadmaster began moving all our luggage and our Hong Kong goodies to the cargo door. I asked him why, and he said our load had to be lightened to help the Gooney Bird remain aloft in case we were reduced to only one engine. I protested—mildly, of course—and was told something to the effect that the load had to be lightened, one way or another, and that it was either my new reel-to-reel tape recorder or me. Naturally I chose to remain on board and sacrifice the recorder.

However—and that’s a really important however—I, my tape recorder, the passengers, the crew and the aircraft landed safely at DaNang. The ailing engine stopped completely several times–all three prop blades became clearly visible for a few seconds—but the engine recovered enough each time to contribute to the other engine’s efforts.

Following the loadmaster’s explanation of our current situation and his description of possible changes to that situation, the passenger section became eerily silent, with each of us enveloped in our own thoughts. I venture that my thoughts were identical to the thoughts of others.

Yep, I prayed. I prayed to my god and to the gods of others, regardless of the nature of their gods. I prayed that the engine would recover, that the PBY would arrive soon, that ditching would not be necessary, and that we would land safely in South Vietnam. If their prayers were anything like mine, then they made promises they knew the would not—or possibly could not—keep.

I have no doubt that our combined prayers were answered, all except my prayer that the engine would recover—it was still coughing mightily when we landed at DaNang. The PBY soon arrived—its pilot made a 180 degree turn and placed his aircraft near our starboard wingtip—a position taken in order to observe the ailing engine—and escorted us to a safe landing. Made all the gods bless PBYs and their pilots!

A quick aside at this point, just in case a viewer is unsure of the difference between left and right in nautical terms—port is left, starboard is right. Running lights on vessels are red and green—red is for left side, green is for right side. Here’s a memory aid that may help one remember which is which—memory aids seem to be items for which I have an ever-increasing need as I advance in years!

Just remember that port, left and red are short words with fewer letters than starboard, right and green, so port and red are on the left side—starboard and green are on the right side.

Got it?

Below is an image of today’s Da Nang—it did not look like that when I was there!

Speaking of inflight aircraft malfunctions, Brother Dave Gardner (1926-1983), an old-time stand-up comic, created a skit to use in his comedy routines, a skit dealing with an inflight emergency on a commercial flight in the United States. An engine caught fire inflight, and a little old man seated near the burning engine prayed long and loudly for his god to rectify the situation, saying “Please get me on the ground safely and I’ll give half of everything I own to the church.”

The fire was instantly extinguished and the plane landed safely.

When the little old man deplaned he was met by his minister and the minister said, “Brother, I heard what you said up there! I heard you tell God that if he got you on the ground safely you would give half of everything you own to the church, and I know you’re going to start right now!”

The little man said, “Nope, I made a better deal—I just now told God that if I ever get back on another one of those things, I’ll give Him everything I own!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

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Vietnam vacation, circa 1969 . . .

In the spring of 1969 I began an extended vacation in South-East Asia in Vietnam, one of the most beautiful countries on our planet, courtesy of the United States military with all expenses paid. My trip over was on a commercial airliner, with a brief stop on Guam. That stop was probably meant to prepare us for the sweltering heat we would soon be enjoying at Tan San Knut air base on the outskirts of Saigon, Vietnam’s capital city, renamed as Ho Chi Minh City when Saigon and the rest of South Vietnam fell to the communist forces of North Vietnam.

My visit at Tan San Knut was all too brief, but it lasted long enough for me to enjoy the last three months of the southern monsoon. According to our briefings, Vietnam has two distinct monsoon periods, six months in the south and six months in the north, cleverly labeled, respectively, the southern monsoon and the northern monsoon, with one beginning when the other stops. When I was transferred to Da Nang air base in the north, very much against my will, I was privileged to enjoy all six months of the northern monsoon, for a total of nine months of rain while in the country.

Monsoon, by definition, is a seasonal prevailing wind that lasts for several months. A monsoon typically includes the monsoon rainfall, a period during which a region receives the majority of its rain. On my vacation I was granted the opportunity to be drenched almost daily over a 9-month period.

I was wet every day that I spent in Vietnam, one way or the other, either drenched by rain or soaked with perspiration—one is supposed to be cooled by the evaporation of sweat, but in that climate perspiration could not evaporate because the air was already full of moisture. Shoes, boots, wallets and anything else made of leather, if left in an enclosed space for any length of time, would come alive with a solid coat of mould, looking like something in a Japanese movie on late-night television, more realistic, of course. By eight o’clock in the morning my undershirt was soaked with sweat and clinging to my body like glue—I learned to not wear an undershirt, and I continue undershirt-less to this day. I also learned to wrap my wallet in plastic to keep them from imitating Japanese horror monsters.

My vacation tour of Vietnam was scheduled to last only 12 months—the thirteenth month was the result of a death in my family. I was allowed a 30-day respite from my vacation activities, but was allowed to complete my original commitment by staying an extra month on my return to Vietnam. The purpose of the thirteenth month was to make up for the break in my vacation tour—incidentally, the U. S. Air Force generously debited the 30 days from my accumulated leave time.

What a gift!

I have much more to tell about my tour of duty in Vietnam, but for this posting I’ll cover little more than the emergency 30-day leave—how it came about, and how and why and by whom it was initially denied but later authorized. I’ll try to be brief, and then return later with more details of my vacation.

Early one morning I was summoned to the office of the Red Cross representative at Da Nang to be informed of the contents of a telegram received from his counterpart in my home town. The telegram stated that my stepfather had died peacefully in his sleep, and that “… the mother is doing well and requests that the service member not return home.” That request not withstanding, I took the telegram to my Personnel Officer and requested a 30-day emergency leave in order to be with my mother to console her in her time of grief. I told him my late stepfather had held that title for 28 of my 37 years, except for a brief period during a divorce from my mother, a divorce that was soon followed by remarriage to my mother. I told the Personnel Officer that I felt that I owed my stepfather a return home because he was the only father I ever knew.

The truth of the matter? I desperately yearned to leave beautiful Vietnam, if only for a brief period, and 30 days of emergency leave was authorized in such circumstances as the death of my stepfather.

The Personnel Officer, a major, denied my request because the telegram stated quite clearly that my mother did not want me to return. My initial reaction was anger, but I calmly—well, sorta calmly—said to the major, “Sir, if my mother had requested my presence and I did not want to return, would you have ordered me to go?” He responded to my question  with these exact words, uttered with strength, volume and passion:

“Sergeant, that’s insubordination!”

I considered that for a long moment and then said, “Thank you, major.” I saluted, did an about-face, left his office and the building and hotfooted it to the Non-commissioned Officer’s Club, an organization that I was a member of and a very frequent visitor to, and I was also a part-time off-duty worker—I considered the Club Manager to be a good friend.

I briefly explained the situation to him and asked if he could get a call through to my wife in San Antonio. He immediately picked up the phone and established a connection with a U. S. Navy vessel anchored off-shore from China Beach. From that ship the call went to a satellite, from that satellite to the ground somewhere in Scandinavia, then up to another satellite and from that satellite down to my home phone in San Antonio, Texas, all in a matter of minutes.

My friend handed me the phone and I heard my wife’s perfectly clear “Hello,” as distinct as if she were in the room with us. I told her not to talk, just listen and do what I was going to tell her to do. I told her to call my mother in Mississippi and tell her to go to the local Red Cross immediately and tell them that she desperately needs her son home from Vietnam, that she is suffering mightily from her recent loss and wants her son to come home because she feels he will be able to assuage her anguish and grief—and tell her that time is of the essence!

I used several unrepeatable words and phrases to emphasize the importance of the call to my mother. I told my wife to tell my mother that if she failed to convince the Red Cross to authorize my absence from helping lose our war with North Vietnam, she would never, ever, see me again or hear from me again. This was not a threat—it was a solemn promise that I intended to keep. My wife said she understood and we terminated the call. This was no time for small talk—time was of the essence!

I felt no pride in what I was doing, nor do I feel pride in it now. It was necessary and needed to be done, similar to the ultimatum given to the defenders of the Alamo when surrounded by the Mexican army: They were told, “Surrender now, or we will give no quarter.” I wanted my mother to surrender and deliver, and to understand the consequences if she failed—I would give no quarter. There was no time for deliberation, reluctance or self-recrimination—I needed action, not excuses—time was of the essence!

Early the next morning I was again called to the office of the American Red Cross, and the local representative gave me another telegram and told me to take it to the Personnel Office. Always one to comply with a direct order, I hastened my return to the office of the Personnel Officer. I was again ushered into that worthy’s office, wherein I saluted smartly, placed the telegram on his desk, stepped back and remained at attention while he read the message, a message which consisted of the things my wife told my mother to say, but without the unrepeatable words and phrases.

The major, apparently speechless, said nothing. Not a word, at least not vocally, but his face spoke volumes. He stamped the telegram APPROVED, with almost enough force to make a dent in the desk. I retrieved the approval, said “Thank you, sir,” saluted smartly and smartly pivoted 180 degrees (an about face), and went to the Administration Section to process for my return to the land of the big PX and round door knobs.

I departed Da Nang the same day on a commercial airliner, stuffed mostly with military personnel who had completed their Vietnam vacations. At the exact moment the wheels broke ground, a concerted and prolonged cheer erupted from the throats of some 200 men—I didn’t expect it and it scared the hell out of me, but I managed to join the choir, albeit somewhat belatedly.

I returned to Da Nang 30 days later to complete my tour in Vietnam—I never saw the major again, something we both can appreciate.

That’s all for now. I’ll have to get back later with more details of my vacation in Vietnam. It was one of the most memorable times in my life, a life which has, to date encompassed beau coup memorable moments.

See there? Even the word “beau coup” brings back memories of Vietnam—France occupied and fought in that country for many years. They no doubt took many mementos home with them, but also left many mementos behind when they left Vietnam, including a substantial number of Vietnamese mothers with children fathered by French soldiers. The French efforts in Vietnam were, of course, a prelude to American soldiers leaving similar mementos, probably in even more substantial numbers, of Vietnamese mothers with children fathered by American soldiers.

The plight and the beauty of those children deserve a separate posting.

I’ll get back to you later with more details.

 

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