Readers' Submissions

Vietnam Two Baht



This isn’t really about war in an international sense. It is about my personal war. I wasn’t under the impression that VC were going to swim to Michigan and attack Beverly. I had planned to start a little brewery in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and make dark beer and hang out in the saunas in the snow with the Finns who lived up there. I had half a log cabin already built. I hunted my land as a child and knew every inch of the ten acres that fronted the straits of Mackinaw. In the winter time one sawed large blocks of ice and packed them in sawdust and put them in a large cellar dug in the ground behind the house. That took care of refrigeration in the summer. A big fireplace took care of the heat in the winter. Oil lamps provided light. A wood stove provided the cooking, kitchen and bathroom heat. When leaving for more than a day you put antifreeze in the toilet. Deer drank from the water only a few yards from my front porch. A couple of deer go a long way to providing meat for the winter. Vegetables and fruit were easy to grow and preserve even though the season was short. Wild blueberries were everywhere. Fish were jumping out of the water. I didn’t want much. I had seen the military industrial complex and my plans were to go back to college and become a shop teacher while I brewed my beer in my spare time.

Dad sold my land when I was in Vietnam. It saved him a few thousand dollars in taxes.

Beverly didn’t complain. She was traveling Europe buying clothes on my Army pay and conducting museum tours. She spoke six languages. And when she got back to the States she had an affair with one of the teenagers at the school where she taught.

When I got off the plane the airfield was under attack. There were booms and bangs and the stutter of automatic weapons fire. I was scared. There were a thousand of us huddled on a concrete floor in a holding building of some kind. No guns. No flak vests. Real green uniforms and real fresh boots.

They called my name out over a loudspeaker. At first I didn’t believe it was my name they were paging. This was war. I didn’t know anything about war. I had no special qualifications. Why would they be calling my name?

But it was unmistakable after hearing it a few times. They picked me up rather peeved I had made them wait and threw me on board what looked to be a black helicopter. It was night it may not have been black but it looked black.

I was riding in a helicopter during a war. I could see the war around me. It was everywhere. Red tracers like strings flowing from the ground up but they were actually going from the air to the ground.

There were explosions all around you could see the flashes but the turbine engine of the helicopter blocked out the sounds. They weren’t wearing seat belts in the helicopter. There were seat belts on the seats. The guys in the chopper were wearing some funny looking kind of flack vest. They called it chicken plate armor I think. They gave me a flak jacket. We were high. When over the base we went low quick. They were not messing around. I tried to talk but it was too loud. I must have looked funny in my baggy jungle fatigues. Tiger striped ones would have been better but they were plain olive green. Rip stop material though. It looked tough.

I realized shortly after we landed it was Long Binh. I knew it was a big base. But we got more dope from the Saigon addresses when we opened the envelopes at the military post office at Fort Knox. The guys who had been at Fort Knox a long time seemed to know which ones to open.

I remembered the medic fresh from Vietnam during basic training giving us a lecture on first aid. You could tell he was not excited to be there. The drill Sergeant kept pestering him to talk. Finally the Sarge said, “tell the troops what to do when you encounter a sucking chest wound.” He said, “roll him over and get his money and drugs and then cover the wound with plastic.” I think that’s what he said.

That was going through my mind. I didn’t have any money or drugs. A couple hundred greenbacks in my boots but that was all. The rest of the night was a blur. I slept in my flak jacket and a helmet. I smelled bad and hadn’t shaved. It was hot and I had mosquito netting over my bunk. There weren’t any mosquitoes at Long Binh. That place had more chemicals pumped into it than a Texas oil refinery town.

Then I found out why I was in Vietnam. Why my orders for the language school got delayed.

Because I could play bridge. That ruminated around in my brain for a while. I kept repeating it. I walked around with a dazed look on my face. For some unknown reason on my army file where they asked hobbies I had written playing bridge. Right then and there I realized how messed up the world was. I realized why Catch 22 was written. I knew at that moment I had killed myself by playing bridge. Beverly liked to play bridge. She was a masters player. I would bribe waiters to but cognac in my coffee at duplicate tournaments. That always upset Bev. I played a grand slam perfectly one night while dead drunk and fell out of my chair after the game.

I got shot once. It hurt but the slug had gone through half a helicopter before it hit my flak vest and I was OK. I got shot down 8 times. By that I mean we had to land in a place we were not planning on landing because of enemy action. We did not crash in a burst of flame or anything that exciting. Most of the time we were loosing hydraulic pressure. The most bullet holes I ever found in a aircraft I was in was 68. I never flew with that particular pilot again. I got poisoned twice. Very severe food poisoning it – was not fun at all. I got ringworm from my mamma san. Maybe I killed some people maybe I didn’t. Maybe I will write about it some time maybe I won’t. I didn’t fly because I had to fly. I flew because I got flight pay. I have not flown in a helicopter since I left Vietnam although I have had many opportunities to. I don’t think I ever will unless I have to.

I served one 12 month tour and extended for the remainder of my draft obligation because I did not like the stateside Army. I got blown up once because I passed out and did not wake up to go to the bunker during a rocket attack. I sustained minor injuries. I lost a percent of my hearing because we were not issued the flight helmets that prevented hearing loss or that night I passed out with my earphones on loud. I do not get any disability for that because after standing in line for 8 hours to claim it I got angry and left to have a beer. I never called a Vietnamese person a gook. I had a Vietnamese girlfriend. Obviously I have a Thai girlfriend and I had a Chinese/Japanese girlfriend in Taipei. I do not do any drugs now and never did in the States.

Every one reacted to Vietnam differently. I had a friend who shot his toe off. Another fragged his ass. One person I met, fragged a Lieutenant (I met him when he was in LBJ).

I found a shot up chopper seat and put it in my bar in Vietnam and anyone who wanted to tell a war story had to sit in that seat and wear an old shot up flight helmet that I had recovered from a crash site before he could tell the story. When he was telling the story the bar patrons would hum the theme from “Green Beret’s.” I am sorry if you don’t like my attitude about Vietnam. I was there and took my chances like everyone else. It was the luck of the draw. The truth be told the US Army killed and maimed more soldiers through accidents than any enemy. Disease, primarily social diseases during the American Civil war killed more soldiers than bullets. Truth is never pretty during war and seldom told. To all those nurses who flew to Nha Trang with the generals for a weekend in the sun and surf, “you soured me on round eyed women forever.” I hope you had fun. To my supply Sergeant who sold everything we were supposed to be issued, “F you.”

When I got to Thailand I began to see and hear a lot of people in bars talk about their experiences in Vietnam. I never called Vietnam, “The Nam.” Nor did I hear anyone else in Vietnam during 1968 and 1969 call it, “The Nam.” That is not to say no one did. But I never heard it. From the people I have met in drinking establishments in Thailand I would assume that every intelligence operative and assassin and in general, awesome fighting man, who ever lived is either retired or vacationing in Thailand. I don’t go to bars much any more.

I had a friend in Pattaya who was of Scots ancestry. He is one of the roughest men I have ever met. He cleans his teeth with Ajax cleanser. He is a very large man and moves very quickly especially for a large man. He had the meanest looking Thai woman I have ever seen. She looked like a she devil one would have nightmares about. She was the only other Thai woman besides Princess that I have met who could scare people with a glance. Like Princess her eyes turned red when she got angry. We were having a drink in a bar in New Pattaya Plaza one night both looking out for our women. He said I had the stone cold eyes of a killer and was convinced no matter what I told him that I was a very dangerous person. I told him I was a clerk in the Army. He said, “Aye, all the killers say that. Do you think they would tell people they were killers?”

I have heard people say they wouldn’t take a million dollars for a minute of their experiences during war. I’d take 20 baht for the whole two years and give you back 18 in change.