Observations From a Returning G.I. Who Was in Thailand During The War
I wanted to give some perspective from 40 plus years ago if your curious.
I was stationed at U-Tapao and Korat in the 70's. I was married to a Thai, learned a bit of the language and returned there last February after attending my youngest son's wedding in Vietnam. (He met her in Minneapolis but her mother was still there and she wanted to have the wedding with her extended family.)
I remembered there was a VFW Club in Pattaya and wanted to see if it was still around, plus see my old base at U-Tapao, when Gen. Kittakachorn was running things. I was really shocked how much Pattaya had grown, plus all the Russians! There were almost as many as I saw at the beach in Vietnam. Gee, you'd think they won the war!
We visited my son's high school friend teaching English in Saigon, where he'd married a local. His father-in-law, a high ranking Vietnamese officer, was there in uniform. We looked at each other, but didn't say anything.
Anyway, the VFW is still there in Pattaya, calls itself the Hog's Breath Inn, and still many retired G.I.s. They didn't seem to be as interested as I was in telling old war stories, probably because they've heard them all from each other before, but more about things like getting health care coverage.
I was also curious to see two ex-pats in uniforms helping the Pattaya cops in policing the young Western drunks. One was from Holland, the other a retired cop from my home state of Texas. They smiled when I said the place looked like a real Sodom and Gomorrah. Went to U-Tapao. The place looked really different on and off base back then. It was all for more rural. There was a little of cluster of bars called Newland about three miles south of the main gate. Bob Hope joked about it when he came there for a U.S.O. tour during Linebacker, the Christmas Hanoi bombing in Dec. '72. The base had been hit by a Vietnamese sapper attack five months before I got there, and I remember my Thai girlfriend telling me of a rumor that the head of a pilot in a bomber that had crashed right before the runway was missing and that there was a reward for it. She also said she heard some foreigners around there speaking Vietnamese. Well, I got on base using my retired Air Force ID.
I remembered a restaurant on base down on the water where we'd see the B-52s take off in flights of three to bomb Vietnam. There was a restaurant there at the same place, surrounded by new trees, which had named itself the EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) restaurant. It had a couple 500 lb bomb casings out front. I talked to the cook, who said he helped build the base in the 60's.
Back in Bangkok, I also wanted to see my church's LCMS mission off Chaeng Wattana Road. It was a small, but dedicated group, using English instructions to spread the Good News. The preacher said he's challenged by the Thai Buddhist mindset, which he said was really more Hindu than Buddhist that tells people if your down and out, it's because you deserve it because you did something really bad in a past life. Had some trouble driving around there because of the demonstrations there, but not much.
It seems like Thailand is trying to distance itself from just being a place for pathetic old European pensioners trying to get one more hedonistic thrill before it's too late, which is what I saw in Pattaya. It seems to be having some success. I was surprised with all the high rises, the modern malls and the Triumph motorcycle factory on the way to Pattaya. Impressed to see Harley Davidson selling bikes there. There was an ad in the Bangkok Post for the model of Harley I own. Also met some bikers trying to look like American Hell's Angels. They were actually from Sweden. Bangkok, in general, is not nearly as gritty, dirty, and smelly as I remembered. It used to be there were so many two-strokes motor scooters there crowding the stoplights, that you couldn't see a damn thing for 30 seconds when the light changed for all the white smoke.