MUSHY'S MOOCHINGS: MEETING MS. FIGMO

Sunday, October 14, 2007

MEETING MS. FIGMO

March 12, 1966 was almost ending as the Pan Am pilot announced our steep approach to Tan Son Nhut Airbase just outside Saigon, South Vietnam. We had completed the last leg of the journey after a brief layover in Guam. The civilian “champagne flight” was held there due to an earlier Viet-Cong mortar and “sapper” attack on the large airbase. Laughter from the last round of drinks quickly ended as the engines throttled back and the flaps dropped and slowed the planes descent. What was it all about? We were fresh from the comforts of America, and most of all, the peace and security. We had no idea what to expect.

A shiver ran up my spine as uncertainty tightened its grip on me. Anxiety quickly turned to fear as the base came into view off the right wing. Black columns of smoke rose from burning JP4 jet-fuel tanks and a few aircraft along a flight line. This is war, and it ain’t a movie? This was real and I was about to step foot into it! This was the reality and the reality was that I had just begun a yearlong tour. This was only day one.

When you depart, go quickly to the wall of the terminal building, and stay close to it until safely inside,” the pilot announced, “Don’t let anyone take your baggage. Carry it yourself. These “comforting words” introduced us to Vietnam.

As we all looked out at the rising ground below, we all wished we could be children once more and just hold someone’s supporting hand - but no! We were America’s finest fighting men and we had to act our age and show none of the fear inside. We did pretty well at showing an age older than our years, but fear was staring back at us in every civilian face.

With the muggy air in my face and pilot’s words repeating themselves in my head, I headed for the terminal wall. No sooner than I had touched the tarmac, than a strange accented voice shouted above the noise of the flight line, “Carry you bag mista?” I felt a tug and looked down. A strangely dressed little dark skinned, dark haired, slant-eyed, boy was attempting to take my bag.

NO!” I shouted out of fear, and jerked the bag away. He looked puzzled at me for a short moment and then passed on by and repeated the words to the next troop. I kept hearing “no” as I hurried on for the sanctuary of the terminal.

The place was like an old Bogart movie, dimly light, very old, very dirty, and worst of all, very foreign. Even though most of the arriving troops were in civilian clothes, you could spot us a mile away, with our short haircuts and green, black, and blue duffel bags closely guarded by our sides. We out numbered the little locals running around shouting things we could not understand, in some ugly sounding language, but somehow they seemed to have the upper hand. I felt vulnerable. They stared right though you. Almost in hate, it seemed. Didn’t they know I didn’t want to be there...and not just the terminal - Vietnam!

That night I lay awake in my “transit hut” bunk listening to the sounds of Tan Son Nhut running. I could hear the jets, choppers, and planes taking off and landing, and voices that seemed to know their place in the distance. How do they know what to do? Who is running all this? When will someone tell me what to do? The anxiety prevailed for 3 days until my military flight left for Da Nang.

During one of these long nights an older troop, at least he looked older, it could have been from his experience and not his chronological age, came in from a night of reveling in celebration of his going home, and woke me from a light sleep. SHORT! SHORT! FIGMO! FIGMO, you poor sons-of-bitches!

Three of his rebel rousing confederates rather sloppily helped him into his bunk and left him to mumble himself off to sleep. I’m short by God...FIGMO...hmmmmmm...”, and soon he was out.

I awoke the next morning to the word “short” again. What’s this ‘short’ and ‘figmo’ crap we heard last night,” one of the new guys was asking the older troop? The obviously excited Airman looked up from the duffel bag he was packing and opened his locker.

Green weenies...meet Miss FIGMO!” Stuck to the door was a fairly well drawn naked woman. Ain’t she beautiful? ‘Course she’s more beautiful colored in than she is like this,” he said, handing out copies of the drawing. FIGMO means ‘fuck it, I got my orders’!

Miss FIGMO was sectioned off into 100 little numbered squares, with the last and smallest numbers ending up...well, you know where number 1 ended up. Each day, after you get down to 100 days left, you shade in a number and then you know how many days you got left in this hell-hole!” he explained. That’s gettin’ short, weenies! And I’m very short,” he said leaning over and coloring in numeral Uno. I’m goin’ home today fellows, so good luck, ‘cause I’M SHORT,” he bellowed!

Later as I sat alone on my bunk, I looked over the calendar and thought how nice it would be just to have 100 days left, but the harsh reality rushed over me that I had 264 left, before I could color my first square! My God, have mercy on me...there’s so many left!” I folded Miss FIGMO and put her in my bag, and forgot about her for almost 9 months. However, we would become very close one day from my daily visits to her alter.

18 comments:

pat houseworth said...

Stayed at a Tan Son Nhut Transit Hut on July 1, 1969, the day before I took a C130 to Nha Trang....little did I know I would be back 6 months later and finish my tour working Charlie Flight at TSN.....

Scott from Oregon said...

A couple of my buddies went back to Nam a few years ago to sort out old feelings.

They were surprised just how much fun they had, hanging around the beaches, drinking beer and chasing female tourist.

Debbie Does Nothing said...

Thanks for giving me a peak inside that world. Love the way you write.

Sarge Charlie said...

Miss FIGMO, I know her well. Us ground pounders also used SHORTY which was a helmet on a pair of boots.
That first landing at Ton Son Nhut is not one that you will forget, damn I thought he was going nose in.

My first assignment was Da Nang also, I was there for Tet-68. I had seen most of the country before I was done. FMIGO

Mushy said...

I understand the VSPA is sponsoring trips back, but I'm not sure I handle the experience. The wife and I went to Hawaii once and I had anxiety the whole way. It was like going back.

pat houseworth said...

Not sure I would want to go back, not that I have any "nighmares" about the place, but If I'm gonna spent that type cash....I can think of better places, although I am sure Nha Trang(from the video and phots I've seen) today is still a beautiful place, with tourists instead of GIs and VC running around.

BRUNO said...

You tell it with a helluva lot more "class" than I ever could! So just "keep-on-keepin'-on"!

Go back? Hell, no! I feel outta place just crossin' the state line, anymore! Besides, I didn't lose nothing there that I miss nowadays, that needs "picking-up". I try and forget it just a tiny-bit more, every day.

On second thought, I can think of over 58,000 reasons NOT to go "visit" again....

Buck Pennington said...

First time I've ever seen that particular FIGMO calendar...and I saw a LOT of 'em. Or maybe it's just another case of failing memory...

Great post, Mushy.

Mushy said...

To be honest, I don't know if mine looked liked this one or not...I was thinking mine was a little more revealing, with big boobs and all, but could not find one on line that rang any bells. I do not have the one I had then...but I sure wish I did.

There were almost as many varieties as their were branches of service and bases. However, they all had one thing in mind, making the time seem to march by, but in reality, by paying daily attention to time, it probably went by much slower.

Les Becker said...

Amazing. I can picture you keeping that "colouring page" safe until it was time to begin filling it in.

Hammer said...

Your experience sounds a lot like what my father told me about his first arrival. He said they were called FNGs until they had been there a couple months.

Great story telling Mushy!

~Fathairybastard~ said...

It must be that much more torture to be young and going through that, the way time drags for the young. Hell, now time flies by. A year is nothing.

You tell a great story man. It's funny, but I see guys like that kid in your story on base all the time, and sometimes I think to myself "There goes a future Mushy, maybe, with another 30 years down the road". It's an interesting feeling.

There was an Air Force guy walking through the building where I teach not long ago, in his dress blues. I saw him as I was walking to the drinking fountain and yelled out "Hey Air Force!" He looked up and grinned a huge grin. I'll always feel a huge thing for the Air Force, from growing up in it, so it's cool to see them now and then.

Anyway, you know I love to read this stuff. Thanks for bringing us along.

Shrink Wrapped Scream said...

My sixteen year old is off to Vietnam (and Cambodia) on Friday. It'll be a very sanitised version of the war he'll see, but I still think he should seeit. Have you ever gone back in peacetime?

Suldog said...

Mushy, I love the way you write this stuff up. You put the reader right there, feeling scared and confused right along with you.

This stuff should be in a book. Do you know of any books that tell the story of a regular guy in Vietnam, like your story? I find the whole thing both gripping and fascinating. Having missed the real draft by a year or two (had my draft card in '73) I wonder how I would have reacted in your circumstances, and it makes for great reading.

Buck Pennington said...

Came across this today over at Lex's place ...FIGMO charts. Did you know about the site, Mushy?

And if you aren't reading Lex...well...

Mushy said...

FHB - Thank you!

Carol - Like I said, nope, wouldn't ever go back...might hurt someone!

Sull - You sure make an old dog fell good. Thanks!

Yes Buck, I first went there but nothing looked familiar to me, so I found another one that seemed to ring a small bell somewhere in the back of my mind.

I don't guess Lex and I read each other - probably should fix that, huh?

David Sullivan said...

I can't imagine...my generation was and is so soft in some ways.

Spanky44 said...

USAFSS 6924th Scty Sqdn DaNang 8/67-8/68--Don't think I'd ever go back but I'm told by other ops fm my unit that their return recently was an amazing experience. No war, different attitude of locals. Many of the scars are invisible now (Nature's eraser). Even Hanoi was a huge revelation. I guess it helps to speak the language.