Tuesday, November 06, 2007


Staying sane in Vietnam was very hard because there was little to do. During the time I was stationed at Da Nang, the Air Force was restricted to base. I never got to go downtown and really experience Vietnam as a tourist. I spent a lot of my off time taking photos of aircraft along the flight line.

Occasionally, they allowed us to ride on our “confiscated” 6X6 down to China Beach for a day of R&R. We rattled along through Susie’s village and threw things off to the kids that ran along beside the little convoy. Once there, most of us passed out on the blazing white sand and later paid doubly for our boozing.

Once I got water blisters so bad that I could hardly walk, but since it was a courts-martial offense to damage “government property” I hid my agony under the bloused and rice starched fatigues and reported for work!

We also rode the “duce and a half” to the firing range, yes, we still practiced shooting even in a war zone! This truck actually belonged to the Army, but our crazy Lt. Col. (Phillips), dressed in fatigues, walked onto a C-141 that was off-loading the heavy truck for the Army. Phillips began yelling “It took long enough for ‘my truck’ to get here,” and intimidated the Load Master into signing the truck over to him. No one ever noticed the subtle differences between an Air Force and Army officers uniform!

The vehicle was brought back to the Security Police* Compound, painted Air Force blue, and given a fictitious serial number, which was painted in yellow on both sides of the truck. It was ours from that moment on!

*Incidentally, I have never explained that the Air Police officially became the Security Police in 1966. It was about that time that we changed from the .45 to the .38 sidearm, which was a mistake!

As frequently as possible, we had a party! We got steak or hamburger from our contacts at the mess hall, beer from Marine beer dump, which we conveniently guarded within our bomb dump, ice from the mess hall or NCO club, if either had it, and we got the liquor ration cards from all the non-drinking NCOs!

The party was on…everyone showered and shaved (just made you feel better), and planned to be up all night eating, drinking, and playing cards! These parties provided the few departures from reality available. I thank God that the VC never attacked the base during one of these parties. We would have been useless!

Card playing was about as far out there as you could get from reality. Your belly was full, your mind was numb from beer and/or whiskey, and your concentration was solely devoted to winning the next hand. There was no room for thoughts of where you were or about home.

There was one troop in our outfit (you can see the back of his head in the next two photos) that was on his third tour in Vietnam. He was a professional card player, of sorts, and for the first few nights after payday, he would pay people to stand his post while he remained in the dayroom playing cards. It was told that he sent several hundred dollars a month home.

It just so happen that ol’ Mushy once sat in on a game where he dominated play. However, ol’ Mushy had a secret weapon – alcohol! With my mind numbed, I could put on the best “poker face” ever to stare back across a table. Somehow, I bluffed him and won a $300 pot! To this day, I do not remember the sequence of events, but I have never come close to duplicating that feat again! Oh, and that guy never liked me anymore after that, probably because I raked in my winnings and went to my bunk. He never got the chance to win it back!

Then, of course, there was the Army’s NCO club. From the outside, the club looked like a command bunker, the roof stacked high with sandbags and everything painted a dark brown, but inside, it was as nice as any sports bar I have ever been in since. There were all sorts of brightly colored flashing lights, pin-ball and poker machines, pretty little Vietnamese girls parading around in American style dresses and short-shorts, and a stocked bar from hell! Everything a GI could possibly imagine or ever wanted to try.

I do not remember how I got invited to the Army’s NCO Club, but there I was and I was celebrating with someone (his face is blurry now) who was “short” and buying drinks for his friends. I suppose I was one of those – who knows!

I remember starting the day off in the dayroom sucking down a few cool, cooler than air temperature, brews, and then going across the base to the club. By then I barely weighed 150 pounds soaking wet, having become too paranoid to eat the grub from the chow hall, because the Vietnamese that worked there might poison it!

I am sure my tolerance was reduced by my weight loss, but that did not stop me. On top of the beer, I had at least 3 bourbon and Cokes, then someone popped a bottle of champagne and gave me a couple of glasses. Someone else got the bright idea to introduce me to Scotch – red label Johnnie Walker no less! Probably the worst Scotch I have ever tasted.

Sometime later, I remember hanging over a roll of concertina wire and praying, “Please God just let me die!” I do not know who poked my stomach back down my throat, but I do know they had been rough in doing so.

The last thing I remember is that two guys lowered me somewhat and pitched me into the lower bunk I called home. Keller, my cubicle mate, looked down from the top bunk, shook his head and went back to sleep.

The next morning I woke to Keller banging the side of the metal wall locker, shocking me awake, but not yet sober! I crawled out of my bunk through the bunk area behind our bunks, which was the opposite way I was supposed to go. I stood there looking for my wall locker until one of the aggravated guys took me by the arm and led me around to my cubicle!

Somehow, I managed to get dressed and make it to Guard Mount, where we reported for duty, got our post assignments, our weapons, and were inspected before being transported to our post.

Every time I took a drink of water that day the world began to spin again. It was horrible! Not only was it hot and humid, but I was sweating out the alcohol from the night before through rice starched fatigues. Huge salt and/or rice starch rings formed under my arms, around my neck, down my chest and back. However, I survived to fight another day!

Luckily for me, Boyce was on the Area Patrol that day and the team kept coming by filling my water bottle and offering salt tablets. Had it not been for that, I might have passed out on post and either died, or been court marshaled, or worse! Until long after the sun had gone down that evening, I was still wishing I had died hanging in the concertina wire.


BRUNO said...

It always helps to have someone to "watch your back" when recovering from this type of wartime hazard!!!

I wonder what mental giant thought a .38, six-shot REVOLVER would be superior to a nine-shot, .45 AUTO???

Government mentality, at it's best, huh?

Lin said...

Aw, Mushy, you almost had me doubled over laughing as I was reading about your youthful boozing misadventures. That sort of mischief would probably kill us these many years later.
Good for you - you at least knew when to fold on the card game, if not the booze.

Hammer said...

that story reminds me of some terrible mixing I did in my younger days. Blarg I can almost taste it :)

I know exactly what you mean about the booze and poker face. I won a bunch of money in Vegas that way one time. It got the whole table wanting to kill me.

David Sullivan said...

Sounds like when I had alcohol poisoning. Ahhg...flashbacks....I can't drink Vodka anymore..Ahhg!

Suldog said...


I'm serious, man. All of this stuff should be between covers and earning you a serious buck. I wish I knew something about publishing. I'd sign you up quick, fast, and in a hurry.

Jose said...

Sounds to me those escapades were needed to coumoflge the harsh reality of war. I am just happy you made it back in one piece and now are able to tell us these intersting stories and tidbits of your life.

pat houseworth said...

Lucky for me, Nha Trang and Tan Son Nhut(Saigon) we could go off far as toilet hugging/driving the bus drunk, I had a couple of spells at Dover AFB, so learned my lesson, and stay with beer only until I got back to stateside duty(Griffiss NY).... At TSN my buddy Aceavado did get "mickeys" slipped to us one time at a Saigon Bar and Cat House....we woke up broke(robbed) except for the $5 MPC I had in my breast pocket....just enough for a taxi ride back to base....Damn, tose were the "good old days"!

Buck Pennington said...

...from all the non-drinking NCOs!

Isn't that a world-class oxymoron? Just kiddin'...I knew a few. VERY few, but a few.

SN1 tells me (and I can pretty well validate it from my occasional visits out to Cannon's "Consolidated" O/NCO Club) that the non-drinkers are in the majority now.

"Not your father's Air Force," indeed. I'm glad I was in WHEN I was in, and not now. I just wouldn't be a good fit.

Another good tale, Mushy.

~Fathairybastard~ said...

Man, the last time I played poker I pissed everyone off by winning back the money I'd lost and then calling it quits. Figured from then on if I was gonna piss my money away I'd do it in a way that pleased me rather than someone else, at my expence.

I've told you about my one shit faced, puking my guts out experience. I guess we all have to do it at least once.

Great post man. Love to be able to sit back and watch you grow up.

Chuck said...

Sounds like any Mon-Sat 'round my crib! lol

It is funny to read about these less responsible times you had in Nam.

Curious....did you get all the film developed there or did you have to wait till you got home?

Shrink Wrapped Scream said...

It's wonderful you still have so many great photographs as a record of your time over there, although of course, these shots were all taken out of the pressure zone that must have surrounded you and your buddies there most of the time.

Yes, I can recall a couple of mornings after in my dim, distant youth where death almost seemed a merciful release compared to the hang-over that I woke up with. I think death would be certain if I ever tried repeating that now!

I love the way you write, and I love reading what you write. I think more people would love it too, were you to put this in to a book.

Mushy said... was developed there.

Carol...thanks for the support.

GUYK said...

I spent many an hour in those poker games..did pretty good most of the time but then my Dad had taught me the game when I was young and I could..and still can..usually spot a card mechanic and the military had a bunch of them...lost a E-5 stripe before I ever sewed iit on over a damn card mechanic cheating me in a GI black Jack game..he just shouldn't have busted me with the same king that he busted the gut next to me with..I wasn't that I busted him

Mushy said...

Guy...Can't blame you there...I only had one fight in the service and it was in 'Nam over nothing.