A boy goes to war Part 2
Our company quarters and operations building was located on the far perimeter of Bien Hoa air base. We were on high ground about five miles from the main gate and runway. We shared this isolated area with Company B, 2d Battalion of the 101 Airborne division also known as the "Screaming Eagles."
On May 12, 1967 the day after we arrived, the airbase took 189 rocket rounds in a two hour attack late that evening. Two aircraft were destroyed and thirty-two damaged. Six men were killed in action and thirty-one were wounded. The reality of war washed over each of us like a bucket of ice water. Our minds immediately flooded with thoughts of never going home. The fact that we just got there and had a year to go hung over each of us like a dark cloud of dread.
We were a company of clerks and although armed and trained in basic combat we were “green” and we knew it. We took solace in knowing those Airborne soldiers were just across that dirt road next to us. Only about twenty percent of them were ever in camp at any one time but the enemy did not know that. The Screaming Eagles were combat hardened soldiers and feared by the Viet Cong.
Just outside the main gates was the town of Bien Hoa. I don’t know the population but it was a large town. It had everything a soldier could want.
Small boys hawked girls from the streets. They would pitch the soldiers as they walked from bar to bar.
“Hey GI go boom boom? Sucky fucky two bucky, number one virgin. She love you long time. She ready for you now, go see.”
Young girls sat on cots spread down the alleys between the bars and businesses. Sometimes they had a wire with a towel or rag over it giving a little privacy, often not. They shaved their crotches to make clean up easier between customers. They would sit or lay there reading comic books and chewing gum while they waited.
Bars sold San Miguel beer in glasses with local ice because it was only available warm. Beautiful women in the bars were dressed in gorgeous split skirt dresses and would hold a man’s leg or crotch while drinking “Saigon tea”, which was nothing more than sugar water at one dollar a glass. They were full of ‘empty promises’ as long as you were buying them this drink. After milking the GIs for all they could they would simply move on to another.
Motor bikes with covered seating for two acted like taxi cabs offering to transport people across the town. There were a number of outdoor markets that sold anything and everything. Marijuana and opium were readily available for those that had money. Bien Hoa even had a ‘club’ with a steam room, sauna, and swimming pool which also included a complete massage with two girls for $15.00. You could stay there for hours if you wanted.
From 1946 to 1954 the French fought in Vietnam and as a result a number of Vietnamese could speak some French. In 1965 regular U.S. troops began arriving in Vietnam and they soon learned some English as well.
I completed three years of high school French and made an effort to learn some Vietnamese soon after arriving. Between French and English and some Vietnamese I was able to talk with the mama-sans (A slang term for the older Vietnamese ladies that worked on the bases). As I talked with them I formed bonds with a few.
Over time I began to realize the effects that war and the influx of American soldiers were having on their lifestyle. Their economy was in shambles. Their orphanages were overflowing. There were very few men between the ages of 14 and 50 to be seen anywhere. Pride seemed to have been lost by most as they did whatever they could to survive. My heart broke from the war orphans virtually abandoned in Bien Hoa.
I wrote my mother a letter and asked her if she could enclose some used clothes in my next ‘care package’ so I could take them to the local orphanage. My mom shared my letter with the Buffalo News.
I elicited help from an officer in my company to have the clothes delivered to the orphanage as they were received. Other guys from my company started asking for clothes too and we brought quite a few to the orphanage.The gesture of good will was appreciated by many of the locals.
I will add part 3 in my next post....
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