18 March 2010

MPC (Military Payment Certificates)

With my return to An Hoa after our little visit to the Arizona, I figured that my service in the field was probably done for my tour. Not so fast there, bucko!

A couple of days after the battalion headed for the area southeast of Phu Loc (6), I was called to the XO’s office. Along with several officers, I was informed that starting the next morning, the US Forces in Vietnam would be recovering all currently issued Military Payment Certificates (“MPC”), the scrip we used for money, and issuing a new version. We were the exchange officers.

Starting shortly after the United States entered the war in 1965, a huge black market had developed, with the intent of getting access to US currency. Neither North nor South Vietnam had a recognized hard currency for foreign trade and dollars were in real demand. To shortstop the black market and to control access to US currency, as soon as a soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine arrived in Vietnam, he would exchange any US currency in his possession for scrip. When I arrived in An Hoa in December 1968, I had about $60 US. By June 1969, I still had about $20 of the scrip I received in December.

Issued in denominations of $.05, $.10, $.25, $1.00, $5.00, and $10.00, the bills were about half the size of regular US bills and were printed in any color except green. The version in use when I arrived had scenes from US history and were printed in blue, brown, red, and purple, depending on the denomination.

There was an apocryphal story that when it was first announced that scrip would replace greenbacks back in 1965, one enterprising soldier stationed in Saigon raided his unit’s rec room, removed all the bills from the Monopoly game, and went on a shopping spree. I hope it is true!

The next morning, all entrances to the base were closed. Authorized contractors, such as the mama-sans who ran the laundry and the papa-sans in the barber shop had been told to leave their cash with the disbursing officer when they left the night before. There were dozens of Vietnamese standing outside the gate trying to get the sentries to convert their illegally obtained MPCs. With officers observing each gate, they were pretty much out of luck.

I reported to the Disbursing bunker to obtain a payroll for Alpha Company, a stack of mimeographed receipts, a package of carbon paper, and a waterproof ammunition box to store the cash. I then headed down to the LZ and caught the first bird to Alpha Company.

Upon my arrival, the company reported to me by squads. For each man, I took his MPC, we counted it together, and I gave him my personal receipt for the agreed upon amount, keeping my carbon for the record. By 1300, I was done, but I had to wait until the next morning to get back to An Hoa. As soon as I got there, I returned to Disbursing where I counted and turned in the old MPC and my receipts, obtaining a receipt from the Disbursing Officer.

The next morning, I reported back to disbursing. There I counted out the new MPC (same size, color and denominations, but all of the pictures were from the manned space program), took custody of the cash and the carbons of my receipts, delivering the DO’s receipt to him, and headed back out. In the bush, I then “bought back” my receipts from the troops. The Disbursing clerks had spent all night paying out cash for each individual receipt, and we were cautioned not to “make change” for anyone.

Everything went well, except that two Marines had been medevac-ed during the night. I spent another night in the bush and had the opportunity to experience a couple of artillery short rounds that landed less than 100 meters outside the lines. As Father O'Brien said, "Friendly fire ain't!"

When I got back to An Hoa the next morning, the battalion appointed one officer to take the cash for wounded Marines from all 5 companies and go to Danang to pay them. I passed on that opportunity.

And yes, I followed the same procedure for myself. Of course, following the practice of pay officers back in those days of cash pay days, I had paid myself last in case there was a shortage. How it happened, I don’t know, but I made a profit.

I was a nickel ahead when all was done.

© 2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

BigEfromLC said...

Mac,

Good to see you posting so much. Really enjoy your blog.

I was in II Corps when the MPC switchover took place. Sure seemed to me that the big players in the blackmarket knew about the switch way ahead of time. Some of them still got hurt but some weathered in just fine, thank you very much!