11 March 2010

R and R (Part 1)

This is a continuation of my Vietnam memoir...

During the Vietnam War, there was a policy that each service member in Country should receive a five-day rest and recreation period in one of several locations. Troops were allowed to select their desired destination which could include Bangkok, Thailand; Sydney, Australia; Taipei, Taiwan; Tokyo, Japan; Kuala Lampur, Maylasia; and Honolulu, Hawaii. Hawaii was a popular locale for married Marines, and for many whose fianc├ęs or girl friends could come to Honolulu. It was strictly forbidden for individuals to travel beyond Hawaii, i.e., to the continental United States, but some adventurous souls did so.

As I was engaged, I asked to take my R and R in Hawaii.

Getting ready was an adventure in itself.I had to go to Disbursing to draw greenbacks for the trip. (We used scrip in country.) I then retrieved my seabag and the one summer service uniform I had brought in country. I now had four ribbons instead of the single National Defense Service Medal I had worn in country. Civvies would be my first purchase in Hawaii.

The morning before my scheduled flight, I went to the LZ in An Hoa and flew up to Danang. I spent the night at the R and R Center at Danang AFB, where I could get a haircut, shower, press out my uniform, shine my leather and brass, and generally make myself presentable for the inspection that would precede our trip.

Our flight was scheduled to depart at about 1600. A Marine Colonel was the senior officer on the trip. Our flight filled every seat (6 abreast) on a Pan Am DC-8. There were representatives of all 5 services; I ended up sitting between an Air Force lieutenant colonel F-4 pilot and his Lieutenant back-seater. As we left Danang, two F-4s from their squadron “escorted” us out to sea.

Our trip to Anderson AFB, Guam (our re-fueling stop) was uneventful. We arrived at about 2300 and had about 90 minutes to visit the “duty free store” to purchase alcohol for our use in Hawaii. I had become an aficionado of Chivas Regal and purchased two fifths for $2.00 apiece. Those were the days, my friend…

We took off for Hawaii at 0030. We had just settled back for the last leg of the trip when the two pilots sat up, looked at each other, and said “What the (universal modifier) was that?” Damn!

A few minutes later, the Captain informed us that a widget had broken and that we were dumping fuel en route to Agana Naval Air Station, Guam, for repairs. We landed at about 0115.They made us de-plane and we waited.

At about 0300, the Pan Am Station Manager informed the officers that they had fixed the widget, but that they were removing another part from our plane to use on a passenger flight from Tokyo to Sydney. We were “not to worry” because Pan Am would have a replacement part in Guam later that day and we could then resume our flight. That we would lose a precious day of R and R mattered not! The Colonel was livid. He informed the Station Manager that we all had families waiting for us.

“Well, I don’t know what we can do,” replied that worthy rep of American aviation. “The flight from Tokyo was carrying passengers. We couldn’t very well delay them when we had an available part.” Oooooooops. Big mistake.

Very quietly, the Colonel asked “And just what the (universal modifier) are we, [anatomical reference to the sphincter muscle]?” Because the Colonel’s face was only an inch or two away from the Bozo’s face, he quickly realized that he had erred. He paled visibly.

“I’ll call Honolulu and tell them to inform the military authorities so they can alert your folks.”

“The hell you say. We’ll use your phone and call 'em ourselves.” Remember that this was 1969, when transpacific cable phone lines charged a dollar or more for each minute.

The Station Manager looked at the assembled officers, steely-eyed killers to a man, counted to about 30, and then discretion became the better part of his valor.“Fine. I’ll allow your officers a three minute call, each.”

“Go ahead, boys,” the Colonel said. They headed into the Station Manager’s office. “Lieutenant, come here,” he said, motioning to me. “Find me the two biggest Marines you can and send them over here. Then tell all the troops that Pan Am is giving away free phone calls until we leave. And they can talk as long as they want. (muttering) I’ll show you passengers, you sob.”

The next time I saw the Station Manager, flanked by two big Sergeants, he was sweating dollar signs!

The Navy bussed the officers to the Bachelor Officer’s Quarters for breakfast and a place to sleep. (The troops who were not waiting for the phone were marched to a nearby messhall.) We got to the BOQ at about 0450. As we entered and headed for the dining room, a Navy steward came out.

“Good morning, gentlemen.”

“Where’s the bar,” my Air force seatmate growled.

“Oh, Sir, the bar does not open until 1700 [12 hours away]. But I can seat you for breakfast.”

We picked up our bags and boxes of duty free booze and followed him. As we sat down, a mess man came over to take our orders.

“Gimme a glass and a bucket of ice,” said our worthy birdman. We all joined in the order and a lot of the duty free stuff disappeared quickly. Great breakfast!

At about 1300 we were finally on our plane and headed for Hawaii, 12 hours late.

© 2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

Reformed Catholic said...

Chivas at $2.00 a fifth .. and I thought I was getting a good deal in Greece at the Class VI on a half-gallon for $10 or 15 in 1977 !!