Ban Mê Thuột East Air Field and Camp Coryell
by: Joe “Bozo” Urban
© 2005

Tales from Ban Me Thuot #1: Ban Me Thuot, RVN, Home of Pyramid

The Nickname “BOZO

One day I decided to try to repair an old hot water heater. It was hidden away in a dark utility hallway outside our room on the lower level of the Darlac Hotel in BMT. To my knowledge no one had hot water for showers (sometimes we didn’t even have water and rationing was implemented). I saw that the electrical wiring was disconnected and checked to find that the heater element was shorted.

The next day at the site I removed the heater elements from the bottom of the battery boxes on our generator (these heaters were probably used to keep the batteries warm at sites in Thule, Greenland). I bent one of the elements into a tight “U” shape and hand soldered it into the plug that held the old shorted element. This was all done by hand, using “brute force and ignorance.”  My cohorts in this, roomies: Frenchy Bourgon and Don Haap, were going along with this project – reluctantly, though. I think this was the start of the nickname “Bozo.”

A sizeable crowd (5 or 6 jeering friends) of well wishers gathered inside that dark utility hallway at the Darlac. We reinstalled the plug with the heater element and I reattached the electrical wires, turned on the water flow and threw the switch to “on.”  We stood back and waited; after about 20 seconds there was a loud pop, a burst of flame and a blown fuse. This was accompanied by a simultaneous, quick evacuation of the area. After the smoke cleared and taking a lot of abuse from the crowd, I think I remember the name “Bozo” and “A--Hole” directed toward me. I decided the plan would still work if only I could get the heater elements bent without destroying the ceramic insulation inside the elements, preventing a shortage.  

This was where a fellow named Pat Villano came in.  Pat was a goodhearted but very gruff talking New Yorker who was the site maintenance man, carpenter, repairman, jack of all trades.

The next day at the site I went over to Pat’s shop and showed him the stick drawing of an element I wanted him to bend on one of his pipe benders. He growled, asked me what it was for. I told him the plan and he lit into me with a five minute cussword filled lecture about all the work he had to do and he didn’t have time to screw around with some stupid project. Then he looked at me sympathetically and snatched the element from my hand, telling me to come back later. I left his shop sheepishly and quickly.

I never did go back to see Pat during that day. When the crew truck came to take the team back to the hotel that night, Pat was the last one to board. He looked at me growled and handed me the element all bent and he even soldered it into the plug. Then he laughed and said he hoped it worked.

To make this long story short, the following night, there was a knock on our screen door at the Darlac.  It was Pat Villano with nothing but a towel wrapped around him, in shower clogs, with a shaving bag in one hand, a toothbrush in his mouth, and a mixed drink in his other hand. There was a big smile on his face; he heard we had hot water, could he take a shower PLEASE!?  For the next few days there were quite a few knocks on our door, guys begging for a hot shower -- a luxury at Pyramid.  The “Bozo” name stuck with me from that time on and I wear it proudly.


Joe [not-so] “Bozo” Urban,
Pyramid 66-67