Short Timer Photo: SHORTer, 1967 Ch Chi
SHORTer, 1967
"No matter what I might lose, I'm way ahead in this game!"

by: Theodore T. Jagosz, Cpt Inf (USA)
XO of HHC, 1st Bn (Mech) 5th Infantry ("Bobcats")
© 2004


"No matter what I might lose, I'm way ahead in this game!"

It was the last week of my first tour in Vietnam and I was really getting short. A lot of things O-Club: L/R: Szaek, Vanneman & Jagosz. December 1968, Cu Chi Vietnam.were happening that week. I was still the XO of HHC, 1st Bn (Mech) 5th Infantry ("Bobcats"). I was due to get promoted to Captain on 16 January 1967. Once again, just as it been in the 101st Airborne (to 1/Lt), my promotion party would also be my going away party. The difference between the two is that the one being promoted has to foot the bill. My DEROS was set for 18 January and I still had a lot of stuff to do.

One of my duties as XO was to help administer, along with the Company First Sergeant and an elected enlisted representative, the Unit Fund. Now the Unit Fund was a piggy bank of sorts that was to be spent to enhance the morale of the troops. The funds were generated by the royalties from, I believe, the WW II movie "Stage Door Canteen". I believe the music was composed by Irving Berlin and he decided to donate his share of the profits to all the troops of every Armed Force both way back then and I hope, until now.

It doesn't sound like much, but for every soldier, sailor, marine, etc $.50 cents was deposited every month for everybody on the Company Morning Report. That  $.50 cents per man adds up after a while, especially in the early days when there was no Post Exchange (PX) and we didn't even have a mess hall. The money was to be spent for things that were not in the government supply pipe line such as a television for the day room (which we didn't have) and most frequently, enhancements for and to the company mess hall.

Usually we bought items like commercial condiments, such as Tabasco Sauce or decorative items to make the rather drab place a little more cheerful. This was a tricky fund to manage because the money was distributed by 25th Division Finance in cash. Actually, the "monies" were Military Payment Certificates (MPC) or "funny money". The largest denomination was $20.00 and the lowest was $.05 cents (no coinage). Before the establishment of the PX, most of these items had to be bought on the local economy. This meant converting the MPC into Vietnamese Piasters ("P") at the rate of 100 "P" to the dollar. In short, it was a lot of book work.

Photo: Tan Son Nhut Air Base Heliport
Photo: Tan Son Nhut Airbase Heliport, Vietnam 1968.So, during my last week in country, my Company CO, Cpt Jones informed me that Bank Of America had just opened a branch office in Saigon.  He directed me to go there and set up a checking account for the Unit Fund. A checking account would greatly simply our accounting for the fund. I got orders to get on the daily 25th Inf Div courier flight (via UH1D "Huey" helicopter) from Cu Chi to Saigon, a scant 20 mile distance.

Although I left very early in the morning I had no idea how long this company business would take me. So, once I arrived at the US Army heliport co-located with the RVN AF Base at Tan Son Nhut, I immediately went to the flight operations shack (literally a "shack" as depicted in the photo, it can be detected to the left front of the big open hanger). I reported to the flight operations NCO, a SSgt, E-6 and had him put me on the manifest for the last returning courier flight to Cu Chi. The sergeant duly informed me that I had to report to the shack at least 15 minutes before flight time. Otherwise, my seat would be given to a "stand by". Fair enough.

Now, if any of you have ever been to Saigon, you know it's not an easy town to get around in. Originally it was a city designed to accommodate one million folks. With the influx of all those refugees from the countryside, it had swelled to over three million souls. The traffic usually is close to grid lock. I was amazed that I found a taxi with a driver who knew exactly where he had to go and who didn't give me a newcomer's "grand tour". In fact he waited for me outside the bank while I conducted my business. I thought to myself, "I hope he doesn't keep the meter running. This could be a long ordeal". To my continuing amazement, I was in and out of there in about ten minutes. Things were going very well ... maybe too well. Once again the taxi driver got me back to Tan Son Nhut AB in what seemed record time.

Now I was two or three hours early for my return flight and I certainly didn't want to spend that amount of time in an un-airconditioned flight operations shack. So, I went to the Air Force Officers' Club, conveniently located right next to the tarmac of the Army helipad. I went in, ordered a beer, looked around and saw that the place was deserted except for the bar tender and the club manager. I didn't want to sit around all afternoon drinking beer and I soon tired of watching helicopters take off and land.

So, in desperation or maybe from inspiration from somewhere I looked at the slot machines, went to the club manager and bought a $2.00 roll of nickel "slugs" (again there was no real money in coinage and the machines didn't take MPC). This is something I had never done in life. I always considered the "one arm bandits" a fool's game. True, I once bought a dollar's worth of dime slugs at the 2nd Bde "O" club in Cu Chi and I lost those 10 dimes in about 30 seconds. So I had these forty nickel slugs and I figured they'd keep me amused for about two minutes. I was playing a classic machine: cherries, lemons, plums, oranges, and three bars representing the major jackpot, a whopping $7.50!

Photo: Bar girl.
Photo: Tan Son Nhut, Bar Girl. 1968.Did I ever get surprised! On the first pull I hit two cherries and the machine went ding, ding, ding and paid the minor pot. It didn't stop there. I hit three oranges, it paid off and I hit many minor pay offs to the point I figured I was playing with the "house" money. This went on for over two hours. Ding, ding, ding and rattle, rattle, rattle went the machine. I was almost out of the "house" money and my money when finally, I hit the three bars. The machine went ding, ding, ding but there was no "rattle". The machine was not equipped to pay out 150 nickel slugs. So, I got the attention of the club manager, he noted my big score and informed me that I would be paid off in MPC.

This was the time when things started to go a little screwy. To get my pay off the manager had to go to his office. He returned with a log book and a bunch of keys. I looked at my watch. It told me I had only 15 minutes to get to my report time. My, how time flies!

As the manager fumbled with this great big ring of keys, I informed him that I had to report for my flight in 15 minutes. He explained to me, "These things have to be done by the numbers".  Once he had the right key and opened the machine, he read the meter that recorded the number of plays. He consulted his log book and noted the current number of plays since the last pay off. Obviously the Air force couldn't afford to have a slot machine that lost money.  Sheesh! You would've thought I had just broken the Bank at Monte Carlo the way this guy was playing with his numbers. But I wasn't going to leave without my jackpot!

Then he directed me back to his office where I had to fill out this long form before getting my payoff. I was starting to sweat bullets. Time was a wasting. Finally, with my $7.50 grand prize in my sweaty fist, I dashed to the door, noting that I had only about 5 minutes before my report time.

There was no time to go all the way around the tarmac, so I kind of checked for traffic and dashed directly through the helipad to the operations shack. I reported directly to the operations NCO, who was standing outside the shack, clipboard in hand. He solemnly shook his head and said, "I'm sorry, sir, but you're too late. I gave your seat to a stand-by". The image of AWOL on my officer efficiency report flashed through my mind as I fumed, "Just a minute, Sergeant! My watch and the wall clock in your shack says I have at least two minutes before my report time and ..." Before I could go any further, the Sergeant started laughing and said, "Of course you are on time. True, I gave your seat to a stand-by but we had this unscheduled flight come in from Di An and it's continuing on to Cu Chi. To save time I put you and others on this other manifest so that I could board the stand-bys. It's just that you looked so funny dashing through all those helicopters, I thought I'd pull your leg a little".

I was too relieved to be angry at the Sergeant and I guess I did look ridiculous dodging all those helicopters. Now I was aboard this unscheduled flight, the pilot wound up the RPMs, pulled up on his collective and hovered about two feet off the ground. My original flight was taking off just before us. As you can see from the photo, all of the helicopters are facing toward the open hanger doors. So, as we were about to take off we could only see to our front. Then all of a sudden the pilot slammed down his collective and we made a bone-jarring landing on the tarmac.

To my front I saw a dozen or more soldiers running out of the hanger, most with fire extinguishers. We all sensed something terrible had just taken place. What happened was that just as my original flight was taking off an incoming helicopter was landing. Neither saw the other. The main rotor of the incoming Huey tore through the cabin of the outgoing one, killing instantly 7 of the passengers and or crew. The remainder were not expected to survive.

I have often pondered the significance of these events. Suppose I had gone too early to the helipad and taken my assigned seat. Normally stand-bys would be directed to the unscheduled flight rather than the scheduled one. We know there is a thing called God's Providence. But we also know that the "Big Six" in the sky although He could, does not usually interfere in the affairs of men, not directly anyway. To expect Him to do so, to directly intervene on one's behalf, is presumptive and insolent. If He did intervened too often we would be mere marionettes on a string, devoid of free will and restrained from doing either good things or bad things. God's Providence is a lot more subtle. It usually comes in the form of some kind of inspiration. Dodging bullet strikes on the ground one sometimes decides, "OK, maybe this is a good time to zig or maybe it's time to zag". I've never met anyone who could predict the good time for those kind of actions. It comes more as a feeling you get at the right time and you are not aware from where it comes. We can only guess.

Finally, when I look back on events, I become aware that many feel that all forms of gambling are sinful. Well, I would have them at least consider that maybe a slot machine just might have a place in the bigger scheme of things. As for me, I smile to myself and say, "No matter what I might lose, I'm way ahead in this game!" Logo
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