Bangkok, Thailand, R&R

Đà Nẵng. 2nd LAAM BN, USMC
by: Granderson Walton "Granny"
© 2009

Đà Nẵng. 2nd LAAM BN. I was the Motor Transport Chief, Gy. Sgt G. F. Walton, USMC. I worked countless long hours, as had most of us, but finally it was time for a little R&R. In August 1965, we heard they were starting an R&R program. My MTO said put me at the top of the list. Things had slacked off a little, and we had gotten a new SSgt Maintenance Chief in. Until then, all though we had a maintenance Sgt I was over seeing most of the work and the books. The new SSgt was the same one who had blown the whistle on me when I was at Montford Point. He had gone to CMC to cry because that he had orders to Korea for the second time, and mentioned my name as one who had never been to overseas--I got orders real soon after that. We were Sergeants then and that sent me on my first trip to Okinawa. I had no animosity toward the SSgt and have long ago let bygones be bygones. Nine years later we crossed paths again and I knew he was well qualified to do the job at hand.

Shortly after the new SSgt’s arrival, as one of the first replacements arriving, I packed my bag and start on my first experience with space-available flights. I had orders that gave me permission to travel on any Military air craft going my way. You had to speak kindly to the dispatcher, or the load master of the aircraft, if you wanted to catch a flight.

The terminal was a mile or so from our Compound and I had some contact with the motor pool but not the flight line. I wanted to go to Thailand but there seemed there were no flights set up for the R&R program. I quickly mapped out a flight plan knowing that if I could get to Saigon, I would have a better chance to get to Thailand.

No one knew anything about flights out of Saigon, but there was an Air Force A2C who wanted to go the same way, so I said to myself this is my ticket. I was wrong; he knew less about spaces available than I did. I took him under my wing so to speak.

Because of the unpopularity of US Troops, we had to travel in civilian clothes. Until you had to show your ID no one knew what your rank was. We finally got a flight to Saigon, in a C-130. It was not a smooth trip and had lots of scares to keep me from getting air sick.
In Saigon, the Air Force had already started flights for the new R&R program, flying out to different areas of the Far East. We looked at the Air Force schedule and there was a first flight to Hong Kong connecting with Bangkok. We booked on that flight. It was all ready getting late in the day, so we expected it would very late when we arrived in Bangkok, and we were right. It was almost midnight.  At the terminal was an old staff car that belonged to the Consulate General. His driver took us to a downtown hotel, put us out and said that we were on our own and if we had any trouble to call a number he handed us. He was gone into the night.

We turned in for the night. The rooms were nice and it was quite. I was up at the crack of dawn and ready to eat. The airman asked where I was going and I said to eat, and he followed. After breakfast we met two other service personnel in Bangkok for R&R. One was an Army medic and the other a Navy Nurse. The Nurse asked if she could hang out with us as she did not how she would be treated as a woman alone. We welcomed her.

To our surprise a young Thai walked up to us and asked if we would like some help in seeing the town. Although we were a little suspicious we took him up on the offer. As we got outside he said we would need a car to get around and hailed a car costing a carton of cigarettes who offered to drive us any where we wanted to go. That was a day’s fare. I think the Air Force man paid for the first day. We all thought that was cheap--about $3.00 in US currency.

Where do you want to go? We all said we would like to look at some Jewelry. How obliging he was as his family owned a Jewelry shop. We shopped there until noon but the owner would not let us buy anything. We thought they must have some thing up their sleeves. Our guide could speak very good English and knew more history of the USA than most of us. It was like playing a game with him, and he would bring up a subject and there were around in the car questions and answers.

After the driver drove us to lunch at a Thai restaurant, we started our tour. We first went to the Pyramid in the middle of town. He said you could see the entire city from the top so we climbed to the top. Going up was a little exhausting, but coming down was something else. First, the steps were less than eight inches wide and had a slight slant downward. I had noticed on the way up that my foot would not fit on the steps, but didn’t notice the slant until we started down. I felt like I was going to fall on my face with every step. Well we made it down and by that time we had to go back to the Hotel. Our guide said he would pick us up at 8:00 a.m. the next morning, and we said we would be ready. I asked if we could pay the cab driver with cash as we had gone to the bank and changed some money in to the local currency, and the driver said he would check.

The next morning the guide was there on time. He said the driver would like cash, but would rather have it in US dollars. So for three dollars a day we rode all over the country side. The first thing each morning we would go to the Jewelry store and look some more, but not buy. That day we rode way out in the countryside with the guide telling us about every sight, calling the names of all the Pagodas along the way. Then we came to a palace that had been the leader’s a long time ago. We went from room to room and he described every item. He also told us that very few tours get this far out in the countryside. I had noticed that we seemed to be the only foreigners. Then we came to a bedroom with all sorts of ornaments all around the room. On a wash stand was a washbasin and pitcher. I pointed to it and said I want one of those. The guide said, “Oh you cannot buy that--it belong to the emperor.” I said, “No, I want to buy one like that.” After lunch, and more out of the way places, we took the others back to the Hotel.

Then the guide and I went to what was known as Thieves’ Market. He said to watch myself very close as tourists did not come down there, and we had to be very careful. I put one hand in my pocket on my money and shooed flies with the other. We were in and out of stores for about an hour before it was about time to leave; the guide said that we shouldn’t be there after dark. Then I saw what I was looking for--setting on the dirt near the entrance of one of the stores. It was like the pitcher alone. I asked the guide to see if there were any matching pieces. They scrambled around and came up with five matching pieces. Then the guide, merchant, and I haggled back and forth, reached a noisy agreement, and I was out of there. Back at the Hotel the others though I had lost it with the package I brought back being as big as a bushel basket.

The fourth day we went to the Jewelry store and shopped and spent a lot of money. We all got what we had wanted from the other times we had gone out. I got a beautiful Blue Star sapphire Ring for my wife. Afterward, the owner exchanged all our Thai currency, back to US currency. And we paid for all our stuff with US currency. Then to top it off they took us to a Thai show, and out to a fancy Thai restaurant on an island, in the middle of a lake. We dined on the Thai food with lots of hot sauce to help it go down. Each of us had a server setting next to us and when our plate was empty of any one thing, more was put in its place. I was all most finished when I learned that the custom was to leave a little on the plate, especially if you did not like it, then your server would not put any more of that on the plate.

The others were drinking Thai beer, at about ten cents a glass, and I was drinking Coke at a dollar each. You needed something to wash some of that stuff down. With the night on the town over, we turned in for the night, knowing it would be a long day tomorrow trying to get back to Saigon, hopefully before dark. We were right, and there were some delays and when we didn’t get to Saigon until after dark. Once there, the Air Force man and I decided it would be best if we waited until daylight to try to get a flight back to Đà Nẵng AB. We spent the night in a rooming house and the noise was so bad I slept very little.

When we got to the Airport the next morning, it looked like we might not get out that day. There were so many Vietnamese getting on the planes to Đà Nẵng that it was unbelievable. Finally, the Airman’s name was called and he got on. I looked over the crowd, and I saw a Medic looking over the crowd to. I approached him and said I was a Gy Sgt USMC and I needed to get to Đà Nẵng. He said replied that I was the person he had been looking for, and to go with him as he had my ticket.

We went to the holding-area and I signed for a large cooler of blood. I then had a bushel basket size bundle under my arm, from R&R, and a cooler of blood in my hand. As I approached the flight line a guard stopped me and said that I couldn’t get on that flight. I showed him my pass which was the slip that said the blood cooler must get to Đà Nẵng ASAP. My two packages and I were hustled on the C-130.
At take-off, the sun was beginning to set, and that was not a good sign. It is no safer to fly at night than it is driving the roads in Vietnam, and we soon found that to be true. There were about eight or ten uniformed men on the flight and I am the only one in civilian clothes. There also were pallets of gear lined up in the middle of the aircraft, and we sat on canvas seats hanging from the over head. We flew over land as that was the shortest distance, but all of a sudden we took several rounds of small arms fire. You can call it small arms if you want, but they were actually .50 caliber rounds. We took a hard turn to the east and headed for the sea and flew the rest of the way over water—being a lot less apt to get shot at out over the water.

At Đà Nẵng I turned over the cooler of blood and looked for a ride across the airstrip back to the safety of 2nd LAAM BN compound. My tent was like coming home to your own bed.

I had the washbasin and pitcher souvenir and would have to pack it up so I can send it with my shipment back to the states when I go home. My wife, Jesslyn, had wanted a washbasin and pitcher but always thought we could use the money for something better. Once when we were coming across country, we stooped at an antique shop and saw a set in the window. Jesslyn said that was the ugliest one I have seen. Well the one I got for her was nearly like the one we saw. But I said she will be able to trade it for one of her liking. So I planned to pack it in my stuff and ship it as soon as I had orders.

When I returned to camp things were going so smooth, and I thought they could do without me just fine, and maybe I could get orders to go back early as some troops had. But no, that would not happen for me.

I was setting in my office, it was almost lunch time, and the troops were cleaning vehicles. They had one lifted up high enough, with a chain from the wrecker, so someone could bend down and use the steam cleaner to get to the lower part of the engine. I heard a sudden rattle of the chain and I knew what had happened--the chain had come loose and the truck had fallen to the ground! My thought was that I hoped no one was under it. Then I heard the scream and knew some one was under that truck. When I got there my Maintenance Chief laid between the axle and engine, and his lower body was under the axle on the ground. I sent one of the troops to get the corpsman, then got another chain and hooked it to the truck and with the wrecker slowly lifted the truck, by then the corpsman was there and he was treating the Maintenance Chief for shock. We loaded him in a 3/4 ton truck and headed to the nearest field hospital.

The SSgt was in bad shape and could not breathe easily with one lung collapsed, several broken ribs, a head injury, and later it was found he had a broken ankle. They needed to x-ray his chest to see how many ribs were broken but the generator was not putting out enough voltage. While they put a tube in his neck so he could breathe, I worked on the generator. I got it running fast enough to power the x-ray equipment. We then saw the x-rays as to how bad the Chief was--two ribs have punctured one of his lungs, and he needed to be air evacuated with a respirator.

They called for a med flight to land at Đà Nẵng AB and it took four hours for one to get here. In the meantime, I went back to camp and packed the Chief’s gear and took it to the field hospital. There was no chance he would come back this way.

I guessed they would need me after the accident report was completed, and instructed the wrecker driver how to set a chain so it would not come loose again. We never used the old method to clean trucks again. I was back to running the show again.

Gy Sgt GF Walton “Granny” USMC,
Retired CWO2, Aug 1970
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