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March 16, 1969 --
[ Following an unauthorized overnight trip to Saigon by J---. B--- and me, during which J--- bought a large painting by an unknown--and probably still unknown--Vietnamese artist.]
In the morning we decided to catch a taxi back to Long Binh since J--- didn't want anything to happen to his painting and didn't trust trying to hitch hike with it. At first we tried to crowd into one of the little blue and white Renault cabs, but it was impossible to get the three of us plus the painting into it, so we had to wait around until we saw one of the old black Citroen "black mariahs" and J--- and I scrunched up in the back seat with the painting, getting charley horses from trying to keep from punching holes in it, while B--- got to stretch out and relax in front. The trip back cost us eight dollars, finally, after we talked papasan down from 1000 to 800 piasters, but it turned out that we didn't have any piasters left so we had to give him MPC, so he got his 1000 P after all, the old cheater. And, to top it off, J--- lost his wallet in the back seat when we got out, but we knew he had to go up the road somewhere and turn around to get back to Saigon, so we stood at the side of the road waiting for him to come back. After fifteen minutes or so, B--- decided the best thing to do would be to call for the supply truck and go after him, but just as he was 1eaving to call papasan came back, we flagged him down, and J--- got his wallet out o the back seat. We figured the only reason we got it was because he hadn't bothered to look back there after we had gotten out.
When we got back to the company I found out that the first pig had been looking for me all day, ever since seven o'clock in the morning. He'd been sending the clerks over and each time they'd come back with a new excuse why I wasn't available, and finally A--- blew his top and said I'd be standing in front of the CO the next morning and answering to him. So I sneaked back into the company and into my room and got into bed just in time, since here came A--- storming down the hall and beating on my door. I opened it up with a really sick look on my face like I was about to die and told him I just couldn't get out of bed. He fell all over himself with embarrassment and then blew up again and demanded to know why I hadn't gotten up when the clerks came over and I told him I tried but couldnít and had to go on sick call but didnít have the strenth to get out of bed or even speak up, but that I was starting to feel better and would he over in the orderly room as soon as I could. That mollified him slightly and he left, and I figured I'd better get over there and find out what he wanted, but as it turned out he hadn't wanted anything.
But I don't really give a shit since itís the 16th and I only have 5 days left in-country.
March 18. 1969 --
I was supposed to have been working tonight, but J--- and B--- and I went over to the USARV NCO club on Long Binh Post where they had a really good band imported from the states, and where we saw Rocky Marciano, the ex-world heavyweight boxer. B--- had nerve enough to push his way between a bunch of lifers and get his autograph, but I was too chicken. I wished later that I had, since he was killed in a plane crash later that year.
When I got back I heard from H--- that A--- had been wandering around the company looking for me and saying "I can't understand why he didn't come to work tonight" over and over again. But Iím too short to worry about the small stuff.
Last night, the next night after we came back from Saigon, the city was hit pretty hard with mortar and rocket, and this morning, bright and early, our wandering boy, R---, returned to the company [Two guards, R--- and G---, went AWOL about five months earlier; G--- was captured by the MPs in about two weeks and returned to us for court-martial and discharge; R--- stayed on the lam.].
He didn't say much about it, but we figured things in Saigon had gotten pretty hot. He did fill us in a little bit on what he'd been doing since he escaped the Army. He and G--- had gone to Saigon, but G--- and he had parted ways soon after. While G--- had allowed himself to be captured, R--- made himself blend in so much that he looked like any one of the other civilian caucasians working in the city. He had landed a job with a music distributor who installed the jukeboxes in the NCO and EM clubs in the area and R--- got to drive a truck and bring new records in and replace the old ones in the jukeboxes. He had even been to the club on the Hill and no one had seen him. That combined with some middle-level black market had kept him so well that he had gotten married to a Vietnamese girl and they had a baby on the way.
The Lieutenant, on his last day as CO before Captain H---, the lifer, takes over, was to initiate proceedings to have R--- administratively discharged under other than honorable conditions for the good of the service, which would mean that he was to be kicked out with a general discharge, taken to the states and booted out of the army and left to his own hook to find a way back to his wife and baby. But that was a lot better than going to the stockade or to Leavenworth for desertion (which could easily have happened under H---) or to continue living under the constant threat of arrest in Saigon. All in all R--- came out pretty well. [I don't know what actually happened to him because I was leaving when they were typing up the papers. ]
March 21, 1969 --
Yesterday we went to the Loon Foon, the Chinese restaurant on Long Binh Post for the traditional "last meal for the condemned man" -- except I guess it's kind of the opposite. I'm not condemned any more. And last night we had a party to celebrate my homegoing. This morning B--- drove me over to the 90th in the supply truck. We shook hands, did a clenched fist salute at each other, and he drove off, leaving me there in the middle of the dusty road. I looked up at the guard tower where I had first stood guard in Nam nearly a year earlier, waved at the two 'cruits in it, and started off down the road toward out-processing. I was carrying my 35mm camera around my neck, my movie camera in a case across my back, and my well-traveled leather suitcase in my hand. It was hard to believe, that I was finally getting out of here.
When I got to out-processing I learned that I should have been there last night and that I was going to be put on standby until a seat was available.
"Oh shit!" I exclaimed, but it wasn't very long until they called all standby's and several of us lined up for baggage inspection and then we were being loaded on buses right in front of the PX and right under the sign Camp LBJ, the one that I thought I'd never see again when I'd been in the 90th ten months ago. Twenty minutes later we were at Bien Hoa air base, shuffling noisily and nervously around in a large covered waiting area until our plane was ready, and we filed out for the last time into the hot sun of Vietnam, climbed up the boarding ramp into the cool interior of the plane, were greeted by smiling stewardesses, the first round-eyed girls most of us had seen in a ,year, and before we knew it the doors were closed and the plane was rocketing down the runway and suddenly arching into the sky over Bien Hoa village. As we climbed higher and higher I could see all of Long Binh stretched out below, and as we circled around and headed toward the sea I got my last glimpse of TC Hill, a small cluster of metal buildings huddled together in the red earth, shining dully in the late afternoon sun.
I was on my way home.
© 1969, 2002 Dennis Mansker