February 2024
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Me And This Other Fool

by Kevin Wells (ACS)

If Frank still wants to know:

As I pointed out before, “you can learn a lot about Viet Nam in a short amount of time, but the rest just has to be experienced ” (from the Quiet American). Experience was nearly my middle name from 1959-1962. I knew no fear and went places people with even a trace of good sense knew to avoid. When I think of those days I think of Billy Boyton, a kindred spirit in my life. (I occasionally receive a Christmas card with an illustration signed simply Boyton, generally something related to the coast of Maine and know that it was done by his mother.)

Most of the ACS community and the military knew Pershing Field quite well, but nobody seemed to be interested what was to be found if you went away from the school past Pershing Field and started wandering around behind it. Billy and I wondered, and made the trek.

People with good sense and a idea of proportionate behavior, something that both of us lacked, would know better than to hazard off in that direction. It was right near a major RVN military base and of course, there was a major airport not too far away. What you would (at the time) find is the remnants of the old WWII French fortifications designed to protect the airfield and Saigon.

The area was littered with the detritus of military services everywhere. There were heavily corroded belt buckles, spent ammunition casings. Some of them had pictograms, (whether Japanese or Chinese I never discovered), canteens without caps but with holes, caps without canteens, the odd Croix de Guerre, buttons, M-1 clips in abundance and who could believe it, but an empty 100 lb. bomb casing complete with fins.

Anybody who knows anything about bombs knows that backing away very, very, very slowly would be a good strategy. Not us! We could not believe our luck. After determining that the casing was hollow, we simply picked it up and headed back the way we came. On the way, we found a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) receiver with the barrel and the distinctive carrying handle, but without a magazine and the bolt.

KEWL is the only word for this. There was, however a problem; to wit; how does one get a taxi back home with a bomb and part of a BAR? Anyone with good sense would not dream of stopping for two American dependents who were standing next to a bomb that had a BAR propped up next to it. We figured that out in about 10 minutes of standing in the sun watching those little blue and tan Renault taxis blast by at very high speeds, higher than I have ever seen before or since.

Another tactic was clearly in order. Standing the bomb on its fins and looking insouciant was clearly not working. We rolled the bomb into the grass beside the road and hailed a cab, and he stopped. He may have been hot and sleepy, he way have been bored, he may have been behind on his quota, but for whatever reason, we got it in the back seat before he saw the ordinance.

He looked at me in the mirror. I smiled. After a take and a double-take, he noticed the fins on the rusty bomb and before he could react, I tapped on it to show him it was empty. More smiles occurred. After an exchange involving a combination of taxicab Vietnamese, elementary French and the universal language of cash, we set off for Billy’s house. In heavy traffic bicycles started passing us and on one of these bicycles was a policeman. The policeman reacted as you might expect to two American kids in a taxi with a bomb and the barrel of a rifle visible in the back seat.

The driver practiced selective deafness and creative horn-honking and put some distance between us and arrest and detention, but that was enough for him. He wanted us out.

Fortunately, we were about at my home on Ngo Dinh Koi so we stopped there. We paid him well and I certainly hope he did not get arrested. At any rate, nobody came to arrest or question me.

We did, however have a problem; the division of the goodies. After complicated bargaining, we arrived at an agreement based on our estimate of our respective parent’s tolerance for the ordinance. It turned out that it did not matter. They would not let us keep either the bomb or the BAR. The tyranny of parents is amazing.

OK, tell me how many kids have a genuine empty bomb in their room? Huh? Anybody? Ditto for the BAR, and I just knew I could find a stock somewhere! Where is their sense of wonder and adventure?

It could have been worse, I could have been out painting comments on water towers, drinking 33 Export, running foreign currency exchange operations, pinching street signs, engineering mysterious Cherry Bomb explosions in the toilets, and putting stones in hubcaps. Somebody has to do these capers, why not me? The answer must be that I got caught.

Anyway, that is my story and I am sticking to it.

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5 comments to Me And This Other Fool

  • Great story, Kevin! Now I don’t feel so bad and can come clean with my own confession.

    I didn’t need help being a fool. It was October 1960 and I had just acquired one of the little Minolta 16 “spy” cameras. It was a cheap competitor to the very sophisticated Minox spy camera.

    And all I really wanted to do was take pictures of all those neat fighter jets that had arrived at Tan Son Nhut to participate in the Vietnamese Independence Day celebration: Chinese F87s, French Mirages, and assorted British and American planes. (Do you remember how at a cocktail reception the Vietnamese Air Force pilots cajoled the French pilots into breaking the sound barrier over Saigon? I think Uncle Sam ended up paying for all the broken windows in the Caravelle Hotel and other buildings around town.)

    Since my father’s office was located on the grounds of the airport, I didn’t think anything about strolling over to the flight line and beginning to snap pictures with my tiny camera. Which was quickly confiscated by a Vietnamese military armed guard. My father had to meet with and convince some official of my innocent foolishness before I got my camera back.

    It wasn’t the last time my father had to contend with some dumb act performed by his fool son.

  • Kenneth R. Yeager

    My turn. (full disclosure – not near as interesting as what Kevin and Bruce wrote)

    My dad, who at the time was a Sgt Major working for MACV or MAAG, not sure which in 1961-62, came home one evening rather upset. It seems that he was called on the carpet as his son was observed spitting on a Buddha while on a field trip with his class to a local museum. Number One Son was also called on the carpet and asked to explain. “Didn’t do it,” was the response. Dad said I was observed by a plain clothes police officer and identified by photographs and that I had better not lie to him. I plead innocence but was found guilty and told that I was grounded for two weeks. Now when you are 16 or 17 years old, that is tough punishment indeed, so I retired to my bedroom with a good book to read.

    After about half an hour, a revelation came into my head and I now knew what had been misinterpreted by the observing police officer. Ken Yeager, being Ken Yeager, while fooling around with other young “gentlemen” had pretended to spit into an incense pot near the offended Buddha. I had not actually spit but just went through the motions and accompanying sound. Hence, the false observation.

    Facing my father, I again stated that I had not lied to him and further explained what had happened, agreed that my action was wrong and understandably misunderstood (and assumed that my confession of sorts would clear the air and that I would be allowed to resume normal activities). My father thanked me for my explanation, accepted that I had not lied, but was still grounded for being a dumb ass kid who should have known better.

    My dad was a good sort who took these minor setbacks with a grain of salt but always with the mind that the actions of dependents can and do affect one’s career as a member of the armed forces. A few years before, I got two tickets for speeding on a military base when my dad was post Sgt. Major, resulting in the loss of keys for my motor scooter for two weeks each time. Despite these severe setbacks, I miss my dad a lot. Dad passed away in 1986 at the young age of 68.

  • frank

    Ken, Liked your comment about your Dad. I think you must have been a good son!

  • susan

    loved the stories it brought back many wonderful memories,although alot of you knew me to be Larry’s little sister,I do remember so many happy things while living in Siagon,would love to go back.Thanks for the news letters

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