I was deployed with a Navy unit to Vietnam. We flew night missions out of Tan Son Nhut Air base in Saigon and from the air strip in Da Nang. We would take off, change directions, drop to three hundred feet and fly into north Vietnam airspace to conduct our missions in black out and radio silence. Many times I have seen the lights of Hanoi off our starboard wing where we would be flying beneath radar detection. On two of our missions we limped back with our aircraft shot up by ground fire. Fire trucks chasing us down the runway on our landings was a common sight. Just being in country was a fear factor you learned to live with. But the most scared I ever was, was on a night of liberty.
I always looked forward to being in Tan Son Nhut on a week-end because on Sunday morning between ten and noon a Bloody Mary was five cents each at the NCO Club. I would leave all the troops headed for church and make my way to the Club, where I would order a couple of cheese burgers and fries and two Blood Mary – and I would keep the Bloody Mary coming until just before noon where I would lay down a dollar and tell them to fill up the table. Usually, I would somehow find my way back to the hut, crash and lose another day in-country.
However, one Sunday afternoon I cut the ritual short because I knew I would be flying to Da Nang the next morning. After I left the club I slept for a couple of hours until night fall, then decided I would go into Saigon and pump some iron at a Gym/steam bath/massage parlor/whore house.
I worked out for an hour, then locked my clothes in a locker provided, and went into the steam room with my billfold, money and pistol in a plastic bag that I carried for that purpose. After the steam a little, old, Vietnamese woman led me up a narrow rickety flight of stairs to a massage room… The room was about 8x8 feet with a light bulb hanging from the ceiling, and was empty except for what looked like a military gurney. I stretched out on the gurney with nothing on but a towel; slid my bag under the corner of the thin matrices and waited for the young woman that would come in, pop my fingers and toes, walk up and down my back and pummel the hell out of me.
Suddenly I hear gunfire downstairs. There were men yelling and women screaming and people running up and down the stairs. I didn’t know the language, but I did know the shit was hitting the fan. I jump up, bare ass naked, pull the pistol out of the bag, and realize there is no place to hide. Quickly I shove the gurney against the wall, wedge myself onto the little shelf under the mattress and pull the sheet down over the side to somewhat hide me. It is one thing to find yourself in the middle of a gun fight between VC sympathizers and the White Mice (South Vietnam Police.) It is totally something else to find yourself, a six foot, white, naked American, in the middle of a fire fight between Vietnamese.
You know when you are in a war zone that you may have to fight for your life; and you accept that. But, not naked…that’s scary as hell.
I stayed under the gurney for maybe five minutes, but it seemed longer. Things had quieted down as I eased out into the hallway, a towel around my waist and my pistol in my hand. The old lady was in the hallway and yelled at me “You get out GI,” and get out I did; threw on my fatigues; made it out of the alleyway and grabbed a jitney back to the base.
The gate was guarded and on alert. Flares lit up the night sky and in the distance I could see a solid column of fire raining down as puff the magic dragon unleashed the hell fire from one of its six-thousand-round-per-minute Gatling guns.
The guards waved me through the gate and I headed back to the hut. The hut was empty: my brother E-6’s were in the bunkers. I went to my locker, retrieved my M-16 and the bottle of Old Grand- Dad that I kept stashed. Out in our small kitchen area I settled in a comfortable chair facing the door, poured myself a drink and waited for what-ever.
Every time I was in danger after that I always thought, “At least I’m not naked.”