Day 5: Sài Gòn. Two of us, my cabin-mate (I’ll call him Phil) and I are busy sucking down a few ice cold beers in one of the bars and as was becoming the norm, flanked by local femme fatales. Before we realized how late it was, already we had broken the curfew missing our boat back to the Trans Western.
Desperate to get outta there we made quick inquiry for a way to return to our ship, to anyone who’d listen. We needed someone with a boat who’d take us out to the anchored ships, for pay of course. One Vietnamese man with very little English stepped up to the job. We three made haste to his boat.
So now we’re putt-putting through the dark waters under black velvet skies, studded with stars brilliant as diamonds. I see little twinkling lights of the ships anchored all around the harbor.
In my mind I’m thinking, how on earth are we gonna find our ship in all of this? They seem so close to each other from a distance but as we get nearer, they’re all really far apart from one another.
Marines on constant patrol are no doubt hearing the putt-putt of the small gasoline engine of this little man’s smallish boat. Suddenly there were two spotlights splashing us in harsh white light and our boatman quickly shuts off his motor; he definitely doesn’t want to get his ass shot off in any language, of that I’m sure!
Feeling the panic, Phil thinks quick and takes off his tee shirt. He stood up and began to wave his white shirt, “Don’t shoot, we’re Americans!” he yelled out in fright. I didn’t think twice and removing my shirt, I too stood up and did the same. ‘Don’t shoot, Americans, we’re also American!’
We’re waving our shirts and they’re getting closer; upon reaching us, I’m guessing they relaxed only a small bit, assessing we are most likely harmless.
They cuss us out. “What the hell are you guys doing out here after curfew …(then pointing the barrel of their guns at the boatman)… with him!?” ‘We missed our boat outta town and … and we made a desperate decision’, I nervously explained.
They talked amongst themselves for a moment and then ordered us to climb aboard their boat. The Vietnamese man was also brought on board. His little boat was tied up to theirs and after identifying us with our ID cards, we were transported to the Trans Western.
Boy did we get an ass-chewing and that was just by the Marines who picked us up! The Skipper had yet to have his go on us. Upon arrival we had to of course, be re-identified to the guard soldiers on board our ship; up the rope we went.
The patrolling Marines left with the little man still in their custody; I’m thinking most likely they escorted him back to shore. This type of scene may have happened to others before us and most probably would occur again in the years to come.
Phil and I made tracks for the mess hall. All this excitement made for a great appetite. A few of the Marine soldiers were down in the galley enjoying some grub.
We made fresh coffee, tuna fish sandwiches with some crunchy pickles and proceeded to eat as though that would fix anything. I tell ya, what a night! To our immediate relief, the Skipper’s ass-chewing was not on tonight’s menu.
Retiring to our cabin I was on autopilot until my head finally hit my pillow and I was able to think for a moment. I was filled with gratitude that my butt was not blown to bits by the US Marines! Or anyone else for that matter.