93. Children Shouldn’t Play With Hand Grenades

In bewildering fascination, Saigon, formerly the capital of French Indochina, held me captive for about a week.  The rich blend of people, some in fancy western threads and others staying true to their native attire, were walking about in a fairly normal city scene.  

Some were shuttled around in decent cars and yes, there were clunkers to be seen as well.  Others took cyclos without a second thought and there were quite a few people going about on bicycles.  Then of course there were the troops going from here to there on foot and in military transport.

The smells coming from restaurants, fresh food vendors and street-food stalls were definitely interesting and I found some delicious too.

While sitting in a local bar on yet another sweltering hot evening, engaged in the usual sipping of ice cold beer, I was startled by what I was certain to be the sound of an explosion.  A little shaken to be sure but more so curious, I walked over to the open doorway and peered out.  A couple of more distant bangs followed.

The scene outside was that of the city’s people going about their daily routines, intermixed with our G.I.s and some foreign visitors … and children playing around the streets.  I then heard a siren in the distance.

Seeing nothing out of the ordinary I returned to my table, not really sure what to think or how to react.  I say this because most everyone else in the bar seemed relatively calm about the boom and bangs.   

Timing such as it was, these bangs became the discussion at our table.  My friends and I were told by a couple of Marines standing at the bar, to be aware of the children and youthful people here; perhaps an occasional grandparent too.  They must’ve sensed my concern.  

There have been occasions wherein children pretending to play ball outside, were actually culprits of (most likely forced) no good actions.  They were usually near an establishment where a good number of G.I.s were to be found.  A ‘ball’ would roll inside.  

Now either someone will pick it up and roll it back outside or it was ignored but sometimes, before one could realize it, kaboom!  Not only the visually dense population of American and Allied troops but the average citizen of South Việt Nam, all were targets in this damned war.  

And as was the wartime usual, you couldn’t really trust anyone.  Decidedly we were unable to distinguish the difference between North and South Vietnamese citizens; who had the grenade … or worse?

As if on cue, a ball rolled in through the open doorway and right then and there, my heart stopped beating.  I was sure of it because I don’t remember taking another single breath!

After what seemed like forever but only a moment or two later, a youthful lad came in after it and took it back out straight away.  Clearly I’m still here to say, that wasn’t a hand-grenade, or for that matter any other exploding device that evening.

Towards the end of our Việt Nam stopover I wanted to stay back in the city for an overnight.  Though I knew I’d have to rise before the morning sun to get back to the ship via the 5a boat at shore, I will admit I chose to engage a female companion and so retained a hotel room.  

It was after only a few minutes of being in this room (probably for the best) when the moment about to be, was disturbed.  There was sudden (again with the heart-stopping) and loud non-stop banging.  I instantly opened the door to see guns staring me down.  

There were 4 that I could see and two of them were pushing their way into my room; these gunslingers didn’t wait for an invitation to enter.  They briefly looked around.  I definitely wasn’t going to argue or question these 2 Vietnamese (n or s? don’t know) soldiers with -credit to my imagination- itchy trigger-fingers on those cold & scary (what looked like) AK-47s, surely loaded and ready to shoot!

No English was spoken and they left shortly after arrival, taking the girl with them.  The only conclusion I arrived at was the girl must’ve been North Vietnamese, posing as a South Vietnamese family girl.  Or was it the other way around?

Okay I’d finally had enough of my own shenanigans; no more shore time for this boy, I would stay in the ship for our remainder of this Việt Nam stopover.

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91. “We’re Americans, Don’t Shoot!”

Day 5:  Sài Gòn.  Two of us, my cabin-mate (I’ll call him Dan) 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, Dan 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.  

Dan 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.

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67. Amigos & Coo Coo Rachas

‘What do you think about getting married?’  Diana was really happy about this prospect and had no hesitation in starting a life of permanency with me.  I knew it would make my mother happy to hear that I wasn’t alone anymore.

I asked how we would accomplish this marriage.  I had told her father about my previous marriage in Fiji and that I hadn’t received official documentation of our divorce being finalized.  Whether or not it was Ralph who advised us or another, I cannot remember and really it doesn’t matter; it was suggested we take a trip south of the border and get married there.  

With her father’s blessing the two of us went to Mexicali.  It was a hot July, the weekend of the 4th to be exact.  We took the Greyhound Bus all the way. The further southeast the bus travelled the more arid we became.  

It was very late in the day as we arrived in town so the first thing we did was get ourselves a motel room.  We cleaned up, cooling off as best we could and then set out to find our evening’s meal and the justice of the peace.

We asked any and everyone who we thought might be of assistance, where the courthouse was located.  It actually wasn’t that easy getting someone to respond with a little English (besides taking our order for food in the restaurant).  

Finally someone did respond and we were thankful.  The next morning we made our way to the courthouse -it was already blazing saddles hot- and inquired with the clerk.  

He told us the judge couldn’t be located this morning and he very well may have taken the day off.  Wait, what?!  Then he told us that he’d go have another look around, maybe he’d find him.

He returned to tell us he found him … a few dollars later.  Yes it was a good thing we each changed up a $20 bill to single ones, it was just a hunch but nonetheless glad we acted on it.  The clerk told us the judge will be in the courtroom shortly. We just look at each other.

We did meet him in the courtroom.  The judge told us that we needed to have 3-5 witnesses; did we have them?  No. He told us there were always people just outside who may be convinced to come in. “You will have to pay them,” he told us dryly.   We just look at each other again.

Now I was thinking about the amigos Diana and I saw hanging around outside the building, would they really want to join us?  The judge sent a different clerk outside to gather some of them. He returned with 3 sun-stroked looking men.

Or was it simply siesta time already.  Either way they approached the magistrate and he looked at us with a simple finger rubbing thumb gesture.  We knew right away to dig up some dollar notes.

I set $6 into the clerk’s hand for the men.  He took it up to the judge. Each of the men signed a piece of paper, were handed their money and left the courtroom, one of them slightly smiling and acknowledging Diana and myself as they walked out.

The judge then called us forward to his bench and continued the process in pretty good English, the standard marriage vows (in Baja-California anyway).  After the ‘I do’s’ and his declaration of our marriage, we kissed, hugged and then had to sign the certificate.

He reached into his desk pulling out a stamp to which he then applied the ink from a pad on his bench quite deliberately, stamped the certificate firmly and applied his signature within the stamp.  Before handing it to us he did the ‘gesture’ once again.

I placed some bills onto his bench.  He handed us the one piece of paper and Diana immediately suggested we have a copy as well.  She asked him if we could get a copy and for a moment he didn’t answer.  Then he rubbed his index finger to his thumb and Diana handed him two dollars.

He went into the back and returned with a copy.  We stepped outside as Mr and Mrs Blue Masala. It was even hotter than a devil’s armpit now that the sun had pretty much reached its zenith.  

I remember being extremely thirsty, we both were to be sure.  Diana noticed a little market across the street and we made our way over.  Oh my goodness!  see the coo coo rachas scatter across the street everywhere.

I bought 2 bottles of ice cold 7-Up and stepping back outside with open bottles, we cheersed our green glass together and tipped up till we emptied them.  Gotta say, that felt really good!

We had planned to spend that night there as well and to call it a honeymoon?  I guess for now this would have to do.  We caught the bus the next morning back to Los Angeles and to a celebration with her dad and his ‘friend’ Doris.

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