This all got started in: I was a prisoner in a Mexican whorehouse,
followed by: A long time gone, how to brush your teeth in a combat zone and Libber and I go to war.
Chapter 6 in an E2 nightmare called REMFS.
We were scraping the bottom of Cow's M-60 ammo can and it was hot as a gun barrel in a firefight, even down here, in Downtown, the bunker we'd dug with our own entrenching tools under the stage of the amphitheater the SeaBees had built in less than 48 hours. No need to smoke up the hootch, which was Bob Hopeless's dressing room one day a year. No need to advertise to the brass what we were up to on our days off. Nights. Pretty much all the time we were off-duty. This is what comes of enduring an authoritarian childhood: What were they gonna do, send us to Vietnam?
"Jesus Mary and Nixon Cow! You mean to tell me you went through that whole can since the last FASTeam?!"
I mean I know the boy liked his herb, but really!
"No no no," Cow coughed, squinting at me through smoky eyeballs, passing back his expertly-rolled number. "I laid half of it on Rat and he's spreading it out back in Headquarters Company. It's the Fourth of July, dude!"
"Yeah, but…shit man, half a can's gotta be, what, two kis?"
"More or less I guess. I don't know. I never measured." He motioned impatiently: "'n't Bogart, man. Slip me that."
We never bothered to keep track of the shit we smoked, toked, lost, or gave away. Why bother? There was always more where it came from, almost like Uncle Sam was supplying us with the stuff to keep us from fragging every damned lifer we came across. We weren't 11B's, out in the boonies, listening for twig snaps and nosing out fermented fish head VC delicacies. We were Rear Echelon Mother Fuckers, hippies and rednecks with hand grenades, automatic weapons, and attitude. It was best if they just kept us quiet.
"Shh shh shh!" Cow sucked one last huge hit and quickly stubbed the roach out in the dirt. I heard a jeep downshift in the driveway, skidding to a halt in front of the latrine maybe 20 meters away. It was followed by more of the same. At least three, maybe four vehicles, all headed our way. I low-crawled through the sand to the edge of the stage, peered out through a knothole we'd left just for that purpose: four strac-as-the-day-they-were-built jeeps disgorged a dozen starched green uniforms filled with trouble. Whip antennas wig-wagged back and forth as if to say "No no! Naughty boys!"
"Jesus, man, it's a fucking Light Colonel!"
I felt a distinct sense of panic under fire as my mind raced to solve a difficult geometry. A fifth jeep arrived before the dust had settled. It was our very own Capn Rock, along with his XO, LT Rosenbloom, and the First Sergeant.
"Oh shit!" whispered Cow. "I be didi now, Bro-me! Good luck on this bitch!"
He was all asshole and elbows, crawling the full width of the stage and out the other side. Exit, stage right. There was a crackle of radio chatter; more antennas on those first four jeeps than whiskers on a mountain lion. Whatever the fuck it was, it was big. And for me—NCOIC, non-commissioned officer in charge—it was Showtime. I took a deep breath and broke for daylight.
While Capn Rock and LT saluted all that starch and brass and introduced themselves, I scrambled after Cow, covered the ten meters between the stage and the Bob Hopeless Bunker stage right, and grabbed a handy pick-ax. I was flailing away at the dry red Chu Lai dirt, sweaty and shirtless, by the time the shit hit the fan:
"At-ten-hough!" goes Top, the way they all do, like they've all seen the same goddamn movie. I drop the pick-ax and hit it, stage-nervous plastered on top of real-nervous laminated over totally-stoned-out-of-my gourd, trying to maintain.
The Colonel returns my salute like a well-oiled guillotine. He's got that eagle-eyed suntanned square-jawed command-presence that screams West Point and even more-to-the-point, he sports a CIB with two stars on his well-worn but nonetheless starched-to-perfection jungle fatigues. This guy was Serious Shit, Lieutenant Colonel Ryan McNabe, 5th of the 46th, 198th Infantry, come from out of the bush to make my life miserable. Capn Rock explained as the Colonel's detail inspected our facility, clipboards and tape measures clattering like accounting machines:
It was all about Operation Mistletoe. The famous Bob Hopeless Christmas Show. Headed our way. On the Fourth of July, the Army in its inscrutable wisdom had sent an infantry battalion commander TDY to the rear to oversee the whole goddamn thing.
"You gotta be shittin' me!" exclaimed John, the bass player, when I told the band about it that night over chow. We were scarfing down grub at 91st Evac, where the Joint Chiefs had a gig at 2000. The hospital sat across a ravine from our amphitheater home, on a hill overlooking the South China Sea. A big place, maybe thirty quonset huts, all connected to keep everything cool and dry. These days, in a decent capitalist economy, you'd pay five hundred a night for a room with a view for sure. Too bad we lost the war.
"No way, GI, you're too bigga turd!" said Cow. "I was shittin' bricks the whole time!"
I had to laugh. Cow had come through, like he always did. He'd shown up a couple minutes after the Colonel arrived, festooned with electrical cable and a multi-meter. He explained that we were preparing to feed electricity into the Bob Hopeless Bunker from the junction box under the stage, after we finished digging the trench and laying the conduit. So Mr. Entertainment wouldn't have to sit there with his thumb up his ass if we got rocketed. He could read Variety or whatever; his fan mail; his Little Black Book with the phone numbers and measurements of Raquel Welch and Lola Falana. Safe. In the big ole bad ole Nam.
Capn Rock looked at us like we were out of our minds (ahem), and I'm sure the Colonel knew we were just total fuckups, but we got away with it, pretty much like we always did. We were Artists, after all. Show Biz was our Military Occupational Specialty. The lifers never knew what to do with us and we played them like Fender Strats at Woodstock.
It was, however, the beginning of one continuous five month pain-in-the-ass. The Colonel's Operation Mistletoe team would show up unannounced every couple of days and improve the AO, the Area of Operations. They reinforced the Bob Hopeless Bunker, which already resembled a railroad car encased in concrete and sandbags. To the outdoor "auditorium" they added five thousand seats—two-by-fours bolted to empty howitzer shell casings, painted battleship gray, I guess, cause the navy had a lot of that color. They rewired the p.a. system, repainted the proscenium, installed new lights, new plumbing in the B.H. dressing room (where Cow and I lived, of course, like kings), and generally let it be known that Operation Mistletoe was the be-all and end-all of the war effort. It was quite interesting.
In the meantime, life went on for me and my little band of rockers—two or three shows a day, day in and out, like any hard-working band on the run. We had the USO handshake tours in and out all the time, ballplayers and showgirls. There were the Command Military Touring Shows out of Saigon with their elaborate production. I did a couple plays that toured the firebases all the way to Laos. And Charlie, of course, he did his thing too, from time to time. It was all part of the little dance we did called the Vietnam War, but Charlie, pretty much, called the tune. And the Army, at all costs, didn't want no holes in Bob Hopeless and his boys and girls.
So it didn't surprise me to learn a couple of things:
One—the Big Duffer, Mr. Entertainment, never spent a single night in Vietnam. He and his band and his delicious round-eyed girl-types di-di'd back to Bangkok EVERY NIGHT. He slept in a bed in a hotel in a country far away from the war. A perk I guess you'd call it.
Two—Operation Mistletoe was planned tighter than a brigade assault. The show's producer, who reported ultimately to somebody even higher than Colonel McNabe, didn't know where the gig was going to be till his plane was in the air. Our little five-month effort was one of THREE identical enterprises. One was in Phu Bai. Another was in Da Nang. Bob Hopeless would come to Chu Lai only if Charlie didn't. Of course, we all thought to ourselves. It's the fucking Army Way.
So we didn't get the show that Christmas. We got rocketed on the twenty-third and Cow and I sat in Bob Hopeless's reinforced bunker and spun a cassette tape through the whole thing. We sound totally wasted and the incoming, well, the incoming is just there. It came with the territory.
Me, I'm such a softy, I felt sorry for Colonel McNabe. I mean: here he was, all gung-ho to command men on the field of valor and the Army puts him in charge of a USO show that never happens. How's that gonna look on his resume?
And I feel sorry for Mr. And Mrs. America, back home in their easy chairs, watching the fabulous footage of old Hook-em and Slice-em, doing his fabulous thing for "our fabulous boys." I feel sorry for them because, as usual, it was all A Bright Shining Lie.
The First Sergeant, he told me about last year's Christmas Show, which did play in Chu Lai. They rounded up 17,000 troops on four hours notice and stuffed em into the amphitheater where they had trouble seeing the Fabulous Duffer because of all the TV cameras set up on scaffolding in front of the stage. The fabulous round-eyed girls did their thing and the fabulous band played and Mr. Entertainment came out and made some jokes about the Americal Division which had been written on his cue cards just moments before his Bangkok Express had landed under heavy guard. He sang his fabulous theme song:
So, thanks for the memory
And strictly entre-nous, darling how are you?
And how are all the little dreams that never did come true?
Aw'flly glad I met you, cheerio, and toodle-oo
And thank you so much.
But a Special Thing happened which didn't make it into the TV version of the show:
In the middle of his set, as he swung his ubiquitous golf club and cracked-wise the way he did, a dust-off chopper clattered onto the pad at 91st Evac Hospital, across the ravine where today a Best Western ought to be. Even as the doctors and nurses were off-loading the wounded and worse, Mr. Entertainment, Mr. One-Night-in-Bangkok, Mr. Perpetually On the Road For Our Boys says:
"You mind keeping it down over there? We're trying to do a show."
They booed Bob Hope in Vietnam. I just thought you ought to know.
Next: Back in the Shit
Back: fate takes a piss
- I was a prisoner in a Mexican Whorehouse
- A long time gone
- How to brush your teeth in a combat zone
- Libber and I go to war
- Fate takes a piss
- Thanks For the Memory
- Back in the Shit
- LZ Waterloo
- Saturday Night, Numbah Ten
a long commute
Andy X Kirby True
a tale of two Woodstocks
Buy a Gun
Dawn at The Wall
Feat of Clay
I was a free man once, in Saigon
The Joint Chiefs of Staff
the shit we ate
Combat Infantryman Badge
Firebase Mary Ann
the 1st Cav
The Highest Traditions
Those Who Forget
Under the Southern Cross
Whither the Phoenix?
A Bright Shining Lie
Apocalypse Now Redux
Hearts and Minds
We Were Soldiers