Sunday, January 23, 2005

Feeding the Troops

Recalling 1969 and my year at Binh Thuy, I think of how our troops never missed an opportunity to make connections for getting decent food…at least a bit better than the standard mess hall fare. And when resourceful young Americans try their utmost they are invariably successful. The highpoint of a special day was tossing back a beer, bypassing the mess hall, and enjoying something really good, like a juicy steak, cooked over an open fire. The normal method was to break up a few oak pallets, start a roaring fire and when it burned down to glowing coals, put on the main course--whatever could be scrounged. Throwing in some foil wrapped potatoes spirited out of the mess kitchen and learning to extract them before they became too well done became a developed art. Add to this a highly competitive game of jarts (those big yard darts so popular at the time) for entertainment, and it made for a pretty good evening. I found our young entrepreneur Airmen so successful at obtaining goodies that the question arose as to what they were trading for these luxuries. In the end it called for official sanctions.

So one of my favorite "unofficial" activities became facilitating the acquisition of some really good menu items for the troops. It was like this. We had built a few barbecue set ups, and there was never a shortage of wooden pallets. The shortage was in the main entree` department. I had issued a standing order that scrounging and trading with the Army and Navy was strictly taboo and punishable if caught. In order to make it a more enforceable order, I decided that I would have to be the chief scrounger and if someone wanted to "catch" me, at least I would take the heat and not the troops. They refrained (at least to a degree) and I did the dirty work. It worked out pretty well. I would take a truck and head for the Brownwater Navy Base and the Special Forces Camp near Can Tho City. Between the two places I could always come up with a few cases of steaks or chicken. Never let it be said that the Navy and Special Forces didn't get the very best of food. For this I traded items they found hard to obtain like plywood and PSP (pierced steel planking) of which we had an overabundance and it seemed the Army and Navy could never get enough.

I guess the statute of limitations have run out and confession is good for the soul. Anyhow, back at Binh Thuy there was usually something really good cooking on the "Barbie;" chicken, steak and sometimes even frozen shrimp or lobster. I'd like to think it helped morale. It did a world of good for mine.

The one time I totally failed was while driving back to the base along the Can Tho - Binh Thuy highway. Traveling alone, I had fourteen 40-pound cases of frozen steaks on the back of a small truck. I guess I was paying too much attention to the maze of humanity along the highway in front of me and not enough to my rear view mirror. At any rate, when I pulled up to drop off the first case in front of a hooch on base, the boxes had all disappeared. Apparently a "slicky boy" riding double on a motorcycle had managed to climb aboard my moving truck and throw the cargo over the side. Somewhere that evening, some Vietnamese were enjoying the fruits of my labors and we were the empty bag-holders. Needless to say, I paid closer attention to my rear view mirror on future forays.

© 2005 David Agniel