"Life in Vietnam 1967--A Night in Dong Ha"

By Stephen "Rags" Ragle

This is a true story. The names have been changed to protect the guilty.
I hear Ed's whisper in the darkened tent.

"You ready, Rags?"

"Yeah," I reply.

I get up from my cot and reach for the white MP duty belt with the K-bar on it. We leave quietly through the rear entrance of the tent and head for the supply depot down the road. We pass between darkened rows of GP tents of the Dong Ha fire base.

We hurry silently to the depot where the supply trucks run all night between the river dock and the depot. We each know where our destination is tonight.

I glance over at Ed. He is a big guy, about six-one or -two, glasses, and a real southern drawl. He makes this trip almost nightly, regardless of the threat of bed checks or anything else. I think to myself that he is really going off the deep end.

When I first met him, over a year ago in the States in ITR at Camp Gieger, he didn't cuss, drink, smoke or chase women. He was the son of a Georgia Baptist preacher. We got to calling him "Reverend Ed." He sure has changed. This boy has gone crazy.

We hitch a ride on one of the supply trucks just as it is leaving for the river. The driver recognizes Ed, and we hop in the back. We are not new to this procedure. It is insane. I wonder "Why" to myself. I am scared shitless, but I do it anyway; maybe I am insane.

Here I am heading out in the dark to what is probably a sympathetic VC village after dark, without a weapon except my K-bar and the white MP duty belt under my field jacket. Ed doesn't even have a K-bar--just his insanity.

It is really dark this night. It is drizzling slightly; the monsoons are coming on.

Just before the truck pulls in to the dock at the river, the driver slows down; and we jump off. We look around to see if any one has seen us. We head between some low buildings--just a path between them, sort of like an alley.

I follow Ed; he knows his way around better than me. He makes several turns, and I am lost. I can see the dull glow of candles or oil lamps from the covered windows of the rundown-looking hooches we pass. He finally stops in front of one building; and we look to see if anyone is around, especially MPs. No one is in sight.

We enter and sit on a couple of wooden boxes around a low table on the dirt floor. An old Mamma-san comes out from the back and says something in a mixture of broken English and Vietnamese. In effect she is telling us to leave, the MPs will catch us. We raise our field jackets and show her the white duty belts; they work wonders in situations like this in the village.

She mumbles something in Vietnamese and nods. We order some beer. She returns to the back.

"She is probably gone to get her AK-47," I tell Ed.

"Nah! She likes our MPC too much," he says and laughs.

She returns with two large brown bottles with an outline of a tiger head on them. We try to haggle over price, but she doesn't budge. We finally give in. WE are in a hurry.

"A couple of these will get us right for our next stop," Ed says.

"Yeah, if I can get the first one down," I say. "I'd rather have a Bud myself. I wonder what they put in this shit?"

"I don't know, but it does the job," Ed replies.

We drink the first one and chug a couple more. By this time, I am getting high and forgetting about being apprehensive. I am ready for the next stop.

We head out into the night again. It is raining a little harder and just as dark. I wonder how many times Ed has done this. He seems to know exactly where he is heading. After the first two or three turns through the back alleys, I am lost again.

We come out between two buildings and stop. There in front of us is a wide street. We stand back between the buildings in the dark, checking the other side of the street, up and down. We wait a long time, making sure no one is out on the street or that MPs have a stakeout.

After a while, we are sure the coast is clear and hurry across the street, entering a building on the other side. Inside, it is bright; and the light temporarily blinds me. Then I see two uniforms. My heart skips a beat. I realize they are ARVNs.

They stand up smiling and jabbering something I can't understand. I am looking at them, checking for weapons. They have none. Ed is across the room, already talking to a woman. She is quite attractive, but it could be the beer working on me.

Then another woman walks out from behind some bamboo curtains. Her face could stop a clock, but at least she doesn't have black teeth. Ed is bargaining with the first woman over prices. She has started at ten dollars. He has started at five dollars MPC.

"Hey, wait a minute. How come I get stuck with the ugly one?" I complain to Ed.

"I saw this one first!" he says.

By this time, the beer is having its full effect on me; and she seems to look better all the time. I agree.

We haggle over prices for a while. The ARVNs are sitting at a table in the background. Seems to me, they are having a good time at our expense. They are too happy for some reason. I would like to smack the little bastards but think better of it.

Finally, we settle on seven dollars a piece and pair off. Mine hops between the bamboo curtains and on to a bed made of nothing but wooden slats with some bamboo mats on top. I look at her and think "Is this worth it?"

She starts stripping and muttering something about "Numbah one lover." I retort with some sarcastic remarks. Having been in country for ten months, I don't have a lot of love or respect for the Vietnamese at this point. The ARVNs are still having a jolly old time out front.

Suddenly, we hear somebody bust through the door. The ARVNs get real quiet, and I wonder what the shit is going on. Then I hear American voices.

There is no where to run; so, I just stand behind the bamboo curtains, very still, with my boots sticking out underneath, hoping they will think I am an ARVN, too, and not bother me. No such luck this night. The voices are MPs!

I look out between the curtains and realize we know these two MPs. Hopefully, we are in luck. The sergeant in charge of the patrol recognizes us and starts giving us hell.

"Get your pants up and get the hell out of here before I run you two in," he snarls.

I say "OK with me!" and grab my pants. I don't like the thought of the brig; I have been in too much trouble lately.

Ed is so crazy he wants to argue the point. I can see the sergeant is starting to get pissed off. I grab Ed and head him out the door but not before he gets his money back from the young "lady" standing there naked.

We head out in the rain again; and Ed says, "I know another place."

I try to argue but to no avail, and I am lost anyway. So, I follow him to the next house of renown.

There is only one older woman here, and I give Ed free run so I can get him to go back to the base. The place is filled with all sorts of black market contraband--radios, cokes, liquor, and other assorted miscellaneous items.

Ed, more or less, blackmails her into a freebie with the white duty belt and the threat of confiscating her goods. At least she has some American beer; so, I sit there and get wasted some more while waiting on him.

Ed gets finished and walks out from the back just in time. A QC officer and another American MP pull up out front in a jeep.

So, there I am, standing in the rain muttering profanities, and shaking my head. But at least the American knows us.

Well, these two start chewing our asses for about fifteen minutes, the American translating for the QC. The American finally talks the ARVN officer into letting us go. This time Ed has met his needs and agrees to go back. We head back to the river to catch a truck back to the base.

On the way back, the truck comes under sniper fire. My lucky night!

I huddle down in the bed of the truck, drunk, telling myself this is insane; this is the last time. Luckily the sniper was not a good shot.

The last time? No.

Rags (USMC Dong Ha, Phu Bai 12/66-12/67)

copyright 1995 by Stephen "Rags" Ragle, all rights reserved