The Red Swinging Doors

Not long after I took over First Admin Company, my First Sergeant Carl Cook, said we should go to Saigon to inspect the AG postal unit we had there. It was about a 45 minute drive as best I can remember into Saigon from DiAn. It was a drive into another world. Saigon was just like you see in the movies, teeming with little blue Renault taxis, bicycles, motorcycles and pedicabs. All of this was complicated by a huge amount of military traffic. It was a frightening experience for a combat infantryman new to the big city.

Soon after pulling into Saigon, we were stopped by a military policeman. After seeing the combat unit markings on our jeep, he disdainfully informed us that we shouldn't be carrying weapons in Saigon. He acted like we were two hobos trying to crash a society party. I informed him that there was a war going on and that we were on an official mission. (I guess it was official, I approved it). I don't know if it was that we had him out-gunned or out- ranked but he saluted and left.

Top took me to Ton Sonute Air Base where we went to the Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) Officer's Club. When we entered the foyer there was a restaurant to one side and what appeared to be a bar with red swinging doors. Top told me to go in the bar and he would join me in a minute. I pushed open the door and started a fifteen second series of events that ended with me in a chair with a young woman on my lap, a hand unbuttoning my fly and a breast in my mouth. I didn't know what hit me.

As I started to enter small, soft hands grabbed my hands and arms and started dragging me into the room. My eyes were still adjusted to outdoors, so I couldn't see anything. I stumbled through the room and was thrown, like "crack the whip" into a booth. I didn't know what hit me. I confess that I didn't fight too hard because even though I was blinded, the giggling feminine voices and the smell of perfume made me think that maybe this might be fun. In a flash I was in the predicament mentioned above.

I was a veteran of the bars of North Beach in San Francisco, Colon, Panama, Acapulco, and I thought I could handle the "B" Girl routine. For once I was outclassed. When she said "You buy me one tea, G.I., I could only muster a muffled "mummph" Not two seconds later two drinks hit the table, a tea for her and a beer for me, accompanied by a ridiculously high bill. I bowed to the inevita ble.

Saigon Tea is the term the GI's used to refer to what the bar girls drank when they encouraged a lonely soldier to buy them a drink. Some of the more naive soldiers would become angry when they found out that the booze was really tea and that their attempts to get the girls drunk and seduce them were for naught. They were getting screwed but only metaphorically. I don't remember what it cost but it wasn't cheap. The girls would allow various degrees of groping depending on how much tea you bought. It didn't take many smarts to figure out that the First Sergeant had set me up. When I left the bar, Top and I had a steak dinner in the restaurant. Another rough day in the Nam.

I had a few other adventures behind the red doors in the next year or so. I would always try to take new officers there to get indoctrinated into local customs. It was difficult to do this on a regular basis but I managed a few trips.

Once I passed through on the way to Sydney on R & R. The rule at the bar was that If you sat at the bar itself you wouldn't be bothered, but if you went to a booth you were fair game. Being forewarned, I managed to avoid the reception team and went to the bar. I planned to have a few quiet beers and to watch the show. I was surprised when a girl came up to me and invited me to sit down with her.

I told her that I was there to drink only and that I wasn't interested in her company. She swore up and down that she wouldn't ask me to buy any tea and that she was only interested in the pleasure of my company. Things must have been slow for her to waste time with me. I finally gave in because I knew she was only earning a living.

I planned to visit with her for a few minutes and then buy her a tea just to be a nice guy. We sat down and she hopped on my lap and said, "You buy me one tea, G.I."? I was furious. I felt that she had not kept her end of the deal and that I had been conned. I jumped up, dumping her unceremoniously onto the floor. She got up fighting. She took off her shoe and began beating me with it screaming, "You numbah Ten Cheap Charlie," the ultimate insult.

Another time I took Tim, my FO. Tim had led a sheltered life and I thought that the experience would be broadening and character building. I told Tim to stick his arm into the room. He did and the usual happened. I went to the restaurant to have a good meal and about a hour later I went to rescue him. Tim didn't want to be rescued. I found him in a booth with two girls and a shit eating grin on his face. He had spent all his money and pleaded with me to loan him what I had on me. He even offered to sell me his watch. It took a direct order, but I finally saved Tim from himself.

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