The air was thick that day with stifling humidity, the temperature around ninety-five. It was one of those days where you sweat so much that you reek of body odor but it’s ok because everybody else does as well.
It’s around dusk and visibility is slowly dissipating into the night air. Cannons can be heard in the background separated by long bursts of 50 caliber machine gun fire.
Kent, Jerry and I were beginning our one weeklong R&R in grand fashion. We had touched down earlier that day, unpacked our bags for the night and headed into the city for a good time, whatever that might entail.
We hopped a C130 earlier that morning out of Phu-Cat Airbase and landed in Saigon around noon. We found an empty Quonset hut on base where we dropped off our gear. We grabbed a late lunch and headed into the city. We were three nineteen-year-old kids on a grand adventure. Our orders granted us permission to fly out of Nam the next day on our way to Taipei, Taiwan for R&R. It felt like Christmas Eve.
Bars in Saigon didn’t care how old you were. If you were in uniform, you would get served. Over the course of several hours, we all got pretty hammered, Kent being the worst off, by far.
Kent was very German looking. He was slight of frame but stood 6’2”, at least. He wore professorial looking spectacles. He was also blond and blue-eyed. He didn’t look very formidable, but he was. He was a tough guy, actually.
Saigon Airfield was heavily fortified and well-guarded. Sentries were posted at thru points (about fifty yards apart) along with a guarded perimeter heavily punctuated by machine gun towers, situated every seventy-five yards or so apart.
We were so drunk that we forgot which thru-point we used to get off base. So, we wandered up to a sentry post, at random, and tried to get back in.
Kent started talking to one of the sentries and within seconds it all went very bad, very fast. Kent started yelling at the sentry who then took one step in Kent’s direction, and he shouted ‘halt.’ Kent halted but kept yelling. The sentry was South Vietnamese, Regular Army. And he didn’t speak English. There were three of them total, two at the gate, and one in the guard shack.
Kent would not shut up and eventually, the guard switched off the safety and pointed his M16 at Kent. This was soon followed by the other two guards doing likewise.
I am now looking down the barrel of a loaded and ready to fire M16 assault rifle. I froze. I put my hands in the air and remained silent. The sentry from the shack started yelling at me ‘ID’, ‘ID.’ ‘You show ID.’ ‘You show now!’
I was afraid to put my hands down long enough to retrieve my wallet. So, I kept them in the air, ignoring his order. The guard took another step towards me, pointed his rifle at my face and yelled, yet again. ‘ID, you show ID.’
As I started to lower my arms, ever so slowly, I heard a voice coming up from behind me. It was an American First Lieutenant, who spoke Vietnamese. Within seconds he defused the entire situation. I’ll never forget his name. It was Daniels – Lieutenant Daniels. The reason I still remember his name is due in part to the movie ‘Forrest Gump.’
Lieutenant Dan. Yeah buddy, good ol legless Lieutenant Dan.
Thank you to all the vets and their families from Greenville. Small towns like Greenville have lost their unfair share of young adults to wars abroad.