Preface

Udorn

The Klong

The Routine

The Monsoon Season

One More For the Ditch

A Disappointment

Samchai

The Morning After

Family

Time Really Flies When You're Having Fun

 

In January, 1973 I volunteered to go back to Vietnam to command the 505th Tactical Control Group, which incorporated the 619th and 620th Tactical Control Squadrons in Vietnam, and the 621st Tactical Control Squadron in Thailand. This would be my second Southeast-Asian tour, and my second time in Vietnam. But at the end of January the United States, South Vietnam, and North Vietnam signed the Paris Peace Accords and our people began leaving Vietnam. The 505th was decommissioned and its remnants were incorporated into the 621st squadron with headquarters on the Royal Thai Air Force base at Udon Thani, known to the military as "Udorn," a name chosen to distinguish that base from the Royal Thai Air Force base at Ubon Ratchathani.

And so, by the time I left the United States in early April, 1973, I was on my way to Thailand to command the 621st Tactical Control Squadron. The command included the headquarters and a radar site on the base at Udorn, a second radar site on the base at Ubon, a third radar site on the Royal Thai Air Force base at Nakhon Phanom, and a logistics center in Bangkok.

In 1973 tactical control was carried out by intercept controllers who, with the help of radar displays and radios, vectored aircraft to targets, to airborne tankers for refueling, and to recovery bases if the aircraft were in trouble. TAC controllers also provided various other communication and control tasks such as entry and exit help for gunships and rescue helicopters during attempts to recover downed airmen. The environment necessary to carry out these operations included a lot of equipment, a lot of complicated logistics, and a lot of people with a lot of training.

During my first four months at Udorn our Air Force was heavily involved round the clock in bombing and close air support for Cambodia's government forces as they tried to hold back Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, now being assisted by the North Vietnamese. It was a busy time, and everyone had his hands full. We didn't have enough controllers, and some of them were sleeping on cots next to their radar scopes. But on August 15th, 1973, as a result of the Case-Church Amendment which Congress passed in June, the United States ceased combat operations and abandoned the Cambodian people to the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot, and one of the most horrendous genocides in recorded history.

At that point the situation reversed itself and instead of having our hands full, we found our hands more or less empty. We continued to train and to stay combat-ready, but the urgency of combat was gone. When the idea sank in that the war really was over and that they were eleven thousand miles from home with months to go, some people took it more or less in stride while others frayed a little at the edges. Thailand is a lovely country with a lovely people full of what the Thai call "sanuk," which translates roughly as a capacity for fun, and many of the 621st's people were more than delighted to join in the fun.

I wrote these stories in my spare time shortly after I returned in 1974. They're short stories, but you ought to read them in sequence since their characters tend to reappear. They're pure fiction, though I've certainly drawn from things I observed at Udorn, during my previous tour at Ubon, and later at Can Tho in the Vietnam delta. These aren't stories about war; they're stories about men far away from home. The people in the stories are fictional, but they're composites based on the behaviors of real people observed first-hand.

Since I've tried to replicate Thai speech as I heard it, my English renderings of Thai words often are different from traditional renderings. For instance, most writers use "samlor" for the universal Thai bicycle taxicab. The word I always heard was "samblao."

I've taken a few liberties with Thai pronunciations of English words. The Thai consider what we hear as the phonemes "L" and "R" to be a single phoneme. In Bangkok the sound of the phoneme comes out as "R." In up-country Thailand the sound comes out as "L." For example, "farang," meaning a foreigner, comes out up-country as "falang." When I used some of my very limited up-country Thai on a Bangkok taxi-driver he laughed and told me: "You speak hillbilly Thai." I've left the "R" in a few words, like "friend," even though the word doesn't really come out that way in Udon Thani. I can't quite replicate the real sound with English constructions, and when I try the result is confusing.

"Udorn" is based on my own arrival at Udon Thani. It simply sets the stage for a lot of what follows. I've described the scene in the bar almost exactly as it happened that first day, except I've changed the names to protect the guilty.

The setting of "The Klong" is based at least partially on a long boat ride through the Bangkok klongs to which I and two members of the 621st staff were treated by the owner of the Nana hotel. The Nana had been the R and R (rest and recuperation) hotel of choice for members of the 505th TCG, and, of course, for the members of the 621st. The three of us were invited to spend three days at the Nana. We were paying guests, but since we weren't ordinary tourists the klong tour was one to remember.

"The Routine" is exactly that: the routine part of the daily routine.

"The Monsoon Season" is based on the sights and sounds of downtown Udon Thani in the early 70's.

One night in the Udorn officers' club I heard a guy at a nearby table say almost exactly what Palmer said just before Burdick got up and stumbled out of the bar in "One More For The Ditch."

"A Disappointment" is based on a real situation, but the details are fictional, as (mostly) is Salachette.

Though the four "Samchai" stories are fiction, the first story is based on something that actually happened to a friend at Ubon. Now that it's 2016 Ben's $50 loan to Jim Allen doesn't sound like much, but thanks to our government's debasement of the currency that $50 would be about $270 today.

"Massage" is based on local color and not for the faint of heart.

"Sunday Morning" is a composite that helps to illustrate why there always are problems when you put young men and young women together for extended periods and expect them to leave each other alone, a situation the military faces in spades now that political correctness has forced women to become troops.

The first part of "Housegirls" is based on firsthand observation. The second part is based on hearsay.

The five stories about Alan's relationship with Lek are composites of observations of the activities of several people.

 

Russ Lewis

Col, USAF (Ret)

 

May 17, 2004

Revised April 26, 2017

 

 

Aftermath

Massage

Sunday Morning

Housegirls

Sawadee (Hello)

The Island Paradise

The Drunk

The Christmas Season

Sawadee (Goodbye)

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