YOU’RE IN THE ARMY NOW, part 37. A quick roundup of the final month and Where, who, why the bloody hell am I?

A quick roundup indeed, I could ramble on about drunken fights in town, blokes being hit in the head by eight track stereos, others found lying in gutters. The list goes on. We had a magazine printed in the orderly room entitled, the ‘Weekly Rag.‘ A rag indeed, it contained a: who’s who section, tit bits, social gatherings, a Dorothy Dix section etc. You may get the drift. I dare say that many a relationship now, may, after all these years feel a hiccup if the goings on were made public. Some letters were received at the main gate for certain troop members; e.g.
Dear M, Please understand for my job I must work, but I always thinking about you, I hope you come see me next time and I never make you sad anymore.
 Dear I. I’m going to marry you, I don’t lie, If you really love me. TUY.
Dear T. How are you, Honey? Why haven’t you come to see me for three days? I think about you every night and I wish you could be here with me. I love you, LAN.

There were tales of certain sergeants seen in town wearing floral pyjamas, allegations of another sergeant selling his shares in a certain ‘barber shop’ where French lessons could be bought. A by-line citing Snow Marshall’s failure to be accepted into Vung Tau’s local Black Panther bar. I had stuck my head in the door of that bar a few nights earlier. It was definitely blacks only. They all wore fingerless gloves made of knotted boot laces on their right hands. I decided by the look on their stern faces that I wasn’t welcome. Snow, called that because of his white blond hair and extremely fair complexion, went in to buy a drink. The poor bugger received a terrible flogging for his efforts.  The magazine also carried a birth notice for the timely arrival of a re-birthed, stolen US Army truck, a Model 37 I think. With the stealth of an Oceans Eleven crew several stalwart types, dressed in US Army uniforms, entered an American base on the other side of town, went to their canteen, had a beer and then casually climbed aboard their prize and drove straight out. The following morning I went to my job, spray painting APC’s and trucks and noticed that some elves had been busy through the night. They didn’t clean my spray gun out.

The hut I lived in, A20 received some bad press, in the form of a drug raid. Allegations flourished re a stash of weed being kept in said hut. Our second in command, 1ØB (that’s his vehicle call sign) with the help of the Military Police, special investigation branch led the raid with what else but military precision. They made a show of searching our lockers but kept their eyes on the prize, the rafters above the bed opposite mine. The  SIB officer was quickly named Snurdsdale and we found out he wasn’t fond of us at all. He tried his hardest to pin the ownership of a plastic bag of extremely dry weed, located in the rafters on the whole hut. Saner heads prevailed and he narrowed the field down to four men. I have since found out the bag was owned by a certain trooper who shall remain nameless.  Jimmy Canuto penned this verse with apologies to Merle Haggard.
We don’t smoke Mary Jane in A20
We don’t take our trips on LSD,
Even though 1ØB is trying to frame us
With the help of the S.I. effing B.
The below clip will refresh your memory of the song, Okie from Muscogie.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=-iYY2FQHFwE

In between performing everyday tasks, like riding shotgun on the garbage trucks driven by Vietnamese contractors, we could play darts. It may have been a shirt V skins match with the umpire wearing nothing but his undies.
playing darts at Vung Tau

Or you could wander the markets looking for that elusive bargain.

vung tau markets

If your taste for birds was of the aquatic variety, you could purchase a basket of ducks.

ducks in a Lambro

There was also a selection of clothes and Bata shoes.

vung tau markets

The jewellers shop did a roaring trade.

gold shop vung tau

At the end of the day you could load your purchases into one of the many taxis that eagerly awaited your custom.

vung tau taxi

There were always eager groups waiting to take the tour of Vung Tau to photograph the many tourist spots.

Mick Webb, Tony Forbes, Grant Sheean.

Yes, I was ever the artful photographer.🙂 At the Buddhist temples in Vung Tau.

Buddha statue, vung tau.

buddha vung tau

Yes, I can smile. We had a LOT of spare 9mm ammunition in this Land Rover, so we put on a pistol shooting competition in the sand hills. I don’t know who won it but we had a great time.

Laurie Smith

Where, who, why the bloody hell am I? Not an uncommon series of questions when one has been out on the booze, or had little sleep. I asked this question for at least two days after the following events. We had what was known as the Pussy Cut Off Date. We were leaving Vung Tau by ship on the 28th February 1972, and the army didn’t want anybody presenting with symptoms of VD while on board. Or taking any nasty surprises home to wives or girlfriends. Seeing that the symptoms for syphilis takes that long to manifest, we were advised to keep it in our pants. I had nobody to take anything home to, besides I was taking part in a trial for an anti VD drug being tested on soldiers in Vietnam and San Francisco prostitutes at the time. Known as ‘No Sweat’ pills you took one before engaging the ah, object of your desire and another the following morning. It was obviously a huge dose of antibiotics and it worked. Our trips into town were curtailed over Tet, the Vietnamese New Year. The military didn’t forget the Tet offensive in 1968. On our last day ever in town I decided to take a nostalgic look at the place and snap a few photos. This shows one side of the street where the most popular bars were situated. It appears quiet but once the kids and trinket sellers spotted a likely mark they would swarm all over them.

bars in Vung Tau

This photograph is the last one I took in town. The bar girl tried many and varied ways to keep me there so I could sample what she had on offer. She had a friendly face and an obvious strong work ethic and nice breasts but I was staunch, no Laurie, no. Take pictures and go back to camp. The lass wasn’t camera-shy by any means and had an obvious need to show me what I would be missing. You’ll notice her forearms have mother of pearl on them. Her arms were obviously scarred and she must have decided to decorate them. I had a scotch and coke and left the bar. Outside I turned to one of the blokes I’d had a drink with, he’d decided to go back to camp, I gave him my camera and kit and said, “See ya later.”

bar girl

Those words and the bar girl are the last and only things I remember from that day, until I was thrown from a Lambro taxi at the front gates to the base at 2300 hours. I fumbled in my pocket and found my ID card. Stumbling forward I lifted it up at arm’s length to show it to the 10 metre tall MP. He gripped my arm and pulled it down, mumbled something and away I staggered. My next memory is waking up in an empty shed, used to house vehicles somewhere on the base and laying in a pool of oil. The smell of old engine oil and diesel is still strong in my mind. Fearsome creatures roamed outside and my mind blanked out. The rest is what John Fisher told me a day later. Around midnight I kicked the door to our hut open, announced my presence and vomited. A lot, then fell on my face. They dragged me out to the showers and put me under a cold one. Undressed me and carried me back to bed.

I woke the next morning clutching a plastic bucket and suffering with the worlds largest hangover. It felt like the accumulated hangover of a Russian vodka drinking team, after the grand final. Peering through what I thought was my mosquito net, it turned out to be half blind eyes, I saw John. “Awake now are we? You’d better get up, 1ØB is taking us for a run. He reckons we need to get fit.” I found my shorts and boots, dressed and staggered outside. Within 200 metres I fell out, landed on my hands and knees and vomited again. My eyesight faded to something resembling black pinholes. I could hear someone shouting at me and couldn’t give a rat’s arse, I hurt. I’ve been drunk before and since but never have I been so ill. I finally stood and staggered along behind. As the day went on I felt less dead and ate a sandwich for dinner. One of the blokes bailed me up in the mess and called me a dirty, filthy bastard for what he saw me doing in a bar. “Tell me, what did I do?” No reply, only a disdainful stare. It took three days before I could see properly, before the hallucinations vanished. I had vomited so hard I thought my anus had taken up permanent residence in the back of my throat.

I returned to normal and the time drew closer to coming home. This will be dealt with in next week’s post. I must add a post script here. Back in Australia a year later I was on my motorbike travelling from Townsville to Brisbane. A hot day, I stopped and took my leather jacket off, climbed back on the bike and a couple of kilometres later I braked suddenly. I had to stop, a huge cowboy at least 20 metres high strode across the highway in front of me, stopped and waited until an even bigger rabbit crossed over. Then he tipped his hat and strode off into a nearby pine tree plantation. I rode off the highway and sat in the shade for a while. Four years later on my way to work at the jail one morning, the same thing happened again. This time a dinosaur towered above an overpass. I’ve since read that the certain US agencies took part in drugging soldiers in bars and seeing how they responded. Perhaps some ‘kind’ soul spiked my drink for the hell of it and delighted in whatever perversions I embarked on. Somebody must have been in charge of me, I could never have organised transport back to base. Who threw me out of the back of the Lambro? The obvious drugs involved are either LSD, PSP or perhaps both. I have never been able to recover those lost 9 hours. As to what I was doing in the bar, if it disgusted a cavalry man then maybe I don’t want to know. Until next week.

Next week: We’re going home.

14 thoughts on “YOU’RE IN THE ARMY NOW, part 37. A quick roundup of the final month and Where, who, why the bloody hell am I?

  1. catnipoflife

    As I was reading near the end, of course, flashes in my mind gleamed of possible alcohol poisoning or drugs. My brother was stationed in Laos but never talked about it very much. Not sure if he encountered anything quite like this! So glad you made it outta there🙂

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  2. WordsFallFromMyEyes

    Laurie, you have so LIVED, and on the edge. I wish/hope your children read this.

    Those photos are something else. I so love old photos.

    To think women experience that too – drink spiking and then fuck knows, you would understand how frightening it is. This is so heavy going, just… I don’t know what to say! Amazing writing, so clear. I like your sense of humour in style, too (“she had a strong work ethic” – oh Laurie!!🙂 )

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Thanks Noeleen, I don’t think my son reads any of my stuff. However plenty of other people do.🙂 I have a few pictures left and some I haven’t used in the series and when I think about it, they are old photos, damn, I’m getting old.
      Many people don’t realise that men have their drinks spiked too, it’s a nasty way to meet people. Well Noeleen she was after all a true professional.🙂
      Cheers
      Laurie.

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  3. Pagadan

    Oh, wow! They certainly experimented on you. Makes me wonder how frquently this happened and how you were monitored and dropped off. Reminds me of mad scientists. As usual, great descriptions of what you suffered…Urp.

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  4. davidprosser

    The mind boggles as to what you were up to in the bar Laurie. Anything that can upset another soldier like that must have been pretty spectacular.
    I’m glad you recovered—eventually.

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Hmm, I did learn one thing Gigi and that was there are people who like to drug others for the hell of it. I went out that day with the intention of sightseeing. I suspect that my drink in the bar where I took the photo could have been spiked then. The after effects of LSD and PCP if you are given enough are nausea, vomiting, hallucinations, psychological disorders. Anything a person does while affected by these substances are way out of their control. Obviously I consumed an inordinate amount of alcohol, enough to make my eyesight fail severely. As to any other events I have tried over time to access them but they are locked away, probably even erased.

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  5. Raani York

    OMG Laurie!! I was worried… in particular when reading your P.S. – extremely dangerous – and I’m very glad you made it out safe (except for the feeling of a bad hangover). It’s so hard – what you had been going through!! I will be glad to read you’re going home!!

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      I’m okay now Raani, well maybe. No giant cowboys, rabbits or dinosaurs for years.🙂 I get a headache just thinking of my hangover. Definitely not self inflicted. The symptoms were similar to alcohol poisoning, especially the problem with vision. Next week will be better.🙂

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