Panties on the Ceiling & Other Lil' Things
By Wayne Brown
I was a late arrival into the Vietnam Conflict, at least from a permanent assignment standpoint. I had already spent some time in country the previous year as part of a temporary duty (TDY) support for the 21st Tactical Airlift SQ out of Taiwan. During that period I had some exposure to ABCCC (Airborne Command & Control Center) as we flew radio monitoring missions over the Pass on orbits "RASH" and "TRUMP". Little did I know at that time that this would be a taste of my next assignment.
I arrived at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base in April of 1974 just as the Paris Peace Talks produced the now historic Nixon cease-fire. I was able to fly just enough to get a local area check. I was a front-end Navigator...one of the dudes upfront riding in a standard government-issue seat. I had already spent a tour at Dyess in C-130 tactical airlift and was quite familiar with the C-130. My first ride at Korat was a bit of a shock as I was not prepared for the tired, worn condition of the ABCCC birds. I think about a 1/3 of my instrument panel was either inop or removed for repair in the bird that was offered for my local area check. At that time, I realized that the year ahead of me might be a long one with only minimum navigational aids available.
The hootch area (the name evades me now) to which I was assigned was filled with the rag-tag, war-worn, officer riff-raff that was so common in those times. Everyone seemed about a bubble off center from the get-go. Funny thing, the longer I was there, the more normal this behavior seemed. My room was adorned with ancient Chinese language symbols marked in large red drawings on the sheetrock walls. The icing on the cake was a glossy, color photo of the one who preceded me in the space. His likeness was partially hidden by the red panties pulled over his head. He peeked out at me through the opening in one leg of the frilly things. The letters "DILLIGAFF" were engraved on the lower portion. It was hung up high thus I left it as a reminder to me that these things do end long before the marks we leave behind us wear away. This would later prove to work against me.
With the war on hold, insanity rose to a higher than normal level in the hootch environment. The adrenalin of war had to be dissipated in some manner leading to harder than normal drinking stints that regularly drained the community fridge. These binges then normally produced extracurricular activities like night carrier landings and the manning of the guns. After witnessing either, one could better understand how easy it must have been to put a man on the moon with such a vast resource of creative minds available to our government.
Night Carrier Landings were attempted on the hootch area picnic table after it had been covered with heavy plastic sheets and wetdown for effect. Once drunk enough and void of all clothing (you gotta get that tail hook in position), the brave soul did one last gear and flap check and set up on final approach. The flare was set through a running leap that ended in a mid-air stall causing the naked chest and belly to harshly contact the landing surface. From that point, the "pilot" attempts the engage the tailhook and go hard on the binders to get her stopped while still on the deck. Failure, which happened regularly, produced a crash in the grass and help from the drunken disaster team. There were no "go-arounds" and no rubber rafts.
Manning the Guns demonstrated the ever vigilant security that surrounded our hootch. There were those among us that possessed super-human sensory perception and could literally hear a mouse peeing on a cotton-ball. It was those brave souls that fought off our other hootch enemies on a regular basis and kept us free! It was also those same men that attacked their own. The path to the Officer's Club lay on a straight line running away from the hootch area. The view from the hootch to the O Club was clear for almost the entire length with only a few trees and shrubs offering concealment. Anytime someone ventured onto this path, there was a manning of the guns and the attacks were on. The guns consisted of a large slingshot constructed of a metal funnel attached to two large rubber surgical tubing bands. Two men became the posts for anchoring the bands; two more pulled back on the funnel to launch the round. The round was a water balloon. The unit could be rapidly reloaded and delivered its brunt with surprising accuracy. The victims, walking blindly along to the O Club, would first hear a "whoosh" followed by the landing of the round. It was a long walk to the O Club on most days. The other gun was a "tennis-ball cannon" constructed of three tennis-ball cans taped together. The bottom had been removed from two of the cans to form a barrel. The third can kept its bottom and had a small hole in the side thus forming a firing chamber. The tennis-ball fit snuggly down the barrel, a fire cracker was ignited in the chamber and the ball was fired toward its destination with great speed. To this day, I have never witness a further flight of a tennis-ball.
Within three months of the cease-fire, the word came down that the 7th was moving to Clark to hang out there until we could get the war restarted. Moving from Korat to Clark was like moving from Bodunk to New York. Rumor had it that there was hot running water there. Soon, the rumors were confirmed and movement orders began to arrive sending my hootch mates off to the bright lights north of Manila. Since I was a "newbie", my orders were running late. I was basically to be left behind with only the few souls awaiting rotation to the states. The thrill of moving to Clark was too much for those whose brains had already been grossly affected by the prop-flux of war. The village fell out for one last celebration with no holes barred rituals. The natives danced about the fires until the wee-hours offering every vice to the gods that had brought their movement to the new land. Me, I lay in my room staring up at the picture hanging on the rafters wondering where the hell my orders for the new civilization might be.
As I was about to head for the community hootch shower the next morning, I heard a voice outside stating that "they have painted the buildings". That made no sense since our buildings had just recently been recoated with a brilliant white paint. As I walked outside, the meaning of the statement became clear. Large red painted letters of various farewell messages had been scrawled on almost every surface of both buildings making up our hootch area. I think this might have been the invention date for graffiti as I had never witnessed it anywhere else. I did not dwell much on it but the Korat base commander did issuing a statement that in a round about way said "every swinging dick in those buildings is on admin hold until those walls are repainted". I was a college graduate, an officer in the United States Air Force, a precision navigational instrument trained to the teeth, and now, I was a criminal on admin hold and it had happened over night. I have heard those things usually go that way much like one becomes famous with a hit rock song.
All my instincts said it was wrong for me to have participated in the repaint of these quarters. After all, I was a victim of a cruel hoax perpetrated by my former hootch mates who were long gone. I protested, I would not paint!! At least I thought I would not. Before I could uphold my convictions, I surprisingly ran out of rank with only the single silver bar on my lapel. I knew I was in trouble when they sent a Lt. Colonel to deliver the paint to my door. I looked at him and stated "Colonel, do I look like the sort of guy that would do this to a building?" He did not reply, he just stared up at the ceiling area gazing on the image peeping out of the panties. No doubt, he was sure that I was the peeker in the picture. I turned and stared with him, realizing my guilt conviction was sealed. I thanked him for the paint and proceeded to prepare my brush for the task. Never leave old pictures in your room.
All of my new "friends" celebrated my late arrival at Clark with rounds and rounds of laughter about my painting adventure at our previous home. Taking some pity on me, they did spring for a few free drinks. Even the effects of multiple brews could not erase the scars of my criminal past. I found myself wondering whether I had a future in the Air Force now that the war was gone and my record was stained. Even after all these years, sometimes the nightmares return. The ravage of war takes its toll in many forms on all of us. This was my plight and thus the burden I did bear with all my courage. To this day, when I witness graffiti, I find myself wondering what bit of good news inspired the natives to dance once more around their fires of joy and offer such renderings to the gods.
During my short stay at Korat, I had acquired a small motorized bike commonly called a "mo-ped". The Thai called it a "nit-noi" meaning "little thing". I was quite proud of it and spent my idle time spiffing it up with new paint and a handle-bar mounted bulb horn. For my protection, I had also purchased a helmet for use during high speed travel. When the move to Clark was announced, it pained me to think about leaving my nit-noi behind me as we had bonded in the strongest sense. I also knew that it would come in handy getting around on that sprawling concrete at Clark. Thus, I disassembled her and caringly packed her into three shipping boxes bound for Clark. Once I arrived there, I anxiously began going to the post office and looking for my little thing to arrive. Finally, a box showed...I said a box showed up. That's right, only one box. My memory registered that I had sent three. When I opened the box, there was the rear portion of my nit-noi void of the tire and wheel, just an engine, fender and a seat. Now what does one do with the ass-end of a nit-noi? After many months of pondering the possibilities, I found only one answer...I had finally lost all respect for the postal service. No man should have to endure both the criminal past and the loss of a little thing in a matter of a few short months. What were they thinking?
After abandoning all hope and adjusting to the idea of riding the Clark bus system for several months, I was pleasantly surprised when two packages arrived from APO San Francisco. It was the front-end of my little thing with all the nuts and bolts still packed in the bubble wrap. I celebrated to the point of almost painting the BOQ building, then thought better of the idea and went for a ride on my new found old friend. The pain of my tour was soon brushed aside by the sweet hum of my nit-noi engine cruising along at 24 miles per hour. All was well in this war-torn land.
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