Rest and Recrimination

I was bathed in sweat, I was dirty and tired, and I had just finished a 14 hour push to ready 23 aircraft loads for delivery into the bush. On my way back to the squad hooch, I was diverted by the sounds of music and conversation at the PX beer hall, sometimes referred to as the enlisted club in parody of the NCO and Officers clubs. My company first sergeant was looking for me and he found me there, sitting behind a pitcher of beer that was warming faster than I could drink it. He dropped into a seat across from me, picked up the pitcher and took a long drink from it. “Hey!” I said.

“Hey yourself, soldier. I bring you good news and I’m takin’ some of your beer as a messaging fee.” Well, who was I to argue? He had a lot more stripes than I did, so I just raised my eyebrows and looked at him questioningly. “You’re up for R&R. You got the choice of Bangkok, Thailand or Taipei, Taiwan. Which one you wanna visit?”

I thought for a moment and decided that Taiwan was further away. He nodded and told me to collect up my gear and be ready to go in the morning. “What? Wait a minute.” I protested. “I don’t have any money. I send it all home and so I need time to have my family wire me some cash.”

“You better tell them to send it to Taiwan then, because your ass is on a plane in the morning.” He smiled and told me thanks for the beer. I noticed that the pitcher was empty.You gotta admire a guy who can drink 3/4 of a quart of beer while holding a two minute conversation. Besides, I had no time for beer, I had to go over to the communications tent and have them wire my dad. I sent a wire off telling him to immediately wire me $500 via Western Union and it HAD to be in Taipei, Taiwan the following day. Sending my money home was my father’s idea. He suggested that I wouldn’t need much money and that I should have the Army pay me $25 a month and send the balance to him. He said he would be my banker, and if I ever needed money to tell him and he’d take care of it. So that’s what I did, and came home to a bank account with almost $1400 in it. A sizable sum for 1967.

I was roused the next morning at just after four am and hustled off to the airfield. From Phan Rang I went to Saigon, and from there to Taipei. The trip took the better part of 18 hours. There were five other guys from my company with me. On landing,  I found that there was a Western Union office in the Taipei airport, but was horrified to discover that there was no wire for me. I asked them to please check and see what went wrong. My compatriots took off for the hotel we all chose from a list the Army gave us. We picked the one we did because if offered a restaurant with American food. As they went to check in, I took a seat in the terminal and waited for my dad to come through. Five hours later I was sending him a cable asking if he would please check on his money wire.

Stuck in Taiwan Airport w/no money. Please check on wire or resend! Urgent!

I spent the day at the airport and that night as well, managing to kill two of my five days of R&R. I got a reply from my father, a wired response  explaining that he didn’t realize I was in a hurry when he got my wire on Thursday and put it off till Monday. By the time he heard from me Friday, the bank was closed and so he had to wait for Monday anyway. I was fit to be tied.

One of my travel compatriots offered to let me use the spare bed in his hotel room and the others took up a collection and handed me $25 to buy food with. That worked out to a carton of cigarettes and four meals. I set about to walk around the city of Taipei, which wasn’t all that great an idea. There were machine gun carrying troops everywhere who were forever telling me I wasn’t allowed to walk where I wanted to go, suggesting I take a taxi. The only place I got to see ended up being the Royal Palace, and that was because the hotel had a free shuttle there and back. I spent the next two and a half days sitting around the hotel and hearing from my buddies how great the nightlife and restaurants were. They’d each managed to pick up escorts who made them feel very welcome to boot. So well, in fact, that I spent one night down in the lobby to afford my roommate privacy. And then it was time to leave. At the airport I checked with Western Union a last time and found that there was still no money waiting for me. I had to listen to my benefactors growl at me for the 18 hour trip back. It was humiliating not to have any stories of conquest and revelry to satisfy the guys who were dying to know how my R&R trip went. I hadn’t bought a single souvenir, not even a post card, and unlike my fellow buddies, no photos to show and tell with. I simply went back to toiling away at my job, trying not to think about it.

A week after returning to Phan Rang, the company clerk brought me a wire from my father. He was annoyed that he’d gotten my money sent to Taipei, it arriving on Tuesday, where I rudely left it until Western Union informed him it had not been claimed. He had, he said, returned the money to my bank account, less $50 in expenses and fees he’d paid to try to send money to his ingrate son. Expenses which included the cable in my hand. So I didn’t even get the money late. This left me on the hook to repay my friend’s kindness, and so I wrote to my mother, explaining what had happened and she happily sent me $100 in greenback 20 dollar bills by airmail Special Delivery –which had a 2 to 1 exchange rate for military scrip. I gave each of the guys who fronted me $5 a ten spot for their troubles and gave twenty to the friend who let me use his hotel room. Then we went over to the PX and spent twenty bucks on beer, which was 20 pitchers worth.

A month later I got a letter from my dad, asking me to please write to my mother and ask her to stop telling all of the family and friends they ran into the story of how he procrastinated my urgent request, causing me to have a miserable vacation in Taiwan. I wrote him back promising him that I would.

It was one of the first things I told her when I came home. Five months later.