Sitting on the beach in Nha Trang was glorious. The sands were white and the sea the color of Navajo turquoise. There was a beautiful wave break that was happening 100 yards offshore and a few guys were out there with boards surfing. Up and down the beach was an array of small bars. Tiny shed-like buildings that were sheathed in beer can sheet metal bearing ever repeating logos of Pabst Blue Ribbon, Budweiser, Schlitz and more. They were pretty much dead at this time of day, about noon, but as darkness fell they would come alive as soldiers would cram themselves into them for a night of competitive drinking. Each of the bars was claimed by a group, particular unit. Some were army, some marines, navy and yet others were different nationalities. South Korea, Australia, the Netherlands. Stumbling into the wrong one could have nasty consequences, considering the number of fist fights that broke out among the groups who belinged to the little bars on the beach.
But for the moment, it was difficult to tell whether we were in a war zone or paradise, the water a pleasant 74 degrees in the deep and as much as 80 or so at the shoreline. The outside air temperature was already 90 degrees, the blowing trade winds feeling like warm breath that could dry a swimmer in seconds after leaving the water. Fishing boats bobbed in the swells offshore, adding to the picturesque nature of the place, as did the many king palms jutting up like parasols to either side of the beach. We had a couple of poncho liners spread like blankets on the sand and lay on them, getting a tan although that wasn’t the point. We were there to relax in spite of it being duty hours and we really should have been down at the airfield prepping loads for aerial delivery out in the bush. But it was a slow time and we knew it. We also knew that the few guys picking up our slck didn’t really care that we were out here. Tomorrow the roles would be reversed.
One of us had a little portable transistor radio. It was Japanese and sounded kind of tinny, but we didn’t care. It was tuned to the Armed Forces Radio Service and was playing Ray Conniff music. At the moment it was playing Jada. We were rolling our eyes and making demeaning comments, wishing that one of the jocks who played rock and roll would come on so we could hear some Stones or Beatles; even Nancy Sinatra would do. We were smoking cigarettes and also a bit of loco weed. You could easily buy pot from street vendors who sold it rolled into professional looking filter cigarettes in Marlboro, Winston, Kool, Kent or Camel packs. We also had beer out there scarfed from the PX. All in all it was a great picnic and all we needed were some girls to make it picture perfect.
We stayed out there the entire day, at dusk moving into the 6 Bar that we Riggers claimed as our own. We’d bought ourselves a dinner of sorts, we ate hamburgers from a little restaurant stand across the road from the beach. It was a sure bet that the meat wasn’t really hamburger and we told ourselves it was water buffalo because we didn’t want to consider alternatives. Relaxed and fed, we started the process of getting royally drunk in a succession of rapid fire shit drinking contests alternated with chugging pitchers of beer. We’d get sick, of course, it went with the territory. We’d stagger outside and dig shallow holes in the sand and heave into them, brushing the sand back over the contribution we’d made to the beach. Then we’d relieve ourselves, either splashing the side of the bar or making ornate squiggles in the sand, perhaps even trying to write our names.