…At Alex’s Restaurant. No Thanksgiving in a foreign land in 1970 was complete without someone dragging out a scratchy Arlo Guthrie Alice’s Restaurant vinyl and replaying the story about the 8 1/2 by 11 glossy color photos. We had no turkey and were hundreds of kilometres from any fresh mashed potatoes. A rather large old chicken that weighed in at about 8 1/2 lbs was the centerpiece. Up country near the Laotian border where we were, folks let things grow to their fullest before harvesting. That makes for some kind of tough meat. Water buffalo, perhaps the closest thing we had to beef, was normally “harvested” at 14- just before they died from a myocardial infarction. The harvest was considered a resounding success if the the animal could make it to the butcher’s shop under its own steam. A perfect scenario would be if it expired just under the hoisting hook.
Earlier that 1970 T-day day, we had to make a run on the cable out to the Army’s RRFS site to make sure it was still there. Generally, the army would get on Single Side Band and pitch a pitch if they lost their communications with us. Proactive M 16 preventive maintenance was still frequent though. Sometimes we’d roust zipperheads who were seriously thinking about simply stealing some for the copper value. It was a never ending battle and a lot of splicing at ungodly hours but rarely any gunplay. Most of the time we were an hour late. Most of the time.
Being as it was Thanksgiving and we were pretty much going to Tanqueray the day away later, Dan and I had stayed up late the night before. We decided to pull up and set on a little raised hill where we could observe about 3 klics of road and telephone poles with binoculars. We had an old doorless ragtop M 151 jeep with a couple of scabbards for CAR 15s. Naturally, we determined a siesta could be accomplished as long as one of us stayed awake. Being the low E-3 on the totem pole, I automatically drew short straw.
About three weeks earlier, I’d done a good deed for a RLAF Tahann NCO who had just had a new baby. He wanted to call his mom in Vientiane and tell her about it so we set it up on a TRC 28 as a favor. Turned out he worked with a friend in EOD who had tons of extra guns and shit. I got a gook grenade as one of my things I wanted to mail home for a souvenir. It was a reworked WW2 pineapple grenade with a 4-inch bamboo stack on top to handle a rudimentary VC prussic acid fuse. It was still under the seat of the jeep when I absentmindedly reached down to get the binoculars. Bad ideas always hatch when idle hands are about. I carefully stepped out of the jeep as gently as possible and drew my Model 19 out of my shoulder holster.
Tossing the grenade in to get a good rattle around on the metal floorboards, I yelled “Dan!!!! Gooks on the left!!!” as I cut loose with a few rounds of .357. Jez, I had no idea he was that asleep. He dove out the passenger side into 3/4″ minus gravel and red clay dust face down in about .0004 seconds and even managed to snag the CAR on the way. I was impressed. I think the severe road rash on the forehead was the deal breaker.
“April Fools” didn’t get it. I was in the dog house the rest of the week and I even let him have both drum sticks that evening. And that’s the way it was – Thursday, November 26th, 1970.
1970. Philly. (For some odd reason, “old” friends from NY, DC, and CT ended up in Philly and so did I.) I was 21, married to a jerk, with a cute 5-month old baby girl. Had to give up my bookkeeping job so I was broke. Do not remember making T-Day dinner but there was a pizza joint nearby so I might have had meatballs or a cheese steak. Rent for a 2-bed room apartment with electricity and heat in an OK Italian neighborhood (think Rocky/Soprano characters running numbers) was only $100 a month. This was not a culture I could relate to–except for the good food. Two years later, I left with child. Home to Mom and the predictable middle-class suburban lifestyle I was used to.