It was 1968 and there was a war on. You knew it because you could watch it on TV at night. You could watch the big B52 bombers dropping thousands of pounds of bombs on Vietnam every evening. Theoretically, you knew they were killing people, a lot of people, but you didn’t really see it so it wasn’t really happening in real life to real people.
I was stationed at Utapao in Thailand on the Gulf of Siam “where the flying fishes play.” I never did see a flying fish, but it was the Gulf of Siam and it was the largest B52 base in Southeast Asia outside of Vietnam. The runway ended on a beautiful white sand beach. We were just a few kilometers from Sattahip; the largest American military sea port in Southeast Asia outside of Vietnam.
It was a wonderful way to fight a war, if you didn’t have to go out and bomb people and I didn’t. The B52s went out from our base and flew for hours to get over Vietnam and “deliver their ordinance.” At the time I didn’t much care. I was 22 and I was a sergeant in medical supply. That’s a supply sergeant who only handles items for medical facilities. I didn’t have to deal with the war in any real way, I had a job that gave me more responsibility than any I would have for a decade afterwards on the outside. Life was pretty good. If I didn’t care what my job was contributing to, and I didn’t.
We could go off base any night we chose with no fear. They were all Friendlies here. Within a few kilometers of the main gate there were 25,000 prostitutes both freelance and in 500 bar/whore house combinations. At least according to the military police, although I never got around to counting them all. Alcohol was cheap and easily available and there were drugs, mainly Thai stick at $15.00 a key, less than an ounce cost back in the states.
On the base we had running water and all the other comforts of home and then some. We lived in hooches, which were small wooden buildings and all the sides could be opened to let the air blow through. There were about twelve to fifteen guys in each hooch and each hooch had a hooch girl. She washed and cleaned our clothing and the hooch we lived in and we each paid her 20 baht a month which at that time was about a dollar. We did no manual labor except what we had to do at work. It was a great step up from wherever we’d been stationed before. There was a Base Exchange and three movie theaters. One doubled as a synagogue on Saturdays and a church on Sundays. One was at the USO club which was run by young women who had come over from the United States to support the troops.
And one was an outdoor theater. Where we set on wooden benches and watched the movie projected on an outside screen. The screen had a slopping roof that went out about ten feet and angled down to the screen and on both sides there were walls that angled out away from the screen for the same distance. If it rained we’d get wet, but the screen would stay dry.
We would sit with our backs to the runway while the screen faced it. Often at night when we would watch a movie there would come a sound, a roar like the freight trains that used to run a block from my childhood home. The roar would drown out the sound coming from the screen, but the movie would never stop. It was the B52s going out on their missions. The sound would roll over us and then hit the screen get caught in the overhang and roll back. The sound would come in threes; the giant planes flew in three plane formations, but there could be as many as twenty or more of these formations. One, two, three…………one, two, three…………one, two three……………….one, two, three…………...
And the next day you could watch it all on TV.