Norm Kober, an old high school classmate, and I reconnected several years ago. In 2016 Norm provided a guest post for my blog in which he discussed his experience in Vietnam while serving in the U.S. Air Force. He also shared his experiences traveling the world as a good will ambassador for the Chik-fil-a organization, later in life.
In this next article Norm covers a more lighthearted topic; his experience on his R & R (Rest and Recuperation) during the war. After six months, every GI in Vietnam had the opportunity to take a one-week R & R period, away from the war zone. Destinations of choice included Tokyo, Bangkok, Australia, Hong Kong, Honolulu, and Taipei. Like Norm, I chose Hong Kong, and had a great time there, with the exception of a little harassment from the Chinese Communists on the mainland. (Ref my earlier blog, “Mao and Me”)
Norm shares with us, this unique experience from his R & R in Hong Kong.
An R & R Surprise
My work station At TSN (Tan Son Nhut Air Base) in Saigon was on the tarmac, handling the incoming C141 aircraft that came and went 24 hours a day bringing in supplies of every description and departing with everything imaginable. Almost daily we loaded C141s with metal shipping caskets of KIAs and twice a week we loaded and sent air evacs of severely wounded GI’s to Japan. Unfortunately, many times an evac flight had to abort takeoff and return to offload a body of one or more troops that had died before the plane left the ground.
There was a mortuary at TSN where bodies were prepared for transport back to Dover, Delaware Air Force Base in the states. I share this now so that you might understand what some of my memories bring with them, and why a sweet memory is so cherished even after 55 years. The stretch of Tarmac we occupied was adjacent to the stretch where the contract civilian US airlines that transported troops in and out of RVN (Republic of Vietnam) parked. Due to the fact that C141s were a high value target for the VC (Viet Cong), their ground time was never supposed to exceed two hours. This was done to limit the possibilities of VC to infiltrate the tight security around TSN to launch hand held mortars to attack one of the C141’s. This was also valuable to the VC for propaganda purposes; remember Hanoi Hanna was broadcasting daily to demoralize our troops, and any serious damage done was a feather in their cap and something else to throw in our faces.
On Feb 14 1969, Valentine’s Day, I was in our flight crew break room which was a place that C141 crews could get a cold drink and prepare for the next leg of the flight itineraries. This was done while the aircraft was being unloaded, reloaded and fueled if necessary. As we waited for an inbound C141, a civilian air crew walked in. I believe there were 4 male flight crew members, but I’m positive there were two female flight attendants. I didn’t pay any attention to the male crew but the flight attendants had my full attention!
Their plane had blown three tires on landing and they were waiting for repairs to be done, so they spent several hours with us that Valentine’s Day. My wing man (SSGT. Jerry Ford) and I spent as much time laughing and joking with the only round eyes (Caucasian) women we had been around for almost a year. We claimed that we hadn’t gotten any valentines in the mail and were unloved and all alone. The Gals laughed, I imagine they had heard every possible line ever tried, especially on Valentine’s Day. They were good sports and promised to send Valentine’s after they finished their flights that day. Too soon they were gone and we were left with only our imaginations to leave a smile on our faces. We never expected to get a Valentine or ever see them again.
In April, Ford and I got our R & R orders. We had chosen Hong Kong, and off we went, pockets full of money from 9 months of accumulated pay. We arrived in Hong Kong, went through the Chinese customs and immigration interview and search, which targeted the drugs that lots of GIs picked up the habit of in Vietnam. We cleared the strip search OK and were now released to spend three days.. and all our money in Hong Kong.
The first night we rode the ferry across the Kowloon Bay and walked the streets. After a time we got a cab and showed the driver a postcard with a picture of the Shatin Floating Restaurant and asked him to take us to there. I remember him trying to convince us that it was not the place for GI’s and it was expensive. We told him we didn’t want to see any other GI’s so it would be perfect for us. Off we went to the New Territories for the dining experience of our lives.
Eventually we went back to the Hotel to get some sleep, but it was useless, we were just wired and didn’t want to waste time sleeping. We were up by dawn and out on the street looking for a decent breakfast. Before long the streets were packed and we picked a small cafeteria type restaurant that was packed with people. We got the last empty table and sat down to people watch and enjoy some good food. We had barely begun eating when across the dining room we saw two Caucasian women carrying trays to a table directly in our line of site. It didn’t take long for a feeling to arise that for some reason the only two round eyes in the place looked familiar. At first, we doubted ourselves, we couldn’t imagine that it would be possible for us to know anyone In Hong Kong. By now you probably know where this is going, yes it was the two flight attendants we had laughed and joked with a month or so earlier on Valentine’s Day, back in Vietnam. We had the perfect approach line, so I went in with more confidence than I had ever mustered at any time, while trying to get something started with a young lady.
I walked right up to their table and announced how disappointed and upset we were with them. Shocked and surprised, they had no idea who I was or what I was talking about. Before they started to scream for help, I asked why hadn’t they sent the Valentine’s they had promised. That was all it took to jog their memories and they soon began to apologize and asked what we were doing in Hong Kong and what plans did we have. They had been to Hong Kong several times and offered to show us around if we didn’t have other plans. YEA RIGHT! How fast do you think it took for us to agree to let them be our tour guides?
As it turned out they were guests of someone in the shipping business and had plans for every evening, but their days were wide open and they spent them with us showing us the best time of our lives. That’s about all there is to tell, it was like a three-day vacation with your high school sweetheart except with money, and I wouldn’t change a single detail.
I’ve never shared this story before, but those memories are more and more precious as time goes by. I’ve heard it said that making memories will make you happier than making money; now I’m a believer.
Joe Campolo’s books and blog stories always jog my memories. They have inspired me to share this story, hope you enjoy it.