Saturday, November 19, 2005


I worked with a guy in Southern California who enjoyed explaining the Vietnamese people to me. He had been over there in the Army. He had spent his tour at the Long Bien supply depot which was about 20 miles NE of Saigon. His tour was less than a year.

He knew a lot about the Vietnamese because he had worked with one. Whenever the subject came up, he would recall his experiences with this one Vietnamese and use him to illustrate his point.

Long Bien was a pretty fortunate posting for someone in the Army. It had practically no incidents. One GI was killed by a mortar round in 1968.

It was also isolated. The road to Saigon was occasionally subject to VC roadblocks. Except for truck drivers, soldiers at Long Bien never saw Saigon. It was smart for them to do their entire tour on the base and go home feeling very lucky.

I doubt if my friend ever had a meal outside of the mess hall.

Very likely, that one Vietnamese that my friend continually brought up was the only Vietnamese he had ever met.

But one was enough.

We’ve all known people like that.


There was another guy that I met while I was over there. He was civilian who had been in Viet Nam for years at the time. Perhaps as long as I.

He bragged to me, get this, that in all the years he’d been there, he had never had one meal outside of a mess hall. Yes, he was bragging.

That depressed me. At the same time I felt very sorry for him.

There is mess hall food and there is mess hall food. In Viet Nam, not only was our military paying for everything, they were supplying everything even to the
construction camps. There was little chance of a gourmet meal. Or even an above average meal.

I some construction camps where I had worked before, the food had been spectacular, and I use that word advisedly.

In Peru at the top camp, in Iran at the Khaneh site, and at the Trinity River Dam, the food was, on a day to day basis, the best I had eaten in my life.

But still, if given idle time, we would travel to sample the local hospitality and vittles.

But this poor chap bragged that he had never eaten outside of a less than mediocre mess hall.

This in Viet Nam where French trained chefs, and even some French chefs, were everywhere. Which meant that excellent restaurants were everywhere.

Even on that Soc Trang job, way down on the Mekong Delta, I didn’t eat in the mess hall. Okay, maybe I ate there a half dozen times.

We lived in one of the two hotels in town. We lived in the big one, the one with six rooms.

There were a couple of restaurants in town where we ate. I even got them to pack me a lunch.

I had nothing against GI mess halls. The food at the Soc Trang Base was probable better than my restaurant in town. But I always felt I was imposing when I went to their mess hall. Given a reasonable option, I always chose not to.


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