1969 Phu Cat Re-Visited
I am grateful to have been smart enough to get into the Air Force, except, OR as canon fodder, Phu Cat was an excellent air base to wait out the war. I remember not one sentry dog handler was off on Thanksgiving eve. I think we may have been under the veil of alert status, and for the next several nights we will be reminded that we are under high alert status, so don't be lacks on post. (Airmansse: better not be sleeping on duty). Maintain that razor sharp edge of relentless vigilant. 'Oh! rat-crap, leave me the hell alone.' I am a short-timer. So kiss my grits! My brain is already stateside and I'm working a Kilo post on Thanksgiving eve. I exit the nam on January 05, 1970. Three-Hundred and Sixty nights of K-9/Handler relationships and bonding with these Noble Canines.
I will never forget my edge.
One of the really neat things about U. S. Air Force bases in general, anywhere in the world, is USAF brings Americana to foreign lands around the globe. What do I mean by Americana: all those things we take for granite back in the world.
I've a great example:
we had an Army Scout Dog/Handler, stand-down and put his dog up for a couple of days and nights of needed rest and relaxation (R&R) and the handler bunked with us. The first thing this grunt-dog-man wanted was breakfast. We were four hungry handlers and breakfast was probably the best meal in the AirForce because it's hard to screw up breakfast, right?
This grunt-scout-dog-handler opened our eyes to how cheaply our loyalty could be bought, to the point that even the Airmen Open-mess had damn good food.
First things, right out of the gate, this soldier was quickly overwhelmed by all the food being served. Anything having to do with breakfast Americana style was available. We watched in amazement as the Army Handler pile several plates with mountains of bacon and sausages, dozen eggs, over easy, over grits and cheese. Got to the table, unloaded and headed back for pancakes, biscuits and gravy, putting several apples, oranges and bananas, in all his packets and headed back to his table, unloaded, then went to the drink station and brought several cups of coffee and several glasses of coke and a milk. We couldn't help but laugh. He laughed right back and lets us know this is the first real fried egg in three months. He was sick-to-death of c-rations, and ate like a starving lion. We had finished our breakfast and just watch as a large amount of food was being consumed. Three trips for fried eggs?
Loved the french toast.
We got him squared-away for his short stay. Then, he wanted to return to the kennels and feed the treats the cooks had put together for his dog. The dog was as nuts as his handler. The grunt would make several trips to bring goodies for his Noble Canine. Finally, the long hot morning had past, and the blistering hooch's literally went to sleep. The sounds of "Little Green Apples", crept into your conscientiousness, the only other sounds was dozens of fans blowing hot air over sweat-soaked bodies, was cooling, even pleasant. Enough, so that sleep seized the bone weary handlers.
It wasn't just good food on air bases that was an eye-catcher, but, a hot shower, a toilet that flushed, a sink with both hot and cold and clean running-water, as much as you could want to use. Our base exchanges where tops. You could buy anything and if the BX didn't have it, just consult with your hooch mamma-sau and she will take up the slack. It's a joke with to much truth in it.
Americana means luxury. Air Bases had all the fire-power, air-power needed and was a place you could stand-down, in comfort, peace and with little or no actual fighting. So yes! Air Bases are sanctuaries. Home away from home. I take pride that Airmen lift up all service personnel, any branch, anyplace in the world. To the average Americans this is nonsense and taken for granted, not so in wartime. The little things mean so much and the U. S. Air Force provided much. In the end life was easier on Air Force bases and I was one of the grateful ones.
Thanksgiving eve was just like any other night. It was a blue-metal night, moon, full of itself and very bright. The stars did their thing and brighten far-away places. The night was cool- crisp, unusually cool, except, when it's raining! When it's raining and the wind blows, and the temperature drops below 100 degrees, now add tons of rain falling, falling in sheets all night long, you literally begin to feel and to think yourself freezing to death. But on Thanksgiving, 1969, not one tree in all of Southeast Asia would turn to yellow, or red or beautiful orange. This night was cool and comfortable. When the wind is moving you never know what's up with the weather.
As per our MO, we started the morning getting drunk and playing cards. Our Army friend was just returning from still feeding his dog. He laid down and was out, and was still sleeping as the second shift left for work. One tired puppy!
But the Scout Dog Handler and his Mighty Canine were not hungry any more.
It felt good to offer all the good-will that the Air Force took with it just about anywhere in the world. Within the military structure, every group love to poke the Air Force. But, when the opportunity comes to visit (stand-down) especially during Thanksgiving and Christmas, the only question??? is, when do the choppers arrive.
Every night it took three trucks to move 30 handlers to the kennels. I'm thinking about the up-coming night. Our guard is down, can't help but be so, seeing our last gook in July, no action for five months. I sure didn't need any surprises. After all, its holiday time. Now if everybody will just stand-down?
On the day of Thanksgiving, some of us decided to fore-go breakfast and save ourselves for the highly anticipated feast. So we started the card game on empty stomachs. Not a good idea, over-consuming adult beverages. But then you're nineteen years old, this is just one more thing to not give a crap about. Just puke it up, end of problem. 'Fuck it, don't mean a thing, move on!?
Our Army friend joined the card game, and was rapidly consuming massive dosage of beer. We played cards for several hours and never slowed down until was time to get in line at the Airmen Mess. The first thing you saw coming through the double front doors was a long table, some twenty to twenty five feet long. The table was stacked head-high with fruits, nuts, candies, cookies, several different pies, a couple paper cut-outs of turkeys, and a Pilgrims hat, turned upside down with some local flowers. I didn't get a picture, not one. The feeding line was long, but two serving line cut down on the wait. That old-time 'turkey smell' in the kitchen was all over the place. How do you spell comfort?
Our Army buddy was having the time of his life. "I can't believe you eat like this. Breakfast is one thing, but this spread is just the best" The meal was incredibly tasty.
That night we mounted-up and went to work.
In the morning, upon arrival to our hooch's, our Army friend was gone. Two nights off is a life-time to a grunt and our grunt was well pleased. One of the interesting stories this Scout Dog Handler told, was of bounties placed ,primarily on the Dog and not the handler. Take the handler out too, but get the dog, no matter what. There is a lot of incentive to kill one of these Noble Canine, a years pay to the average soldier in the NVA or VC. Get the dog...get the dog.
The way to a man's heart is through the stomach and the Air Force, more than any other branch of service, continually steps up, and provides holiday comfort-food.