Preface

Udorn

The Klong

The Routine

The Monsoon Season

One More For the Ditch

A Disappointment

Samchai

The Morning After

Family

A Disappointment

 

One of the primary missions of the 621st Tactical Control Squadron was helping fighters, bombers, and other aircraft get to their targets, get back again, and get help if they went down. Success depended on specialized, state-of-the-art equipment that was owned, operated and maintained by the United States, but that rode piggyback on radar sets originally supplied by the United States but owned, operated and maintained by the Thai. The mission of the Thai radar was air defense, and although it was an important mission, air defense didn't require radars maintained to the standards necessary to keep the specialized U.S. equipment functioning properly. The Thai had been cooperative, and for a long time they'd gone out of their way to keep their equipment in top shape, but recently the U.S. Military Assistance Program budget had been cut to the bone, making it difficult, and in some cases impossible for the Thai to get the replacement parts they needed to sustain the exquisitely high maintenance standard Cass's unit required.

During a staff meeting a month after Cass's arrival, Wilson Simms, Cass's Deputy for Logistics, gave the staff a depressing rundown on the maintenance and supply situation. "How long before things start breaking down?" Cass asked him.

"No telling, Colonel. I think we've been lucky so far. It could start happening any day."

"What's the solution?"

"We'd have to find a way for the Thai to get the parts they need."

"If we do that, can they bring it up to standards?"

"Yes, sir," Wilson said. "They're damn good maintenance men. The only thing we'll have to help with is the front-end where we hook up with our own stuff."

"Can we get them some money?" Cass asked.

"No sir. The law says they've got to buy their stuff out of MAP funds."

"How about parts? Can we get parts to give them?"

Wilson thought for a moment, slowly fluffing his mustache with a forefinger. "Yes sir. After the sets break down."

"Is that what the regs say?"

"Yes sir."

"Damn," Cass said. "There are dozens of our airplanes out there every day in Cambodia, bombing, getting shot up, needing fuel. For what one of those birds costs we could rebuild this whole system from the ground up. And that doesn't even take into account the pilot's problem."

Wilson scratched his ear contemplatively. "Yes sir."

"I can't believe there's no solution."

"Maybe there is." Wilson looked like a beagle struggling to think. "We'll have to go to Bangkok."

"What do we do in Bangkok?"

"You go see Colonel Wuthai. He's the commander of the Thai communications and electronics wing. Then we go see some people I know in JUSMAG and MACTHAI. There's a loophole in the regs. We can get parts for training, if we're training the Thai."

"So let's get them."

"First we've got to convince the Thai they need training," Wilson said. "We trained 'em for eight years. Then we certified 'em and turned the radar sets over to 'em. They're proud of that. They don't think they need any more training and they're right. Worst of all, they've got to ask for the training. If they do that, they lose face." He paused and scratched his ear again. "You ever work with the Thai before, Colonel… At Ubon?"

"Yeah," Cass said. "We were always good friends. It was different though. Ubon was a little place then." He leaned back in his chair. "The Thai site commander was a good friend of mine. Salachette. He was just a captain though."

Wilson smoothed his mustache. "What were you?"

Cass laughed. "You're right, Wilson. I was a captain too. Okay, let's see if we can set up something in Bangkok with Colonel Wuthai."

"First you gotta meet Lieutenant Colonel Buranahet. He's the Thai site commander here at Udorn. Then you go to Bangkok and meet Colonel Wuthai and Colonel Luantong. Luantong's the tactical wing commander. If you impress Buranahet, Wuthai and Luantong'll talk to you. If not, they'll just be sociable."

Cass's introduction to Lieutenant Colonel Buranahet, the Thai radar site commander at Udorn was more difficult to arrange than he'd expected. First it was necessary to contact Captain Rafael Rodriguez III, Buranahet's U.S. advisor. Rodriguez had been through Thai language school, spoke the language fluently, and occupied a desk next to Buranahet's in the Thai squadron headquarters. The situation began with an impasse. "Rafe sits next to Buranahet," Willie Dobbs, Cass's Deputy for Operations, explained. "To meet Buranahet, you've got to work through Rafe. Right now Rafe's off on a trip somewhere. To find out when he's going to be back, you'd have to talk to Buranahet. But you can't talk to Buranahet until you've been introduced by Rafe."

They waited. On Friday, Rodriguez was back. Wilson Sims brought him to see Cass. He was an athletic, wiry man of about thirty with dark good looks, and a quick smile. "I know the problem," he said. "I've been watching those radar sets go downhill for months. What you going to do?"

"Find parts to make the sets well," Cass said.

"They don't have enough MAP money to buy the parts."

"We're going to train them."

Rafael whistled. "You're biting off a big chunk."

"Got any better ideas?"

"No sir. That's the only possibility that's not a dead end. You tell him about the organization problem?" Rafe asked Wilson.

"Not yet," Wilson said. "I figured you could explain it better than me."

"Captain Ponlert is Buranahet's maintenance officer, but he doesn't work for Buranahet. He works for Colonel Wuthai in Bangkok. Same with Lieutenant Nuchai, the maintenance officer at Ubon. The site commanders work for Colonel Luantong but the maintenance officers work for Wuthai."

"Sounds like the simple, straightforward relationship between our own outfit and the Tac wings," Cass said. "Who's my counterpart?"

"You don't have one," Rafe answered. "Luantong's the closest thing to it, but when you're talking maintenance, you've got to deal with Luantong and Wuthai. They're both powerful people. Special group captains. Same thing as brigadier generals. Fortunately, they get along."

"Can you help me see them?"

"They're already expecting you. They want to size you up."

"When can I see Buranahet?"

"You're senior. You should set the time."

"When would it be convenient for him?"

"Tomorrow morning."

"Okay, tomorrow morning it is," Cass said. "Week after next I've got to go to Bangkok and visit our logistics center, among other things. Is that too soon after I meet Buranahet?"

"No sir," Rafe smiled. "If you see Buranahet tomorrow morning, Luantong'll know all about it by tomorrow afternoon."

Ben stuck his head into the office. "You guys know it's five o' clock?"

"Okay, I'm about ready." Cass shoved some papers into his drawer, and stood up. "Rafe, I just remembered something. Can you check on a Thai officer for me - find out where he is? Guy named Salachette. Nine years ago we were captains together at Ubon. He was the Thai site commander and I was the American operations officer. He was educated at Stanford, in California. We got to be pretty good friends."

Raphael let out a low-pitched whistle. "I already know where he is. He's a light colonel on the Thai air staff, but don't let the light colonel part fool you. He's connected… I don't know just how, but he swings a lot more weight than any other light colonel I've ever seen… Begging the pardon of current company." He bowed slightly to Willie.

"Okay," Cass said. "Is there any way I can arrange to see him in Bangkok — preferably a day or so before I see Luantong?"

"I'll check it out," Rafe said. "I don't see why not. Especially since he's an old friend."

They went out to the compound. Rafe went off in the direction of the Thai headquarters building and the rest of them got into Cass's jeep. "There isn't a baseball game tonight is there?" Cass asked as he started the jeep.

"No sir," Ben said from the back seat. "We're going down town. Want to come?"

 

After breakfast Raphael met Cass at Cass' office. "You better close your eyes before you bleed to death," Rafe said. "What'd you do last night, sir. . ? Maybe I shouldn't ask."

"I went down town with Willie Dobbs and Ben Green and Wilson," Cass said. "Do I look too bad to go see Buranahet?"

"Buranahet looks worse than you do this morning, Colonel. Considering who you were with, I'm surprised you look as good as you do."

They walked over to the Thai squadron compound. Colonel Buranahet's office was in a corner of the main building. It had windows on two sides and a large, ornate Buddhist shrine in one corner of the room. Cass envied him the windows. For security reasons his own office, in fact his whole headquarters building had none. Buranahet stood up behind a polished teakwood desk and Rafe made the introductions. Rafe was right. Buranahet looked as if he'd been partying hard the night before. He leaned forward over his desk and shook Cass's hand. "Welcome to Udorn."

"Thank you, Colonel."

Buranahet smiled. "Several of my men drive taxis after duty hours," he said. "Did you have a good time down town last night?"

"Yes I did," Cass smiled back at him. "How about you?"

Buranahet's smile bubbled over into laughter. "I had a good time too," he said

They two men looked at each other. In a moment, Raphael joined in the laughter.

 

It was five o' clock in the afternoon when Cass, Wilson, Willie, and Captain Terry Duncan, the Operations Training Officer, unloaded their bags from Cass's jeep and carried them into the passenger terminal. "Let's check on the flight," Willie said. "It's been known to crump." He went to the passenger service counter and in a minute was back. "There's a maintenance delay. The nose gear strut's gone flat and they're trying to pump it up. Damn, with a stop in Korat, it's about three hours down to Bangkok. If it takes 'em an hour to fix the airplane we won't get in till nine. By the time we get to the hotel and have dinner it'll be midnight."

The four of them wandered out to the snack bar patio in front of the terminal, bought lemonades, and sat down and watched a maintenance crew near the airplane working with a compressor. After a while the crew rolled the compressor away but the strut was still flat. Wilson went inside the terminal to check. "It's no go," he said when he came back. "The strut won't inflate. Now they're gonna fly up a new strut from U-Tapao. It'll be at least three hours before we get off."

"Damn," Willie said again. "We won't even get to Don Muang until midnight."

"We'd better give up and eat here," Cass said. They got back into the jeep and drove to the club where they had dinner and relaxed with drinks while Terry called the terminal periodically to check on the flight. About nine he came back and said: "There's been a change. The airplane that was bringing the strut had to land at Korat. It isn't getting off again tonight. They've made some temporary repairs on our bird and it's cleared for a one-time flight to U-Tapao. There won't be another flight to Bangkok until tomorrow around seventeen hundred. We can stay another day or we can go to U-Tapao now."

Cass thought for a moment. "Let's go to U-Tapao. We can find a way to get to Bangkok in the morning."

By the time they got back to the passenger terminal most of the other passengers were already on the airplane and they went straight out onto the ramp. As they neared the C-130 Cass could see that someone had tied a large piece of rope around the nose gear strut to cushion the shock of takeoff and landing. He hoped it would hold. Seeing his wings and eagles, the pilot invited Cass to ride on the flight deck.

The middle part of the takeoff roll was punctuated by several loud bangs as the strut, directly under the flight deck, bottomed out against the piece of rope. Other than that everything seemed to be functioning normally. An hour later, as they flew over Korat, they ran into a line of thunderstorms. The crew turned up the cockpit lights to keep from being blinded by lightning and picked their way through the storms with the aircraft's radar. Thanks to the radar they were able to stay in the clear most of the time, though there were ominous black clouds boiling everywhere around the airplane. They flew through spectacular lightning displays and translucent sheets of rain, sometimes hiding, sometimes revealing lights in the valleys below. Half an hour out of Korat they were out of the storms and flying again in smooth, clear air. They veered off to the south and a few minutes later the lights of Bangkok came into sight to the northwest: brilliant costume jewelry piled in heaps around the bay, a bright pendant down past Pattya, ending in a few scattered gems as far south as Sattahip. Their landing was smooth in spite of the injured strut, and near midnight the C-130 shut down in front of the U-Tapao passenger terminal.

While they waited for a forklift to bring in the luggage pallet they checked on accommodations at the operations desk. The airman behind the counter made a phone call and announced to Willie, Wilson, and Terry: "You gentlemen will be in the VOQ." He turned to Cass. "Sir, I haven't been able to reach anybody in protocol, but the desk man at the billeting office says there's a DV trailer available."

A half hour went by before they were able to load their baggage into a blue base taxi and by the time they arrived at the billeting office it was nearing one in the morning. The Thai night clerk handed Willie, Wilson, and Terry registration forms and said to Cass: "Sir, you in two-oh-two B."

"Great," Cass said, working hard to keep his eyes open. "Where is it?"

"Near officer club, sir."

"Where's the officers' club?"

"Officer club other side cantonment area. Driver know where to go."

"Do I get a key?"

"Protocol put key in trailer," the clerk said.

It took ten minutes to get to the trailer area, and then it turned out the driver wasn't as sure of the location of 202B as the clerk had implied. They poked around for another ten minutes and finally found it, two rows back from the street. "Wait," Cass said. He left his briefcase and B-1 bag in the car, walked back to 202B and tried the door. It was locked. He looked at his watch. It was one thirty in the morning. "Let's go," he said to the driver as he got back into the car.

"Where you go, sir?"

"The billeting office."

They tooled back across the base and Cass woke the clerk who was asleep in a chair. "202B is locked. I can't get in."

"Protocol leave key in trailer," the clerk said.

"Maybe so," Cass said, "But I can't get in without a key. Call protocol."

"Sir, no can call protocol. Protocol saleep."

"Okay," Cass said. "Then give me a room here in the B.O.Q."

"Sir," the clerk said, "You colonel. No can s-tay here. Hab s-tay DV trailer."

"Give me a phone book so I can call the base commander."

"Sir, no can call base commander. He saleep."

"He no saleep in a minute. Give me the phone book!"

"Sir," the clerk said. "I try call protocol." He picked up the phone and dialed a number, waited a minute and put the phone back in its cradle. "Nobody protocol. They saleep."

"Who's the protocol officer?" Cass asked.

The flustered clerk thumbed through some papers, found what he was hunting for and dialed another number. In a moment he said: "Sir, hab colonel for 202B but no hab key." There was a pause and the clerk said: "Yes sir." He hung up the phone. "Sir," he said to Cass, "Driver take you go base command post. Command post hab key."

"Okay," Cass said, ashamed of his own impatience. "Khawp khoon, khap." Thank you.

"Mai pin rai, khap," You're welcome, sir. "Sorry no hab key."

"It's all right," Cass said. "It's not your fault."

They drove for another ten minutes in a new direction and stopped in front of a partially buried blockhouse. Cass went to the door but it was locked with a cipher security lock. He mashed down on the bell button and held it for a full minute until the door opened. He heard someone inside say: "Who the fuck is that?"

A staff sergeant stood inside the door. "Sorry, sir," the sergeant said. "What can we do for you?"

Cass looked at the man, then looked at his watch. It was two fifteen in the morning. "You can give me the key to DV trailer 202B."

"Yes, sir!" the sergeant said. "Hey, major," he shouted to someone inside. "Have we got the key to DV trailer 202B?"

"Beats the shit outa me," a voice said. "Who wants to know?"

Cass stepped past the sergeant into the command post where a fat major sat with his feet up on a desk, reading a girlie magazine. The major put the magazine down and dropped his feet off the desk. "Major," Cass said, "Get your ass out of that chair." The major jumped up and stood at attention. "I've been getting the business on this base for more than two hours," Cass said, looking at his watch. "You've got exactly one minute to hand me the key to that trailer." The major opened a drawer and frantically began shuffling through it. He came up with a fistful of keys, spread them out on the desk and hurriedly began reading the labels attached to them. "Thirty seconds," Cass said, still looking at his watch.

"Here it is, sir," the major shouted, waving the key. He opened another drawer and pulled out a pad of forms. "If you'll just sign for the key here, sir…"

"If I sign for the key you're going to run over your minute," Cass said.

"No sweat, sir," the major forced the key into Cass's hand. "I'll take care of it with protocol."

"Protocol saleep," Cass said, turning on his heel and heading for the door.

Half an hour later, as Cass was ready to turn out the lights, he saw that the billeting clerk had been right all along. There, under the table lamp next to the bed lay a key with 202B stamped on its side.

 

It was nearly nine o' clock when Cass finally located the U-Tapao officers' club, cleverly hidden behind a board fence a half mile from 202B. He found Willie, Wilson, and Terry at a table in the dining room drinking coffee behind the remains of what must have been heavy breakfasts. "You sure slept a long time," Willie said. "That DV trailer must be pretty comfy."

"I got to bed at three o' clock," Cass growled as he dropped into a chair.

"What'd you stay up for?"

"Protocol saleep."

"Huh?"

"Never mind. What's for breakfast?"

A tall Thai girl came to the table with a menu and Cass ordered bacon and eggs.

"Good looking head," Willie said as the girl walked away.

"She's real Thai. Bangkok Thai," Cass said.

"Tall for a Thai," Terry added.

"No," Cass said. "Tall for a Lao but not tall for a Thai. We get used to cute little Lao girls up country at Udorn and NKP and Ubon, but the Bangkok Thai are like her, tall and cool and refined."

When the girl brought his breakfast Cass gave her a broad smile. She smiled back. "You s-tay U-Tapao now, Colnan?"

"No," Cass said. "We're from Udon Thani. We're going to Bangkok this morning."

"Ohh, beautifun day go Bangkok. I go Pattya tomorrow."

"It looks as if it'll be a beautiful day for that too."

"Chai," Yes, she said. "You hab happy breakfast."

"Maybe we ought to go to Pattya," Terry said, watching the girl walk away.

"Let's go to Bangkok instead," Cass said. "Has anyone checked a bus schedule yet?"

"I saw one in the lobby," Willie got up from the table. "I'll go take a look."

Cass had finished his breakfast by the time Willie came back. "The next bus doesn't leave till one o' clock," Willie said, "But I found a taxi driver outside who's willing to take us to Bangkok for three hundred baht. Good lookin' car too."

Cass groaned. "You ever ride cross-country in a Thai taxi?"

"No sweat," Willie said. "This guy seems like a very cautious type. It shouldn't be too bad."

"Anybody want to bet? Oh well, why not? Maybe you're right. I've never seen this part of Thailand and we'll get a better look from a taxi. Let's go."

They went outside and piled into the car, a nearly new Toyota Corona, drove to 202B to pick up Cass's luggage and then to the VOQ to check out and get the rest. In another ten minutes they passed through the gate and onto the highway where the driver accelerated to 110 kilometers per hour. Cass did a quick mental calculation. "We're doing almost seventy already." He searched his memory for the Thai phrase for "slow down," but couldn't drag it out. He tried to relax and watch the countryside but the car's headlong rush down the narrow, two-lane highway made relaxing difficult. In a few minutes they came to a town. Instead of slowing, the driver accelerated to 120 and careened through the village, scattering some chickens at the side of the road. The town was full of huge trees with shady spaces underneath where people in bright-colored sarongs were going lazily about their business among cool-looking thatched huts. Cass leaned forward in his seat and said to the driver: "Slow down, khap. I want to see what's going on."

"Numba one taxi," the driver said, slapping the dashboard and settling down again at 115 kph.

To Cass's delight, when they came to the next town the taxi slowed to about 80 - still too fast for a road dotted with wagons and trucks, but better than before. In the center of town Cass could see an enormous wat — a temple — loaded with gold filigree on serrated, terraced roofs, the whole structure flashing in the sun. As they drew abreast of the wat the driver took both hands off the wheel and made a wai, holding his hands together high on his forehead while the taxi drifted into the right lane and nearly met head on with a truck whose driver was doing the same thing. Cass saw Terry, in the front passenger seat, start to reach for the wheel, but the driver took over and recovered just in time. He accelerated again to 115 kph.

After a few more attempts all three of them gave up trying to get the driver to slow down, and minutes later Cass saw that Terry was asleep. They drove on for another hour with everyone dozing intermittently until a huge truck ran a stop sign and nearly hit them. Their driver slammed on his brakes, veered, almost ran off the road, swayed violently back on and accelerated again to 115 kph. "Numba ten," the driver said, shaking his fist toward the rear of the car. "Truck hab to stop. Taxi hab rightaway."

"Great," Willie said, visibly shaken. "It really helps to know that." The driver cackled and sped up to 120.

In another hour and a half they began to enter the outskirts of Bangkok. The road changed to a divided, four-lane highway and traffic grew heavier and heavier. They went by a 55 kph speed limit sign and when a police car came in sight their driver slowed to 85. The police waved and smiled as the taxi went by.

The land had become very flat and there were canals on both sides of the highway with occasional houses on stilts fronting on the canals. Here and there people were seining for fish in the waist-deep, murky water. As they came closer to the city the canals narrowed and turned into ditches. The number of houses increased until the ditches were lined with solid rows of bungalows built on stilts, each with its own small bridge over the moat in front. The air, which had been clean — almost cool — in the vicinity of Pattya Beach while they paralleled the bay, became sultry and increasingly sooty as the traffic swelled.

It was nearly two thirty in the afternoon and the city streets were choked with vehicles, racing their engines, honking their horns, running in a race that moved at a snail's pace against the congestion that was belching exhaust into the muggy air and enveloping the city in an eye-stinging miasma. Many of the streets were lined with new high-rise buildings whose architecture seemed half western, half Thai. The sidewalks were crowded with people rushing here and there, vendors hawking their wares, old men walking with halting steps, young girls, some in varicolored sarongs, others in western-style miniskirts, children carrying smaller children - everything full of color and life. As the taxi rushed on Cass saw a child fall and begin crying, saw a laborer loading a truck put down the bulky sack he was carrying and wipe his forehead, saw an old woman with a cane stop in the street and talk to an old man, saw a young woman run out of a doorway laughing.

"Where you go, khap?" The driver asked Terry.

"The Chao Phya hotel."

Twenty minutes later the cab pulled up in front of the Chao Phya — the Bangkok officers' billet on Sukhumvit road. The clerk assigned Willie, Wilson and Terry together to rooms on the fourth floor and put Cass on the sixth in a room facing the street. A bellboy carried Cass's bags to the room and began to unpack for him. "I'll do it," Cass said, and handed the bellboy a ten baht note. The man waied and bowed low with the money cupped in his hands before he went out and carefully closed the door.

The air-conditioning had made the room uncomfortably cold. Cass turned up the thermostat and opened one of the big windows facing Sukhumvit road. He stood in front of the window for several minutes, soaking up the spectacle of color and sound that floated up from the busy street, then went into the bathroom and washed his face. He had just finished unpacking his B1 bag when there was a knock on the door. He opened it and found himself facing a sharp-looking senior master sergeant with bright red hair. "I'm sorry to bother you, sir. I'm Jerry Kelly. I'm the 621st's supply expediter… I'm the whole of your Bangkok detachment, if you will."

"Come on in," Cass said. "They told me about you. Major Simms tells me you're the only reason we're able to keep the equipment on the air at all."

"That may be a bit of an exaggeration, sir, but life in the supply pipeline does have its moments of glory." Cass was about to close the door behind Kelly when he saw Willie, Wilson, and Terry coming down the hall.

"Holy cow," Terry said when he saw Sergeant Kelly. "I just hung up the phone. How'd you get here so fast."

"Bangkok magic," Kelly said. "I live at the Nana. It's only six blocks away."

"So what's the itinerary?" Willie asked. "Are we set up with Wuthai and Luantong?"

"Everything's arranged for tomorrow morning," Kelly said. "I've also checked on Colonel Salachette, Colonel Cass. He's in his office this afternoon and he's eager to see you."

 

"Hello, Taki," Cass said.

"Well I'll be damned. It really is Gus the cat. The silver fox, himself. I heard you were in town." Salachette came around his desk and extended a hand as Cass came through the door. They shook hands vigorously.

"It's been a long time, kluh," my friend, Cass said. He stepped back and looked Salachette up and down. "You haven't changed much, Taki. Life must be agreeing with you."

"Yeah, and look at you." Salachette reached out and touched one of the eagles on Cass's shirt collar. "Looks as if you did all right, Gus."

"The only reason they gave me those is because I look older than you, Taki. Nowadays all the pooying call me papa san. Speaking of pooying, did you ever make an honest woman out of that sweet girl at the Kingstar?"

"She wasn't that sweet," Salachette said. "But I did get married about six years ago. I've got two sons now. That's makes me an important man in my neighborhood."

"Yeah, I know," Cass said. "Three daughters never got me much respect around here. In the States nowadays they call what you guys do, 'male chauvinism.'"

"I've read about that. You farang have really let your women get out of hand."

"It's getting worse," Cass said. "You wouldn't like California much any more."

Salachette laughed. "Sit down, Gus. If I didn't have a compulsory dinner tonight at your embassy, and if my wife would let me out, we could do the rounds together." He sat down behind his desk. "I'd really like that. It'd be like old times at the Kingstar. I apologize."

"Last night I got four hours' sleep, Taki. All I want to do tonight is sleep. I'll be back and we can do the rounds then. Yeah. I'd like that too."

"You must be getting old, papa san," Salachette said. "You used to get along just fine on four hours of sleep."

"I still do. For two or three nights. Then age sets in. Speaking of the Kingstar, have you seen it lately? I was in Ubon last week. I don't think I like what's happened to the town."

"There was no way for them to avoid it," Salachette said. "When you and I were at Ubon the base was just a small-town airfield. Now there are thousands and thousands of rich Americans there. The place draws business girls and sharp operators from all over the country. Same thing with Udorn and Nakhon Phanom."

"Yeah. I was at Nakhon Phanom a couple weeks ago. It's unbelievable. We used to get along just fine with Bambi huts, but now the headquarters types have decided a nice safe combat tour in Thailand is good for their records, so they've built a pentagon-style headquarters over there. I almost wish the Pathet Lao were still across the river in Thakek. Maybe they wouldn't be so smug. The base at Udorn strikes me the same way."

"Easy, my friend. You just got here. Don't knock it if you ain't tried it. You might even learn to like that kind of comfort level."

"I don't mind the comfort," Cass said. "What bothers me is what's going to happen when the rich falang pull up stakes and leave."

"The adjustment's going to be painful all right, but we Thai have always been adaptable. That's why we're still free." Salachette laughed. "Look what happened during World War II. We fought you guys when you were the wrong side and then we joined you when you were the only side. That's adaptability."

"If I remember my history right, all you guys did was declare war on us when the Japanese were already here. I don't remember hearing about any shots being fired."

"That's what I mean. We went limp for a while. That's adaptability." Salachette got up. "Aow cha?" You want some tea? "I'd offer you Mekong for old time's sake, but you might fall asleep in my office. Seems to me I remember you do that if you drink in the middle of the day."

"How do you remember stuff like that? Sure. I'd like some tea."

"My desk was next to yours. Remember? Sometimes you'd snore so loud I couldn't work."

"Work, my ass. You were snoring too. There wasn't any work until the bombing started up north, and it wasn't long after that that I took off for Can Tho."

"You get shot at much in Can Tho?" Salachette spoke a few words into the intercom on his desk.

"Once in a while," Cass said. "Nothing serious. In those days the town was an R and R center for the VC, so they didn't make much trouble. Out at the radar site there'd be a sniper once in a while. Usually when you were standing at the fence, taking a leak. A couple of nights we got mortared out there, but the special forces people down the road would usually put a stop to that in a hurry. They were building a new base out at Binh Thuy. Used to get shot at more than I liked when I'd show the new base to headquarters types from Saigon."

There was a knock at the door. "Kow mah," Come, Salachette said. A trim, short-haired Thai girl in a brown uniform came through the door with a tray. She set the tray on a side-table, poured a cup of tea, and handed it to Cass.

"Khawp khoon, khap," Thank you, maam, Cass said.

"Mai pin rai, ka." You're welcome, sir. She poured a second cup and set it down in front of Salachette. He nodded and she waied with a little bow and left, closing the door softly behind her.

"See," Salachette said, taking a sip of his tea. "That's the way women should behave. Thai women are always happy to please."

"Gohok," Bullshit, Cass said. "I've seen plenty of Thai women who were tough customers. Then there's that story about how all the women climbed on elephants and beat off a bunch of invaders while you guys were twiddling your thumbs. I'll bet those invaders weren't too pleased."

"Hey! Our men were off fighting a different bunch of invaders. Besides, after it was over those women couldn't wait to get home and please their men. They tell me the women were pretty pleased too."

"And now we fight with airplanes instead of elephants, so the women don't have to be tough." Cass took a long swallow of his tea.

"I know what you're going to ask me to do, Gus," Salachette said. "And it's going to be a problem."

"I know. I wouldn't ask if there weren't lives at stake."

"It's worse than you probably think, Gus. When Cambodia goes under to the Khmer Rouge, there's going to be a bloodbath, and we're going to have a border problem ten times or a hundred times worse than the one we've got right now."

"Your people have a lot to lose too, Taki. But right now my concern has to be for the pilots we might lose if that equipment goes down."

"I hope you don't lose any," Salachette said. "But look at what I'm up against: First, there's no way you're going to be able to stop the Khmer Rouge. Bombing may slow them down, but it's not going to change the outcome of the war. You and I both know that. So does your air staff and so does my air staff. Second, the cutback in MAP funds right now - right when the bombing is escalating - has our people really pissed off. Some of them think Washington D.C. is inhabited by a bunch of lunatics."

"I probably wouldn't be able to win a debate on the other side of that question," Cass said. "But knowing about the U. S. Congress doesn't help when some poor sod goes down in flames."

"Third," Salachette went on, "It's going to be over real soon now. It looks to me as if within a couple of months either the Khmer Rouge are going to win hands-down and take over, or else your congress is going to force you to stop bombing. People around here are taking bets on which is going to happen first." He stopped and took a sip of his tea.

"You may be right," Cass said. "But none of that takes away my responsibility to do what I can to keep our equipment up."

"I understand that, Gus, and I sympathize. There probably aren't any two people in Thailand who can talk as honestly as we're talking right now. That's because we went through some interesting times together in the boonies instead of at a diplomatic level, and because there's something about both our personalities that made us friends right off the bat. But look at what you're asking… from the standpoint of the Thai air staff. First, there's the slap in the face with the MAP funds. Then, you come along and ask us to beg for more training - not because we need the kind of maintenance you're asking for, but because you need it. Finally, there's the really high probability that having lost face by begging, it'll all be for nothing, because the war will be over." Salachette drank the last of his tea. "You figure the odds, Gus. Even if the air staff were as concerned about the lives of your pilots as you are, they'd still have to ask whether or not it's worth it."

"I can't disagree with anything you've said, Taki. But that doesn't let me off the hook. I've got to keep trying to find a way to keep that equipment up. If the war ends while I'm trying, more's the better. But in the meantime, if we lose even one guy because I haven't tried everything I can think of, I'll never be able to forget it."

"You're a dedicated guy, Gus. I wish I could offer you some hope. I'll do everything I can to help, but I have to tell you I agree with our air staff. I'll look for some other way to do this, but I won't recommend that we ask for training. It wouldn't matter even if I did. The air staff is dead set against it. If you ask Wuthai and Luantong they're going to be polite, but they're going to turn you down."

"Okay," Cass said, getting up. "At least I can go away knowing I've tried. Still friends, chaimai?" right? He extended his hand.

"Nae nawn," Of course, Salachette said, shaking hands warmly. "What's your schedule like. Any chance we can do the town together tomorrow night?"

"It'll have to be next trip, Taki. Tomorrow morning at nine I meet Wuthai. At ten I meet Luantong. At noon the three of us and our staff people have a ceremonial lunch together. At two-thirty there's a C-141 flight straight back to Udon Thani. I've got to be on it. I've already been away from my headquarters too long. I'll get word to you before I come to Bangkok again and we'll do the town then."

"Okay," Salachette said. "If I can think up an excuse to go to Udorn, I'll look you up and we can have a night on the town there. In the meantime, if there's anything I can find that'll help with your problem, I'll let you know. And I'll look. I promise."

"Thanks, Taki," Cass said. "I appreciate it."

 

Aftermath

Massage

Sunday Morning

Housegirls

Sawadee (Hello)

The Island Paradise

The Drunk

The Christmas Season

Sawadee (Goodbye)

HOME