Monthly Archives: June 2015

A Fake I.D.

One of the problems I had, after my return from the navy, was my age. As previously stated, I met The Group when I was not quite 21 years old. This fact was not common knowledge, and had it become known my newly acquired, and much cherished, status with my new friends might be jeopardized.

My age was not an issue at The Office. As an accepted member of the group, and therefore Office “regular”, I was known and never questioned. And when, on Sunday nights, we would migrate to the Irish Club, I was still okay. But a general knowledge of my minority within the group itself could easily be a fatal flaw. Also, it must be considered that credibility with my new friends aside, there were other places I needed – or at least very much wanted – to go, and an ID was often required.

So I formed what was to be the perfect plan. Upon my release from active duty service, I had automatically become a member of the U.S. Naval Reserve, with meetings every Thursday evening at the armory in Phillips Park. At a meeting, a couple of weeks after my return, I went to the Yeoman’s office, claiming that my ID card had been lost, and that I needed another. The Yeoman on duty – at that carefully chosen moment – who typed out my new card, while not a friend, was a close enough acquaintance so that, rather than digging out my file, he simply asked me what information needed to be filled in. When he asked for date of birth, I mis-stated the year as 1945. The card was completed, laminated, and properly issued. Suddenly, in the eyes of the United States Navy – and by extension, the world at large – I was 21 years old, and could, if asked, display unimpeachable proof.

A year later, while on temporary active duty attending Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration School at the Naval Training Center in San Diego, I reversed the process. I destroyed the fraudulent card and applied for a new one. This one, issued by a regular Navy Yeoman and a complete stranger, was correct in every way, and I was 21 for another year.

This all taking place almost 50 years ago, I feel comfortable telling this story, as I’m sure the statute of limitations on this mis-deed has expired.

The Irish Club

Another Sunday night “Group” tradition in that spring of 1967, after mustering and spending a bit of time at The Office was to migrate, en masse, to a private social club on the west side of Aurora; The Irish Club, where one of the Group’s inner core was a member.

I’ve never known for sure whether the Irish Club was closed on Sunday evenings, but made an exception for us, or if it was just an otherwise bad night for business. But it seemed we were always the only patrons on Sunday, along with a single bartender and the club’s caretaker/maintenance man.

We drank a bit, of course, and shot pool, and socialized with the most important people we knew – that is to say, each other. At some point in the evening the club’s caretaker would sit himself down at the piano and start playing songs.

He sort of reminded me of Jimmy Duranty, playing and singing off-color songs with his gravelly voice. But we were certainly entertained, as we gathered around, sometimes singing along, and sometimes just laughing uncontrollably. Great nights these were, with friends and fun, which I miss to this day.

 

The “Group”

My welcome home spaghetti dinner went well, and the day was all that it could have been. When evening came, the older folks were not surprised that Vern and I were going to head out on the town. As we were driving into Aurora from what was now my home in the new Boulder Hill sub-division, he gently gave me a warning that I may – or may not – be received by the people he was now hanging around with. He had fallen in with a crowd of slightly older people. They were all young professionals in their early to mid-20s, whereas Vern and I were both, at that moment, just shy of 21.

He was right to be concerned. They were very cliquish; pretentiously referring to themselves as “The Group”. Arriving at The Office, – local bar and principal group hang out – I was introduced to this bunch. And a fair sized bunch of people it was; Sunday evenings being a popular time for the gathering of the clan. I was welcomed as Vern’s friend and received a sort of quasi, and very much temporary, membership status. I’m not sure precisely what I did, but over the next few weeks, I passed muster and was fully accepted.

 

Home At Last

Certainly one of the very best days of my life, even better than the day I left Vietnam, was the day that I was at last home with my family. After a very long flight from Bien Hoa to Travis Air Force Base in northern California, and then a somewhat shorter ride on a Navy bus, I arrived at Treasure Island Naval Station. There I waited out the separation process which freed me from active duty service in the US Navy. After the process had run its course, and the Navy was done with me, I stayed in the city a bit longer, hanging out for a few days with my new San Francisco friends before returning to Aurora.

A late Saturday night arrival at O’Hare Airport led to the next day’s welcome home spaghetti dinner, made from scratch in the old fashion by my mother and my aunts. My best friend Vern joined us for this altogether wonderful event, and at some undefined moment during that day the page turned and I was finally, well and truly, home again.

Part Two of my saga, as told here in The Day Calendar, begins at that moment.

Vung Tau

After three months at An Thoi, and five days of R & R in Bangkok, the ship moved to support PCF Division 103, and Coast Guard Division 13 located at Cat Lo. This brought us into the environs of Vung Tau, a former French resort city at the mouth of the Song Sài Gon (Saigon River) and the northern boundary of the Mekong Delta.

Perched on a headland, Vung Tau’s “back side” was the southern end of several hundred miles of what are among the most beautiful beaches in that part of the world. This is certainly one of the reasons why the French colonial masters chose Vung Tau – which they then called Cap Saint-Jacques – for a resort, and perhaps why MACV* chose the place as the location of the Army’s In-Country R & R facility.

It was here that we supported the swift boat and Coast Guard divisions at Cat Lo, and sometimes the B-Class Minesweepers stationed upriver at Nhà Bè, who were always busy keeping the channel clear for ship traffic from Saigon to the coast. We were also available to service any other vessels that came along requiring expert attention.

A principal focus of small boat activity, and that of the soon to arrive Ninth Infantry Division, centered on the nearby Rung Sat Swamp (or Special Zone), from which the Viet Cong would occasionally swarm, and which was an ideal place to hide and attack ship traffic on the river.

When the 2nd Brigade of the 9th Infantry was assigned to the Mobile Riverine Force, the Tutuila assumed a support role for those boats in the Vung Tau area, and aided in the preparation of their ASPB, or “Alpha” Boats, and other craft.

Seen objectively, Vung Tau was a beautiful city. But whatever else it was, it was at the time a city of bars, with some streets offering little else. But business was good. With the large numbers of temporary visitors (on R&R) and those of us who were stationed nearby, who could visit on a more regular basis, the bar business was booming. Despite the “exotic” environment, to attract attention most of these establishments had familiar sounding names. My favorite was the “Florida Bar”, where I would hang out – whenever the opportunity presented itself – and we could get a boat ride to the “front beach” landing.

When the time finally came, it was from Vung Tau’s small air strip that I began my journey home.

* Military Assistance Command – Viet Nam