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Thursday, 19 February 2009

Decca Navigator: The end: Vietnam

Photos courtesy of Ray Landry

A farewell drink: Saigon: Vietnam Memories

Around this time I said goodbye to John. He was returning to the States. He would come back but neither of us knew it at the time.
He had got married whilst I was on leave in the Bahamas. I had sent him a solid silver George Jenhsen beer can opener as a wedding present if I remember. The kind of thing one bachelor would send to a friend. Nothing like a can of beer when faced with a problem in marriage. We went to that American place down town for a drink. I wish I could remember its name. It was on the street running parallel to Tu Do if I remember, about half way down on the right going down from Le Loi.
Joe used to like going down there also. He liked company and either he was on a diet and everybody went without lunch at the office at Tan Son Nhut or he felt like a drink and everybody kept him company. It was restricted to those working for the United States. The food was good, the atmosphere pleasant. Too much airconditioning. Always an American fault that, which led to numerous sore throats and colds. Air conditioning to humidity and back again. Our useless American secretary had fallen flat on her face after leaving it one day. Most undignified. Vietnamese girls rarely drank and were certainly never drunk.
John and I went in. I put some money on the bar and we stayed there quietly drinking until it was gone. What do men talk about having a quiet drink and smoke in a bar? As we were leaving I put my last dollar in a slot machine, pulled the leaver and out popped twenty five dollars. Without a word we about turned and went back into the bar until it was all finished.
I needed a very stiff Bloody Mary the next morning before I was able to drive him to the airport to finally see him off

The end of Decca, Tan Son Nhut, Saigon, South Vietnam

Fred dropped round to see me one morning. Under the circumstances he was remarkably calm. Somebody had thrown a grenade into his bedroom window. This was on the first floor (English style). Very luckily for some reason a few days before he, his wife and young child, who usually slept in that room had changed to another room at the back of the house. They escaped unharmed when the grenade exploded.
What infuriated him was that when he went round to the police the following morning they laughed and more or less said crazy Americans shouldn't play with live grenades. He never did find out if it had been Viet Cong, a personal vendetta or just plain hooligans.
At the office we had all been hoping for a telegram renewing our contract but towards the end of June 1969 we had one saying everything would be wrapped up by July 1st and the operation and the office at Tan Son Nhut closed down. We all went our separate ways, but in fact stayed on in Vietnam until other events would intervene.
To my knowledge nobody from the London office remained. At that time there were none under contract in Vietnam, but I always had the feeling their first loyalty was to the company, Decca, and not to the country they were working in. A good life for a bachelor who liked travelling the world. The Americans were of two varieties. Those that signed up for a short contract and then moved on to other things, and those that started to grow roots and become attached to Vietnam. A distinct minority perhaps.

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