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Sunday, 17 October 2010

Memories of Vietnam 1965 1975 :part 54,55,56: A long and difficult journey, Karachi, Bangkok



54

A long and difficult journey

I spent the night in the Hilton, Washington. I have always believed that when in doubt first class hotels are always the best. Small family hotels are lovely when you have time to get to know the people. A curious thing happened whilst checking in though. When I had registered they asked me what credit card I would be using. I said I would be paying cash and immediately they asked for my passport as though cash was a dubious way to pay and made one a suspicious character.

I went to the office the following morning and by evening that day was on a plane on my way back to Vietnam. Not for me this time a month's wait for a flight.

Saigon via London. By some logic that escaped me I had to pass by the US Embassy in London to pick up my travel orders and various other documents. I wasn't even a resident of the UK any more. In London just before I was to get my flight the Viet Cong made massive attacks all over Vietnam in what was to become known as the Tet Offensive as it was during the New Year celebrations. All flights to Saigon were cancelled. I was still in my very gung ho period. Another Englishman who was meant to travel out to Saigon was held back by the London office and took six weeks to arrive. I was brought up in a different school.

I decided I had better have some more cash so went to the London office of my American bank and asked to withdraw some dollars. They said I wasn't allowed any dollars and it was against the law to have a foreign account anyway. I had to produce my United States Defense Department identity papers and explain my position before I could withdraw any money. Governments and I have never got on. I haven't got on with banks and head offices either.

I decided to take a flight to Paris.


55

Karachi, Pakistan

In Paris I thought the best thing was to get to as near to Vietnam as I could so I took a flight bound for Thailand. I had no clear plan in mind. My own return had been rather upset by these developments. In Washington I had sent a telegram to the Saigon office asking them to reserve me a room at the Hôtel Majestique, and another to PB saying I was on my way back.

These had arrived well before the offensive, although I discovered later the office had done nothing about reserving a room. Our local secretary had been replaced by some utterly incompetent American woman who was there for whose pleasure I'm not sure but certainly not for the benefit of Decca employees.

On the plane to Bangkok I tried to analyse my thoughts, but I think they had become frozen. They should have been on PB, who was perhaps the real reason for my return, but I'm not sure that a desire to be part of the unfolding events wasn't uppermost in my mind. The job, although agreable, was not my priority. My initiative was perhaps stronger than that of most of our personnel, but the motivation behind it was entirely different. I stayed stone cold sober, not having even a beer, as I tended to do when faced with major developments.
As we approached Karachi the Captain came to see me and asked me if I had a visa for Thailand. I said no as I had no interest in visiting the country and was only stopping over at the airport to hitch a lift to Saigon. He seemed to take this lack of visa very seriously, whilst I couldn't give a damn. The result was he put me off the plane at Karachi. I spent a miserable few hours on some camp bed in a very depressing room, with only a glass of orange juice. I have mentioned earlier that I hadn't even had a beer on the flight, but it is always irritating to arrive at odd airports in the night and find everything closed. To name a few, it had happened in Hawaii, Midway and Wake Island before.

In the morning I went to the Thai Embassy and thankfully obtained a visa in an hour, went back to the airport and took a flight to Bangkok. I hadn't even had the desire to spend a day there, which is what I usually did when I found myself stuck in strange places.


56

Visit to Bangkok

Bangkok airport was a hive of activity. Related to Vietnam or just normal tourist activity I can't remember. I tried to find out if there were any flights to Saigon. Nothing. All cancelled. The airport at Tan Son Nhut closed.
I then went to the section that dealt with US personnel. There was nothing to Vietnam..... The last aircraft they had sent in had been fired upon and all further flights were postponed.

I then went down town and had a shower and some food. Feeling refreshed I returned to the airport and hung around for some time. Upon further enquiry I found out the Americans were going to attempt to send a plane into Tan Son Nhut. No places. Full up. I was as usual in a suit, tie, carrying my trilby hat and the inevitable furled umbrella. Maybe this helped. Always put the opposition in doubt as to who you are. The opposition of course being any kind of authority which stands in one's way. I also produced my very impressive travel orders obtained from the US Embassy in London earlier. As I had a grade of GS 12, the equivalent of major, I must have outranked a fair number of people on the flight. Whether the one I had bounced off was happy about it I don't know but there wasn't one smiling face amongst the men who boarded that flight. A mixture of US army personnel and government civilians. It was a three engine Caravel. Belonging to what airline I have no idea. One of those that serviced the US government in any case.

The flight to Saigon was uneventful but there was no slow descent from the coast as usually happened. The pilot had one of those slow reassuring American drawls that I so love. Utterly relaxed. The kind of person one would give one's whole hearted support to. He announced that due to the events below and that any aircraft that attempted to land was being shot at he would do a corkscrew landing. The only thing he promised was that it would be quick.

We did land, the right way up, a few moments later. It had been quick. My heart took somewhat longer to descend from the 10,000 feet where I had left it moments before. I had arrived back in Saigon. A Saigon that was later to become my home.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Helpful blog, bookmarked the website with hopes to read more!

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