Periodically, old MPC would be exchanged for new MPC. Only those who were authorized to have it could get the new notes. Thus, if anyone held any MPC illegally – Vietnamese civilians and the enemy – they ended up stuck with worthless money.
My first purchase on the civilian market was a bit of an adventure. I was returning from my first meeting at USARV in Saigon, and was passing Long Binh when I asked the driver to stop so that I could purchase a chair for my hooch and a trunk to store my clothes. The Vietnamese had made an industry of salvaging beer and soda cans from American trash heaps and converting them into all manner of useful merchandise. I had my driver stop at Widow's Village outside the base at Long Binh to make a couple of purchases. I wanted a chair and a trunk to keep my possessions at our hooch.
The Widow's Village was named for the wives of members of the ARVN (Army, Republic of Vietnam) who lived there. Some were actually widows, and others were virtual widows – widows by virtue of the fact that there husbands marched off to war and were never seen and heard from again because their superiors were loath to give them leave to visit, expecting them to never return.
We stopped at a roadside shop and I selected my goods. The young proprietress asked for five hundred piasters. My driver interrupted when I reached for my wallet, and asked me to wait aside while he bartered for a better price. A few minutes later, he came to me and announced that my three hundred piasters were good for the trunk and the chair, as well as fifteen minutes with the mama-san. Yes, he had bartered for sex for me. I was contemplating what to do when the MP's (yes, Military Police) arrived and informed me that the area was Off Limits. I grabbed my trunk and chair, and left the woman's honor (and my reputation) unblemished.
One of the most dreaded extra duties assigned to me in Vietnam was MPC exchange officer for the 9th Admin Company. In the event that an MPC Exchange was announced, I was supposed to be given a supply of the new notes and exchange them for every cent of old MPC held by all authorized personnel in the unit. I dreaded it because any mistake would come out of my pocket. Fortunately, no date was announced during the time I was assigned that duty. However, I once came close to making an even greater mistake.
I cannot remember why, but I once was handed an attaché case containing forty thousand dollars in MPC and tasked with escorting it to our base camp in Dong Tam where the Mobile Riverine Force was headquartered. It was a simple enough assignment. I carried it to the airfield at Camp Bearcat and hitched a ride on a Huey (UH1-D) headed in that direction. Being that it was my first trip in that direction and I had been lucky enough to get a door seat, I wanted to take pictures. I jammed the attaché case against the door with my foot and leaned out to take photos. Unexpectedly, a Phantom jet fighter tore past us on a bombing run. Apparently, neither the fighter pilot nor our helicopter pilot had seen each other. The fighter dropped a large bomb under us and we dove to one side to avoid chunks of mud the size of sofas blown up around us. The attaché case was slipping out the door when I dropped my camera and lunged for it. Luckily, the camera was fastened to my neck with a strap and I was fastened to the helicopter by a loosely fitting seat belt. I believe I had both arms and legs securely locked around the attaché case.