We stopped in front of a flimsy structure with a corrugated metal roof and the sergeant who had been acting as our “tour guide” called me to the front. “This is where you get off, sir.” The bus drove away leaving me standing on a packed clay surface, facing an enlisted man who smiled and invited me to follow him inside where another sergeant waited at a wooden counter with a copy of my orders sitting in front of him.
He gave me a flicker of a welcoming smile and told me that my orders had been changed. I wasn't going to the 185th Military Intelligence Company in Saigon. “Where am I going?” I asked.
The sergeant shrugged. “Maybe we'll know more in the morning.”
He didn't wait for me to conjure up any more questions. “Specialist Jones will take you to your quarters,” he said nodding towards the enlisted man who had led me in from the bus.
“My dufflebag?” I asked.
“Already on your bunk, sir,” the enlisted man responded. “Just follow me.”
Specialist Jones led me to the transient officers quarters about a hundred yards from the office. True to his word, Jones already had my dufflebag waiting for me. I cannot imagine how it beat me there considering the speed with which we deplaned and were whisked to the Reception Center. That was on impressive system they had working there.
Jones took me to the front door and pointed to another building next to the office. “That's the officer's mess, sir,” he informed me. “The PX is over there,” he said pointing to another, larger building about three hundred yards away.
With that, Jones departed and I found my self alone. I know that some officers have difficulty keeping apart from the enlisted men. Our Executive Officer in Basic Combat Training used to wander among us seemingly attempting to make some kind of a connection but not really sure just how “friendly” he should be with the troops. I never had that problem. I was significantly older than most of them and was naturally separated from the younger men. Thus, it's not surprising that I hadn't even thought to look around me on the airplane for someone to socialize with. There's also the fact that I was focused on my pain from all the injections I had received just before we departed. I wasn't good company for anyone.
Morning was approaching as I settled in and I didn't feel like sleeping. I got plenty of that on the plane. So, I looked around. The building that served as the Transient Officer's Quarters was a simple frame structure covered in screening and widely spaced clapboards that let the air circulate freely. It had a corrugated metal roof and screen doors. Double-decked pipe frame bunks lined both sides. All were empty.
Stepping outside, the sky to the east was just beginning to brighten a little. The sun wasn't yet visible, yet I could feel the heat and humidity beginning to build. I knew I was in trouble. I decided to escape to the mess hall and see if it was air conditioned. It was.
I discovered that the mess hall was open 24/7, with coffee and pastries always on hand. The mess sergeant told me to help myself and informed me that breakfast would be served in about an hour, beginning at 06:00. I wasn't in a hurry to eat, but the coffee was appreciated.
Army coffee is akin to “cowboy” coffee – thick enough to float a horseshoe. It serves as food as well as a beverage. I really didn't start drinking coffee until I entered the Army. I take mine with cream and sugar. A friend of mine in later years, who had served in Korea as an enlisted man, told me that all officers took their coffee with cream and sugar. Enlisted personnel drank theirs black because the officers had used all the cream and sugar before it got to them.
I hid out in the mess hall as long as I could. I darted to the office every hour to check on my new orders but the sergeant dismissed me with a wave after the third time. He was getting bored with me.
Each time I went outside, I felt the heat weighing down on me as though it had substance. I began hanging around under the eave of the mess hall roof. I knew I had to stay outside and begin acclimatizing myself, or I'd never be able to function in Vietnam. After a few minutes of that, I abandoned the shade and attempted a run to the Post Exchange (PX). I only made it about half of the three hundred yards there before I was forced to sit on a stump and catch my breath. I looked back to the mess hall and then again to the PX trying to decide which was closer. Inasmuch as I didn't know if the PX had air conditioning and I knew that the mess hall did, my choice was simple.