PANTIES ON THE CEILING
by Wayne Brown
(All Rights Reserved by Author)
I was a late arrival into the Vietnam Conflict, at least from a permanent assignment standpoint. I had already spent some time in country the previous year as part of a temporary duty (TDY) support for the 21st Tactical Airlift SQ out of Taiwan. During that period I had some exposure to ABCCC (Airborne Command & Control Center) as we flew radio monitoring missions over the Pass on orbits “RASH” and “TRUMP.”
I arrived at Korat in April of 1974 just before the Paris Peace Talks produced the now-historic Nixon cease-fire. I was a front-end Navigator . . . one of the dudes up front riding in a standard government-issue seat. I had already spent a tour at Dyess in C-130 tactical airlift and was quite familiar with the C-130.
My first ride at Korat was a local area check. I was not prepared for the tired, worn condition of the ABCCC birds and that first one came as a bit of a shock. I think about a third of the instrument panel was either inop or removed for repair. I realized that the year ahead of me might be a long one with only minimum navigational aids available.
The hootch area (the name evades me now) to which I was assigned was filled with the rag-tag, war-worn, officer riff-raff that was so common in those times. Everyone seemed about a bubble off center from the get-go. Funny thing – the longer I was there, the more normal this behavior seemed.
The sheetrock walls in the room assigned to me were adorned with what looked like large red Chinese language symbols. Up on the ceiling there was a glossy color photo of the previous tenant with a pair of frilly red panties pulled over his head and the letters “DILLIGAFF” carefully printed across the bottom in red. He peeked out at me through one of the leg openings. I left the graffiti and the photo where they were as a reminder that these wars do end long before the marks we leave behind us wear away.
When the war was suddenly put on hold, insanity rose to a higher-than-normal level in the hootch environment. The adrenalin of war had to be dissipated in some manner. There were many harder-than-normal drinking stints that regularly drained the community fridge. These binges tended to produce extracurricular activities like Night Carrier Landings and The Manning of the Guns.
Night Carrier Landings went like this. Once everyone was drunk enough, the hootch area picnic table was covered with heavy plastic sheets and thoroughly wet down. Then the brave soul attempting the landing shed all his clothes (necessary to get that tail hook in position), did one last gear and flap check, and set up on final approach.
He executed a running leap that ended in a mid-air stall which caused the naked chest and belly to harshly contact the landing surface. Then he attempted to engage the tailhook and go hard on the binders to stop his forward momentum while still on the deck. Failure, which happened regularly, produced a crash in the grass and activated the drunken disaster team. There were no “go-arounds” and no rubber rafts.
The path to the Officer’s Club lay on a straight line from the hootch area and there was a clear view for almost the entire length. Only a few trees and shrubs offered concealment. Anytime someone ventured onto this path, there was a Manning of the Guns and the attack was on.
One of the guns was a large slingshot constructed of a metal funnel attached to two large rubber surgical tubing bands. Two men became the posts for anchoring the bands and two more pulled back on the funnel to launch the round.
The round was a water balloon. The unit could be rapidly reloaded and those water balloons found their targets with surprising accuracy. By the time victims walking blindly along to the O Club heard the “whoosh” it was too late to take evasive action.
It was a long walk to the O Club on most days.
The other gun was a “tennis ball cannon” constructed of three tennis ball cans taped together. The bottom had been removed from two of the cans to form a barrel. A small hole at the base of the third can transformed it into a firing chamber. A tennis ball was stuffed down the barrel, a fire cracker was ignited in the chamber, and the ball was fired toward its destination with great speed.
The personnel manning the guns possessed super-human sensory perception and could literally hear a mouse peeing on a cotton-ball. Those brave souls fought off our hootch enemies on a regular basis and kept us free, and when there weren’t any hootch enemies handy, they were also known to attack their own.
Within three months of the cease-fire, the word came down that the 7th was moving to Clark until we could get the war restarted. Moving from Korat to Clark was like moving from Podunk to New York City. Rumor had it that there was even hot running water there. Soon, the rumors were confirmed and movement orders began to arrive sending my hootch mates off to the bright lights north of Manila.
The thrill of moving to Clark was too much for those whose brains had already been grossly affected by the prop-flux of war. The village fell out for one last celebration. The natives danced about the fires until the wee-hours offering tribute to whatever gods had brought about their deliverance to the new land.
Since I was a Newbie, my orders ran late. I was to be left behind with the few souls awaiting rotation back to the states. I lay in my room listening to the distant revelry and staring up at the picture hanging on the ceiling, wondering where the hell my orders might be.
As I was about to head for the hootch shower the next morning, I heard someone outside say “they’ve painted the buildings.” That made no sense to me, since our buildings had just recently been recoated with a brilliant white paint.
The meaning of the statement became clear when I walked outside. Various large rude farewell messages had been scrawled in red paint on almost every surface of both of the buildings that made up our hootch area.
The Korat base commander didn’t take this well. He issued a statement that said, more or less, “every swinging dick in those buildings is on admin hold until those walls are repainted.”
The small number or personnel left in the hootch included me. I was a college graduate, an officer in the United States Air Force, precision-navigational-instrument-trained to the teeth, and now, overnight, I’d become a criminal on admin hold.
All my instincts said it was wrong that I had to help repaint the quarters. I was the victim of a cruel hoax perpetrated by my former hootch mates, all of whom were now gone, I protested. I would not paint. At least I thought I wouldn’t.
They sent a Lt. Colonel to deliver the paint to my door. I was all ready to say, “Colonel, this isn’t right. Do I look like the sort of guy who would vandalize a building like that?”
But I noticed he was staring at the red Chinese lettering on my walls. Then his eyes moved up to the ceiling and he stared at the image peeping out from the frilly red panties. I stared, too, and I didn’t need him to tell me what he was thinking. I thanked him for the paint and proceeded to prepare my brush for the task.
My advice for future precision-navigational-instrument-trained personnel – never leave old graffiti on your walls or old pictures on your ceiling.