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1953, a Mighty Fine Year

Trying to figure out what one writes on the first blog.   Since I’m no Dave Barry or Andy Borowitz I guess it should be something about real life.  Gee.  Reality writing…what a concept.

I sorted though some old pictures this afternoon and one of them took me back in time, and maybe this will be my first effort.  It was 1953 to be exact, and just about this time of year.  I was on board a destroyer and we were headed home from Japan…the long way.  We went to Japan and Korea via the Panama Canal, and being east coast ships were rewarded with a round-the-world cruise back to the States though the Suez.

One of our ports of call was Saigon.  The French Foreign Legion was still fighting the Viet Cong and the streets and bars were full of Legionnaires.   Saigon was called the Paris of the Orient with plantings and mini parks running down the middle of the main streets.   They were clean and the shops immaculate. There was a special smell to the city that I couldn’t identify…an odor common to several oriental cities.  Not a bad smell; just different.  I toured the local water works and the grounds were stunning.   Shrubs were trimmed to represent animals, and there was an enormous world globe bush with greens for the seas and purples for the land masses.

We were the first US ships to visit Saigon in six months.  The officers were feted at the local elite clubs and embassies.  That left the bars to us enlisted types, which was just the way we liked it.  And they had some lovely bars and barmaids.  One took a shine to me (at least I thought she did), but she almost killed me.   She came over to me, her hands cupped holding something.  I was seated on a bar stool and when she opened her hands a little three inch green lizard popped out and ran straight for me.  I went over backwards, butt over tea cups.  It’s hard to get your dignity back after being frightened by a tiny lizard.  The lizards outnumbered the residents by about 10 to 1…they clung to the walls and ceilings and were tolerated because of their appetite for mosquitos.

My mates and I cruised the bars on our first liberty night and wound up at one on a quiet side street.  Our drink of choice that evening was Thorborg beer…naturally there were no American beers.  While quenching our thirst we noticed four Legionnaires at the end of the bar.  Being gregarious American sailors we sent a round of Thorborgs down to them.  They being the gentlemen they were, reciprocated by sending snifters of Hennessys to us…friendships were sealed.  The eight of us continued to consume boilermakers of Thorborg and Hennessy for the balance of our evening.

The Legionnaires were all former German soldiers.  There was nothing for them at home after the war and the Legion was only too glad to recruit them and send them to ‘Nam.  Each wanted desperately to get to the United States, probably under the spell of the tall tales of the one who had been a prisoner of war in Florida.  We were a most congenial group when we left the bar…at least I think we were.

We sailors had Cinderella liberties (had to be back on board by midnight) so they walked back to the ship with us.  We had exchanged hats earlier but the officer of the desk was not amused.  Addresses were exchanged with promises of immigration investigations which came to nothing.

My three shipmates of that evening have passed over…and I wonder sometimes…what happened to our Legionnaires.



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Looking forward to more

Thanks, Max.   It's lovely.