Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, 1970. Having arrived in country a few days earlier and awaiting my permanent duty station, a two year tour prospect, I was feeling low. I don’t remember any holidays, except one.
Finishing guard duty one day I thought I’d try out the Vietnamese restaurant close to the mess hall I’d seen earlier, getting into the new culture sort of thing. I was surprised no other customers were there and had a seat anyway. The waitress and cook stood in the back and stared. Perhaps they don’t speak English, I thought. The waitress finally came out and asked what I wanted. Good, she can speak English. “May I see a menu?” “You eat here?” Was that a clue? I nodded my head. “U’sure, GI?” Yes, it was a clue! Perhaps US soldiers didn’t eat here or something. Not wanting to be an “ugly American” in this country I was to live and perhaps die in I reluctantly said, “Ah, I’d like to see a menu.”
I had heard the rumors about missing cats, dog soup, and…well, you know. I glanced at the exit door.
The menu arrived along with another uncomforting quizzical look. I didn’t see any “bulges” under her clothes that might have been a weapon.
Glancing at the menu, Good, they have hamburgers.
“A hamburger and coke please.”
Another glance at the exit.
As she placed the order, I quickly turned my head when they stared at me, again. Thankful I’d ordered just a hamburger and a safe American Coke!
Another “look” arrived with the hamburger. It was plain, in fact, tasteless.
I noted the waitress and cook were talking again with occasional glances my way. Returning to my table she again asked why I was eating there.
“I’m hungry,” now becoming upset with the “atmosphere” AND the bland burger.
“Why not eat mess hall?”
“I just wanted a hamburger, okay?!”
“GI, it Christmas!”
The hamburger lost any appeal. A holiday I’ll never forget and the only holiday I remember in VN because it was “special”. Not!
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