MCARA Sea Stories

Harley vs “Charlie”

Ole Nam hands will recognize “Charlie” as slang for the dreaded Viet Cong (VC) guerrillas who seemed to be everywhere but nowhere as they tied down several hundred thousand GIs for years during a war we can’t forget. But on with the story, and as is customary I preface it with a vow that “ this is no shi!”

Twas early November 1965 when our reconstituted VMCJ-1 settled in for 13 months on our “year“ tour in Vietnam. We were part of MAG-11 stationed at Danang airbase on the north coast of then South Vietnam which we shared with an Air Force F-4 Phantom fighter wing and a B-57 Canberra bomber squadron. The boys in light blue were on the east side of the runway which had nice hangars and old French air force adobe living quarters… not to mention a stateside like O-Club. The Marines of course were relegated to the wrong side of the tracks or in this case runway where they were left to make do with temporary hangars and live and work in a muddy compound next to a mosquito infested swamp. The large MAG-11 compound was lined with rows of C-B built wood frame shacks with leaky WW II tent roofs that served as work spaces and living quarters or hooches. My hooch, which I shared with five others, was well back in the stack so to speak about 150 yards inside the main gate to the compound. I drew the top bunk with Lieutenant KC I will call him down below.

KC, our flight scheduling officer, was on our advanced party and had been incountry for over six weeks. A few officers on the advanced party had acquired small motor bikes that had been brought down from Japan by the aircrews they relieved. KC, a hell raising bachelor who left a fast and furious Corvette back in the states, was not content with one of those and managed to buy a vintage black Harley Davison motorcycle off a Vietnamese air force officer. Needless to say he was the cat’s meow as he rode his “hog” down to the flight line and around the base. Speaking of around the base… it was about a half a mile down to the flight line which for us was on a short concrete section on the north end of the parallel runway still under construction. The road to the air force side went around the runway and made a hairpin turn South past the Vietnamese air force hospital then down the east side of the hangars about a half mile to the Danang Officers Open Mess or “DOOM” club. Unlike the austere, booze only MAG-11 club, the DOOM club had a steak night and always had iced drinks so it was frequented by Marines as often as they could. Time being of the essence, taking the winding road around the base was a pain, so despite repeated warnings from the Air Police, the Marines with motor bikes routinely cut across the runway going to the club. KC on the other hand liked the long paved straightaway down hangar row to give his Harley a little head of steam.

KC was no stranger to air force clubs as he was an air force brat and his father was CO of a Phantom squadron that was getting ready to deploy to Thailand. On this night he had lingered a bit too long at the bar when he mounted his trusty “hog” for the long ride around the base to our home away from home.

It was a quiet night in the compound and those of us in the hooches could hear him coming a mile away. But instead of idling in from the gate he blew past the guards and proceeded to make his way on a serpentine path through the compound bouncing off the side of the buildings and making a hell of a commotion before coming to a crashing stop. When we got too him he was under the Harley and moaning and groaning something fierce. Worse he had blood all over his face and arms and his flight suit was torn in shreds. It was hard to understand him but when we asked what the hell happened he just kept repeating “the Cong, the Cong”. We helped him over to the dispensary convinced he had been ambushed by the VC.

Shortly afterwards a couple of guys showed up who had been desperately trying to catch up with him after he roared away from the club. Alas, no purple heart for KC, only a reprimand! It seems that as usual he had opened his old Harley up going down hangar road and too late realized he was about go straight into the Vietnamese hospital. He tried to make the hairpin turn but skidded headlong out of control into a roll of concertina wire the Vietnamese soldiers guarding the entrance had put up. They apparently helped him up and he sped out of there thinking he had nearly been captured by the VC !!

In the aftermath of that episode, as you might guess the higher ups on both sides of the runway decided that the days or nights of bikes and motor cycles was over. Actually, in fine bureaucratic form, they mandated that all personal vehicles had to be registered by the Vietnamese government. Of course the only office for such was located 400 miles away in Saigon and only open on Tuesdays under a blue moon! And so with tears in his eyes KC had to part with his beloved Harley.

(By Colonel Wayne “Flash” Whitten who sadly notes that the flamboyant KC’s career and life was cut short five years later in a dogfight training accident)