May 1, 2016

Vietnam -- A Close Shave

When I talk to people about Vietnam, the one thing they can’t get over is how primitively we lived. Life in Quan Loi was particularly Spartan: no electricity, no indoor plumbing, no air-conditioning, no hot water … no nothing except three hots and a cot in a tent. Shaving was particularly irksome. You’d go to a nearby spigot and fill your helmet with cold water, lather up as best you could using a brick-like bar of GI soap, and then scrape away with a double-edged razor while peering at a small mirror hanging from a nail. Perhaps that’s why one day I decided to try one of the Vietnamese barbers operating on the base camp. 

It started well enough, a nice hot towel to soften my beard. My moment of doubt came after he lathered me up, tilted my chin back, and stood poised to make that first stroke along my neck. Only then did I think to ask myself just how sure was I that he was on my side. We all knew that anyone could be VC. Could this be the moment his long-festering hatred of Americans came to a full boil and he decided to strike a blow for Ho? Talk about too late wisdom arrives. Luckily, he chose to take his revenge in a more subtle way, by using a very dull razor. My skin was scarped raw, but at least I lived to tell the tale. After that, I never complained about cold-shaving again.

(This is the first in  a series of brief look-backs at my time in Vietnam. Many soldiers had it a lot tougher than I did. I get that. I was lucky to serve most of my tour in the rear doing a job that gave me a top-to-bottom understanding of how the war machine is put together. Like most things in life, people outside the box really have little sense of what it was like inside the box. My sole purpose here is to share those bedrock memories -- often small details -- that have withstood the erosion of time.)

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