Thursday, July 19, 2007

South Vietnam, The American Waterloo: Diners Use Mud Carpet-'English Hotel' In Vietnam Stirs Hoosier's Nostalgia

November 3, 1966

Dong Ha, South Viet Nam--Few Hoosiers will have trouble recalling the old English Hotel on Monument Circle in Indianapolis. That hotel was torn down to make room for a department store.

But there's a new English Hotel here at Dong Ha operated by Brig. Gen. Lowell English, assistant commander of the Marine Corps 3d Division.

It's jokingly called a hotel and its accommodations, at best, would never match, even the decayed splendor of the old English Hotel in Indianapolis.

Room service here is terrible, either K or C rations and instant coffee. Our dining room is a half a block away, a refreshing jaunt in the rain through a sea of mud. Dong Ha is one of the few places in the world where you can take your shower on the way to breakfast.

Once the mess hall is reached, it's a remnant of an old French army outpost, the splendor of the situation is such that the hardships are forgotten.

The food is good, so good that a person hardly notices that the roof leaks terribly and everyone eats with a poncho held over their plate. Nearly everyone is busy swatting flies or mosquitoes with the other hand, with the result that their food is generally cold before they get to eat.

Members of the press are lucky. They are allowed to eat inside.

The Marine Corps Grunts, as they call themselves, eat their meals in three tents. That sounds pretty good until one sees the process. At mealtime the Grunts line up outside with their trays and are served their food. They must then dash back to the mess hall tents before the rain washes the food off of their trays.

Once inside though, they've got solid comfort. They sit on rough wooden benches and place their trays on plywood laid across saw horses. Nearly everyone manages to stay dry, with the exception of their feet.

Camp planners managed to locate the Grunt mess tents in an area through which three drainage streams flow when it rains. And lately it seems it's always raining. The three tents have the only self flushing floors in the world.

The restroom facilities are in two locations, each a half-block walk. The Marines and correspondents alike, so dread the walk to either area in the rain that they wait and wait and then wait some more. When conditions become critical a mass exodus begins.

America can only hope that an attack by the North Vietnamese isn't timed with the dash for the latrines.

Women correspondents have presented another problem for the Marines which the Corps has handled in admirable fashion. Naturally, women couldn't use the same facilities as the rest of the camp. Gen. English graciously allowed the women to use his facilities and provides escorts for them to prevent incidents.

Pranksters immediately painted a sign and nailed it to English's latrine which said, "Ladies and Generals."

The hotel operator, Gen. English, provides another service which would be most unusual in the states. He has armed body guards assigned to protect correspondents when they go into the field with the Marines on patrol.

One of those bodyguards is S/Sgt. William E. Warren Jr., 39, Oceanside, Calif., the father of seven children. He's been in the Marine Corps 21 years and in Viet Nam four months.

His only complaint about the press, "They just don't duck fast enough. They are so busy rubber necking and taking pictures they don't get down."

No newspaper correspondents have been wounded while with Warren, but Roger Peterson, ABC correspondent from Chicago, suffered a bullet wound in the right arm Oct. 14 near the DMZ while covering a Marine operation.

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