Saturday, July 21, 2007

South Vietnam, The American Waterloo: Lizards on The Walls-'Crazy' Villa Is Home For Hoosier In Viet

November 17, 1966

Nha Trang, South Viet Nam—I've found a villa here which should be moved immediately to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. for every American to see.

If it doesn't rate the Smithsonian, an architectural college should buy it for their students to study and prevent Americans from making the same mistakes.

It's a real fooler from the outside...gleaming white masonry, trimmed in green, with shutters and security bars on each window, three stories tall, and a sun-deck on the roof top.

But it's the inside that is different. Once inside, stairways run every direction, and the space they take up makes it hard for desks and chairs to be placed so the stairs can be reached. And usually they can't.

The designer was so busy dreaming up ways to clutter the first floor with stairways that he forgot to install a passageway into one wing on the second floor.

This is the area occupied by my youngest brother, Hunka Johnson, Bedford, Ind., and his roommate, Daniel L. McCarty, Oklahoma City, Okla. Both are Army first lieutenants and have completed their tours in Viet Nam and will return to civilian life soon.

They are used to the villa, Nha Trang, and their surroundings, but a newcomer sees things differently.

McCarty and Johnson are two of 15 officers who live at the villa and they are used to seeing lizards run up and down the wall. "Why, they're status symbols," Johnson said. "I wouldn't live in a house without lizards."

Their room is spacious and has two windows. Through one, they get a charming view of a tin roof, and through the other, an inspiring view of three hovels in an alley which is populated, according to numbers, by rats, mice, chickens, ducks, dogs, and children.

They have a bathroom which was added as an after thought, no doubt, to make up for the fact that if either of them desires to go to the sundeck, they must go all they way down stairs and take another stairway to the roof. It's either that, or risk their lives by trying to navigate a maze of doors in the sleeping quarters of other officers.

The bathroom is about the size of a phone booth, and is equipped with a shower, a sink, and a commode. It is the first bathroom in history which has a ceiling 14 feet high, and a doorway 5 feet 6 inches tall. It's impossible to get in or out of the bathroom without getting bumped on the head.

Once on the sun-deck, the 15 officers are treated to an excellent view of the city, but at times the smell is too much to stand. The villa is surrounded by small huts in which the villagers live. Directly across the street is a large market area, and every morning the town folk come here to purchase food. Since there are no public toilets, the villagers use open ditches or the middle of the road.

The market place activity never awakens McCarty and Johnson though. That happens every morning around 4 a.m., when a pair of roosters begin a crowing duel.

Although their room has two windows, there are no window panes. Screen wire is nailed over the openings. To close the shutters, they must reach through holes in the screens, then through the security bars, to pull the shutters closed.

For all this luxury, each officer forfeits $95 a month. But that's really living in sunny South Viet Nam.

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