November 15, 1966
Nha Trang, South Viet Nam--This city once was a beautiful French resort area, the Riviera of Southeast Asia. Flecks of its former beauty remain, but most of the town is now a slum area.
The children here are as filthy and naked as the refugees in Saigon. Prostitutes flourish openly, black market goods are available at nearly every stand, and the taxi drivers and businessmen work just as hard to cheat the Americans out of their money. In truth, there is only one major difference between this city and Saigon.
The Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese have left the town almost untouched...no mortar attacks or bombings, and no terrorist attacks, even though the Air Force maintains a large field here. Army Special Forces Headquarters is here, and, the bay, in the South China sea, is a major supply and debarkation point.
Strategically, Nha Trang is located on Highway 1. Before the Americans and Republic of Korea troops occupied the area, the highway was a major route for moving arms and material south from North Viet Nam.
Militarily, it should make a good target for the VC and North Vietnamese, but it isn't being attacked, and many of the Americans say, jokingly, that the reason is that the enemy uses the city as a rest and recreation area.
The aggravations of living off of military bases for the Americans are many. The water is unsafe for drinking without boiling it first, and after it is boiled, the water looks like weak tea and tastes like something quite different.
But there are other annoyances too, for the Americans, and the major one is the black market. Most of the time, the post exchanges are out of many items usually purchased by the GIs. But the same goods are always for sale on the black market, generally at rates four or five times higher than the PX prices.
Although it is illegal for American servicemen to resell any item they purchase from the PX, a few of them do so. But most of them respect the two-year prison term attached to a black marketing conviction.
No official statement has been made on who are the chief culprits in black marketing, but the GIs place the blame for the booming black market first on the shoulders of the Koreans, and the Vietnamese next.
According to several servicemen questioned, the Koreans are, "like locusts when they swarm into a PX...When they leave, nothing is left," one GI said.
Soldiers of the Korean Army, prior to entering Viet Nam service, were poorly paid. It is reported that high ranking officers were not paid what U.S. Army privates receive.
When the Koreans came to Viet Nam, the U.S. government made up the difference in their salaries and brought the pay scale in line with what American soldiers earn.
The Koreans were immediately rich and they wanted to get richer. And, many of them are by reselling their PX purchases on the black market.
One American told of seeing a large Army truck, loaded with C-Rations, pull down a dimly lit street in Nha Trang, and the Vietnamese driver began unloading the rations in a front yard. The incident was reported, but the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division raided the wrong house, it was reported, and the contraband was not recovered.
Many servicemen say it looks like we purposely turn our head and allow ourselves to be made fools of by the Koreans and Vietnamese.
Another situation which makes the Americans see purple is the fact that so many able-bodied Vietnamese men are satisfied to not work at all, or work as cab drivers, and pander for prostitutes or black market goods.
One disgusted GI looked at a large gathering of taxi drivers...it seems there is at least one cab and driver for everyone in Nha Trang. The GI said, "We've got 300,000 men over here fighting so all the able-bodied men can drive taxis. This 'ally' bit has gone too far. We'd better start saying and doing things before it's too late."
Another GI said, "These guys take a leave whenever they want to, and they come back when they want to. They fight when they feel like it and we do their fighting for them."
"I'm going home and I'm going home disgusted," he said.