I had finished Basic Training, and was almost done with my schooling at Advanced Individual Training (AIT), when I received orders to Bangkok, Thailand. I had to go to the library and get out a National Geographic magazine to look it up. I had always learned that it was called Siam. When I finished AIT, I went home on leave for a few weeks, had a farewell party, and headed out for the mysterious Orient. Other than visiting border towns in Canada and Mexico, it would be my first time away from home and in a foreign country.
I flew from Michigan to California and rode a bus to Travis Air Force base. I waited all night to catch a 4 AM flight on Flying Tiger Airlines. We flew on this converted cargo plane to our next stop, Hawaii. A few hours on the ground at Hickam Air Force base and off we went. Landed at Guam about 9 hours later and then it was time to take off again; this time for the Philippines. Another breakfast and it was on to Okinawa.
A short flight to Vietnam and finally landed in Bangkok. It took about 24 hours and 6 breakfasts to get there. My sponsor met me at Don Muang Airport and took me out to a waiting van.
The first thing I noticed was that the steering wheel was on the wrong, or other, side of the vehicle. And we were driving on the wrong side of the road too. My sponsor tried to tell me a million things about the Land of Smiles and my new job, but I was too tired and jet-lagged to understand anything. Plus the driver was now on the shoulder of the oncoming traffic lane, doing about 140 KPH. Fearing for my life was more important than trying to understand what my work schedule was going to be. After about 45 minutes, we arrived at the Army billeting; my new home.
It was called Villa Club and consisted of about 10, 2-story buildings, housing about 75 military personnel. We all had private rooms with maid service and air-conditioning. And we all had lizards on the walls and ceilings. Coming from Michigan, I had no idea what geckos were and wasn't too happy to see them all over the place. My sponsor asked me if I wanted to go out for a bite of food and a beer and I quickly got out of my Class "A" uniform, showered and put on some jeans and a T-shirt. I dumped all my belongings, one duffle bag full, on the floor and off we went to a place called Patpong.
Patpong is a street in Bangkok and back in 1973 it was wall-to-wall bars and massage parlors. My sponsor had a girlfriend at one of the bars and that is where he took me. I had a sandwich and a few beers and we went back to his apartment with a few of the girls. His room-mate came home, drunk as a skunk, and didn't know who I was but grabbed me by the throat and threatened to kill me.
He eventually calmed down and passed out. I spent the rest of the night wondering what I had gotten myself into. I had a couple more drinks and then it was time to get showered, dressed and ready to report for duty at my first duty station.
With no sleep for about 4 days, I looked a complete wreck. The Sergeant Major took one look at me, grabbed my personnel and medical records and sent me home and told me to come back on Monday. It was only Wednesday, so I had a few days to recuperate and slept most of it away.
That is how my 18 months in Bangkok started out. It is now 35 years later, and I still go back to Thailand and love the country as much now as I did back then. Even if they do drive on the wrong side of the road and have those mosquito-eating lizards.
Larry Westfall visits Thailand 2 or 3 times per year and if you are lucky you will see him staggering down Walking Street
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