Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | November 13, 2014

Scene from “Where There Were No Innocents”

This scene is, of course, fictional—as is the rest of the book.  The protagonist is in Kontum, South Vietnam and is trying to catch a plane to Saigon. The travel orders he carries were real. I still have a copy.


When we got the airfield’s operations building, it was almost 0900. Chance told me he’d wait to make sure I got on a flight before going back to the FOB, so I left the duffel bag with him and made my way inside. The operations building/terminal/control tower was a concrete block building surrounded by concertina wire and had air conditioning.  For that, I was going to grateful once I got inside.  Even this early in the morning, the heat was stifling.  The sweat on my arms had caught some of the red dust as we drove and I was definitely going to need a shower when I got to Saigon.  I was wearing  “sterile” tiger-stripe fatigues—no insignia or name—and a bush hat.  I also carried a Browning High Power 9mm pistol in a shoulder holster. The Air Force guard at the entrance eyed my SOG identification card and travel orders suspiciously.  He looked even more closely (enviously) at the nice Browning pistol.

“You can go in.”  He said.

He seemed reluctant, but had probably dealt with a number of the SOG people before. Inside, I stood at the end of a line of four people who were trying to get seats on the next aircraft going to Saigon.  The chalkboard said that there was a plane going out at 0930.  If I could catch it, I’d be in Saigon by noon.

The three men at the front of the line were young enlisted troops in jungle fatigues, and by their shoulder patches, were assigned to the local MACV advisory team.  They probably had weekend passes and were trying to get to the big city as soon as possible.  The other man in line was a heavyset Army lieutenant colonel wearing sweaty khakis. He was a Quartermaster Corps officer—a supply and logistics man.

The USAF sergeant at the passenger desk told the three young troops the bad news. “There’s only one open seat on the next aircraft, a Caribou, at 0930, so the rest of you will have to wait until about 1330 when we’ll have a C-123 going to Tan Son Nhut.”

“That’s okay, sergeant.” The colonel interrupted,“I’m going to take that seat anyway.  I need to get to Saigon soonest.  These troops can wait here together. They’ll probably enjoy it more, anyway. They’ll be together.”

He gave the troops a smug glance and moved ahead of them to the sergeant’s desk. The Air Force NCO flushed but made no comment as he examined the colonel’s I.D. and travel orders.

I’d seen enough, and was feeling a bit feisty.

“Excuse me sergeant, colonel.” I stepped forward to stand alongside the officer. “I think that these orders will give me that seat.  I have urgent business in Saigon.  The sooner I’m there, the better.  Sorry colonel.”

The man nearly exploded, or at least he looked as if he might. He was a short, heavy man with a red porcine face and greased-down short brown hair. As I put my SOG I.D. and blanket travel orders on the desk, he snatched them up before the sergeant could read them and began sputtering.

“Who the hell do you think you are?” he said.

His double chins quivered and sweat ran down his too-long sideburns.

“I’m a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army and I’m not going to be bumped by some little spook with phony-baloney papers!  You get your ass back in line!” he said.

The Air Force officer on duty, a major, came from behind his desk and asked for my credentials.  The colonel reluctantly gave them up. When the major studied them—obviously having seen such documents before—he looked up at the furious officer.

“Sir, these documents are totally in order and are signed under the authority of the Commanding General of MACV.  Sorry, but you’ll have to wait.  There are plenty of seats on the flight that departs at 1330,” he said.

He turned his back on the colonel and handed the documents to the desk sergeant for processing.  He didn’t smile when he glanced at me but I think there was a twitch at the corner of his mouth. The fat officer wasn’t through.  He grabbed my shoulder to turn me toward him.

It was only because of many, many hours of discipline under the tutelage of my honored karate sensei that I didn’t deck him on the spot.

He was still almost yelling. “You little shit!  I’ll remember you! By your haircut you’re probably some Army lieutenant or captain with one of them snake-eater outfits.  I’ll see you one day when you’re in uniform back in the States and I’ll have your ass.”

Spittle was flying and dribbling down his chin. I stepped back a bit to avoid the shower and did my best to present a calm, professional face.

“Colonel, I’m sorry to inconvenience you.  I hope you have a good flight later today.”

I nodded and turned my back to him.  I could hear him stomping to the door and everyone heard the door slam as he left the building. The Air Force sergeant processed the information and booked me for the flight with hardly a smirk.  The three young troops were openly delighted.

When I returned to the Jeep, Chance was sitting there talking to some Vietnamese kids, drinking an orange So Be soft drink.

“ Who stuck a thorn in that fat little colonel’s butt?  You?  Sir, am I to assume that my Đại uý bumped him off the flight?” he said. He gave me an evil little grin and toasted me with the soft drink bottle.

No answer necessary.  I bought him another soft drink and one for myself.  The wait was short.  When the flight was called for boarding, I waved to Chance and, hoisting my duffel, walked up the ramp. Inside the Caribou, a two-engined STOL (short takeoff and landing) the accommodations were Spartan, but I settled into the pushdown nylon-webbing seat and after the noisy, dusty takeoff, relaxed in the cooler air and actually slept most of the way to Saigon.


  1. excellent. had the same thing happen to me in LSA Anaconda (Balad) Iraq. Bumped two Cols on the nightly ‘Round Robin’ Ring Flight to all the FOBs and finally ending up in Baghdad…CATFISH AIR. Came up to the window and had both the Military and KBR-Ian’s Flight Schedulers start manifesting me at 1700 for the 0200 ring flight.
    They had me rack out in the lobby until flight time. I was flying back out to FOB CALDWELL (about a 45 minute flight) with my Local National payroll. They called me at 0130 and told me I was now on the flight and Not a ‘Stand-by’. ” Waitaminnit, Who the HELL is he and how does he ‘rate’ bumping Both of us?” ” That’s Rich, he works at CALDWELL and comes up here 4 times a month.” he’s going back to his FOB and it’s Important he gets back tonight.”
    “But HOW does he rate?” One of the COLs sputtered. “well,” said one of the Military schedulers, “he’s a GSE-15 AND HE Always Buys us Pizza both the First day he gets here and AND the Last Day he is here. PLEASE take your seats and we’ll try to get you on the Next lift going toward Baghdad, Sirs.” So, Kinda smug on that and Glad I was flying THAT night cause I had 42K in US Dollars in my ‘baby’ ruck.

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