Thurman P. Woodfork


Vietnamese women workers at Det 7, 619th TCS (Trang-Sup)
Vietnamese women workers at Det 7, 619th TCS (Trang-Sup)
Photograph ©Copyright 2001 by Thurman P. Woodfork
The Thais are lovely people, aren’t they? I walked into the BX on Don Muang Royal Thai Air Force Base one bright, sunny day wearing an elaborately embroidered shirt I’d had made in the Philippines. The clerk at the checkout counter was so taken with the shirt that she innocently began running her hands over the patterns…and unintentionally feeling me up in the process. I have to admit that I wasn’t quite sure what to do, so I just stood there smiling until she finished.

Come to think of it, when I arrived on Trang-Sup in Vietnam, a bunch of the women in camp were struck by my shiny new cotton/polyester fatigues, and did pretty much the same thing to me that the Thai girl later did, except that they felt me all over, and patted my face and hands, to boot. I have never, before or since, been so thoroughly groped by strangers – at least, not without being expected to pay for it. I asked one of the American troops if the Vietnamese always greeted newcomers that way. He shook his head and said, “First time I ever saw it.” Guess I’m just lucky.

Such casual intimacy took a little getting used to; Americans have got to be some of the most prudish people in the world in some ways, if not THE most strait-laced. While I realized that none of those people were remotely aware that they were ‘invading my personal space’ by touching me in what they considered to be a friendly and non-threatening manner, I was still a little fazed by it.

In yet another such incident at Trang-Sup, I contracted some sort of nasty skin infection that caused my face to swell to the point where my skin cracked and began to ooze an amber serum. The SF medic figured that I had gotten the infection from a barber who’d recently visited the camp.

Well, Bac Si was baffled by my steadily worsening condition and finally took me in to the Army hospital down in Tay Ninh West. The doctors there were just as stumped as the team medic, and told him to send me to Saigon. They were also interested in a scattering of black moles on my torso, saying that they were beginning to see a lot of that spreading through the troops they treated for wounds and other things. As a matter of fact, I’ve still got those moles. But, I digress…

When I arrived in Saigon, I checked in at the 619th Tactical Control Squadron, my parent organization. A gentleman there asked me why I needed to see a doctor. I – rather impolitely, I admit – asked him if he thought I always walked around with my face swollen and oozing plasma. He cleared his throat, looked down at my medical records, and didn’t ask me any more irrelevant questions. Bureaucrats are everywhere.

I spent about a week in the hospital in Saigon; I think it was the 2nd Field Hospital. The doctor there frankly told me that he had no idea what was wrong with me, and by his own admission, was going to load his medical shotgun with a wide variety of pills and ointments – plus hourly soakings in warm compresses – and just fire it at me.

I went in on a Friday, and when the doctor came looking for me again on Monday, he didn’t recognize me. He asked the medic on duty what had happened to the other guy who’d been in my bed. I assured him that I was that same guy. The doctor had wrought a miracle cure.

The swelling and lesions were completely gone, and I had even been able to shave off about two weeks’ worth of scraggly beard. Doc said he was definitely writing this one up. My cure was so rapid that I felt guilty about staying in the hospital for the extra days that I was kept there to make sure the infection was gone. You would have had to see me before and after my hospital stay to really appreciate the astonishingly rapid and amazing change in my appearance.

Anyway, when I got back to camp following my miracle cure, the hootch maids once again gave me the ‘hands on’ treatment. When I appeared in the mess hall for my first meal after returning, they gathered ‘round to check me out.

The doctor had not only succeeded in curing my skin infection, he had given me the skin of a pre-teen in the process. I didn’t have so much as a pimple on my now smooth-skinned face. The women grouped around me began to murmur in awe as they gently patted and stroked my face. They even started calling me ‘Babyface’.

Unfortunately, about a month after I ran out of the antibiotics and ointments the doctor had given me, my old hide slowly returned and the ‘baby face’ disappeared. I became my old, razor-bumpy self again, but it was nice while it lasted. I’ll bet that doctor could have made a fortune if he had marketed his skin treatment. That had to be some potent stuff.