The prostitutes too, I had orders on. Battalion said if the "boomboom girls" try to solicit us, I was to quickly shoo (I think that was it verbatim: shoo) the girls off, we shouldn't associate with the Vietnamese girls. A mother might hold the Army responsible or a congressman say, "He's giving his soldiers pussy. It isn't right." I told it to my platoon as I'd heard it. "You're members of the United States Army. And by the laws of the United States--" How did I phrase it? "Prostitution's illegal. And prostitutes come to this bridge at approximately 1800--"
"Yay! Bring on the prostitutes!"
"No one," I said, "is to prosper the prostitutes' business. Is that understood?"
It wasn't, of course. Face it: most every guy in America, the average guy is for pussy. To buy it, cheat it, steal it, get it however possible. What can the Army do? Announce? "There will be girls in. And they'll be starving. And they'll be telling you, 'My mother, my father, my sister, my brother is starving too.' And they'll be selling it, gentlemen, and if you touch it: article fifteen. Or a summary court." Say if you send every second man in your platoon to Leavenworth. You realize, Gee, I have twenty people now. I'm going around at half strength now. I say if a little pussy keeps a platoon together, a little pussy they've got.
At twilight, two of those boomboorn girls came by. Dressed up and heavily made up for going to God-knows-where: the rouge on, the powder caked on, the "dink" or whatever the Vietnamese straw hats are on. One girl, one of her front two teeth wath mithing: she talked like thith. And looked stupefied, like a girl looking for the license plate of the truck that hit her, I don't know. A dumb-looking broad: the other was fairly flamboyant, though, and looked cute on a Honda fifty. A pimp in Italian shoes was driving it and telling guys, "Forty dollars."
The men acted natural about it. Cool, or what is the word? Blasť. As if, They're extremely lucky if I sleep with them. I can have any girl in Asia--but I could hear and I went outside. I said, "Sergeant, where are the bridge guards?"
"They're with the boomboom girls."
"Get them guarding the bridge," I said, and I broke the party up. "Men! You're a little horny now. But forty dollars--! Don't be damned fools." The pimp, it happened, was angry, anyhow: the troops had ridden his Honda around, and after getting it back again he left us. The boomboom girls too.
Pretty soon, up came three other motorbikes, six other boomboom girls, and their mamasan: madam. I was inside again but I heard the bidding. And bitching. And haggling. And everything, and I just couldn't take it. Remember: the Red Cross is great but not that great, the GIs are old enough to fight, to vote (or they should be) and make themselves money and spend it. And some would be dead in a month, so I went outside and I said, "Now Mamasan. You want twenty dollars. I have twenty soldiers. One dollar one GI."
"One dollar every time."
"No no--" She compromised on $4 every man. All the girls all the night.
So there were who? Two girls in two of the bunkers--no, one girl in two of the bunkers. And two girls in two of the bunkers, right? And the mamasan--well, I had relieved a Negro lieutenant and he had briefed me. "She doesn't screw. Do you know, though? She is all right. She is twenty-eight. She stays here in the command bunker. Yours." All right, and I had invited the mamasan in. There were no chairs inside, only a pair of double-decker bunks made out of ammunition cans on PSP: the runway stuff. But being shy of a GI's bed, the mamasan sat on a Vietnamese mat on the bunker floor. She wore a Saigon: a long white gown, and a white pair of pants underneath it. Some paraffin in a C-ration can created sort of a chandelier to illuminate her. A very beautiful woman.
I said, "My name is Rusty."
She said, "My name--Susie."
I said, "Do you live around here?" I admit it, I'm shy about girls. I have to ask silly questions if I'm at a cocktail party back in Miami. "Do you live in Miami?" "Yeah." "Well gee. What part of Miami?" "The Shores." "Well gee. Do you work in Miami? Or do you always run to New York--" Stupid questions. Same as I asked of Susie in the command bunker then, but I didn't care: I would break the ice. Already, Susie had asked me to sit with her: I had jumped to it. I had thought, It may be the first step. I confess, I wanted to sleep with her.
Outside, I would hear the GIs get a little too rowdy, a little rambunctious. I would get up (I kept my RTO inside) and I would say, "We're still in Vietnam. We're not raising hell at Coney Island." Other times, I would see if the bridge guards were on. And once--I had said to Susie, "Cigarette?" I had them across on the ammunition crates, and I had started up. She being a Vietnamese she jumped up and right up into the C-ration paraffin can. It spilled, and Susie said, "Ow--" "Oi--" "Oh--" something in Vietnamese, and she hurried out. I followed her.
Susie was at the river: kneeling, letting her hair in, and rinsing the paraffin out. Or trying to, because, of course, it just became lumps, and Susie had to go back inside to try instead with a cheap plastic comb. Remember if you're at a swimming pool and a girl's putting suntan oil on? You go? You help rub it on? This combing gave me an in. Susie was a bit hesitant (in Vietnam a man doesn't comb a woman's hair), but I sat down and I began. I felt great compassion for Susie. I wished that I could kiss and caress her--if she would let me. Suddenly, one of her girls ran in saying a GI had hit her. Had popped her one. I asked the soldier, "Did you?"
"Hell no! She wouldn't screw for us."
"I do one time all GI! No do two times all GI!"
"Enough is enough," I told him.
"We want our twenty dollars then!"
"No no no no--"
At last, I think Susie told her, "You screw the GIs again." And when everyone left us, Susie leaned up against me. I put an arm around her, I smoked a Pall Mall and I was in bliss.
"Well--" my RTO told me. "I'm just about ready to go to sleep."
I said, "It's getting late."
He said, "It's awfully warm, I think. I'll sleep outside."
I said to Susie, "Sleep?"
She put her hands to her cheek in a praying position: sleep. She took an air mattress down (the other was on the floor already) and she lined it up. I got a poncho liner down, and I got another one for Susie. And we lay down together. And we made love.
And after that we talked. But oh--! To get an idea across took us hours, practically. Did you ever try to talk seriously with a girl whose vocabulary is "You GI," "You number one," "You number ten"? Or to pantomime a philosophy with a girl whose philosophy is opposite yours? Susie would say, "You no like VC. Why?" I would tell her the VC are bad, and Susie would say, "VC no hurt me, VC no hurt you." Or say, "You nice to VC, he nice to you." I would tell her the VC are bad for the Vietnamese people, and Susie would say, "Same same! VC Vietnamese. Vietnamese VC." All right: I would tell her the VC are communists and Susie would just say, "No bitt," "I don't understand." She hadn't heard of communism or of democracy. What could I do about it? Tell her in a democracy the Vietnamese choose--no, I couldn't say it. What if she answered me, "I choose communism." Then what was I to do? Kill her? Or capture her? Or send her to a POW camp? If she's communist, that's what my duty was.
Sometimes, I sit down and cry now, I really do. For even in Roman times (in Roman movies) the Romans would talk to their enemies. As for me, I tried: I looked at those people, I looked in their eyes, I listened to their philosophies. And just couldn't counter them. I couldn't answer them. I was shut off as soon as someone said, "No bitt." I sat and I had a platoon there and I knew, I can't talk to this man. Or this woman. Or child (or a twelve-year-old in America even). I couldn't talk the language. I didn't know the customs. And yet--I had to convince a man that communism's bad. Or he would become a communist too: America's enemy, and god! Even the Good Book, the Bible, says, "You shall destroy your enemy." I just knew, I must communicate with you. Or else you're dead.
I gave $20 to Susie. I knew, The party's over, the prostitutes left and we got back to being soldiers again.
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