As you might imagine, not everybody was a fan of the Military Police. I'm glad Giant was my partner this day...
The big guy in the midde's Bill "Giant" Martin, no surprise.
That's Ron Sherman on the left, I'm on the right.
"Yikes, remember the last time we patrolled together? Running traffic, out by the airport? I thought I was a goner for sure. That kid on the bike… Dean, you listening to me?"
Giant nudged my arm.
I had to admit, I was obsessed. It had been weeks since I'd sent the letters. Not a single reply. The band – how I could make it happen– was now all I thought about. Even out on patrol.
"Sorry, man," I said, keeping my eye on the road. Once the sun went down, the streets of Qui Nhon were dark and shadowy. Creepy. I tried to push thoughts of instruments and letters and money and the black market out of my mind as I turned onto Vo Tanh Street. "What'd you say?"
"I was just remembering when we had traffic patrol last week. The kid on the motorcycle?"
I nodded as I thought of it. Giant – real name's Bill Martin, big guy from Illinois, over six foot – had been standing on the half of an oil drum set up in the middle of the three-way intersection, playing human stop sign, directing traffic. We'd alternated thirty-minute shifts so our arms wouldn't get tired; I'd been sitting in the jeep waiting my turn. Out of nowhere, this Vietnamese kid on a motorbike had approached the intersection. Giant had held his hand up for him to stop, but the kid just ignored him. I remembered Giant looking over at me, his eyes bulging, both of us wondering what the hell was going on, if this was just some idiot kid or if it was Charlie on a suicide run.
"Man, you jumped out of the way just in time," I said, slowing the jeep as we neared a string of off-limits bars. I could see the girls in short skirts and high heels out front, as usual, waiting to lure some dumb GIs in.
"Remember how that kid flew?" Giant said. "Ricocheted off the drum and took off sailing."
"Chain link fence sure caught him, though. That had to have hurt. I don't know how the hell he survived, landing all upside down like that." I wiped at the sweat under my helmet.
Giant chuckled. "Must be all that opium they smoke."
Any store you go in, you can smell it as soon as you walk in the door. Sort of a pot-ish smell, a medicine smell. They smoke it out of little pipes. Sit and smoke, walk and smoke.
"Sure slows 'em down," I said. I pulled up to the muddy curb, in front of the girls. "I've seen some of them almost comatose. The shopkeepers still want to haggle with you, though."
"Ugh, and that junk reeks too." Giant scrunched up his nose and reached for his helmet from the back seat.
"Definitely not incense." I threw the jeep in park and hopped out.
I headed for the door of the bar on the left.
"MP, Number One," one of the girls cooed as I opened the door. "You buy me Saigon tea?" That was bar-girl-speak for something else, I'd learned.
I felt the heat in my cheeks. "No, thanks," I mumbled and walked in. The place was dark and smoky, there was a pool table in the corner. As I scanned the room, I saw about thirty GIs, some at tables, some at the bar, most with bar girls. Idiots. I wondered what in the world they were thinking being there, since the place was clearly posted as off-limits.
I looked around for backup. Giant wasn't behind me. He wasn't anywhere to be seen. Damn.
U.S. Army MPs In Nam Rule #285: Never go into a bar by yourself. You and your partner always enter together. It's safer that way.
I didn't know where the hell Giant was, but I couldn’t let thirty soldiers just walk out of there. I circled the room taking IDs.
Most of the guys looked kind of sheepish, muttering some lame excuse like, "Oh, I didn't see the sign."
The last GI had an attitude problem.
“I ain’t giving you my freakin’ ID card,” he said and stood up. He wasn't as big as Giant, but he was way bigger than me. “You got that, MP?” he said, poking me in the chest with each word.
For an instant, I thought about what would happen if he tried to take me down, if all thirty of them got some funny ideas. My mind was way ahead of him, though – my hand was already on my pistol.
At that moment, Giant walked in the door. He took one glance, rocketed over, lifted the soldier by the neck and slammed him against the cinderblock wall. The girls shrieked. The guy’s arms were windmilling, his feet dangling a foot from the floor. He started to gag.
I thought that Giant was going to maybe kill the guy.
Low and smooth, like I was talking down a bridge-leaper, I said, “Put him down, Bill… Put… him… down… ”
Giant's face was all contorted, sweat trickling into his eyes. “You never touch an MP, you understand?” he spat at the guy through gritted teeth.
The soldier attempted to nod, but could only gag.
I was still coaxing. “Put him down, Bill…”
Finally, Giant set him down.
The guy crumpled to the ground, coughing and flailing. Together, Giant and I arrested all thirty of the troops with no other problems. We put them into formation, and marched them to the MP station a few blocks down.
On the way, there was all sorts of low grumbling about the "freakin' MPs" and how "they ain't nothin'." But we were used to it. After nearly two months of patrolling, we'd pretty much heard it all, all the contempt and venom for the Military Police from a lot of our own guys, fellow American soldiers. It had bothered me at first. But then I realized it was like being the school principal or something. No matter what you do, no matter how cool you are, you're still the principal – you're the one enforcing the rules. And not everybody's going to like that. So, you do what you do. And life goes on.
"Shut the hell up," Giant told them. He'd settled down some, but his tone still meant business. The soldiers scowled, but we didn't hear any more out of them.
"So where the hell were you?" I asked Giant as we walked.
"Checking the bar next door. I put on my pot, looked up, and you were gone."
I shook my head and chuckled. "Glad you found me, man," I said.