The Misfortune Teller
You Can't Do A Wrong Thing The Right Way
"I ain't got nothing against no Viet Cong." -- Muhammad Ali (refusing conscription into the Army in 1967)
I first arrived in South Vietnam in July of 1970. No one knew what to do with me, so I spent a month in a stinking Saigon transit barracks waiting for orders. They eventually came through and I transferred to the Vietnamese Naval Training Center at Cam Ranh Bay. I spent the next three months there with essentially nothing to do, so out of boredom I decided to grow a mustache and beard. Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, the Chief of Naval Operations, had issued fleet-wide orders saying that we enlisted men could do that to improve our morale. But my local commanding officer did not like my morale and ordered me to shave off the offensive (to him) facial hair. I respectfully declined, reasoning: "What can they do to punish me? Send me to Vietnam?" I soon discovered the answer to that rhetorical question when my commanding officer had me transferred to the most remote ATSB that he could find: "Solid Anchor," essentially a pile of sand dumped on a defoliated stretch of mud on the banks of a dirty brown river about two kilometers from the southernmost tip of Vietnam. As irony would have it, Solid Anchor owed its very existence to none other than Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, who had ordered the facility built when he previously commanded all U.S. Navy forces in Vietnam. I arrived at Solid Anchor in early November, 1970, and stayed until the end of January, 1972, a period of about fourteen months. I had a long time in which to ponder the irony of my situation -- and much else besides.
During my fourteen months spent languishing at "Solid Anchor," a remote US Navy ATSB deep in the Mekong Delta, a shipmate had a pet Anaconda that he kept in a long wooden ammunition crate. Every Sunday, he would take it out for a feeding, which event usually passed for the highlight of our dreary existence for the week. A bunch of bored, bearded, half-dressed sailors would form a ring into the center of which someone would throw a live duck. The Anaconda would slowly slither over to the petrified fowl and then take an hour or so enveloping, crushing, and swallowing it. I still have pictures. As I recall, the guy who owned the pet Anaconda had stenciled on the side of its wooden-crate home, in all-caps military-style lettering:
SNAKE, BIG FUCKING
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