the middle of September, 1967, I was transferred from the
Headquarters of the Military Air Transport Service (MATS), Scott
Field, Illinois, to Southeast Asia for a standard one-year tour of
duty in Thailand.
was a Captain, but on the Promotion List to Major, and expected that
I would be given an “account” as the Accounting and
Finance Officer (A&FO) at some PACAF (Pacific Air Forces) Air
Base after I arrived in-country. I duly processed through Hamilton
AFB, California (near San Francisco) for training with the M-16
weapon (and a M-40 grenade-launcher). A nice dinner at a fine San
Francisco Restaurant with a former Comptroller, now retired (my
former Boss at the 1503rd
Air Transport Wing, Tachikawa AB, Japan), and I was on my way via a
MATS Contract Flight from Travis AFB, California, to Don Muang
Airport, Bangkok, Thailand.
crazy zigzag stuff started soon afterwards. I switched to a Lockheed
C -130 “Hercules” aircraft flight called
“Round-Robin” for a ride
Udorn RTAFB (Royal Thai Air Force Base), in the Northern part of the
country that had been specified in my PCS (Permanent Change of
Station) Orders. The Headquarters of the 7/13th
Air Force - Thailand (PACAF) was located at Udorn RTAFB.
address was to be the: 432nd
Combat Support Group, APO San Francisco 96237. When finally there,
they told me there was no “billet” (a term for an
assigned job) for an A&FO. I must wait a day or two while
Headquarters PACAF, back in Hawaii, was queried as to where one would
be needed. A TWX (a teletype message) came in to Base Personnel
asking that I be sent on to U-Tapao RTNS (Royal Thai Naval Station)
because the present Finance Officer, a Major, was returning to the U.
S. A. in three months. It was located down South near the fishing
village of Satahip, right on the Gulf of Siam, 90 miles Southeast of
Bangkok. I had no idea about what was going on there, but it sounded
to me like a “highly satisfactory” duty assignment.
address was to be the: 635th
Combat Support Group, APO San Francisco 96330, and my official
arrival date became: 12 October 1967.
I got settled-in there, I found out that our PACAF mission was to
support a SAC (Strategic Air Command) Wing of B-52 Bombers and KC-135
Tankers. The SAC Troops were a lively bunch with never a dull moment
and their mission kept the action going 24 hours a day. Instead of
piped “Music by MUZAK,” their Engine
gave us wall-to-wall sound-effects day and night.
90-day time overlap with the present A&FO leaving (and me
over) went really fast. During this period, the entire Accounting and
Finance Office moved out of the 10 “Huts” (we
“Hootches”) and I became the Accounting and Finance
Officer complete with a brand-new building which had just been
finished in the interim. The money vault was completely
air-conditioned and was the only office in the building so-equipped.
was not for the
benefit of the Personnel but it was so-arranged that the currency and
the punch-cards would not get swelled-up with dampness or get ruined
office was not air-conditioned and so our Disbursing Officer, a First
Lieutenant, got the pleasure of pressed trousers and dry, unwrinkled
Fatigues. The rest of us worked with 4” patches of sweat
stains under our arms and the creases in our trousers gone in the first
minutes of wear; although it didn't really matter since we were
wearing gray/green Fatigues with Australian-style Wild-West hats most
of the time.
support personnel were on a ten-hour shift with one day off a week.
Many of us were still “on-call” when off-duty from
normal work. Then there was always your turn on the roster for a
24-hour shift of performing Staff
Duty Officer for
Combat Support Group, about once every three weeks.
there were the Disaster
Control Teams –
everybody was on one of these teams – in case of an attack on
the “Bomb Dump” by “unknowns,”
i.e., in the
“lingo” of the Far-East, a Terrorist Threat.
the most danger to all Personnel seemed to be the risk of being run
down by a Thai Dump Truck hauling red latterite for some building
project. The second most dangerous threat to life and limb was a
speeding “Baht Bus.” A “Baht”
was part of
their currency and was worth about $ 0.05 or 5 ¢. You could
flag-down one of these “covered-wagon” Japanese
Trucks (covered-over in back) anywhere and for a few Baht, go just
about anywhere – but at breakneck speed. We called them (just
like a Radio Station Call Sign) KYA
(Kill You All -
For a Nickel).
was coming and we needed a couple of million dollars in currency
because we were not yet fully converted to a Payday disbursing system
using checks (except for paying Contractors and Vendors). This meant
that we had to make a currency “run” up to Bangkok
obtain the cash from our PACAF Central Finance Office for Thailand
located near Don Muang Air Force Base.
trip was so popular with our A&FO Personnel that (by custom) we
ran a rotational roster so that everybody who was qualified to carry
a sidearm could participate. This trip was performed at least 12
times a year, and more often, if required. Actually,
this was quite enough of these “extra-ordinary”
we learned to be glad that we no longer had Paydays twice a month as
once was the custom in the U.S. Air Force.
had never been on one of these armed “money runs”
and the lucky Master Sergeant (E-7) whose name was drawn for this
jaunt had not enjoyed one of these trips, either. But, both of us
felt that an over-night in exotic Bangkok would certainly pay for any
inconveniences. Therefore, we gladly changed out of our Fatigues
Aussie style Wild-West hats and got onto the C-130
Hercules “Round Robin” Aircraft in our 1505 Summer
Short-Sleeved Uniforms wearing flight-hats (with our small .38
Caliber Revolvers and tiny belt-holsters hidden in our overnight
bags) and headed out to Bangkok anticipating adventure, pure.
the Central Finance Office located near Don Muang AFB, the time was
usually spent in filling out paperwork, counting currency, and
arranging the transport of foot-lockers full of currency on the
morrow. Then we were off-duty until our flight at 08:00 hours the
Central Finance Office was responsible for giving us back our weapons
& holsters and getting the currency boxes out to the Military
Terminal. The Don Muang AFB Air
Traffic Control Office was
responsible for getting the currency boxes safely aboard the C-130
Hercules and securely fastened-down.
next morning we were carried by the Central Finance Office Jeep
directly out to the C-130 Hercules “Round-Robin”
(we were already pre-“checked-in” as
– by-passing the usual check-in procedures for normal
passengers). We found to our satisfaction that the currency boxes
that we had clearly marked were
already on board and secured on a pallet just inside the rear-doors
of the aircraft. This special marking was put on so that we could
keep an eye on the foot-lockers at a glance, and to warn others that
just maybe this box contained things that belonged to a high-ranker
that were none of their business (i.e., the four-star message being
if you know what's good for you, hands-off
the passengers had already been loaded. They were a grim-looking
Military Unit of uncertain Nationality in Combat Jungle (camouflage)
Fatigues filling up the narrow and sideways seats alongside the cargo
pallets. Like all C-130
Hercules Aircraft Passengers, theirs was the natural tendency to
stick to the rear of the aircraft so they could get off fast after
landing. They were traveling “up-country,” probably
the border of Laos and would only “transit” at
RTNS (getting off only to stretch their legs). I suspected that they
were going up there to support Air
just in case our clandestine Pilots wearing the bright Yellow and
Orange “Day-Glow” flight suits got into trouble and
We could see
at a glance that this group of Combat
was no bunch to argue with about which were the choice seats.
suppose that we could have tried to “clear” our
with the Aircraft Commander so that he could “bump”
seats loose at the very back of the aircraft. But we could not do
that without letting the whole aircraft in on the fact that we were
accompanying something very, very valuable (we even kept our small
.38 Caliber Revolvers hidden in our pockets [tiny belt-holster in the
left pocket and weapon in the right pocket] just to prevent undue
notice). And, besides, since take-off was imminent, there wasn't any
time left for that kind of wrangling.
so we moved forward – and again more forward –
searching for a seat until we were right at the bulkhead near the
forward crew-door. We rationalized
. . . . . Well, so what ? When the aircraft stops moving, and after
the Passengers are all off, we can be right there when the Baggage
Handlers move our currency boxes into the Terminal. Maybe we can even
ride with them.
the same, right about then we started getting that “sinking
feeling” from being separated from our money.
short flight from Bangkok to U-Tapao was uneventful, and when on the
ground again most of the Passengers unsafely stood up even before the
aircraft was parked. When the rear-doors were opened, egress off the
aircraft ramp was blocked by the baggage truck. But, what's this ?
There being no fork-lifts out on the Aircraft Parking Ramp, the first
pallets were emptied by hand rapidly by the Thai Baggage Handlers,
Passenger could step-off the airplane.
The Master Sergeant (E-7) and I looked at each other dumbly –
simultaneously we whispered:
Holy Cats – They've already got our foot-lockers and we're
supposed to accompany that money!
an instant, we both had clambered-up over the top of the baggage on
the forward center pallets of the aircraft to avoid the standing and
milling Passengers, and had jumped down onto the center
pallets in the back. We ran down the lowered aircraft ramp like a
shot just in time to see the baggage truck already about 30 yards
away accelerating to what seemed like “getaway
careering and careening in the direction of the Air Traffic Terminal,
of a mile away.
afraid we made a sort of spectacle of ourselves because we were both
running “all-out” behind them, hollering Stop,
course, to no avail. We
might just as well have yelled: “Tally Ho – The Fox
clinging to the truck, who
spoke only Thai,
scratched their heads quizzically, watching us quickly falling far
behind. Well now, at our age, we both put the “Quarter
behind us probably better
than back when we were running the “440” in a High
is said, in times of great stress, that you can see your past
life flash before your eyes. Not for me. I could see my
clearly if that money got lost.
little later, when the U-Tapao Air
calmed us while we were panting with our tongues hanging out, he told
us: “Sometimes the Thai Workers get a little bored with their
work. When that happens, they play a little game called let's
see how fast we can unload this aircraft.
And when they do this, they are exceptionally
fast. But, I assure you, they had no idea what was in those foot
said further, making us feel much, much better: “You never
in any real trouble here because we
all baggage tied-down on pallets, including Valuables, until it
reaches the Terminal-Proper. Only then is it signed for and released
to the customer. And
even if that were not the case, since you were formally designated as
Couriers, it would follow our routine rules for COURIER DUTY which
normally occur with CLASSIFIED (including TOP SECRET) Documents;
i.e., the sealed Packets were never out of your sight, therefore no
compromise was possible.”
We agreed (with great relief) saying “Roger” to
acknowledged that it all made good sense, since we had not even been
present when the currency boxes were on-loaded at Don Muang AFB.
we also knew that our comfortable last-minute boarding time that we
had thoroughly enjoyed (just like we were important VIPs) and the
“musical-chairs” in the C-130 Hercules, which had
us to be separated from our currency in the first place (together
with our inexperience) had “set us up” for being so
of course, nobody had briefed us about any of this stuff.
Aircraft Crew, who had guessed what was going on, sympathetically put
our overnight bags (that we in our haste had left behind) onto the
next Thai baggage truck headed for the Terminal, before
they took-off for their next destination. We imagined that they were
doubled-over with laughter while they did that. As for the full load
of grim “Combat Troops,” I'm sure they thought that
anybody not wearing camouflage Fatigues must be Tourists and
therefore they were not expected to behave like they were sane !
to say, the currency in the foot-lockers arrived safely at the vault
in my Finance Office. When the Master Sergeant (E-7) and I talked it
over and asked ourselves: Should we tell someone ? The answer was
not just No, but Hell NO
We didn't need that kind of notoriety. We would have been “He-Hawed”
to death up and down the chain of Command. We had had an honest
attack of panic.
it was our very own “panic” although
groundless, as it turned out.
luckily, we didn't over-react.
Can you just imagine the trouble we would have been in if we had
drawn our .38 Caliber Revolvers out of our pockets and fired them
into the air trying to stop that Baggage Truck !
said: “We'll just keep this to ourselves and tell it someday
a 'War story!”
this long overdue clarification about the en route accountabilities
for currency and weapons (for us “Non-Combat
SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) was written on the subject. It
full accountability has not yet been perfected, A&FO Personnel
accompanying currency shipments no longer will carry sidearms on
their person while in an aircraft, either hidden or otherwise, but
will leave them secured in their baggage.”
other words, since we Non-Combatants were not accountable for the
currency while in-transit, someone else was required to protect the
valuables to include the use of deadly force. Despite being
designated as “Couriers”, we were just passengers,
we did wear sidearms
conspicuously holstered on our belts
after leaving the Terminal-Proper while accompanying currency
shipments (since we were now “ex-Couriers”
and had formally “signed” for the
was a few years yet before the U.S. Air Force fully implemented their
World-Wide “payroll-by-check” system for their
on Paydays. With that, no more Military “armed”
runs were needed. Instead of passing
green Dollars, “The
buff-colored punch-cards !
Bank, operating under contract, was now responsible for obtaining the
currency to cash those checks.
won't know where to send it.)
Bishop's Biography and Story List
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