It was the 29th of May 1971 when the Executive Officer called me into his office at Camp Keystone, the Headquarters of the 93rd Military Police battalion, in Qui Nhon, South Vietnam. He told me that I was to plan for an organization day at the Red Beach recreational area for our administrative troops. Unlike our MPs, who pretty much had a free run of Qui Nhon, our headquarters soldiers couldn't go downtown since it was off limits, unless they dashed to the vill.
Major Mac looked at me and winked, "No women, Sullivan!" I understood his message loud and clear. He knew that seven months patrolling the nasty streets of Qui Nhon had caused me to long since lose my moral compass. I'd procure the entertainment and the women, but it would be my ass if I got caught. "Yes sir!" I smartly saluted and went off to prepare the intelligence briefing I was scheduled to give to the Commander and his staff that afternoon.
Organization day was the 1st of June. We worked in the morning and then went over to Red Beach, just down the road from Camp Keystone, for the festivities. I was busy until about 11:30 AM, proofreading and printing up the weekly intelligence summary. As our lads set up for the cookout and party, I headed downtown and hired a band with four go-go girls for $100. Then, I arranged for two deuce and a halves to pick up a bunch of whores and started down the road with my illicit convoy.
A flatbed with the band followed my jeep, with the ladies of Qui Nhon in the two 2 ½ tons not far behind. As I approached Red Beach, out pulled the Commander, LTC Duffy. He scowled, so, in a reflex reaction, I snapped a crisp salute as we passed in opposite directions. I'm sure he quickly assessed the situation and decided it would be best to establish plausible deniability by absenting himself from the scene.
I'd assumed that there would be no field grades or other officers around and that I'd be able to implement my plans for troop morale without incident. Unfortunately, as I dismounted my jeep, there was the XO, MAJ MacIntosh! Wouldn't you know it, at that very moment, the 2 ½ tons pulled in and all the whores unassed the trucks. As they happily traipsed across the beach towards my HHD enlisted soldiers, a girl named Jackie saw me and called out, "Trung 'uy! Trung 'uy!" (First Lieutenant in Vietnamese). Major Mac stopped her and next I heard him exclaim, "Lt. Sullivan!"
I reported, "Yes, Sir!"
"Get the young lady and me a steak, would you?"
"No problem, sir. I'll get right on it."
I brought Mac and Jackie their steaks. He ate and chatted with her for a bit, while I anxiously went about supervising the set-up of the band, volleyball nets and cookout grates. Later, he called me over and told me to keep up the good work. After an exchange of salutes, off he went, back to Camp Keystone, leaving me in charge of the festivities. Needless to say, I was relieved, and the enlisted soldiers of HHD 93rd MP Bn were thrilled.
It was a grand time, but around 9 PM, helicopter gunships began to rake the side of Vung Chua Mountain. Apparently, sensors had picked up suspected VC activity, which soon turned into confirmed VC activity. As the gun ships fired up Vung Chua, secondary explosions suddenly started to be set off. If the VC had intended to mortar Qui Nhon that evening, it would cost them.
Meanwhile, the party went on unabated. As the music played, the guys and their companions took in the action on Vung Chua as though it was a fireworks display. Tracer rounds and explosions brought "oohs" and "aahs", just like a Fourth of July celebration. It was as though the war was going on all around us, but nobody gave a damn. They just popped their beers and took in the sights.
Quickly, or not so quickly, assessing the situation, and recognizing that one of our deuce and a halves was sitting in the ocean, I determined that it was time to close down organization day at Red Beach, get our guys back to Camp Keystone, and the locals back downtown. Just in time, too, as the VC hit the Vung Chua signal site and threw a few rockets into Qui Nhon proper.
We immediately went to Yellow Option One. As soon as the boys got back on the compound, they donned their steel pots and flak jackets, and were issued their M-16s. Meanwhile, their fearless leader (no guts, no glory) was leading his convoy of pleasure back through Qui Nhon to make sure the band and whores all got back safely. It was quite a night. Acid rock and mortar explosions. A psychedelic blast! The war was happening, but the party still went on. It was surreal.
As I closed my eyes that evening, I remembered that there had been a book or movie entitled, "What did you do in the war, Daddy?" I wondered what I'd tell my children at some point in the future. To be sure, there were times of courage and bravery, coupled with moments of doubt and fear. But, there were also plenty of good times with some really great guys.
I often think about the evening of 1 June 1971 as being a microcosm of my whole Vietnam experience. No one got hurt and everyone had a grand time. Even LTC Duffy and MAJ Mac were pleased, and although they couldn't say anything officially, I knew they appreciated my taking a chance to enhance troop morale.