by Jake Block
Working the grave shift in Vietnam had its benefits. It was often cooler than in the day, and there were fewer “zebras” (high ranking NCOs) around to hassle you as you did your work. You rolled out of your rack around 7PM, if you weren’t already up, and gathered your gear. Flak jacket, helmet, canteen, knife, sidearm, M16, ammo belt with 200 rounds and flashlight with red lens attached. Check, check and check, and you rattled your way down the road to the flightline area, passing through the security checkpoint, and then to the large warehouse where you would spend the night preparing cargo and troops for transport, when you weren’t out on the flightline working an aircraft. But first, a cup of coffee and shift briefing. “Twelve flights tonight, 52 pallets of ammunition, rations, supplies… 200 troops for Khe Sahn, Cam Ranh and Qui Non. The password… tonight it’s “biscuit,” and the response… “snap.” Hookers on the hill.”
And with the announcement of “hookers on the hill,” you began to drop most of your equipment and store it against the wall, just keeping your flak jacket, and sidearm with you. You could relax for a while as you sipped your coffee and began your night shift duties. You knew that the chances of Charlie hitting the base tonight was low, and he wouldn’t be lobbing rockets or mortars in on you, because there were hookers on the hill. Hookers on the hill was a good thing.
The Hill was the area where the hooches were. Hooches were living quarters for the troops, being four concrete walls, about four feet tall, topped by a roof and windows, which were little more than open spaces between the concrete walls and the roof. There was no glass, just plywood flaps that you could lower to keep out the wind and rain during the monsoons, or to provide a little protection if mortars fell and sprayed shrapnel through the area. There were normally eight to ten troops in each hooch. But no need for them tonight, because there were hookers on the hill. Understand that the hookers in Vietnam could be found on most bases at night, and while the regulations prohibited such fraternization between GIs and locals, it happened, as the lines every Wednesday for the VD clinic proved. But aside from being a source of sexual recreation, they provided a service that I doubt even they understood, but if you were a wise GI, you took advantage of. They were a damned good predictor of enemy action on any given day.
The hookers were all Vietnamese women, and had brothers, fathers and sons, some of whom might be base day laborers, but at night could be VC (Viet Cong), or those sympathetic to them. And while they might want to get to you with mortars or rockets, etc., they didn’t want to put their loved ones in harm’s way to do it, so they kept the hookers informed. When you saw hookers on the hill, you knew that they knew nothing was likely to happen. When there were no hookers, you knew that something could be planned, so you took precautions. You kept your weapons close at hand if your were out and about, or if you were sleeping, you lowered the flaps and slept with with your flak jacket covering your chest, and your weapon next to you. The guards in the compound paid close attention to any unusual sound or movement until the sun came up in the morning.
Now, there were people in Vietnam who wanted the hookers gone, because they were an affront to the supposed morality of our culture and our way of life, but at a “30,000 ft view” of the times, it was no more immoral than a thousand other things we all said and did as a culture during the times. The hookers on the hill weren’t a situation that one could think optimal for any given time, and they were problematic in that they spread diseases amongst the troops, and that downgraded efficiency and to some degree lowered morale, but in that they served as a sort of early warning system, one could argue that they were to some degree beneficial in saving lives as well. In the balance, were they more positive in that service or more problematic than they were worth? One could indeed argue both ways, but like most things, they simply were a fact of life, and one took them (or didn’t) for what it was worth.
Same as it ever was, there are things in life that some people look to for inspiration, for guidance or simply for pleasure that might not be palatable to others. Should we, as a society define what is good for each member of our society, solipsistically thinking that what is good and right in our eyes must be beneficial to all, or will we ever become enlightened enough to admit that our standards are binding only to us, and while millions of others might share in our standards, it does not imply that those standards must be adhered to by all others? If we are to claim independence of thought, all others must feel free to choose their own standards and, so long as they do not seek to inflict their standards upon us, or curtail our rights to OUR standards, there is simply a matter of choice. Choose wisely, thrive and be well. You can only choose for yourself, and like the hookers on the hill, that’s a good thing.