By Joe Holt
My outfit, India Company, Third Battalion, Fifth Marines had finally found a home just outside the Chu Lai airbase. We’d been sent to an area close to the mountains just west of the base. As the crow flies we were maybe two or three miles away, but we might as well have been on Mars. Our homes were our bunkers. There was nothing to look at but the expanse of rice paddies that stretched out between us and the mountains. Considering the gunfights we’d been in over the last month or two, you’d think this slack duty would be to our liking, but it got boring real quick, let me tell ya. We’d take patrols out during the day, and ambushes at night, but the lack of sleep didn’t make our boredom any easier.
As usual mail call was the highlight of our day. We had been getting mail regularly since we’d been here, maybe three times a week. The fellas would occasionally get a magazine from home, a newspaper maybe. Any books were appreciated, but they were few and far between. We did get “Stars and Stripes” though. It was surprisingly entertaining. Of course the first thing we’d check when we got a new copy was the obits to see if we knew anybody. The rest of the news didn’t really have anything to do with us. I can’t really remember much about the articles, but there was one in particular that I’ll remember till my dyin’ day.
Right on the front page there was a big photograph of Jayne Mansfield being presented with a gift from some doggie officer. It was a brassiere that had been fabricated out of two GI helmets. Jayne had been touring the country doing her bit for the men in uniform, and this is the kind of horseshit that’s supposed to entertain the deprived readers of “Stars and Stripes”! Real funny I thought. Those Army guys down in Saigon have nothin’ better to do that to go to USO shows and flirt with movie stars! I was so jealous I could spit. It took me a day or two before I eventually got tired of complaining about it. It never took me long to find something else to complain about.
One morning a few days later Sergeant Luzietti walked up to my bunker and announced that there was gonna be a USO show down by the airbase that afternoon. He also pointed out that there’d only be one “six by” available for us to go to the show, so we had to decide who was going and who was stayin’.
I’d never been to a USO show before. We’d only officially been in country for a month or so, and besides, it seemed to me that most of the USO shows were for the poags or airdales, not us.
Sure enough, around noon a truck pulled up to a clearing near our CP. I straggled over in that direction, but when I got there I saw about twenty guys already standing around ready to jump on. A “six by” only holds about fifteen or twenty guys, and even then it’s a squeeze. I decided it simply wasn’t worth the trouble to wrestle those guys to get aboard. I turned to walk away when I heard the magic words…Jayne Mansfield!
Holy shit! I don’t know who said it, but I wasn’t the only one to put two and two together. Once we realized that we were being blessed with a visit from an angel and we weren’t gonna miss it for anything. The atmosphere immediately changed around that truck. Everybody within earshot made a move for the truck. There was runnin’ and screamin’ and grapplin’ and swearin’. Quite a display if I do say so myself. I thought I was gonna have to fix bayonets to get a spot on that truck, but I eventually managed to clamber aboard without inflicting any bodily harm. I think we had about forty guys on that truck when we eventually got going. A few were hangin’ off the doors, rifles slung around their torsos, but at least they had a ride.
We almost lost a couple of guys on the trip to the airbase. The road was almost nonexistent, sometimes so narrow through the bush that the hangers on nearly got scraped off.
We pulled up to the base of a small hill. Sitting all over the side of this hill were about two or three hundred guys. At the base of the hill, near where our truck pulled up, there was a plywood stage, maybe twenty foot square, with a microphone standing right in the middle. Behind the stage were a couple of tents, a generator, and a handful of officers looking like they were important. We got off the truck and strolled up the hill till we found a spot to sit down, our rifles leaning up against our shoulders or in our laps. Damn we were excited. Everybody was talkin’ about Jayne. We had no idea of what to expect from Jayne Mansfield, but we were ready for anything.
We had to wait. A half hour maybe. It was hot. None of us had brought our canteens. We didn’t think we’d need’em at a USO show! The stage area had a canopy but we sure as hell didn’t. It was a relatively cool day, not more than ninety degrees, but we were gettin’ sweaty and impatient.
Finally some civilian fella went up the stage steps and walked over to the microphone. I paid almost no attention to what he had to say. He was tellin’ jokes, trying to be cute, but we didn’t give a rat’s ass about him. We wanted Jayne! If he was tryin’ to warm up this audience he was wastin’ his time. He started to introduce the main attraction. He got louder. He waved his hand toward the tents and proudly announced in his most enthusiastic voice,
“Let’s give a big hand for the ‘Midnight Oilers!”
Four guys in straw hats and striped short sleeved shirts trotted out of the tent and up on the stage. They immediately started in on their rendition of “I Want a Girl Just Like the Girl That Married Dear Old Dad.”
What the fuck was this?!!! Where’s Jayne?!
We were stunned. We all looked at each other. Some of us were just confused, but most of us were mad. Downright pissed. We’d suffered the truck ride from hell, the heat of the afternoon, and a half hour wait, all expecting Jayne Mansfield and all we got was…a barbershop quartet! To say we were disappointed is the understatement of the year.
I really believe to this day that those guys in the barbershop quartet had no idea of the danger they were in at that moment. I wouldn’t have been surprised if somebody had put a few rounds in the direction of the stage, if not frag the whole area. In fact, I expected it. We were a dangerous bunch of oversexed gunfighters. We didn’t normally put up with this kinda shit.
I also believe the only thing that saved those guys from a violent end was their sincerity. They were just so damn proud and enthusiastic, smilin’ the whole time, tappin’ their toes in puddles of their own sweat. When they completed their first song you coulda heard a pin drop. Nobody moved. Stone silence.
They never missed a beat. They kept their grins in tact and carried on with four or five songs, all with the same gleeful innocence. By the time they were finally done with their performance the crowd had loosened up some. There were actually twenty or thirty guys who applauded, contrasted of course with the two or three hundred guys who sat there like zombies.
Later, on the numbing ride back to our area, I wondered who started all that talk about Jayne Mansfield? Obviously it was wishful thinking. This bizarre day only proved the theory that the Jayne Mansfields of the world go to the Army or the Air Force. The Marines get the barbershop quartets. Ain’t that always the way it is?