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Military Traditions

July 20, 2021 By Jerry Mulenburg

Looking for Ice in Saigon

While stationed in Japan in the mid-1950s, I was part of an Air Force mobile maintenance team who traveled around the Far East to repair C-12 aircraft. On one such trip, after repairing the aircraft we had been sent to fix, we became stranded in Saigon, Vietnam. Our aircraft left with the broken aircraft’s cargo to complete the original mission. Since we always left on a moment’s notice, we had no travel orders, no passports, little money and no way to get back to our base in Japan.

When told of our plight, the aircraft commander of the plane we had repaired contacted the American embassy. The embassy set us up in a nice Saigon hotel and provided an advance on our pay until they could figure out what to do with us. Settled in our elegant new digs, we bought beer in the embassy exchange but couldn’t find any ice to cool it down.

My buddy Henry and I went out on the town looking for ice. Since we did not speak any Vietnamese or French nor found Vietnamese who spoke English, we wandered around looking for a place to buy some ice. Our first choice was a bar. They showed us their cooler which was a rectangular tub with about three inches of water in it. Lukewarm beer was the result.

Next, we tried drawing a picture of a rectangular block and feigned being cold. Although they thought our act was hilarious, they had no idea what we meant. When we drew a fish inside the rectangular block, you could see a glimmer of recognition on their faces. They took us outside and, with a lot of head nodding, gave us directions to an aquarium store. Disappointed, we walked back to our hotel. We noticed some sawdust and wet patches on the sidewalk in front of a large open doorway. Henry and I looked at each other as it dawned on us what might be inside the building. Sure enough, when we went inside, we found an icehouse!

We bought a large block and loaded it into a pedi-cab, a vehicle driven from the rear by a bicycle. Henry and I were in the front with the ice. Our driver probably weighed less than the block of ice and combined with two husky GIs in front, he could barely get moving. Seeing the problem, Henry jumped out, picked up the pedi-cab driver, put him in the passenger seat next to me and took over as the pedi-cab driver.

What a sight we must have provided for the local people. A great big American was driving a pedi-cab down a major Saigon street with the driver and another American resting our feet on a large block of ice. We carried the block of ice past the surprised hotel staff and deposited it in our bathtub. With our mission accomplished, we were soon enjoying a nice cold beer.

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