MAKING MOOLA - BY THE FISTFUL
Warner Bros couldn't
compete with this guy!
The names have been changed to "protect the guilty"
By January, 1969 I
was reassigned to Ft Sill and was ensconced with III Corps Artillery in the
Assistant S3 position. A happy place that didn't require much work, left loads
of time for golf and I got to know the bar at the officers club quite well. I
think it was late spring when I was in the PX and heard a familiar voice - it
was SGT "Charge"! It was Sunday and he was dressed for
church......in a beautiful hand-tailored suit that must have come from Nam.
I recognized the quality from my stint working in Dunhill's during college as a
'tailor' of sorts. Paid well anyway.
SGT Charge was delighted to see me and immediately asked if I could attend a barbecue at his house later that day. I naively asked whether he, like me, lived on post. "No," he said, "I bought me a nice ranch house over in [some new, relatively upscale neighborhood]. All paid for, too!" he added.
We went. It was a very friendly crowd of NCOs with my wife and I as the token outsiders. It was a beautiful house that was beautifully decorated. It had a two car garage instead of a carport. Two new cars were in the garage. It took me almost 15 more years of hard work and two more college degrees before I could afford a house that nice. I'm still working on two new cars at the same time. One of his cars was a new Pontiac GTO convertible. I still want one of those!
Now, the story:
At Camp Enari,
there was a base camp defense battery of up to 6 guns. "COL Dewpiss",
DivArty, gave the battery to me when I was ready for DEROS -- if I wanted to
stay in country for a while. I wasn't ready to go home, so I took the battery
for a few months. At the time, I was still a 1LT and he made being the BC for
the base defense battery as a LT sound like a big deal, but it was just a quiet
place to unwind for me.
Each week, gun crews there would rotate out and 'new' crews
would rotate in. The guns were supposed to come with them but rarely did and,
while there, I was supposed to get the crew and equipment retrofitted as much as
possible - with absolutely no equipment, tools or parts to make that happen. Not
even replacement uniforms but I did find out how to get those. Medical care was
always a necessity. SGT Charge, my Chief of Smoke, had other ideas about what we
should do there. I think there may have been two or three guns permanently
located there to allow for just a crew to come in for some R&R, training,
see a doctor or whatever. SGT Charge said that, lacking equipment,
tools or parts shouldn't make the trip worthless; we should give the crews
something they couldn't get in the field. His first move in that regard was to
"steal" a deuce and a half ["Well sir, we do need transportation
to do our job and the [insert name of REMF unit here] has plenty of trucks. They
won't miss just one."]. That's where my life of crime association began.
There was always a lot of construction going on around the base. SGT Charge would leave with a group of volunteers every night in our stolen truck. In the middle of the night, he would reappear with a truck full of lumber and building supplies. Buildings that were being constructed in other areas during the day were being dismantled at night. Most of the lumber in the trucks already had nail holes! Tools began appearing, too. Then, some engineers began hanging out in the evenings and construction of a building was started after Charge told me that "We really need a rec room, a day room for the troops to hang out. They just can't sit around their gun pit all day cleaning their howitzers." In no time at all, we had a rather large day room......for the troops to use when they weren't cleaning or repairing their gun or equipment. I believed it, too.
As the end of construction neared, Charge came to me and said that it sure would be nice if we had a projector and movies each night. Why, he said, the troops in the neighboring units could come, too. I immediately began talking about how we could requisition a movie projector and surely could share some movies with another unit. Had to be lots of those around, no? He said not to worry, he had connections and it was already covered.
SGT Charge and a few of the other NCOs came to
me one day to express their appreciation for allowing them to build an Enlisted
Mens club. Enlisted Mens Club? That was different from a day room wasn't
it......strictly EM country, they said. I guess that meant I should leave them
alone in their new club. I was extraordinarily gullible back then. You've
probably guessed that by now.
My foray into crime association deepened. It seems SGT Charge had already started the supply chain for a projector and movies......from some places he knew of...... in Japan. Or Taiwan. The projector was hand-carried by someone returning from hospital leave. Other guys would periodically appear with movies.
Every night the EM Club would be filled to capacity with guys from the base defense battery and other units on the base, overflowing in the theater Charge had created with a big bunch of folding chairs that had begun appearing as soon as construction was far enough along for a roof.
By this time, our vehicle fleet had grown from one stolen
deuce and a half to include a jeep, ostensibly for me to use but I never could
find it free, and one 5-ton ammo truck - with benches built in for seating. The
EM club had become so popular on the base, SGT Charge told me, that the trucks
were necessary to pick up the guys who wanted to come and enjoy the movies but
were on the other side of the base or otherwise too far to conveniently walk.
"You mean we're running a f**king bus service all over the
base?" I asked. Charge assured me it was necessary and very good for
morale. I backed off...again.
Things were quiet for a while but the nightly crowds sometimes made me wonder if I would be able to find a functional crew in the remote event we got a fire mission. I wasn't ready for my next surprise: "Nobody gets drunk in the club." Charge told me. "Drunk," I yelled, "Where in the f**k are you getting alcohol?" He said that they had been running a "small bar" for weeks to test if it could be done safely and without disruption. Apparently, it could because I never saw beer cans in the trash or on the ground and never once saw a drunk soldier in the battery area. I told Charge to make sure we didn't have any troubles from drinking and to keep it under tight control.
At this point, the EM club has been in business for almost a month and a half and, to respect the boundaries imposed by rank, I had not entered except during the day when it was always perfectly clean.....and empty. Things seemed like they were going well.
COL Dewpiss stopped by one day and we had a talk in my tiny office. "I hear great things about the base camp battery, Landau. What ever you're doing to make this such a popular spot, keep it up! The troops really need this kind of opportunity to unwind and clean up." he told me. I made the obvious response: "Yes sir!"
Two or three days later, I decided to visit the EM club while it was in its nightly operation. I hunted for SGT Charge so he would know where I was headed but couldn't find him. He must be in the club. I thought, so I headed there, too. The place was smoke filled and a movie was playing when I entered. No sound came from anyone or anything but the movie. The huge movie screen [when, I thought, did we get that?] was filled with the colorful image of an Asiatic woman enthusiastically giving fellatio to an Asiatic man while another woman performed cunnilingus on the first woman. I had NO idea that a female mouth could stretch that much...or that orifices were used in that way. Yes, Sgt Charge was importing Asian porn and charging $5 a seat. He was getting filthy rich...literally...until I made it stop.
I WAS THE COMMANDER RUNNING A PORNOGRAPHY THEATER!!! Right in the Division Base Camp. And pornography was illegal, I was sure.
"Charge!" I yelled into the crowded theater.
"Report to my office! NOW!" And then I left. Sure that a courts
martial awaited me tomorrow, I waited for Charge's explanation in my tiny
office. Charge patiently explained that "everyone already knew about
'the theater' and that there had not been one single problem with it. Or the
truck thefts. Or the theft of construction materials. Or tools. Not one
complaint." So I backed off...a little...but told Charge we would discuss
it further tomorrow.
Dreams that night were filled with scenes of MY courts martial.
The next morning, we met in the EM club. I started off with
questions about where the movies….and the projector…..and the beer and
whiskey came from since we had no battery funds or any other money. SGT Charge
gave me a real education that morning in economics. Good thing I paid close
attention. It all came in handy in future years. But that would be when they let
me out of Leavenworth.
SGT Charge fronted the money for the first half dozen movies as
well as the fees he paid for his smugglers to bring them into RVN. Yes, they
were illegal. All they things I thought were re-appropriated [i.e. stolen] were
indeed re-appropriated. Sometimes, bribery was involved, such as for the folding
chairs that incrementally appeared. The booze was bought from other clubs on the
That was a pretty good explanation of the money going out but I
wanted to know about the money coming in……and then I wish I hadn’t asked.
Charge billed the going rate for the booze so, he said, he didn’t have a
profit. Since there was a bartender he paid, he said he actually lost a little
bit. The real profit was from the movies! He charged $5 per man per movie.
With 50 chairs, that made $250 per movie. Often, there were more people in the
EM Club than there were chairs. What I should have said was $250 per showing. A
lot of times, a guy would come in and watch the same movie four or five
times.....at $5 per showing. And he had, most nights anyway, four showings.
Mostly of the same movie. But, he explained, he had the expenses of the movie,
the smugglers, the ‘freebies’ for the MPs and “a few” of his friends.
The bottom line was that SGT Charge was clearing $25K-$30K per month! Or at
least a quarter million a year if he lasted that long. In 1968, that was a LOT
OF MONEY! Hell, it still is!
But dreams of courts martial still echoed in my
I found the jeep and drove over to DivArty. I needed to talk to
"COL Dewpiss", who was now "BG Dewpiss" [he had been
promoted] about this problem as well as a transfer. He was too busy to see me
but said we could talk over dinner. Dinner meant the General Officers Mess since
he was now a BG. You know they do eat differently in a General
Officers Mess. The food is entirely different. They had wine and whiskey
served…..free. They had servers. And real food! I started to disclose what I
had learned just hours before and BG Dewpiss stopped me, saying, “There are
things I need to know to do a better job and there are things I don’t need to
know. You’re getting into the latter area. Do I make myself clear?” I said
the only allowable answer: “Yes sir.” And then shut up. Neither of said any
thing else until dessert was served – did I mention that the food in the
General Officers mess was entirely different than in the mess hall? He said
something like, ”Some times, you have to stop asking ‘why’ and just look
at the results. I like the results. Understand?” I nodded yes. Then he had one
more surprise. He asked if I were ready to go home and suggested it might be
nice if I were home for the holidays. Three or four days later, I was packed and
on my way home. A touch less naïve, perhaps, but on my way home. As for
SGT Charge...well....., he's probably the wealthiest man in Oklahoma.
Note: For those of you who went through Camp Alpha just outside Cam Ranh
Bay and Saigon in the early 60s, you likely noticed the clubs with slot machines
running full tilt. The money didn't go to the USO, the US Government or
the US-anything...it went into the pockets of some very high-ranking soldiers. See:
SCANDAL: SGT MAJ WILLIAM O. WOOLRIDGE