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Story ID:570
Written by:Frederick William Wickert (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Foreign
Location:TAHKLI Thailand
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“Roberts, what in the world is going on?” I found him sitting on the ground at the edge of the road, sobbing. I knew something had to be drastically wrong. Roberts was a good man, and one of the more mature men we had.

We had just gotten off a 14-hour-long night shift. The shift commander had decreed that we have a party that morning in town. He believed the men needed a chance to let their hair down a little, for the morale of the troops.

We were a Security Police outfit in the 355th TAC fighter/bomber wing at Tahkli Royal Thai Air Force Base. We had as our primary bird the F-105 and we also had some B-66’s. The F-111 was brought in to have its first trials in combat conditions. The wing and its aircraft did 85% of the bombing of the Ho Chi Minh Trail and of North Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

We, as Security Police, provided the security for the entire base, from inside its perimeter. For 1,000 yards outside the base, out in the jungles was the Thai Jungle Patrol. They were a group of well-trained crack troops and did a good job, but could not prevent everybody from getting close.

We also had a couple of helicopters with machine gun crews available, always on alert if needed, for ourselves or for the jungle patrol. The Thai Air Force had a fleet of old American F-86 saber jets which they used in-country only, as they were officially a neutral country.

We worked all night every night. Charlie always attacked during the hours of darkness, so we always had 60% of our force on duty from an hour before dark to an hour after sunup, to meet the greatest threat hours with the most force. Hanoi Hannah was broadcasting daily on the radio about what was going to happen to us, making such remarks as, “When the rice is tall, Tahkli will fall.”

Our duties always brought about a considerable amount of stress and the Shift Commander had decided we needed a big party after getting off in the morning, to relieve some of the tension and improve the morale. He made arrangements for our entire shift to have the use of a Thai bar and dance hall for the occasion and insisted everyone had to be there.

I had attended for a short time, just to put in an appearance, but I did not wish to stay there. I had quit drinking and did not want to participate in that. After hanging around for a short time, I left the bar and headed back toward the base. That is when I found Roberts sitting in the edge of the street, bawling his eyes out.

“I can’t take it, Sarge, I just can’t. It tears my heart out. I’ve got two kids of my own.”

“Roberts, what in the world are you talking about? I can’t make head nor tail of what you are saying. What do your two kids have to do with what you are doing here?”

Roberts slowly began to regain some control and got up off the ground. He then explained to me that as he was walking along on his way to the party, he saw a little girl picking through a nearby garbage can. She was obviously trying to find something to eat. She was dirty, skinny, and barefoot. He surmised that the thin dress she wore was probably the only clothes she had. He believed the child to be approximately 3 or 4 years old.

Roberts described how he had approached the little girl. He didn’t have much money in his pocket, but did have between 2 and 3 dollars in Thai money. He took out the money and handed it to the little girl. The girl just stood there at first, not daring to take the offered money from his hand. He gently placed it in her hand and nodded his head in the universal “yes” motion.

The little girl’s eyes lit up, a huge smile spread across her face, and she turned and ran towards some buildings, where one might believe there was a mother waiting. Roberts wished he could have done more. He wished he had more money on him that he could have given the little girl. It really tore hard at his heart strings.

He whined, “I don’t know what I should do. I want to do more, but that was all I had on me. Kids shouldn’t have to live like that.”

“Roberts, for the moment, you have already done all you can do. There is nothing you or I can do to change the world and the way it is. This sort of thing exists all over the world, and all anyone can do is the best he can under the circumstances. It seems to me that is just what you have done. Now if you really feel that strongly about it, I suggest you try, anytime you see this kind of thing, to help, and to get the other guys to help as much as you can. Some guys have done it before. Maybe you can get something organized to get the other guys to chip in and really do something. It doesn’t take much.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right, Sarge. Thanks for listening to me. You’ve been a big help.” Roberts dried his tears, blew his nose, and walked toward the dance hall and bar to join the others.

I returned to the base and got some sleep. I thought many times afterward about the incident, and I carefully watched Roberts to see if he would try to do anything to help the poor children in the village. He never did. He had forgotten about it.

What he did do that morning could not have hurt the image of the American troops in Thailand. In that country at that time, 1 American dollar equaled 100 bhatt in Thai money. Roberts had given the little girl 300 bhatt, or in American money, 3 dollars. At that time, a meal of fried rice could be purchased for 15 cents. A Thai labor foreman earned about 15 dollars a month in American money. For someone that poor, 3 dollars was worth at least a couple of day’s pay.

There were other American GI’s who did collect food stuffs and other things and take them out to the little jungle hamlets and distribute them to a very grateful people. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to be a Good Samaritan.


Photo: The author in Thailand in 1968, seen with jeep and machine gun.


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