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Story ID:650
Written by:Frederick William Wickert (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Period Piece
Location:Tahkli Thailand
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“Are you crazy? You know I already have a wife. I have told you before. Why did you do a thing like that? How am I going to get out of this?”

I was stationed in Tahkli, Thailand with the 355th TAC Fighter/Bomber Wing, heavily engaged in the bombing of North Vietnam and the Ho Chi Minh Trail. I was a Security Police supervisor, engaged in the security of the base. Our unit was a guest of the Royal Thai Air Force, using their base for our operations.

Employed by the U.S. Air Force were a group of Thai Guards, who augmented our security. They were about 350 in number, had their own uniforms, their own barracks and their own dining hall, but worked under our supervision. I had become good friends with a large number of them. Each of them had seen prior military service, and many of them had served under the United Nations in the Korean War as our allies.

There was a large area where bombs and rockets were stored for the fight in Vietnam. There were a series of 35’ tall guard towers along the perimeter fence, and there was always a machine gun equipped American security forces SAT team patrolling the area.

Outside the fence of the bomb area was a Thai farm, surrounded by jungle. During the day, we carried a 15-gallon thermos full of ice water strapped to the back of the jeep. We stopped at all of the security posts in the area to allow the guards, both American and Thai, to fill their canteens with the ice water. The farmer family working in the fields came to the fence near one of the guard towers with small containers. They passed the containers through the fence and we would fill them with ice water. It was a real treat for them.

After I had been there for a few months, I was told by the Thai guards that the farmer family was having a celebration that evening, and that I and one other NCO had been invited. I was off that evening and thought it should be interesting. I accepted the invitation. Only three of the Thai guards, all English speaking, would be in attendance.

The Thai guards escorted the other man and me to the house where the party was to be. There was a large bonfire, encircled by logs lying on the ground for participants to sit on. All of the farmers family members were there and the family who lived in the house where the party was. The home of the farmer’s brother, we were advised.

There were some young men beating on the bottom of some 55-gallon steel drums in a lively rhythm, and they sounded for the world like jungle drums in the movies. They actually made quite a bit of music. At times, the Thais would sing along with the music of the drums. A number of couples danced to the music. I was told this was Thai dancing. Couples would never touch one another in the dance. They would dance around the circle side-by-side with their arms crossed over their chests, with hands on their opposite arms.

The Thais began to urge me to dance. The other sergeant was also invited to dance and he immediately asked a young woman about 16 years of age to dance with him, and she accepted. I got to my feet with the urging of the Thais and looked around. All I saw were old women, missing a number of teeth, younger adult women with husbands present, many holding babies, small children, and one fairly attractive girl about 15 years of age. I later learned she was the cousin of the 16-year-old. I asked her to dance, and with a very shy smile, she accepted.

For the remainder of the evening a good time was had by all. I danced always with the one 15-year-old girl whose name I learned was “Leck.” I am also a sucker for long dark hair. This girl was blessed with it. There began to be a great deal of teasing and joking going on, at the expense of Leck, about her having found an admirer. I fully believed that it would pass as soon as the evening was concluded.

Late in the evening, the Thai guards, the other sergeant, and I returned to the base. We had enjoyed ourselves, but thought no more about it. We felt honored to have been invited.

When on the night shifts, the same 15-gallon jug that was used for ice water was filled with coffee and taken around to the posts. The coffee was appreciated by all, and also helped to keep us alert. We were always given an unopened 10-pound bag of sugar and a number of cans of condensed milk to take around with the coffee. There were always 5 or 6 pounds of sugar left over and sometimes some condensed milk as well. The practice was to throw it away as the sugar; if kept a few hours it would be infested with bugs, and the food service did not want the unused cans of condensed milk returned.

I thought it a crime to throw away such things, so I kept it at the end of the shift. I knew our Thai farmer friends had no sugar, and I thought the condensed milk would be good for the little children. I would walk out to the farmers in the morning and give them the sugar and condensed milk that would have otherwise been thrown away. It was greatly appreciated.

There was a bill in Thai currency, called bhat, which was 100 bhat and was red in color. It was often referred to as a red bhat, and it was worth in American money, about 5 dollars. One day when passing out ice water, I handed Leck a red bhat and through the English-speaking Thai guards, told her that I wanted her to buy herself a pair of shoes. She was always working in the fields barefoot. She thanked me.

What to them was a pair of shoes is to us a pair of rubber shower clogs, similar to sandals. They were very cheap and I believed she would easily obtain a pair for the money I had given her. It was more than three weeks before anything happened. I once asked when she would get new shoes and she replied, when they had a chance to go to town.

Town meant the sizeable village of Tahkli, a walk through the jungle for them of about 7 miles one way. One day I was astonished to see that she had bought with that small amount of money, her shoes, a new straw hat, and a new shirt for each of two little brothers who, until then, had none.

One day, I had a day off and nothing to do, so I put on civilian clothes and went out to the farm to visit these friends. When I arrived at the house, the father of the family informed me that my pooying was over in a field hidden by jungle from the bomb area. I was a bit taken back by his saying “my pooying,” as pooying was the Thai word for girl. He was saying “my girl.” I thought that a little strange, but soon forgot about it. I proceeded to where they were all working, including Leck, and joined them. They were hoeing rows of peanuts. They handed me a spare hoe. I peeled off my shirt, rolled up my pant legs and worked along with them. The Thai people all thought that was wonderful. I also added to their day by sitting down to rest on a huge mound. They all began laughing and telling me not to do that. I soon learned why. The mound I was sitting on was an ant hill.

About a week later was when all the trouble began. A delegation of Thai guards came to see me. They began explaining that they had been in negotiation with the farmer, and he finally agreed to let me marry Leck for a fifty dollar bride fee. I was dumfounded to say the least. To explain about the bride fee: it was the custom in Thailand that daughters are always protected to the fullest extent, to ensure that, when they go to their marriage bed, they will be a virgin. They are never, and I do mean never, allowed to be anywhere unaccompanied by another female or more. They cannot even go to the bathroom alone. They must be accompanied by at least one older woman. There is no dating as is done in the United States. At that time, for a young man and a young woman to be seen so much as holding hands, they could be arrested and each of them fined fifty dollars. A lot of money at a time a construction foreman only earned fifteen dollars a month.

The father is responsible and must guarantee the daughters virginity. If, on the wedding night, the girl proves not to be a virgin, the groom can demand his money back and the wedding is off. The girl is disowned by her family and is banned from their home for bringing dishonor on the family. The bride fee is set according to the wealth of the father. The fee is to reimburse him for all the trouble he went to over the years of her growing up, to ensure her purity. When the agreement between the groom and the father is made, the girl can either accept or reject the man.

I was in a huge dilemma. In the first place, I was already a married man. In the second place, the girl was much too young for marriage in my opinion. In the third place, my Thai guard friends had put me in a position of insulting the farmer and Leck if I didn’t go through with it. My Thai friends, who believed they were doing something on my behalf, would be in big trouble with the farmer if he ever found out I was already married. How was I to ever get out of this?

I wrote a letter to Leck. I told her that the Thai guards had negotiated with her father without my knowledge. I told her that I would never be able to find a more beautiful bride than she, and that I would have been greatly honored to have become a member of her family. Then I explained that I was a career member of the military, that I always had to go wherever the government ordered me to go, and whenever they ordered it. I told her I was not at liberty to leave the military for many more years.

I went on to explain that I could not marry her, as it would be the wrong thing to do to her. I told her I could take her to the USA, but she would never see her family again. She did not speak English and would therefore be very lonely, and if she had a child and I was suddenly ordered somewhere that my wife and child could not come, what would she do? How would she get around or get help if needed? I explained that for all of these reasons, I could not, with a clean conscience, marry her and that it would be very selfish of me to do so.

I hired one of the best interpreters we had to translate it from English to Thai for me, and I presented it to her through the bomb area fence one day. The next time I saw her, she handed a note through the fence to me with a very sad look on her face. I took the note to the interpreter. It said she understood why I must not marry her and that it was the right thing to do on my part. She wanted me to know that wherever I went in this world, she would love me until she died.

I never saw Leck again after that. Whenever I passed ice water through the fence, she did not approach the fence. She was always somewhere else on the farm. She was determined to avoid me

I suppose. I never knew what happened to her, but have wished many times that she would have a happy and blessed life.

Personally, I had gotten myself out of a very sticky situation, but I have wondered many times, at what cost to a sweet and lovely, innocent Thai farm girl named Leck.


First photo - The author working in the field with the Thai farmer's family

Second photo - L to R: Leck, the 16-year-old cousin, and the mother

Third photo - Leck in the farm yard with her younger sister

Fourth photo - Leck standing between two farm hoes stood upright

Fifth photo - The author standing on the jeep with the 15 gallon thermos jug behind him


Please visit my website at: www.fredsstoryroom.com.