Always Take Pictures

I’ve just spent the last two hours scanning photos. What a pain. I have a nice collection of photos from our trip to Chicago in 1996, to Europe in 1997 and Thailand in 2002 with a couple of trips to Vegas in between.
What I regret is that I never took pictures when I was younger. I didn’t see any need to, everything was pretty ordinary. Of course now Sattahip and Bangkok in 1968,69, 70 as well as Ft Huachuca, Az in 1973 and Korea in 1974 don’t seem as ordinary as they did then.

I have taken plenty of pictures since we retired from the Army, but not very many while we were in and living in all these different places. It’s so easy to take things for granted, to look at the same things day after day and think nothing of them, then years later you’re trying to tell someone about it and you have nothing to show them. I have gone back to many of the places where I was stationed and can tell you that thing change, a lot.

The Kaserne that I was stationed at in Augsburg, Germany no longer belongs to the Army. The housing that we lived in has been turned back to the civilians. The Armed Forces Rec Center Hotels in Betchesgaden have been closed and the ones in Garmisch and Chiemsee are scheduled to also. There was some writer guy (Tom Wolfe, you idiot…ed. Shut up, I’m trying to be ignorant here!) that said you can’t go home again, he was sure right about that. Hell, you can’t even go back where you were 2 years ago. It all changes too fast and the older you get the faster it changes.

When we went back to Thailand last year, I went to the Camp where I was assigned during my first tour in 1968.

Camp Vayama in Sattahip. That’s down past Pattaya near U-tapao Airport (Air Base)

In those days, the road was a two lane blacktop which narrowed to one lane at bridges. This made for some interesting traffic because the rule was that whoever flashed their headlights first had the right-of-way on the bridges. Inevitably there were cases where both drivers flashed their lights at the same time, both thought they were first and both took their right-of-way. It was amazing, Datsun pickups would challenge Isuszu buses. I leave it to you as to who the winner was.

Now it is a modern four lane all the way. Although I had not been there since October 1970, I managed to find the way to the old camp without getting us lost. Everything is gone now. There is a Thai Navy installation where the camp used to be. It is one of those very beautiful camps with high ceilinged buildings with pillars in the front. Much like the ones in the old Panama Canal zone. I wonder why the Thais would build like that? There are wide green lawns and a soccer field next to what was the back gate.

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There is no sign of the old U.S. camp. There are none of the old wooden
screen-sided hootches with the corrugated tin shutters that someone had to run
outside to drop during a rainstorm, none of the streets, there’s no sign of the
deep ditches which sometimes carried off the rainwater and overflowed during the monsoon.

The commo compound where I worked is still there. Al the buildings are gone. I find this a little surprising because the telephone office was a good sized concrete block structure and with the equipment removed could have been reincarnated as something else.

On the opposite side of the road from the camp where there was a tent city and the hootches for the Thai Guards, there is nothing but green grass, munched lazily by a herd of white oxen.

Down at the old ammo port, I find that the port is still being used, but the restaurant outside where I used to get 4 lobster tails for 25 Baht ($1.25 US) is totally gone, as is the fishing village that was on the small cove behind the restaurant. There’s still a beautiful white sand beach but it is totally
deserted. The entire area is a military zone and I guess they decided to move
the villagers out. I don’t know why they would do that now, when it was no
problem while the Americans were there.

I video-taped the entire drive from the port back down to the small town on the main highway. Everything has changed there too. On the spot where the Thunderbird Bar stood, with it’s folding tables and urinal that emptied onto your feet if your stood too close, there’s a Seven-Eleven. I wonder, are Seven-Elevens in Asian countries owned by round-eyes? Probably not.

After my unsatisfactory trip down memory lane we drive to Pattaya and sit on Jomtien beach drinking beer. Jomtien is a beach that didn’t even exist in 1968, in fact most of Pattaya didn’t exist in 1968. The first time I went there, there were three restaurants, one bar and one hotel (the Nipa Lodge, good lasagna).

There was an American R&R center there where we could rent ski boats and a little PX that sold mostly beer and hot dogs. It had some un-airconditioned bungalows that you could rent, but they wouldn’t allow you to have “company” so only the faithful married guys used them. It was small and sleepy. Nothing happened very fast. For entertainment we would bring some girls (there weren’t any available in Pattaya, you had to bring your own) and buy beer and hot dogs and go out to the islands. No one lived out there then, there was no fresh water other than the rain.

So we would cook hot dogs on a Thai hibachi if we had one, drink beer and try to convince the girls to go skinny-dipping (not as easy as you might think, Thais are very modest.) Now there are bars everywhere for the tourists, but the southern part of the city is primarily for the locals. In the 60’s most Thais didn’t have the concept of vacations but now things have gotten better for them.

So we sit on the beach, (I am the only farang in the bunch) drink “Elephant beer (Beer Chang) in the 90 degree heat under solid overcast (this is the rainy season) and watch the kids riding “the banana. (a long inflated banana shaped thing that you sit astride and is pulled behind a speed boat.)

Later in the afternoon, we drove through the part of Pattaya that I remember, it’s only a small part now and during this time of the year seems to only be inhabited by the ubiquitous ex-pats that inhabit the bars in every tropical port.

This time I take lots of pictures and now I am scanning and labelling them. Some day after I’m dead, my grandchildren or great-grandchildren are going to look at those pictures and I don’t want to have them wonder who that is, where they are and when it was. I guess I’m getting old.

Update, this is one of my posts off my old blog.

3 thoughts on “Always Take Pictures

  1. I must say you have describe early Pattaya to a T. I was at the air base (Utapao) and went to Pattaya for the hell of it. There was some type of military club at the north end of the beach area. I won a jackpot there on slots. I lived down the beach to the left of the tree that stood in the intersection as you came in from the south. There was a bar that serve some american food on the right with a patio over the water.My bungalow ($25 a month split 3 ways), had a small beach across the “road”. I remember going around the southern end of the beach only to see not much of nothing. I rode out to the island a couple of times on fishing boats nothing there then. When I came back in 69 the R&R center was big and still no “guest”. They had built a 5-6 story hotel, Pattaya Beach I think if was called. But the place was still quaint nothing like it turned into pretty quickly. In 1967 I remember the food at the Nipa Lodge, and the stewardess staying there on layovers.
    It was small and relaxing.
    Thanks for making me remember.

  2. I was at Camp Vayama in 1966 – 1967, was with the 499th Transporataion Battalion headquarters group. I had a friend that was sent up to Pataya as a clerk typist at the little military R and R site. I spent a lot of weekends up there to get away from the dust and dirt of Camp Vayama. I too remember the small two lane road up to Pataya. That seems like a 100 years ago. I was 20 years old and was a long way from home. Had a lot of good friends there.
    Ronnie Barker
    US Army Sp 5

  3. I was with the 599th Ordnance Co. at Camp Vayama in 67-68.
    We ste up the ammo dumo in the hills around the camp.
    I remember the Thai guards walking around holding hands. I always wondered how tough a guy could be who held anothe rguys hand.
    I remember those deep ditches. I was returning from a hard night at the EM Club during the rainy season. We had been in country a short time and were still living in the tents across the road. I was just drunk enough to think I could jump the ditch instead of walking to the drive way.
    I was lucky, one of those Thai guards pulled me out of the ditch and probably saved my life.
    Joe Boyd Williams
    SP/5 599th Ord.Co.
    Mar.67 – Apr.68
    Camp Vayama, Thailand.
    joekate@highstream.net

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