My First Two Days
Rich Cincotta, aka The Red Header, was the one who convinced me to go to Taiwan. We were both stationed in Edzell, Scotland at Christmas time 1970, when the decision was made to cut the base back from 500 to 300 personnel. I had recently been transferred from the ditty bopping division to traffic analysis. My old division had put my name on the list for transfer but my new division had decided to keep me. By the time I found out about all of this I had orders to Taiwan, as did Cincotta. My new division told me that they could get the orders cancelled which meant that I was in the rare position of being able to decide whether to go or not. Rich told me that he’d heard that Taiwan was the best duty in Asia and we had just had nine months of what everyone told us was the best duty in Europe. CTRs usually did two overseas tours before they had one in the States and I was very aware of where people stationed at Edzell tended to go after a tour there—places like Adak or Midway. Taiwan started sounding really good to me.
I arrived in Taipei a couple of weeks after Cincotta, on Valentine’s Day 1971. I still remember stepping out the door of the plane and wanting to know “What the fuck is that smell?” It was, as all of you know, the aroma of the river that was really just one giant benjou. They loaded us onto a bus driven by a Chinese army sergeant for the trip up the hill. I made the mistake of sitting on the right hand side by the window—the perfect spot to look out the window and see nothing but air—where you expected to see a shoulder—as our driver headed up the hill like we were in a grand prix race.
Having lived through the bus ride and being totally exhausted from an 18-hour flight, I dumped my belongings in the room they assigned me and walked across the hall to the dayroom where some guys were playing cards. One of the first people I met was a guy from Des Arc, Arkansas, a town 35 miles from my home town of Searcy. I knew Des Arc well because it was the home of the Sportman’s One Stop, a liquor store that sold to me for at least two years before my 21st birthday. The guy from Des Arc decides that I need to get back on the bus and go downtown that night and since Cincotta had duty that night, he’d take it upon himself to show me around. What I didn’t know was that he was supposed to already have left the island for the Canal Zone but he (a) had the clap and (b) didn’t want to leave so he was going down town every night and drinking away the effectiveness of his medical treatments. I’ve heard that they shipped him out with the clap but the way I remember it is they restricted him to base to get him well enough to ship out. I don’t think he was the one on whose room they put guards to keep him from getting on the bus but he might have been. For those of you who didn’t know or remember him, Jim Gage or Gaggy was my first night tour guide. I was told the nickname was from some hammer’s attempt to pronounce his name after seeing it written out.
My first stop with Gaggy was the Sea Dragon, the navy enlisted men’s club that closed not too long after I arrived—I think it was the only time I went there. Gage’s reason for going there was that the drinks were cheaper that the 50 cents you paid in the clubs so we could load up before my first trip to the King’s Club. I wasn’t ready for Gage. He was counting my drinks and continually telling how many I was behind. He finally gave up on me and turned me over to another guy who I think was named Snaith or something like that. My new guide and I shortly left for the King’s Club but we stopped to get a bottle of Ooh Mei Jiyou for the trip, a distance of only a few blocks. I don’t think we drank the whole bottle but I do remember that he disposed of the bottle by tossing it over a stone or cinder block wall and bouncing it off a building—a building in front of which was flying the flag of the country of Spain. I expected to be arrested at any moment (remember I’d only been on the island for a few hours).
We, nonetheless, arrived safely at the King’s Club and I was given a seat at the bar between two older Americans who asked me the usual questions about where I was from and the like. One of them even bought me a drink. Nice guys. They also waited until I seemed to be fading and gave me wet-willies in both ears. I had just met Dirty Dan and Uncle Harry, the two senior enlisted men at Linkou Navy. Nice guys. They decided that I needed to be introduced to my first Chinese girl so, at their urging, I asked one of the best-looking girls behind the bar her name. She leaned over close and replied “Lisa (*#%#* expletive deleted).” Nice girl. All of this fun eventually led to my being poured into a Yu-Long taxi for my first of many drunken rides up the hill.
On day two, Cincotta was off duty and decided that it was high time that I went to Johnny’s New Life Hotel in Peitou. I’ve got to admit that this place beat the hell out of Gaggy, Snaith, Dirty Dan, and Uncle Harry! It was at the end of a row of hotels that catered mainly to Japanese businessmen. We drank Taiwan beer (it only came in quarts) and had quite a party. It was a night like none I had ever experienced. We took a break sometime that night for a hot spring bath that Peitou is noted for. I had such a good time that I had trouble standing up straight the next morning. I still remember the price—750 NT or $18.75 American.
On day 3, I reported for work.