When I tell people that I spent a year in Thailand they can only think of Bangkok or a resort area like Pattaya. They say how wonderful it must have been to have spent so much time there. Believe me, in 1967 Udorn was no Bangkok and probably isn’t today. I try to tell people that Udorn is in northern Thailand and is actually closer to Hanoi, Viet Nam than it is to Bangkok. Additionally, it is only about 50 miles from the Laotian capital Vientiane.
Now don’t get me wrong. I would not change a thing about going to Udorn when I did. The people were wonderful, for the most part, and being there was certainly a part of my maturation. I was 22 years old when I first arrived in Udorn. I was uncertain about how I felt about my support role in a war that was only to become more unpopular the years following my discharge. The merits or demerits of the effort in Southeast Asia is a topic for another time. At the time I thought I was doing the right thing.
I spent a total of two days in Bangkok, eight days in Korat (aka Nakhon Ratchasima), and the rest of my year in Udorn Thani. I spent my first night in Thailand in a Bangkok hotel where lizards crawled all over the ceiling. I just knew one of those little suckers was going to drop down on me. I kept one eye on them till morning. Laugh if you want to, I’m a city boy.
After a couple days I checked into the army base in Korat, a central processing point for army personnel dispersing throughout Thailand at the time. It was so over-crowed there that all the barracks were full so about 40 guys, me included, were given cots in the dayroom until they were shipped out. A cot and a sheet, that’s it! Not having a mosquito net was a big deal. I was so tired from keeping an eye out for the lizards that I slept like a baby my first night on the cot in Korat. The first morning I awakened to the biggest itch I could imagine. I began to count the bites on my arms and legs and quit after I got to 50. I adamantly believed that I would be going home with malaria or some other disease carried by those little buzzing bastards.
When I got my orders to go to Udorn, the cadre told me how nice Udorn was. They even have flush toilets and cold water showers in some of the barracks. I could hardly wait to get there.