“Trip” Back To The Barracks

Udorn, Thailand 1966

In an earlier post I wrote about Cool Breeze. (here)  The brother from LA, the Compton so called bad ass.  In that post I talked about how he had tried for a long time to get me to partake some of his “good shit” and mellow out.  If you read that post you know I did give in.

What I didn’t talk about was my reaction to whatever Cool Breeze had put into that “good shit”.  Truth be told, I was already feeling pretty good from drinking a good amount of bourbon Cool Breeze kept at his pad and combined that with a few hits off his stuff was too much for me to take.  I panicked and headed straight for the door heading back to the compound at full speed.

The small US Army compound was contained within a larger Thai army compound and there were Thai military police at the entrance to the gate.  I showed them my army ID and they opened the gate for me to pass.  During the daylight hours there was a shuttle that ran frequently from the main gate entrance up the the American compound, but at this hour and on weekends it was hit and miss so I decided to walk the mile or so to the barracks.

I started walking and admiring the most beautiful full moon I had ever seen.  I’d never seen such a beautiful moon, why is it so bright?  It lit up the winding dirt road that led up to the compound.  I heard a noise off the side of the dirt road and a dark figure moved slowly beside me.  The eyes followed me and I stared back and finally realized it was a water buffalo that are common all over Thailand.  Even on the army compound they populated a large waterhole that was near by.

What are you looking at fat ass?  Get back in the water.  As I walked further on my solo journey I felt better and better.  I felt so good I began to skip along the dirt road.  To my surprise that dirt road transformed itself into the Yellow Brick Road as in the Wizard of Oz.  I guess I ‘m Dorothy now, or the Scarecrow looking for my brain.

I followed the Yellow Brick Road, singing and skipping all the way up to the second gate which was the entrance to the US compound.  The tune “Follow the yellow brick road, follow the yellow brick road” was stuck in my mind the whole way.  The American MP on duty knew me and started toward the gate to let me in.  I grabbed the post of the chain link fence and it felt like somebody had put dry ice in my hand.  The gate was freezing cold which was funny because it was still about 90 degrees outside.  Now my hand is stuck and I can’t let go.  A loud “Soldier what’s your fucking problem?” brought me out of it and I was able to let go and head to the barracks not more than 50 feet away.  No more skipping and no more singing.  Fifty feet to the barracks if you walked in a straight line, I couldn’t.

I found my bunk midway down the barracks and got in the rack.  I didn’t take off my clothes but just tucked in the mosquito net around me the best I could and laid on my back looking up.  I could see part of the moon through the louvered screen window opening, still bright and beautiful.  I closed my eyes and the room started spinning so I opened them and things steadied.

I thought to myself ” I have got to get some sleep”,  so I closed my eyes again.  No spinning, good.  My eyes are closed and I still see the moon only its gaining color and looking more and more like a disco ball with flashing lights.  I’m not spinning but it is as the color intensity brightens and its beautiful.  Colorful lights are shooting and flashing off the disco ball straight at me and I drifted off into slumber land until the moon shined so brightly in my eyes I woke up.  Only it wasn’t the moon it was the sun blasting into the barracks at a low angle that the louvers on the screens that substituted for window panes couldn’t block.

Why am I dressed in civilian clothes in bed with my shoes still on, my mosquito net half torn off and countless mosquito bites on my face, neck and arms.  Ahh fuck, I remember, Cool Breeze, the Compton bad ass.

I think I’m gonna be sick.

US Army – Going Back 55 Years

Skip Harrison – Taken in 1965 right after basic training at Fort Ord in Monterey California

Chapter One

Today June 14th, 2020, I recall that 55 years ago (1965) I boarded a Greyhound bus heading to Oakland, CA, the Army Depot there. It was a seventy-mile ride that seemed like a thousand. I was apprehensive not knowing what the next few years of my life would hold.

The next morning, I boarded another bus, this time a drab green one headed to Fort Ord in the Monterey Bay Area. At 21 years of age I was 2 or 3 years older than most of the other passengers on this second leg of the trip. Most were draftees with a 2-year commitment, a few of us were volunteers with a 3 year bid. Other services were 4 or more years for volunteers.

Little did I know that some of the people on that bus would become the dearest of friends for a lifetime and some would pay the ultimate price for their country.

We arrived in the early evening and even before we got off the bus the yelling started.  Drill sergeants with uniforms that fit superbly, starched and with razor sharp creases rousted everyone off the bus.  We went through a line of supply soldiers haphazardly measuring our bodies to equip us with our first official uniforms.  We had uniforms now, but rest assured they did not look anything like the sergeants that were screaming at us.

The boots issued from the quarter master crew were supposedly the correct size, but they killed my feet for about 6 of the 8 weeks I was in basic training.  With sloppy uniforms and hurting feet I was now rushed off to get my head buzzed with my first of many military haircuts.   About 15 full strokes over my head with the bare clippers I was done and now I looked just like all the other guys that came down on the bus with me.

With a duffle bag stuffed with fatigues, a second set of boots, a dress uniform, and other military issued underwear and toiletries we were ushered off to our new home, the barracks.

My unit was the first to go through basic training at Fort Ord since re-opening after the horrendous outbreak of meningitis that had hit the troops there a little while ago.  Therefore there were plans in place to help prevent another outbreak on post.  The barracks were 4 floors tall.  Each floor had a large open area and lined with bunks on either side with an aisle down the middle.  Each sets of double bunks, one on top and one below was set a prescribed distance away from the next set of bunks.  The guy on top would sleep in the opposite direction of the one below and the bunk next in line would be just the opposite. So, head to toe up and down and side to side. 

The windows always had to remain open.  Now, in the late spring and early summer in California you wouldn’t think that would be a problem. It wasn’t the heat that was the problem it was the cold.  Fort Ord was (it’s closed now) right outside of the coastal town of Monterey.  Monterey and Carmel are world famous for their beauty and charm.  Fort Ord however, had the reputation for importing their own weather.  It would be scorching during the day and freezing cold at night.  Guess we had a choice, freeze to death or contract meningitis. 

Eight weeks seemed like an eternity.  I learned a lot of military discipline, structure, how to shoot a rifle, hand to hand combat, and was in the best shape of my life.  It was just the monotony of during the same thing almost daily for 2 whole months.  I got to be an expert at shining boots, polishing brass, cleaning a rifle, marching in cadence, and following orders. 

Most of the post was comprised of training areas and they were mainly sand and giant ice plant.  When we’d go to the range or most other places we’d march up and down sand dunes and through ice plant routinely.  When I graduated from basic training in August, I’d had my fill of all that and if I never saw another grain of sand or patch of ice plant, ever, I couldn’t care less. 

Chapter Two

It was about 2 weeks after I got out of basic training, I headed to New Jersey to begin my Advanced Training.  The school was Fort Monmouth near the cities of Red Bank, Oceanport, and Eatontown.  It was also about 45-50 to either Newark, NJ or New York City, both to the north. 

I lived in Cincinnati most of my life before then and I was used to the weather, even though I had spent about two years in California I acclimated quickly to the fall climate and the bitter winter that was to follow.  The training the military provided was outstanding and by the time I left Fort Monmouth in June the following year I had vastly improved my skill and understanding of the electronics that were current for the period. 

Chapter Three

My next stop was a temporary duty assignment at Kessler AFB in Gulfport, MS.  This assignment was only for about 30 days to receive specialized training in tropo-scatter radio technology and the multiplexing gear that went along with that to make a communications package designated as AN/TRC 90-A.  Didn’t know much about that unit at the time but I would become remarkably familiar with every facet of it in the year to follow. 

This was my first time being in the southern United States. I think Louisville Kentucky was the furthest south I had ever traveled in my young 22 years of age. I didn’t really know what to expect but I did find it was rather interesting in 1966.

Heading to Thailand

Some of those Udorn stories.


The Guys | Udorn Thailand 1966-67

TRC90-A Comm Van

Most of these guys were African American, drafted with a two year commitment and really couldn’t wait to return back to the States to get on with their lives. The only difference between me and them was that I had enlisted and had an additional year tacked on to my commitment. The route we took to get there didn’t matter we just had to get through it.


One big brother from Texas, I think Houston, was named Seay. I can’t think of his first name which will be typical of the stories as I go through them. At this writing our last interaction was 53 years ago.

Seay thought he was a lover, a player, and any other cool name that fit the era. He couldn’t wait to get off duty, put on his bell bottoms and disco style shirt and head to town. Lord only knows what he did but when he came back to the barracks, if he did, he would be wasted.

He would give me a bad time because I rarely went to any of the clubs downtown, I preferred to stay at the compound and drink top shelf booze for 25 cents a shot.

One afternoon Seay stopped by my bunk with only a towel wrapped around his fat ass, put his foot up on my footlocker and commented about me reading a letter that I had received that morning. He said “Damn, Skip. You get a letter from your wife almost everyday. I don’t get shit. When I go to the mail-room I don’t even open my mailbox I just “peep-off” in there. Yeah, he said “peep-off”.


Doc was from South Carolina and had a drawl to go along with it. I can’t remember his first or last name now after 53 years. Doc, as the name implies, was a medic. We affectionately called him the “pecker checker”.

We played bid whist a lot to pass the time and Doc was one of the best whist players that I have had the pleasure of playing with or against. Which begs the question of why he would try to cheat if he could. He really didn’t have to but, he would renege given the chance.  Of course, everytime he was caught it was by mistake.  Right.

After the cards were dealt, Doc would slide down in his chair, eyes scanning left and right, and a big grin would come over his face like the Grinch. Now that wasn’t a tell, his hand could be terrific or horrible but the demeanor didn’t change.

Inevitably as the bids would go around the table Doc would tell the last bidder, no matter where they were in the sequence, that they had stole his “bud”. Of course he meant his “bid”, but his South Carolina drawl wouldn’t let him.


Again I’m lost on the actual name but he named himself Tiger, we didn’t pin him with it. Tiger was about five foot six. Weighed about one hundred thirty pounds and thought he could kick anybody’s ass. Well that was after about one beer. Before drinking Tiger was a mild mannered quiet guy with a great sense of humor.

One could watch Tiger begin to change into a different person as he consumed alcohol. A pleasant face would slowly begin to turn dark, eyes would begin to glaze over and a smile became a smirk and the orneriness would begin. First a few playful fake jabs to the face of the person he happened to pick that day or night.

Fake jabs would began to get closer and closer to actual punches to the face so much that one would have to start blocking his blows and began to become very defensive. Usually protecting yourself only aggravated Tiger more and the punches would escalate until a full fight broke out or Tiger directed his attention to someone else.

Tiger did this to me on many occasions and usually I could get him to stop or I’d just leave the area until he found someone else to harass. On one occasion I couldn’t get him to stop or maybe I was just in a bad mood that day, Tiger and I had a real fight. This little guy was a scrapper but my height and weight were to my advantage plus the fact I hadn’t been drinking the way he had been. I must say that I kicked his ass pretty good but I guess he had a short memory because it wasn’t long after that day Tiger was back again with the fake jabs to my face.

Cool Breeze

Cool Breeze was from Los Angeles. Talked shit all the time about “I did this in LA, I did that in LA”. I’m from Compton, don’t mess with me.

Cool Breeze didn’t like living on the compound with the rest of us GI’s so like a lot of other guy’s he rented a bungalow off base. The rents were dirt cheap and on a E3 or above rank the  rent was doable.  

Cool Breeze and I worked some of the same shifts in a set of communications vans which were located a few klicks down the road on the large joint US and Thai Udorn AFB. 

He kept bugging me to come over to his rented bungalow to hangout and smoke weed with him.  I didn’t smoke weed, never had and thought that I never would.  Cool Breeze kept pleading, begging, prodding me to just take a hit off this “good shit” he bought from a Thai friend. He kept giving me some excellent bourbon he had stashed in a secret place in his solo bungalow.  

I was 22 years of age at this time and pretty much never succumbed to peer pressure but I finally gave in and took one hit.  Nothing happened so I took another and I knew right then that I had screwed up badly.  Before Cool Breeze could stop me I was out the bungalow door out into the streets running like a mad man a mile back to the army compound.  

Days afterwards I was telling Tiger, Doc, Seay, and some of the other guys about my experience and they just laughed.  They all knew that Cool Breeze fortified his “good shit” with more potion stuff that I don’t even want to know what it was.  

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The Fuck You Lizard

One of those stories that get passed along from GI to GI in Thailand is the famous Fuck You Lizard.  It is actually a gecko  called the Tokay.  Herpetologists say their call is “Tokay” thus the name, but to a GI with too much time of their hands in a foreign land it is easy to get the translations “Fuck You”.  I can attest that a many of nights while in the barracks writing a letter while sitting on my bunk the sounds from outside the louvered slats on the window the insulting lizard would be calling out.  “Fuck Que, Fuck Que, Fuck Que”, well into the night the sounds would reverberate throughout the compound.

The gecko was smart also, knowing we were Americans, they spoke in English to us.  How nice!

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One Night At The Bunker

The soldiers that had spent some time at a particular location made it their duty to pass on the stories, legends, and folklore of the facility, the post, or base where they happened to be stationed.  Most of the stories did have at least a little bit of truth to them but all of them were embellished to make the incoming troops feel uneasy for the entertainment pleasure of the short-timers (a term for the guys nearing the end of their tour assignment or their discharge from the service).

In Thailand one of those stories was about a snake named the Banded Krait, a short but highly poisonous viper.  To illustrate its so-called high toxicity it was called the “Two Stepper”, meaning after you were bitten you might take two steps and then keel over dead.  Actually, they are less venomous and shier then some snakes, such as the cobra, their reputation was bolstered on purpose to satisfy the stories passed on from troop to troop.

There were sandbag bunkers at various areas all around the perimeter of the compound that were to be used if and when attacked by the so called Thai Cong.  They remained mostly unused and just needed a little cleaning out from time to time due to the torrential rains during the monsoon season.  Each squad had their own set of bunkers assigned to them.  During one cleaning out session I spotted the “Two Stepper” and that bunker didn’t get a cleaning that day.

Well as you might guess the very next night we got roused out of our bunks about 2:00 in the morning due to a suspected raid by the Thai Cong.  Everybody had to report to the quartermaster to get a rifle and helmet and report to the bunkers.  All unnecessary lights were off as a defensive measure.

Well, Specialist Harrison was born at night but not that night so he also grabbed a flashlight out of his footlocker.  With my helmet on and rifle in hand, I got to the bunker shining my flashlight at anything and everything until the squad leader snatched the flashlight out of my hands.  The career sergeant was screaming at me and whispering at the same time that the ‘enemy’ might pick me off with one shot by just aiming at the light.   I told him that the ‘enemy’ might,  maybe, or could be out there but I saw a “Two Stepper” in there just the day before and I’d take my chances on the outside of the bunker.  After saying something about my mother and something about stupid comm guys he left me to my devices. 

It did turn out to be a false alarm that night but my commanding officer told me the next day that if I pulled a stunt like that again Specialist 4th Class (E4) Harrison would be Private First Class (E3) Harrison.  I never had to call his bluff since that was the last time I had to visit the bunker at night time.  Oh, by the time I left Thailand I was Specialist 5th Class (E5) Harrison, so take that Captain Napier!

Banded Krait

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The Cab Ride To Town

In mid-1966 through mid-1967 I was in the army stationed in Udorn, Thailand.  The US Army had a small contingent of about 50 GI’s that was actually on a Thai army base about 3 or 4 miles down the road  from the large joint US and Thai air force base in Udorn.  We were apart of Stratcom that commanded a communications facility in support of the war effort in Viet Nam.  When we went to work we would travel that small distance to the airbase where I was a electronic technician in a tropo-scatter radio van called a TRC-90A.

We were constantly told about the cultural peculiarities of the Thai people and how we should show respect for their way of life. We were held responsible for the deeds done by the Thai’s if they were under our hire or direction.

On this occasion, I was in a cab alone with a Thai driver headed toward town for a little R&R.  The cab was a little Datsun (now Nissan) 1000, travelling much too fast for the conditions of the road between the two destinations.  A motorcycle rider was zipping in and out of traffic and somehow got in front of us and slammed on his brakes when the traffic ahead suddenly slowed.  We hit the bike rider and ran over the motorcycle and I believe the impact  injured him badly or even worse.  The bike ran off into the khlong (a nasty ass water canal with unmentionable stuff in it) and the cabbie stopped the Datsun, looked at the fallen bike rider and begun to run like heck the other way.  Yeah, he ran, leaving the cab there idling with the drivers side door open.   I thought, oh fudge, took the clue and I too ran the five miles back to the base.

To this day I don’t know what happened to that motorcycle rider but I was not going to stay around to find out. From the preaching’s the army gave us I figured that if I hadn’t hired the cabbie he wouldn’t have been there and ultimately it would fall back on me.  That was the logic used by the (in)glorious UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice).

I don’t know what the record was for the 5 mile run but I believe  I set it that day.



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The Ally Can Be the Enemy

TRC90-A Comm Van
TRC90-A Radio Van

One night I was working in my van (TRC-90A on stilts) when the power shut down unexpectedly. All the lights, AC, carrier & radio gear went dark. As a main radio relay station between Ubon (RK-7) and Chiang Mai (RK-9) we were expected to keep the comm lines open all the time from our station in Udorn. There was an emergency generator that didn’t come on so I blasted out the door to see if I could get it started.

Before I flung the door open I hadn’t realized that there was a Thai guard that had put a chair on the top step and was apparently taking a snooze with his carbine loaded with the safety off. The door knocked him and the chair asshole over tea kettle and about 5 rounds from the carbine whizzed by my head before I had a clue as to what was going on.

After I composed myself, the guard and I had a little coming to Jesus meeting that involved more than just yelling. Never again did I just blast the door open from the inside without stopping half-way to see if someone was camped-out on the steps. If I said it didn’t scare the crap out of me I’d be lying!

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Carrying the Water

When I posted the photos of the little US Army compound that was located within the Thai Army Base that again was just a few klicks down the road from the Udorn Air Base, I remembered an incident that scared the heck out of me.

There was no potable water on the army compound and all the enlisted soldiers below E-5 were required to make water runs in a deuce and a half tanker truck that held at least 1000 gallons. I didn’t have my regular duty at the communications site this particular day so I was ‘volunteered’ to make the water run to town. I received about 15 minutes of training on the vehicle, how to shift, brake, fill the water tank, etc..

It is bad enough driving a vehicle with the steering wheel on the left side when you drive on the left side of the road as in Thailand, but this vehicle is huge and blind spots all over the place with the tank on back. After picking up my load I headed back to the compound alone driving this big green monster with 8000 pounds of water on board.

 I got to within a couple miles of the compound and a samlar driver swerved out in front of me and I slammed on the brakes and the pedal went to the floor with no resistance and absolutely no slowing down. I turned the truck to the right as much as I thought I could without losing control, forced the transmission into second gear, and operated the emergency brake. The water shifted a lot back and forth, the engine screamed (me too!), but I was able to avoid the samlar driver and passenger and bring the vehicle to a stop some distance down the road. I drove the truck in low first gear the rest of the way using the e-brake when necessary.

That was my first and last water run.

M-50 Water tanker truck

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Qualifying on the M60

 About four months after I arrived in Udorn an edict was handed down that the Stratcom tropo guys had to qualify on the M60 machine gun. Are you kidding me? I hadn’t had a rifle in my hands since basic training some 14 months ago. Even then I had never held a machine gun in my hands. I knew this was not going to be good.

In 1965 when I was going though basic training at Fort Ord in Monterey California, the main battle rifle was the M14, using a 7.62mm NATO compatible round. It replaced the M1 and was the precursor to the M16 which is still in use today.

All during basic training we were not allowed to put the M14 in full automatic mode so I never knew what is was like to fire an automatic rifle not to mention a 600 round a minute, 2800 feet per second muzzle velocity fire breathing killing machine like the M60.

On qualifying day about 8 guys were hauled out to a range near the Thai Army compound and given the instructions on how to operate the gun. All the safety precautions were first, how to load the gun, how to fire, how to change the barrel with the asbestos glove, and where the safe areas were down range to shoot. A berm or knoll about 50 meters away was the target.

I was the fourth or fifth guy to shoot. I laid in a prone position, legs spread apart, the stock up against my shoulder, two metal legs held the barrel up, and my finger on the trigger. Taking aim through one eye I squeezed the trigger and rounds were flying out of the barrel a lot faster than I thought possible. The WWII iron helmet over the plastic helmet liner I was wearing began to slide forward and in a flash was over my eyes. The proper thing to do would have been to stop firing and regain the target down range but I was fighting the helmet and not seeing what I was shooting. I don’t know how many rounds I cracked off but at least several dozen maybe more.

The sergeant had seen enough and told me I had qualified as he stood well behind me all the while I was in command of the M60. Two Thai soldiers in a Jeep sped up to where the Stratcom boys were, sliding to a halt in the dirt, yelling “My, my, my” (meaning “No, no, no” in Thai speak). They were yelling that rounds were landing on the other side of the knoll and the natives were complaining. That pretty much ended the qualifying for that day.


Stratcom Army Patch
M60 Machine Gun






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The Barracks

The US Army barracks in Udorn back in 1966 had two rows of bunks about 25 on each side. The higher level non-coms and officers had their own private rooms at one end near the entrance. Screen mesh covered all the openings of the windows but there was no glass but either wooden or sheet metal louvers to keep the rain from penetrating into the interior. There were a few wobbly ceiling fans strategically placed down the aisle between the two rows of bunks.

Each GI had a bunk with a mosquito net, a footlocker, and two upright lockers. Every personal possession was either in or around those aforementioned items. If you were lucky you had a shop light on an extension cord to put in your locker to minimize the dankness and mold from the constant high humidity of northern Thailand. Sometimes the clothes would shift inside the locker and the light would burn-up a couple pair of OD fatigues or worse the dress greens. The foot locker held all your skivvies, socks, and toiletries.  I can’t prove it, but I know that some of the clothes shifting was due to some prank pulling Stratcom guys with nothing else to do.

Every guy had his own personal can of the ‘Green Bomb’, an aerosol arsenal of DDT for the mosquitoes. The trick was to unfurl the protective net from on top of the bunk, tuck it under the mattress all the way around. Get the ‘Green Bomb’ ready, open a small area in the corner and blast away then close the corner and tuck it back in. With the bombing raid completed it’s off to the shower in the next building over, wrapped in your towel covering your bare ass and flip flops flip-flopping with every step. After the shower you returned to assess the collateral damage and get into the rack as quickly as you could tucking the net back in. Quite often after a few minutes you’d hear, buzzzzzz while you coughed your head off from the fumes trapped in the net with you and the mosquitoes. 

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