A couple of weeks ago I mentioned a very young Army corporal who was sent over to the American Embassy in Karachi by mistake. It was not supposed to happen. Everyone assigned to the embassy was supposed to be an NCO, and even at that, we each went through an intensive selection process, the point of which was to ensure that we were “mature and stable” individuals.
It wasn’t that the three services didn’t do their best to choose the right men and women and to keep us out of trouble after we arrived in a foreign country where, as part of the embassy staff, we represented the United States.
Not at all; all three services, not to mention the State Department, went out of their way to get the right people and to provide them with living conditions that would make them want to stay where they were.
Take the staff house where I lived. There were just six NCOs assigned to a large, two-story mansion located in an exclusive part of town.
We each had our own room with private bath, and servants to take care of little details like cleaning up, making beds, changing linen, seeing to it our clothes were laundered and our shoes polished, and so on. All we had to do was our jobs.
Altogether, we had eight servants in the house. The cook was the head servant; he took care of the cooking as well as “rupee” shopping on the local market. Other shopping was done by our house mother, Mike Flanagan, an Air Force master sergeant. We bought at the State Department Commissary, where everything in the place was brought in duty-free in the name of the American Ambassador.
Three bearers picked up after us, made beds and changed linen every day.
They served at meals and during the endless round of parties in our large living room. And they tended to the rest of the house, except for the bathrooms. A sweeper did those, as well all other menial jobs like sweeping, dusting and the like.
A hamal, or laundry boy, saw to the laundry. A gardener took care of the lawns, trees, shrubs and hedges. And a chowkidar, or night watchman, sat guard all night over the house and vehicles.
It was not a bad life.
Am I kidding? It was a military man’s paradise!
Not for the Marines, though. They led the same kind of life there in Karachi as they would have led back on a base back in the States: training, duties, crisply starched uniforms, inspections, gigs, extra duties — the whole routine. And because they were young and single and would have spent the majority of their off-duty time snipe hunting, with obvious repercussions among the locals, their NCO saw to it that they had very little off-duty time.
As a result, when the pressure was off, the Marines went absolutely nuts — as you’ll see in a minute.
I arrived on Saturday, Nov. 6, 1959, and the very first thing that Colonel Guelich, my boss, asked me — right in the staff car on the way to town from Mauripur, the military airport, would you believe — was, “Garrett, do you have a dinner jacket?”
Well, no, I didn’t. I had six hand-tailored raw silk suits the Air Force had very kindly paid for back in Japan where I had just come from. But a dinner jacket? No.
Tsk! Tsk! How could I have been so careless?
“I’ll send my tailor over to get you measured right away,” Colonel Guelich told me, looking very serious. “You’ll need one for Tuesday night.”
Something told me this assignment was going to be a mite different from the ones I was used to.
Come Tuesday evening, all gussied up in my brand new white dinner jacket — which I got to pay for, thank you — I watched in amazement as no less than a hundred guests showed up at our staff house, poured out onto the well-manicured lawn, up onto the wide veranda overlooking the lawn and into every other nook and cranny. They then began to inhale our very liberal supply of alcohol in all its varied forms, together with a raft of food, the very least of which was about a bushel of absolutely delicious shrimp, two baked hams and three mouthwatering beef roasts.
And the real party wasn’t even at our place. It was over at the Marine “residence.” It was the 184th anniversary of the founding of the Marines on Nov. 10, 1775.
The Russian staff house, as it happened, was directly across the street from our staff house, which I should mention was only one of several.
As I was sipping a scotch on the rocks, an NCO named Sam McNutt, who did me the greatest favor of my life a week later on Nov. 17th by introducing me to my wife, jerked a thumb up at the roof of the Russian place.
I looked up and, to my amazement, saw four Russians up on the roof with two motion picture cameras set up and running.
“What’s that all about?” I asked Sam.
“They always film us. They’re looking for anything that someone does wrong, hoping to get something on some poor guy so they can blackmail him. Secrets? You know?”
Yes, this was definitely going to be a different assignment.
Later, I went with Sam and some others over to the Marine staff house to add my congratulations to those of the rest of the American community. What a bash! They were going crazy over there. And everywhere else in town apparently.
I got a bit smashed and don’t remember where I saw this, but as the night wore on I was at some staff house or other where I sat outside and rather blurrily watched some nut I didn’t know dragging some other nut I didn’t know down a set of spiral stone steps by the heels of his shoes.
“Ouch!” I thought as I watched the poor guy’s head bouncing on each step.
“That’s gotta hurt.”
Uh-oh! Running out of space, I see.
Next week: The rest of the story....
I always wanted to say that.