February 9, 1968
Britt left without saying goodbye . . . maybe he thought it was our obligation to see him off. There wasn’t any protocol for this issue; we all rotated in and out of country separately, determined by our date of entry. The majority of Marines leaving Vietnam lost all contact with friends left behind. This superficial nature of relationships made me uneasy, and I avoided getting attached to certain people.
Mama-San delivered 50 pounds of lump charcoal strapped to Hua’s bike. It was in a large burlap potato sack tied at the top. She said, “Than Cui” (Charcoal). I opened the corner of the bag and inspected a handful; the small thumb sized pieces were hard but not brittle. It looked good to me, and I decided to test it. I asked Hua to build a small fire pitt out of rocks.
As Hua scavenged the hill for rocks, Papa-San and I sat and sipped hot ca phe.* He related that the French had used this same charcoal in a forge, and he mimicked using bellows. Also Vietnamese doctors would use the coals to heat metal irons to cauterize wounds. Papa-San’s wrist had been treated in this manner after the Viet-Minh cut off his hand.
When the small rock BBQ pitt was finished, we started a fire and added the charcoal. It burned hot with no flames and very little ash. I went and got Leggs, to show off the new development, and he promised to construct a new BBQ pitt soon.
Later in the day Mama-San wanted to negotiate a price for the charcoal. After a few minutes I realized the language barrier was too much so I went to the CP (Command Post) and asked Captain Cavagnol for help with interpreting. He was excited about the idea of cooking steaks in an outside BBQ and joined the conversation with Mama-San.
Mama-San’s price for the charcoal was wooden pallets. We were burning most of the ammo pallets at the dump every day, and they were worth money to her. The deal required us to deliver pallets to Mama-San’s house in Dai Loc in exchange for charcoal. Cavagnol approved this arrangement, making us the only unit to implement a charcoal BBQ pitt as a mess hall feature.
Later I learned China Beach R&R Center had a BBQ pitt using Kingsford briquettes.
* See previous “Papa-San” blog
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