What Did You Watch in the War, Daddy?

Ever taken a picture of something, a person or group of people;  and noticed five or ten or twenty years later, that there is something in the background; a car, house, building, an old barn, uncle Fred mowing the lawn, a 59 Chevy Impala Convertible; that you’d really like to remember better, but it’s out of focus and not centered in the picture and the thing itself is long gone now and all that’s left to show it was ever there is a blurry partial image  in the background of a fading photograph?

That’s the trouble with strolling down Memory Lane;  weeds overgrow the walk,  bridges are out here and there,  dead trees have fallen across the trail.

I’ve been trying to remember the movies I watched while serving a tour in V. Nam.
My unit was an Aerial Scout platoon that was attached to a couple of different outfits, in various parts of the country, for a month or two at a time. Some were at base camps big enough to have a ‘Theater.’
‘Theater’ could mean anything from a stack of ammo crates high enough to set the projector on and a bed sheet strung between two trees, to a phone booth sized shed made of dis-assembled rocket boxes and two sheets of plywood painted white.
If the camp was home to a lot of UH-1 Hueys or Cobras, then the ‘Theater’ would have first class seating. Those aircraft had two rotor blades each, nearly thirty feet long and two wide. Their service life was 1100 hrs. after which they were supposed to be replaced and the old ones destroyed because after that much time they had a bad habit of coming apart in flight which can have a bad affect on your morale and morale is very important in the service.( I know that’s true because they often told us that morale wasn’t what it should be and we’d better improve it or things would get tough on us. We were always looking for more morale)
But, a plank, of wood or aluminum, thirty feet by two, is too valuable a commodity, in a combat zone, to just be trashed, so, there were a lot of footbridges, sidewalks, and benches made of rotor blades in camps that had an abundance of them.
If you lay one blade flat and another on edge for a back, you have a thirty foot long bench that will hold up as many as can get on it.
Couple that with an actual projection shack and a plywood screen, and you have a first class theater. Put a roof of some kind over it to keep the rain off and you might as well be back home.
Of course walls would be too much to ask for, so the movie was an after dark experience. And after dark, the Flare Ships would go up patrolling the perimeter. Every so often they would drop a five-minute flare that hung from its own parachute and drifted slowly down illuminating everything, the screen included. So, you shut the movie off when they popped and back on when they burned out. This gave ample opportunity to take a leak, get a beer or scrounge up a snack. It also stretched the movie out by an hour or so.
You had to really want to see a movie.
So, what did we watch?
Whatever they sent us.You could tell how good the movie was by how many stayed till the end, or, came back to watch it again.
With no walls and flares going off every twenty or thirty minutes there was a lot of coming and going. And with movies being selected by some nameless person in some nameless support unit in charge of such things, using a criteria I could never puzzle out, the movies sent us seemed to be pretty randomly selected.
One week “The Bridge at Remagen” would draw a bigger crowd than you would think, the next, an oddly gritty coming of age – young innocent tries to make good in New York, starring Patty Duke,( I think it was called – “Me, Natalie”) would have a smaller but loyal following. Particularly appreciated was the depiction of our heroine working a part-time job in the ‘Topless-Bottom Club’, where the waitresses appeared to be topless in the dimly lit bar, but a scene in their dressing room revealed that they all wore a sort of cuirass of molded plastic in the shape of a well endowed female chest. A sharp-eyed door-gunner observed how unlikely it was that a dozen young women would be  endowed with identical bosoms.
“One Million Yrs B.C.” with Raquel Welch in an animal skin paleolithic bikini inspired a drunken dive thru the bedsheet movie screen. By the time a new screen could be acquired and erected, half the audience had passed out. It took three days to run the whole movie by which time the beer ration for the month had evaporated and the audience with it.
The reviews were mixed.
I think I managed to catch-all or part of about a dozen films in a years tour in country.
The biggest surprise was the most popular movie by attendance and repeated viewings. The flick was so well liked that we reported it lost to keep it for another week.
I’ve puzzled, in the years since, over why it was such a hit in that place and with that audience. The best answer I can come up with is this;
We did not have a shortage of ‘gritty realism’ or ‘hard hitting truth’.
Our cups were running over with them.
It is impossible for Hollywood to match the experience of sluicing the remains of a human being out of the back of a helicopter with a bucket of ditch water.
What we all longed for was something as far removed from our surroundings as possible.
Nothing fit that bill better than “Chitty – Chitty – Bang – Bang”
The movie played over and over to packed benches of mostly silent viewers.
It was like soaking in a tub of warm water, the warmth and moisture easing the aches and pains.
Then, next day, back to the business at hand.

The story of ‘Movies in the V. Nam War’ might make an interesting paper, but, I’m far too lazy to do a proper job of it.
It’s one piece in a ten thousand piece puzzle, and as the saying goes;
” What’s the most important piece of the puzzle?
The one that’s missing.”

Posted on September 27, 2013, in Where This Road Goes and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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