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War Stories

The “Scare” Of A Frowning Hooch Maid

Allen B. "KC" Allcock

(A horrifying base camp experience inside the wire)

Hootch maids were a wonderful thing, however they were Vietnamese that sometimes turned out to be VC sympathizers.

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It was mid spring when I arrived at Cu Chi. Like everyone else, after being assigned to “D” Troop, I spent the next few days going to “bush school” being orientated about Vietnam, its cultures and its people. In that school, we learned about some things to watch for in regard to native civilians working at the base camp. Being a “FNG” I wanted to keep my eyes open for one of the “civilians” who might be “pacing” or planting some sort of explosive in our living area.

If I recall correctly, D Troop had a few civilian mamasauns working in the mess hall, and a mid aged papasaun who burned the human waste caught in the ½ barrels at our latrines. Then, not too long after I was there, some hooch maids were hired who would clean our bunking areas, wash our clothes and shine our boots. We did not get to pick out who would be our hooch maid, but she was assigned, and of course we accepted. I believe there were about ten guys in our hooch. If I also recall right, the US Army paid those maids about four or five bucks a month, per person and each of us guys paid her five dollars a month. And, she did a months work before any of us paid her, so basically when pay day came she got about one hundred dollars a month between the two sources. I understand that a five hundred dollar annual salary was something of a good paying job to be had for those folks, so our hooch maids were upper middle class on what they made.

The officers who needed more “spit and shine” done, got the better looking, younger ones. We got the younger ones mothers and grandmothers. Our hooch got a woman with a bit of age who spoke very little broken English. Our good fortune was that the maid hired by the hooch next door could speak English fairly well, and could interpret for us. I never did know our maid’s name, she was only “Mamasaun.” Mai was the name of the maid next door.

One of the first things we did was pool a little money together and purchase our maid a steam iron. I had been selected to be our hooch spokesperson, so I told her that it was a gift to her, and that when I was gone, she could take it home. I wrote out a note to that affect. She was proud of that iron. In fact, she washed up my first bunch of clothes and put a starch job on them. They were so stiff that they would stand by themselves. Let me tell you, starched jungle fatigues and hot Vietnam temperatures do not mix. I quickly found Mai, the maid who could translate, and had her explain that me, hot temperatures and starch did not get along.

Another incident regarding the steam iron happened in the first month as well. A cobra maintenance crew lived in a nearby hooch, and their maid took a liking to our maid’s steam iron. So, the cobra maintenance team leader told that maid that she could use our maid’s iron. At noon chow time, I had gone to the hooch, and I heard a commotion going on. Mai, the maid that spoke good English came and got me, and I went down to the Cobra hooch and my maid and that other maid were in a tug of war match with the iron, and yelling at one another. The interpreter maid told me the Cobra hooch maid had taken the iron from my maid… and that my maid had said it was hers and not “community” property. I went and found the Cobra team leader, and told him that the iron was not community property, but a gift to our maid and used for our personal hooch. So, he then explained that to his hooch maid, and said they would get her an iron also. My hooch maid walked out of that room, just beaming and very proud that I had stuck up for her, taking her precious iron with her. She didn’t speak English, but thankfulness glowed in her face.

It was about that time that the man who was our “crap burner” was changed. I don’t know if the old one was fired, or he quit showing up, or what, but rumors flew and one of those rumors was that he was caught “pacing.” So, everything was on edge in regard to civilian help and we were warned to keep our eyes peeled.

Payday came for us, and of course we paid our maids. They had the weekend off and came to work the following Monday. Our maid was changed after that payday weekend. She didn’t smile, didn’t even try to talk, she looked like she was mad and really didn’t even look at anyone. I was concerned. I began to imagine a lot of things. I finally went to Mai and asked her, “What’s wrong with Mamasaun? She looks like she is mad and hates Americans!” I was really expecting to find booby traps and in fact had mentioned to the other guys to check their areas out, even the latrine. What Mai told me then gave me a lot of relief and amused me. “She got new teeth.” Like I mentioned earlier, we had an older maid, and she had a few teeth missing, as most of those folk did. Since she got paid, she had all her remaining teeth pulled, and they had put new dentures in her mouth all in that weekend. It was no wonder she had not been smiling, or even acting to graciously. That woman was in pain! So, I went up to her and tapped my teeth saying, “mamasaun, smile.” Well, she broke into a painful smile, revealing those new dentures. I grinned real big and then said, “Ah, Number One.” She tried smiling big this time and you could tell it sure hurt her. I still checked my area when I went in for the night.

The hooch maids lasted for several months. In that time, she improved with her English, and I learned some things about her from Mai. Her husband had been a South Vietnamese soldier and had been killed. They had two children. She was thankful for the American Soldier. I had told the guys in the hooch to always treat the woman with respect. They did, and she was always polite and a very good worker. Later, the maids were all let go and she left, taking the note and the steam iron as a gift from us.

One morning several months later, I came through the front gates of Cu Chi base camp after making a sweep patrol after a night on bunker duty. While going past the area where civilians were checked as they entered the base camp for daily work, I heard a voice call out, “Kay Shee.” “Kay She!” I turned to the voice, and there was the old, former hooch maid. I walked over to the fenced area, and she said to me, “You go home soon?” “Yes,” I said, “I got about thirty some days.” She knew and nodded and then paid me the best compliment anyone could receive from a heart of sincerity. “You Number One G.I.” She meant it. I thought about all the bullets I had fired in my tour of duty there, all the parameters of conflict, all the things which could cause hatreds and clashes, and here was this old woman showing gratefulness to me. I reached across the fence, put my arms about her and gave her a hug. There were tears in her eyes, and I might add, in mine as well. Yes, kindness by “our hooch” had accomplished as much and possibly more than all the bullets I had fired.

So, that’s the story of “The Scare Of The Frowning Hooch Maid”

SGT "KC", Allen B. Allcock