A Merrie Olde Chase
(Without The Horses & Hounds)

Richard Franklin Bishop

   © Copyright 2014 by Richard Franklin  Bishop  
My Military Life Series (Without Deadly Force)
Part One - Enjoying Asia
Part Three - My Life As A Non-Combatant
Part Four - A Mysterious Disappearance
Part Five - Controlling An English Disaster
(Of American Origin)
Photo of a C-130.

In the middle of September, 1967, I was transferred from the Headquarters of the Military Air Transport Service (MATS), Scott Field, Illinois, to Southeast Asia for a standard one-year tour of duty in Thailand.

I was a Captain, but on the Promotion List to Major, and expected that I would be given an “account” as the Accounting and Finance Officer (A&FO) at some PACAF (Pacific Air Forces) Air Base after I arrived in-country. I duly processed through Hamilton AFB, California (near San Francisco) for training with the M-16 weapon (and a M-40 grenade-launcher). A nice dinner at a fine San Francisco Restaurant with a former Comptroller, now retired (my former Boss at the 1503rd Air Transport Wing, Tachikawa AB, Japan), and I was on my way via a MATS Contract Flight from Travis AFB, California, to Don Muang Airport, Bangkok, Thailand.

The crazy zigzag stuff started soon afterwards. I switched to a Lockheed C -130 “Hercules” aircraft flight called the “Round-Robin” for a ride “up-country” to Udorn RTAFB (Royal Thai Air Force Base), in the Northern part of the country that had been specified in my PCS (Permanent Change of Station) Orders. The Headquarters of the 7/13th Air Force - Thailand (PACAF) was located at Udorn RTAFB.
My address was to be the: 432nd Combat Support Group, APO San Francisco 96237. When finally there, they told me there was no “billet” (a term for an assigned job) for an A&FO. I must wait a day or two while Headquarters PACAF, back in Hawaii, was queried as to where one would be needed. A TWX (a teletype message) came in to Base Personnel asking that I be sent on to U-Tapao RTNS (Royal Thai Naval Station) because the present Finance Officer, a Major, was returning to the U. S. A. in three months. It was located down South near the fishing village of Satahip, right on the Gulf of Siam, 90 miles Southeast of Bangkok. I had no idea about what was going on there, but it sounded to me like a “highly satisfactory” duty assignment. My address was to be the: 635th Combat Support Group, APO San Francisco 96330, and my official arrival date became: 12 October 1967.

After I got settled-in there, I found out that our PACAF mission was to support a SAC (Strategic Air Command) Wing of B-52 Bombers and KC-135 Tankers. The SAC Troops were a lively bunch with never a dull moment and their mission kept the action going 24 hours a day. Instead of piped “Music by MUZAK,” their Engine “run-ups” gave us wall-to-wall sound-effects day and night.

The 90-day time overlap with the present A&FO leaving (and me taking over) went really fast. During this period, the entire Accounting and Finance Office moved out of the 10 “Huts” (we called them “Hootches”) and I became the Accounting and Finance Officer complete with a brand-new building which had just been finished in the interim. The money vault was completely air-conditioned and was the only office in the building so-equipped. This was not for the benefit of the Personnel but it was so-arranged that the currency and the punch-cards would not get swelled-up with dampness or get ruined with mildew. My office was not air-conditioned and so our Disbursing Officer, a First Lieutenant, got the pleasure of pressed trousers and dry, unwrinkled Fatigues. The rest of us worked with 4” patches of sweat stains under our arms and the creases in our trousers gone in the first 30 minutes of wear; although it didn't really matter since we were wearing gray/green Fatigues with Australian-style Wild-West hats most of the time.

All support personnel were on a ten-hour shift with one day off a week. Many of us were still “on-call” when off-duty from our normal work. Then there was always your turn on the roster for a 24-hour shift of performing Staff Duty Officer for the Combat Support Group, about once every three weeks.

Then there were the Disaster Control Teams – everybody was on one of these teams – in case of an attack on the “Bomb Dump” by “unknowns,” i.e., in the “lingo” of the Far-East, a Terrorist Threat.

Actually, the most danger to all Personnel seemed to be the risk of being run down by a Thai Dump Truck hauling red latterite for some building project. The second most dangerous threat to life and limb was a speeding “Baht Bus.” A “Baht” was part of their currency and was worth about $ 0.05 or 5 ¢. You could flag-down one of these “covered-wagon” Japanese Pick-up Trucks (covered-over in back) anywhere and for a few Baht, go just about anywhere – but at breakneck speed. We called them (just like a Radio Station Call Sign) KYA - FN (Kill You All - For a Nickel).

Payday was coming and we needed a couple of million dollars in currency because we were not yet fully converted to a Payday disbursing system using checks (except for paying Contractors and Vendors). This meant that we had to make a currency “run” up to Bangkok to obtain the cash from our PACAF Central Finance Office for Thailand located near Don Muang Air Force Base.

This trip was so popular with our A&FO Personnel that (by custom) we ran a rotational roster so that everybody who was qualified to carry a sidearm could participate. This trip was performed at least 12 times a year, and more often, if required. Actually, this was quite enough of these “extra-ordinary” trips and we learned to be glad that we no longer had Paydays twice a month as once was the custom in the U.S. Air Force.

I had never been on one of these armed “money runs” before and the lucky Master Sergeant (E-7) whose name was drawn for this jaunt had not enjoyed one of these trips, either. But, both of us felt that an over-night in exotic Bangkok would certainly pay for any inconveniences. Therefore, we gladly changed out of our Fatigues & Aussie style Wild-West hats and got onto the C-130 Hercules “Round Robin” Aircraft in our 1505 Summer Short-Sleeved Uniforms wearing flight-hats (with our small .38 Caliber Revolvers and tiny belt-holsters hidden in our overnight bags) and headed out to Bangkok anticipating adventure, pure.

In the Central Finance Office located near Don Muang AFB, the time was usually spent in filling out paperwork, counting currency, and arranging the transport of foot-lockers full of currency on the morrow. Then we were off-duty until our flight at 08:00 hours the next day.

The Central Finance Office was responsible for giving us back our weapons & holsters and getting the currency boxes out to the Military Air Terminal. The Don Muang AFB Air Traffic Control Office was responsible for getting the currency boxes safely aboard the C-130 Hercules and securely fastened-down.

The next morning we were carried by the Central Finance Office Jeep directly out to the C-130 Hercules “Round-Robin” flight (we were already pre-“checked-in” as Couriers – by-passing the usual check-in procedures for normal passengers). We found to our satisfaction that the currency boxes that we had clearly marked  were already on board and secured on a pallet just inside the rear-doors of the aircraft. This special marking was put on so that we could keep an eye on the foot-lockers at a glance, and to warn others that just maybe this box contained things that belonged to a high-ranker that were none of their business (i.e., the four-star message being if you know what's good for you, hands-off !)

But the passengers had already been loaded. They were a grim-looking Military Unit of uncertain Nationality in Combat Jungle (camouflage) Fatigues filling up the narrow and sideways seats alongside the cargo pallets. Like all C-130 Hercules Aircraft Passengers, theirs was the natural tendency to stick to the rear of the aircraft so they could get off fast after landing. They were traveling “up-country,” probably to the border of Laos and would only “transit” at U-Tapao RTNS (getting off only to stretch their legs). I suspected that they were going up there to support Air America, Inc.; i.e., just in case our clandestine Pilots wearing the bright Yellow and Orange “Day-Glow” flight suits got into trouble and needed “incursion-type” saving. We could see at a glance that this group of Combat “Jungle-fighters” was no bunch to argue with about which were the choice seats.

I suppose that we could have tried to “clear” our mission with the Aircraft Commander so that he could “bump” two seats loose at the very back of the aircraft. But we could not do that without letting the whole aircraft in on the fact that we were accompanying something very, very valuable (we even kept our small .38 Caliber Revolvers hidden in our pockets [tiny belt-holster in the left pocket and weapon in the right pocket] just to prevent undue notice). And, besides, since take-off was imminent, there wasn't any time left for that kind of wrangling.

And so we moved forward – and again more forward – still searching for a seat until we were right at the bulkhead near the forward crew-door. We rationalized . . . . . Well, so what ? When the aircraft stops moving, and after the Passengers are all off, we can be right there when the Baggage Handlers move our currency boxes into the Terminal. Maybe we can even ride with them.

Just the same, right about then we started getting that “sinking feeling” from being separated from our money.

The short flight from Bangkok to U-Tapao was uneventful, and when on the ground again most of the Passengers unsafely stood up even before the aircraft was parked. When the rear-doors were opened, egress off the aircraft ramp was blocked by the baggage truck. But, what's this ? There being no fork-lifts out on the Aircraft Parking Ramp, the first pallets were emptied by hand rapidly by the Thai Baggage Handlers, even before one Passenger could step-off the airplane. The Master Sergeant (E-7) and I looked at each other dumbly – simultaneously we whispered: Holy Cats – They've already got our foot-lockers and we're supposed to accompany that money!

In an instant, we both had clambered-up over the top of the baggage on the forward center pallets of the aircraft to avoid the standing and milling Passengers, and had jumped down onto the center “cleared” pallets in the back. We ran down the lowered aircraft ramp like a shot just in time to see the baggage truck already about 30 yards away accelerating to what seemed like “getaway speed,” careering and careening in the direction of the Air Traffic Terminal, ¼ of a mile away.

I'm afraid we made a sort of spectacle of ourselves because we were both running “all-out” behind them, hollering Stop, Stop ! But, of course, to no avail. We might just as well have yelled: “Tally Ho – The Fox !” The Baggage Handlers clinging to the truck, who spoke only Thai, just scratched their heads quizzically, watching us quickly falling far behind. Well now, at our age, we both put the “Quarter Mile” behind us probably better than back when we were running the “440” in a High School Track Meet.

It is said, in times of great stress, that you can see your past life flash before your eyes. Not for me. I could see my troubled future clearly if that money got lost.

A little later, when the U-Tapao Air Traffic Control Officer calmed us while we were panting with our tongues hanging out, he told us: “Sometimes the Thai Workers get a little bored with their work. When that happens, they play a little game called let's see how fast we can unload this aircraft. And when they do this, they are exceptionally fast. But, I assure you, they had no idea what was in those foot lockers.”

He said further, making us feel much, much better: “You never were in any real trouble here because we are responsible for all baggage tied-down on pallets, including Valuables, until it reaches the Terminal-Proper. Only then is it signed for and released to the customer. And even if that were not the case, since you were formally designated as Couriers, it would follow our routine rules for COURIER DUTY which normally occur with CLASSIFIED (including TOP SECRET) Documents; i.e., the sealed Packets were never out of your sight, therefore no compromise was possible.” We agreed (with great relief) saying “Roger” to that and acknowledged that it all made good sense, since we had not even been present when the currency boxes were on-loaded at Don Muang AFB.

But we also knew that our comfortable last-minute boarding time that we had thoroughly enjoyed (just like we were important VIPs) and the “musical-chairs” in the C-130 Hercules, which had caused us to be separated from our currency in the first place (together with our inexperience) had “set us up” for being so easily “spooked.”

And, of course, nobody had briefed us about any of this stuff.

The Aircraft Crew, who had guessed what was going on, sympathetically put our overnight bags (that we in our haste had left behind) onto the next Thai baggage truck headed for the Terminal, before they took-off for their next destination. We imagined that they were doubled-over with laughter while they did that. As for the full load of grim “Combat Troops,” I'm sure they thought that anybody not wearing camouflage Fatigues must be Tourists and therefore they were not expected to behave like they were sane !

Needless to say, the currency in the foot-lockers arrived safely at the vault in my Finance Office. When the Master Sergeant (E-7) and I talked it over and asked ourselves: Should we tell someone ? The answer was not just No, but Hell NO ! We didn't need that kind of notoriety. We would have been “He-Hawed” to death up and down the chain of Command. We had had an honest attack of panic. But, it was our very own “panic” although groundless, as it turned out.

But, luckily, we didn't over-react. Can you just imagine the trouble we would have been in if we had drawn our .38 Caliber Revolvers out of our pockets and fired them into the air trying to stop that Baggage Truck !

We said: “We'll just keep this to ourselves and tell it someday as a 'War story!


After this long overdue clarification about the en route accountabilities for currency and weapons (for us “Non-Combat Troops”), a SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) was written on the subject. It instructed:

Since full accountability has not yet been perfected, A&FO Personnel accompanying currency shipments no longer will carry sidearms on their person while in an aircraft, either hidden or otherwise, but will leave them secured in their baggage.”

In other words, since we Non-Combatants were not accountable for the currency while in-transit, someone else was required to protect the valuables to include the use of deadly force. Despite being designated as “Couriers”, we were just passengers, like everyone else.

But we did wear sidearms conspicuously holstered on our belts after leaving the Terminal-Proper while accompanying currency shipments (since we were now “ex-Couriers” and had formally “signed” for the “Packets”).

 It was a few years yet before the U.S. Air Force fully implemented their World-Wide “payroll-by-check” system for their employees on Paydays. With that, no more Military “armed” currency runs were needed. Instead of passing green Dollars, “The Eagle” now passed buff-colored punch-cards ! And the Civilian Bank, operating under contract, was now responsible for obtaining the currency to cash those checks.
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