Input, Photos & Stories Welcome from Those who Fought the War
JIM STONE – Echo 2/39 Romeo Recon / March 15, 2003
Guys: I see that you are back to talking about beer again. GOOD… that is a much safer topic than religion and politics.
Here is my 2 cents worth, from the perspective of a grunt (11-H) who served with the First BDE – 2d/39th INF, from 2/68-2/69. Most of my time was spent in the field at FSBs or working out of the base camp at Rach Kien… with occasional trips to Bearcat and Dong Tam, but very little exposure to the Navy and the MRF.
I remember a number of American beer brands being available in-country that year… Pabst Blue Ribbon, Carling Black Label, Budweiser… I even had some Ballantine’s once!
One thing that I found interesting, was that all of the cans of beer that we got over there were the old style (pre-“pop top”) cans that required a can-opener (a/k/a “church key”), even though pop tops had been in widespread use in the US for several years. I guess that there must have been some kind of problem in transporting pop-top cans across the Pacific by ship. Maybe some of you swabbies might know why that was.
As for the local Vietnamese stuff, there was “Ba Moui Ba” – Biere “33”, which came in a bottle about the size of a US 12 oz., and tasted OK, most of the time. The other local beer was called “Tiger Beer”, but was actually named Biere Larue, and usually came in a one liter bottle. This stuff was very inconsistent in quality. Some bottles tasted bitter, some like formaldehyde, and even vinegar! But occasionally (about once out of 3 or 4) you hit one bottle that was about as good tasting as you could ever find.
I did a google search on those two “Biere”s, and found that both labels are still available in Vietnam, but are now owned by a subsidiary of Foster’s Group of Australia. I think that Biere “33” Export is even available here in the US. I have been told that this beer sold locally in Vietnam has been re-labeled as Biere “333” (or “ba-ba-ba”) for some reason.
Speaking of Foster’s… do any of you guys who were in-country just after Tet of ’68 remember a period of time when American beers were unavailable? Sometime in February or March, all we could get out in the field was Foster’s Lager and another Aussie beer called Reschs. Foster’s was OK, but that Reschs was crap… real bitter, as I recall.
I just looked up Reschs and found it on the Foster’s web site… their only export brands nowadays are Reschs Real Bitter and Reschs Pilsner… we must have gotten some of that bitter beer, although I have remembered it for the last 35 years as Reschs LAGER.
Around that same time, we could not get American Coke or other sodas… instead we got F&N Soda from Malaysia. This stuff came in two flavors, Lemonade (which tasted kinda like a dry ginger ale – think Canada Dry) and Ginger Beer – which tasted like *$^@!
The reason, we were told, why our hard earned cash was being wasted on these inferior foreign products, instead of good old American beer and soda pop, was that a freighter full of American beer and soda had been blown up in Saigon harbor during Tet, and the Army had to procure supplies from closer sources in the western Pacific. Hell, I think I even saw some San Miguel from the Philippines at an EM club, once!
We used to take up a collection from all of the guys (and I think it may have been supplemented by “company funds”) and one of our NCOs would take a jeep with a trailer into Dong Tam on a beer run (and also to pick up other supplies). He would come back with a trailer loaded with whatever had been available at the PX (or was it the “Class-6” store?).
Once out at our base in the field, we had to get the local kids to bring us ice to chill down our beer and sodas… and we also needed something to use as a cooler. At one time we were at a place we called Ft Dent, a little compound with an ARVN fort and an abandoned schoolhouse on Hwy 4. We “requisitioned” a large water crock from a native hooch. This was a red clay pot about 2-3′ tall and about as round. We used to load up this crock with beer and soda cans in the bottom and fill it ice cracked from the big blocks that the kids would deliver by Lambretta, covered in rice husks for insulation.
It was great to come back after a hard day of slogging thru the paddies and woodlines along Hwy 4, to come “home” to our schoolhouse and find a chilled-down crock of beer and soda. I used to reach way down to the bottom of that crock and grab a couple of nice cold cans of beer and crack them both open with my church key… one hole to vent and a double wide for pouring. I would then “shoot” the first one to slake my thirst, then sip the second one while relaxing and cleaning my machine gun and getting ready for chow.
Man, it was about as close to heaven as a low down dirty grunt could experience, without sex or drugs!
At chow time, we switched to soda, as we always went out on roving patrols or set up ambushes at night, or else manned the bunkers at our little fort.
Of course, while out on patrol, we generally did not drink beer, local or otherwise. On occasion, we did manage to buy a bottle of the locally bottled Coke (it seemed much sweeter than the US stuff – and cost as much as $1 per bottle) or some other soda. They had some pretty strange flavors of soda pop in Vietnam… sarsaparilla (tasted like a weak root beer), mint, and orange, among others. The best local soda (non-cola) that I remember was Bireley’s Orange Soda.
Bireleys, it seems, must have been a Western brand, but it looks like it is now owned by Asahi of Japan. Speaking of Japan, while on R&R there, I had Asahi Lager, Sapporo and Kirin Beer… all pretty good, as I recall.
Yah, I know… I do have a tendency to ramble on and on…
Keep it cool, bro’s.
NOTE: On a trip back to Vietnam in the 1990’s Mike Harris, our Webmaster, asked a former South Vietnamese Navy man why the “33” was changed to “333”. He was told the Russian made the change when they moved into Vietnam after 1975.
MIKE HARRIS – T-152-1 / 1968-69 (March 15, 2003)
Sometime in ’69 we came out of the rivers/canals and stood BID patrol around the ships. One afternoon I cranked the sweep gear up so we could change watches. It was heavy so I tried to be cautious in case it was a mine. Finally a green mesh sack appeared about the size of a sandbag. In it was a 1/2 case of unopened Foster’s beer cans. Now how’s that for a snag? Of course we iced them down and enjoyed.
Here’s a couple of photos that include the “Schlitz” and “Falstaff” beer that Jim Stone left out above:
TOM SCOTT FTG2 – USS Colleton APB-36 – 12-66 to 4/68.
I was embarked on the USS Colleton APB 36 from December 1966 until April 1968. One of the first rules we learned in boot camp was that no alcohol was allowed on board US Navy vessels. My experience on the Colleton was contrary to those rules.
First, during our 60 day trip from Norfolk, VA to Vung Tau (at AN all ahead flank speed of 10 knots) we had a barbecue on the helo deck about half way between Pearl Harbor and Vung Tau. Much to my surprise, we each were served two beers.
When we arrived in Vung Tau there were several immediate modifications made to the ship. First, we added the bar trigger armor all around the pilot house and forward superstructure. Then we painted the ship green. Finally, one of the reefers was modified with a locking cage. As soon as that was completed, the cage was filled with cases and cases of US beer.
That beer was consumed off the ship, in conformance with naval regulations. It was served on the pontoons that served as the docks for the ATCs (those pontoons were not commissioned naval vessels and apparently exempt for the rules). I remember vividly watching the troops from the 4/47th return from a mission and climb out the ATCs where someone would take their M-16 in one hand are replace it with a beer. I thought that was the coolest way to welcome the guys back from 3 days in the mud.
The other occasion when beer was served was when the 4/47th would depart for an operation. After all of the boats were away, the ship’s company was invited down to the pontoons for a couple of beers. I thought that was pretty cool as well.