The US mission which kicked off our war in Vietnam in ’62, according to the Pentagon, was ‘Operation Chopper’, the first time American military advisors were actively engaged in a major combat support role in South Vietnam. Over a thousand paratroopers of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) were flown in 82 helicopters to a stronghold of the guerrilla insurgents commonly known as the VC, Victor Charlie, just plain Charlie, or the Viet Cong – 10 miles west of Saigon.
But back at ALS as the battle raged in a faraway war in a country few could find on a map, Jeff and his fellow language students were just settling in to their 47-week program. Learning an unfamiliar Asian language by day, the guys were having a good time by night and on weekends. For many of the GI students from Eastern and Midwestern universities, the language school’s home at the Presidio of Monterey on the California coast was a magical place. High on a hill overlooking Monterey Bay with flower-bordered walks and endless sunny days, it was an exotic place ‘to go to school’.
Jeff and his friend Keith Willis from back home in upstate New York would ride their motorcycle up to San Francisco for drinks and cigars at the Top of the Mark on Nob Hill, or down Highway 1 through Carmel-by-the-Sea to Nepenthe, 800 feet above the Pacific surf in Big Sur with its 40-mile view. Like the rest of their young countrymen, they’d have been traveling along with a rollicking, yodeling doo-wop version of a traditional African tune that had hit #1 on the pop charts:
Nepenthe was no doubt an unbelievable scene for Jeff and Keith. Its breathtaking scenery and rich history in an incredibly laid-back atmosphere made it a destination for people from all over the world.Poets, artists, beats, lovers, dancers, musicians, as well as folks out for a memorable evening, all gathered there to relax and raise a glass to celebrate life in that most unforgettable place.And to dance the night away – among other dances, to ‘do the Twist’, the latest craze:
Big Sur Coastline
But it’s still 1963, and the Armed Forces Radio Service (AFRS) in the Philippines played music around the clock. Needless to say, the in-country tunes were not on the playlists, but just imagine the reaction when the DJ announced an active duty Marine Corps group, ‘The Essex’, with a major million-selling #1 hit, Easier Said Than Done. The writers said the beat was inspired by the sound of multiple teletype machines pounding out copy in the communications center.
Lord I'm 500 miles from my home.
500 miles, 500 miles, 500 miles, 500 miles
Lord I'm five hundred miles from my home.†
(Surf City, here we come)
You know it's not very cherry, it's an oldie but a goody
(Surf City, here we come)
*Ballad of Ap Bac: http://www.vhpa.org/stories/apbac.pdf