Sp4 Leon "Lee" Dixon

My pictures bring back memories....

At LZ English, a CH-47 helicopter crashed and a firefight broke out.  The M42 Twin 40s Duster opened fire and really got the attention of the VC who where shooting at the Chinook. (Photo Dixon 49)

I had a beard due to a medical profile that restricting me from shaving.  It was the result of a facial skin infection from shaving. One of our NCOIC's insisted that we shave close enough NOT to scratch the back of his hand or we got assigned EXTRA guard duty! He would actually rub the back of his hand across your face while in morning formation. You had hell to pay if it got scratched! Anyway, the skin infection got so bad that I ended up in several hospitals, finally arriving at 17th Field Hospital in Saigon. It was a kind of poetic justice from God.  (Photo Dixon 49)  I discovered that there was only one real dermatologist in Viet Nam and he was in Saigon. And his orders to me? DON'T SHAVE everyday... take some special meds...and... Come back at least once a month for check-ups on my skin...for the rest of my stay in Nam. Ohhhhhhhh noooooo! Realllly? REALLLY. Now, coming from a place out in the boondocks like Duc Pho - Montezuma all the way to Saigon was like going from hell to heaven on an airplane!

The 17th Field Hospital in Saigon had a huge chainlink fence, barbed wire, floodlights, and cool 1964 Pontiac ambulance out front. That's what brought me in from Ton Son Nhut air base. This hospital was located right on Tran Hung Dao Street... a  kind of main drag through town. It seemed to be either a converted apartment house or hotel. Hard to say.  Almost directly across the street was The Metropole hotel. To the far left and about a half a block away was a Shell gasoline station and next to that, the Ky-Son Billet... a large hotel converted over to military housing for GIs in Saigon. It was one of many such places. The had a great mess there where the guys ate like kings- especially compared to the locals out on the sidewalk begging for money.

Looking out of the guard post in front of the Ky-Son billet was the intersection of Tran Hung Dau Street and another street that angled off from it. The pedicabs were called "Cyclo" (sick-low) by the Vietnamese. There was a tall, smooth front building to the right was a Vietnamese theater  (I actually went in once and saw a show with my girlfriend- even though you weren't supposed to). The building off to the left was- OHHhhhhh yesssss... the French colonial hotel... The Metropole.   This was where THE most popular hooker in Saigon worked out of a small suite. This may seem like science fiction (and it was to a teen male in the 1960s) but sex in Saigon was little different from buying a tomato at the grocery store! So help me! Most of the afternoons and evenings, GI's were actually lined up in the hallway with fistfuls of money to pay her for what everyone said was an experience you'd never forget! (By the way- it wasn't.) I heard later that she bought a big villa on the outskirts of the diplomat/embassy  district and graduated to hawking her wares to even better-paying clients!

I got to know one of the local street toughs that the GI's referred to as "cowboys"... and we became friends. Unlike in the USA, Vietnamese were fascinated with me for some reason, probably because of my mixed ancestry. They could never figure out what to call me - even when I would insist. They would attempt to correct me and say "Noooo- no- no!  You NO bookoo donny! You NOT soe budda! "(soul brother- euphemism at that time for black). There used to be billboard ads all over town for a toothpaste company with a very dark fellow with huge white teeth. They would always point to one of those signs and say "HIM soe budda!" They would have arguments about it- much to my amusement. Anyway, this cowboy used to give me a motorcycle to ride around on. 

Most GIs never saw a clear view of Saigon because, unlike in the movies and stories I've read, we had to ride in military busses with thick screens/grates over the windows. The  screens weren't for keeping out bugs... they were for keeping out bombs and grenades thrown by VC nuts! 

There was a beautiful building on the square in downtown Saigon.  I have been told it was originally a French opera house and also told it was the seat of the South Vietnamese legislature.  In movies they show it with barricades and sand bags all over the front but there were none in place when I took a Polaroid  photo  in 1967 (Dixon55).  There was also a huge bronze sculpture that was a memorial to South Vietnamese soldiers. I am told it was destroyed when the communists took over Saigon. To the right was the  beautiful French Caravelle Hotel. It was probably the most modern in Saigon at that time. To the left out was the grand old Continental Hotel where all of the famous people and journalists hung out and ate on the verandah and argued and intellectualized about the merits of the war. Watching them it was hard to believe there were brave young men out there in jungles dying the very minute that they were dining in comfort, enjoying their crepe suzettes!  There was also Tu-Do (too-doo) Street... perhaps the most interesting place in all of Saigon. THERE you could have anything... buy anything...experience anything you could imagine- as long as you had the funds. And I DO mean ANYTHING.

One of the guys posted pics of MPC and I am so glad to see that somebody saved photos of this stuff. The movies and magazines and books are so fake when they depict GIs with pockets full of American greenback dollars in Viet Nam. That just didn't happen. Aside from very rare instances with black market dealers in Saigon, I never saw a greenback the whole time I was in Nam. It was either MPCs or "P" (South Vietnamese Piasters which the Vietnamese actually pronounced "fee").

Because of my background in the music business as a teen, I had a lot of contact with what was known as Special Services Division. Before the Army, I had played on the road with numerous famous stars.  I had opened for people like Stevie Wonder and others.  I was Frankie Lymon's guitar player for a while. We were even stationed together at Fort Gordon, GA while I was in Signal School (they made a movie about Frankie including the time at Gordon, but no one ever even talked to me about it). By the time I got to Viet Nam, I got repeated requests from Special Services to appear in shows (Martha Rae had asked for me to play on her show twice). But whatever C.O. was in charge always held me back claiming my MOS was too critical and I could not be spared.  Instead I ended up often not doing any of those "critical" things I was trained for. Way too many times I found myself in convoys getting shot at... or out on guard duty... or out burning the ubiquitous poop! (you guys know what this was- one of those times when "shit duty" REALLY meant SHIT DUTY!)

Long story short, I got word that there was going to be a special USO show (if I recall) at Camp Enari. I managed to get in  (I didn't perform) but it seemed that every GI in the country was also there! I got a special spot right at the front of the stage. Pics don't show it, but behind me all you could see was a sea of green fatigues. Anyway the show was hosted by this fellow who was a Hollywood actor and host (darned if I can remember his name, but he'll look familiar to you).  I also forgot the names of the three starlets he brought along with him. They sang, danced, told jokes and enthralled all of the GIs who desperately needed some cheering up and some American entertainment. But the big surprise was the very tall longhaired redhead  (in the pink babydoll negligee and heels) who did an EXTRA special dance toward the end of the show! In fact- it  ended up being the finale. The big beautiful redhead came out of the negligee... and the audience went BERSERK! Guys were climbing on top of one another. Fist-fights broke out! There was pushing and shoving. I ended up with a mob of bodies on top of me and my camera and I were nearly crushed! And then... it was all over!  During all of this melee, I tried to take photos with my Polaroid, but you can perhaps imagine how impossible that was!  The somebody onstage ran over and covered the redhead with a camouflage fatigue top... she was hustled off stage...and that was that! I know there was always some debate about women  entertaining troops dressed up sexy, but I will say this one was positive. Despite the near riot it caused, that redhead gave us troops a great morale boost and guys (even ones who weren't there) were talking about it and grinning and dreaming long after!  To this day, I have fond memories. Whomever she was, in my never-to-be-humble opinion, she did a great thing. We all walked out of there taller and wanting to survive to make it back home! Thanks, beautiful woman!

DA MOUSE"  -  One weird cat
Here is another character from Duc Pho - LZ Montezuma {# Dixon61 in the Photo Gallery}. This was the first of the "new generation" guys who arrived at our unit and I guess those who stereotype Viet Nam vets would have a field day with this chap. But... that's the way the chips fell. I never understood how "Da Mouse" was allowed to even be with us.  Most of our guys were a little scared of him.  One day, he goes off someplace and gets his forearms all tattooed.  Where he got this done, I have no idea.  This was back when doing something like that was BEYOND bizarre. Anyway, this lasted for three months or so.  Then one day, he tells me he's changed his mind and wants the durned stuff removed.  Somehow, he actually go the medics to send him someplace where they surgically removed the tattoos.  RESULT?  He had these horrible scars up and down his arms!  That's just the way he was.  Always had a bag of dope in one of his pockets.  Where he got it...I don't know...and I made it my business NOT to know.  One time I got forced into Guard Duty with Da Mouse.  I was upset, but the sarge forced me to go out with Da Mouse for perimeter guard.  I told Mouse that there was NO WAY he was gonna be smoking any of that stuff...and if he did, I would shoot him before Charlie would!  Just the same, I stayed awake all night long that night!  When it came to my personal safety, I rarely trusted anyone else.  I sometimes think that's the main reason I got back when some of my buds didn't.

Darned if I can remember his real name ... but I DO remember that he was from the Chicago area... and he always INSISTED upon only being addressed as "Mouse" or "Da Mouse"!  Tore his real names off of his fatigues. He was deep into a lotta stuff ... and sometimes would get...er... "lost" for a night or day. Burned a LOT of... incense. As time went on, he got deeper into some kind of esoteric "Bhuddist" thing (according to HIM) and then insisted upon only being addressed as "BhuddaMouse"! (And he was SERIOUS!) Most of our guys were wary of him and avoided much contact, but once he found out I had been a musician playing in shows back in the world, we kinda, sorta got along. He was always trying to tell me about his latest ...uh..."mind trips". Most of it never made sense to me, but what the hell. We were gonna be there for a year or until we died - right? Always wore sunglasses- even at night...used to say "...it's psychedelic!" a lot.  I now remember what happened to "Da Mouse".  He volunteered to become a door gunner on a chopper!  Now I REALLY wonder whatever became of him!

When they didn't have "movie night" at LZ Montezuma (usually due to shooting going on, or a broken projector, or jus plain NOT having any films) we would wind up staring at a hissing TV screen trying to get a picture.  If anyone remembers the "movie theater" at Montezuma, it was down in kind of a flattened depression in the ground by the Graves Registration.  Heaven only knows why because if the wind was blowing in the wrong direction at times, it could be sickening.  But...that's where it was.  The bench "seats" were actually old helicopter blades from Hueys and Chinooks piled on top of the 105mm ammo boxes.

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