My name is Christine Lorraine and I am a U.S. army vet who was stationed in Bangkok, Thailand during the fall of Saigon, Cambodia and Laos. I worked in the telecommunications center there in the JUSMAG military compound, teletyping and transmitting messages to Washington, D. C. and other parts of the world in 1975-76.
This tale doesn’t seem very scary in the big picture of War, especially when you consider how many brave men and women have lost their lives over the centuries in battle. Upon reflection, though, it has occurred to me that maybe it is a frightening tale in a different sort of way, because when this occurred we were completely unarmed. Beyond that insurmountable obstacle, we were totally unprepared and untrained to even begin to know how to deal with a dangerous politically-motivated situation such as this.
My fellow soldiers and I were on “low-profile” duty and weren’t permitted to wear uniforms to avoid attracting attention to ourselves as the political climate in Bangkok was unrestful due to insurgents trying to whip up anti-American sentiment. There were thousands of posters displayed around the city showing an American eagle shot full of little arrows, which was somewhat intimidating. I arrived in that nation as they were initiating evacuations of Americans and their families, which was also rather frightening.
One sunny afternoon, our Thai bus driver who was transporting us across the city to our 2nd shift work duty location, was told to be sure to avoid a huge Anti-American protest in front of the US Embassy, where insurgents were urinating on our flag and burning it as well. Either he didn’t understand or he didn’t care, but either way, he drove the busload of us straight to the embassy where our bus was stopped amidst the throng of protesters.
Of course, our bus was green and had the letters U.S. Army printed on the sides. We came to a complete standstill for awhile, none of us were armed either. This was the single most scary situation I have ever lived through.
I was 18 years old.
I started to shout to my friends and co-workers who were just as shocked and stunned as I was. “What should we do?” I screamed.
Someone yelled “Lay down on the floor and try to hide!”
So we all slid out of our seats and laid on the floor, praying and silent, hoping we would somehow survive this ordeal. How does one hide from thousands of angry people in a foreign country when trapped on a bus and there is nowhere to do so?
The next thing I felt was the bus beginning to rock, the protesters had noticed that this was a US Army bus and it felt like they were trying to turn it over. Then I heard slamming sounds on the outside of the bus, and heavy items being slung at the vehicle near where I had just been seated a moment ago.
I laid there, heart pounding into my throat, despising the driver who had led us into this nest of danger. Just as I was thinking of him, I heard the bus door open and braced myself for the worst, then I heard the door close again and lifted my head enough to realize the driver was gone.
I felt thankful that he had closed the door behind him to keep out the angry mob, but was worried at what his intentions were. Was he going to sell us out? Did he wish us to suffer? Was he aligned with the protesters? Why did he bring us here when he was specifically warned not to do so?
The door opened again, and I could hear a chorus of Thai voices shouting. The smells of sulfur, gasoline, and things burning wafted in and I seriously began to fight some kind of deep panic welling up inside of me. I lifted my head again to see who or what was on the horizon.
After what felt like an eternity of bus-pounding and rocking, the bus driver returned, and stepped up into the vehicle and sat down in his driver’s seat. I almost felt a dash of relief until several of the protesters followed him, waving their arms, and yelling in loud tones words that I could not understand.
The driver started the engine, sharply spoke back at the individuals who had followed him on to the bus, and they turned around and reluctantly left. He then closed the door and proceeded to drive forward painfully slowly, while the bus continued to be pelted, slapped, slammed and otherwise accosted. After awhile, we had cleared the Embassy and were delivered to our place of employment, weak-kneed and filthy from taking refuge on the dirty bus floor for what seemed like hours, although it had probably only been 30 minutes or so.
To this day I have no idea what the bus driver’s motives were: Was he acting maliciously or did he just not understand the route he was supposed to follow? How did he elude the protest and manage to drive us out of there without any violence toward us soldiers directly other than pounding and rocking the bus? What was said between him and the protesters?
These questions will go down in the category of life’s mysteries. I guess it doesn’t really matter after all, considering that I am here to tell the tale.
Thank you for affording me that privilege.