The Wages of Sin

Bien Thuy Air Base is located a few miles northwest of Cần Thơ —the largest city in the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam. Cần Thơ is best known for its floating markets, its numerous canals, and the manufacture of rice paper. Constructed by the United States during the Vietnam War, the Bien Thuy air facility provide a base of operations for South Vietnamese and American Air Force units, and one extraordinary Navy squadron. The Navy Squadron was VAL-4, a light attack squadron flying OV-10 Broncos in support of American and Vietnamese riverine and ground forces in the low-lying region of the Mekong Delta.

The Navy squadron consisted of about 520 officers and enlisted men: pilots, non-flying officers, mechanics, avionics technicians, and ordnance personnel. The operational tempo was among the highest of any combat squadron in the Vietnam War —which means that the enlisted men were busting their tail to maintain these aircraft in peak condition. It should not surprise anyone that tool control is one important aspect of an efficient aviation maintenance effort because any unaccounted for tool offers the possibility of foreign-object damage to aircraft and personnel.

Bien Thuy is also home to a certain classification of primate known as the Crab-eating Macaque. The animal is has a dark brown color with light golden brown tips on its upper torso, with a grayish color dominating the underside. Its hands and feet are black, sports cheek whiskers, and a brushy mustache. As with all primates, the Crab-eating Macaque is territorial and stingy. Whatever a monkey takes, it keeps and will protect by exhibiting aggressive and physically threatening behavior.

Cigar Chomping Chief 001Few Chief Petty Officers in the Navy are happy, carefree, relaxed, and cheerful people. Quite the opposite is the case with most of these seasoned professionals; after all, they essentially run the United States Navy. They are demanding task masters, refuse to accept “no” as a final answer to something they really want to do, and when a job needs doing, they’re usually the people responsible for seeing it done properly and on time. The maintenance chief was not a happy camper when he realized he was missing tools, and when the tools were unaccounted for, when a thorough search of the area failed to locate these missing implements, he began to suspect that someone was stealing his US government property.

The Chief was right about that —only the thieves weren’t human. A few days of clandestine surveillance revealed that a Crab-eating Macaque was taking these tools. In fact, the monkey made off with whatever he could get his hands on —whatever he could carry into his lair, an abandoned CONEX box one hundred yards from the maintenance shack. The way I heard this story, the chief made every effort to reason with the monkey, to come to some accommodation; an equitable trade perhaps —but the critter was adamant about keeping his new-found toys and would not respond in a positive way to the chief’s coaxing.

Apparently, this denizen of the jungle did not realize that he was dealing with a United States Navy Chief Petty Officer —a veteran of more than 18 years service and one who took his job extremely seriously —a man who was every bit as stingy with his possessions as the monkey was with his.

Yet, the question remained: how could the Chief get his tools back from that damn monkey? There was no doubt that this monkey was a dangerous foe; he had already bared his teeth at anyone approaching his lair and everyone in the maintenance section was convinced this animal would attack them if they tried to reclaim the missing tools. After a few days of deep thought, several nights of serious contemplation at the Chief’s club, the Chief decided that there was only one way to retrieve the misappropriated government property: over the dead body of one belligerent Crab-eating Macaque.

Monkey 002Still, terminating a monkey with extreme prejudice aboard a very busy military aerodrome would not be a piece of cake —even if he was, as the Chief suspected, working undercover for local Viet Cong. It was not as if the Chief could simply shoot the little bastard. A base reaction force tended to exhibit an immediate and violent response to the sound of gunfire. The Chief considered building a cage trap, but discarded that idea —monkeys are not stupid. No, there was only one way to get that rascal.

One afternoon, the chief noted that the monkey was perched in a nearby tree, keeping a close eye on the long table set up inside the maintenance shack; the greedy little shit was looking for more toys. So the Chief left him a new toy: a brand new, never used, M26A1 fragmentation grenade. The Chief saw the monkey approach the table, snatch the grenade, and scamper off to his lair. As soon as the monkey entered the CONEX box, sailors rushed to close and seal the doors. Now it was only a matter of time before curiosity ended this battle of wits.

Of course, the Chief denied rumors that he executed the monkey. As far as he was concerned, the monkey’s demise was suicide —and an important reminder to monkeys everywhere that the wages of sin is death.

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