I had just arrived in Vietnam when I encountered Sara. If a dictionary contained the words 'douche bag', it would have Sara's photo after it. This expression became part of my vocabulary when I was in my early teens long before I had any concept of what it meant. I certainly never expected to encounter one, nor did I have any vision of what that person or thing would be like. I just liked the sound of it. There are certain expressions that seem both versatile and appropriate, and douche bag is one of the better insults I've come across. I have used it on rare occasions over the years, but never seriously as a mean insult. It is just one of those fun-to-use insults that has both humorous and disgusting associations. I've been called it, and I've said it to my male friends over the years, never attaching a gender to what I was saying, but nevertheless rarely directing it towards any of my female friends. Scumbag and dirt bag are close relatives to douche bag, and if I had to choose one, being a scumbag seems like the worst.
Sara was a U.S. Army nurse and a first lieutenant stationed at Cam Ranh Bay. (Sara wasn't her real name, but you can't be too careful these days.) It was my first full day 'in-country,' and I was wandering around the base trying to acclimate, which is important when one is in a war zone for the first time. Everyone has first impressions of going to war, and my most memorable from those early days involved Sara and a number of her friends.
The word on the street was that there were movies being shown in one of the hooches in this case a metal Quonset hut. I found out later that the military customs inspectors checked for contraband in the luggage of solders that were rotating home after their tour. A considerable number of pornographic movies were confiscated as contraband, and rather than dispose of them, these movies found their way into various personal and unofficial base film libraries. Later in my tour I was stationed at Vung Tau where the customs guys operated a mini theatre and charged admission to view the confiscated movies. I've always wondered what happened to those libraries when we pulled out of Vietnam. Their size had to be considerable after more than 10 years of confiscations.
It was a sunny and hot December afternoon, and I had free time with little to do, so I wandered into the appropriate Quonset hut. It was dark inside except for a small movie screen that was approximately 5' x 5' with flickering black and white images of two naked women doing things to each other that I had only heard of through rumors and speculation. A year or so later, back in the states, I covertly attended an x-rated drive-in movie showing a film titled 'Hard On the Trail,' but that was tame compared to what I was seeing here.
Okay, so it was late in the 60's and the age of free love had been well established, but this was not what I expected. I was a conservative, straight-laced Air Force captain and married man from the Midwest who had led a rather sheltered life up to that point, not smoking, drinking, or doing drugs, and rarely associating with anyone who did. I had never seen a porn movie, never been involved in anything kinky, never tried or even smelled marijuana and didn't know anyone who did. Both my older and younger sisters allegedly smoked a joint from time-to-time, but that was their business. They didn't do it around me. I guess they knew I wouldn't approve, and they didn't want to be disrespectful.
As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I began to make out silhouettes of people people who were hooting, laughing and making lewd remarks about the movie. These people were women. There were guys in the small audience of perhaps 25 people, but the first two rows were all women. Some were sitting on the floor and some on folding chairs. I'd known military nurses when I was stationed in Mississippi, and had two nurse friends there. I tried to make a mental association with these nurses, but I wasn't having any success. These were wild women or so I was inclined to believe.
The most vocal of the women was, I found out later, named Sara. She was making comments about the women in the movie that would have embarrassed sailors on shore leave. I was fascinated, much like the first time a kid goes to the zoo, both with the movie, and with Sara. I never did actually meet Sara. In fact I didn't meet anyone then. But I did acquire an indelible memory imprint of that experience, and my life would never be quite the same again. But that is what experiences do they alter your life in subtle or no-so-subtle ways. This experience was in the latter category.
Later that evening I was in what served as the officers' club with some of my group of C-7A Caribou pilots, many of whom I knew from our C-7 flight training in Abilene, Texas. Hanging around the bar were about a half dozen female officers who appeared too self-assured and comfortable to be new arrivals. These were seasoned veterans of Vietnam which means they had been there longer than we had. In order to have status in Vietnam, you had to have been there for a while. The longer you stayed there, the more status you acquired. Rank was somewhat important, but time in country was how you got status. A newly arrived major didn't get nearly the same respect as a lieutenant who had been in-country 11 months. If you were a two-tour vet, you got serious respect. I once met a three-timer staff sergeant and he had more respect than the pope.
The women at the club were loud and boisterous, exhibiting the requisite "we're seasoned veterans so we're better than you" behavior. Once this ritual wore thin, the inevitable mingling began. It wasn't long before it became clear that these were the same women who had been watching the videos, and they were proud of it. After the usual "Where ya from?", "What do you do?", and "Where are ya' bein' sent?" questions, conversation settled down to the exploratory kinds of verbal exchanges that horny men and women do in bars late at night.
Now let it be said that, up until this point in my 29 years, I had never picked up a woman in a bar or had a one-night stand with any woman I'd just met. Let me also make it clear that nothing happened this particular night to change that. I cannot say the same for my fellow pilots. Most were younger and most were single. However none of them got lucky that night either. I think it was the women's plan to put us 'newbees' in our place by flirting with us and then going home with male veterans who had pretty much been ignoring them up until that time. Around midnight, Sara, with a veteran fighter pilot in tow, swaggered out of the bar like a biker chick that had just won first prize in an ass-kicking contest. I never saw her again, and I shipped out the next day to my duty assignment in Vung Tau.
Some years after the Vietnam conflict ended I became a fan of the Rambo movie series. The first movie of the series, 'First Blood', was my favorite, and I have a copy of it. Every time I've watch it I've thought about Sara. She was a social Rambo. I never was formally introduced to Sara, but if I had been, I'm certain that it would not have been a memorable experience for her. I'm not sure why it was such a memorable experience for me. I had a lot of unforgettable experiences that year in Vietnam, and the Sara experience seemed to have been the icebreaker. I guess it's a lot like getting into a fight. The first punch, when you don't expect it, is the most striking. It's not like Sara was a life-changing experience for me, but Vietnam certainly was, and Sara was the first act. Thanks Sara, where ever you are, for bringing reality to an old insult. I hope you found happiness.