continued Another time, one of our patrols brought in an entire Jarai village with severe medical problems. One poor little girl had an awful skin disease. From her neck to her toes she looked like a french- fried onion ring. Our medics had to wrap her in bacitracin for six months to cure her.
These people not only did not know Vietnamese, they had never heard the word "Vietnam." They didn't know what soap was.
The patrol brought them into the compound in the back of a two-and-a-half-ton truck. The driver let down the tailgate of the truck, and they just stood there, the men in loincloths, their legs dusty to the knees, the women barebreasted, wearing long, tight, shiny black skirts. At that point my Jarai was limited to "Hiam droi jian muon," or "Hi! How are you?" and "Ih djup hot moh?" or "Would you like a cigarette?" So I went with the French and nervously said things like, "Mes amis, por favor, departez le camion!" See, 'cause I got a bit rattled. They stood in the back of the truck and looked at me in wonderment, but they moved not an inch.
Ray Slattery, our senior demolitionist and supply sergeant, a man of great practicality, not to mention wit and savoir faire, approached the truck and said, "C'mon, babe, get off da muddafuggin' truck!" and they all hopped off and followed him to the tent area we had prepared for them.
Years later, I edited a magazine called Eagle, which was a kind of Soldier of Fortune clone. One of my writers was another Special Forces legend, Jim Perry, who had been the first commander of the Golden Knights, the U.S. Army's world-champion parachute team. Perry had been in Laos and Vietnam, as well as having served in Panama. I sent him to El Salvador. Before he left I asked him, "How's your Spanish?"
He replied, "When I ask for a beer, I get a beer. When I ask for a taco, I get a taco."
"Okay," I said. "You're good to go."