A Language He Understood

When the taxi passed through the main gate at Tan Son Nhut Air Base near Siagon the driver should have turned left and taken the shortest route into the city. But the driver turned right instead and took a longer, less traveled road toward Siagon, by way of a rubber plantation.

During the Viet Nam War my brother-in-law, Jack Lambert, then a captain, later a colonel, was stationed for a year at Tan Son Nhut. Normally he would have taken a Navy bus to his quarters in Siagon but he had worked late, it was after 10, and now he had to take a cab.

Capt. Jack E. Lambert
Capt. Jack E. Lambert

The wrong turn made Jack nervous, because three American officers had simply disappeared from the air base. Had they been kidnapped? By a taxi driver? No one ever knew what happened to them.

Jack tapped the driver on the shoulder, pointed back in the other direction, away from the rubber plantation.

“I told him to turn around and go back.”

But the driver kept going.

He told Jack, “No good.” But did he really understand what Jack wanted him to do?

When the driver missed a second turn, and headed toward the coast, Jack was more persuasive –he pulled a .45 caliber pistol and put it against the man’s head, behind his ear.

Now the driver understood perfectly. He turned around and took the shorter route.


“He did a 180,” Jack said. “I would have shot him if he had kept going.”

Coming Monday: A New Boy