A+ A A-

Mike Vouri: The Mustache

  • Written by Mike Vouri

March 29 was Vietnam Veterans Day I was surprised to learn on the dawning of that day. Whoa, got me there. Thought about it for a while. What could I come up with here about my experience there 1968-69 in the Mekong Delta? 

And then I remembered the photograph albums my sister Denise and I plowed through this past November. They belonged to our mother, who had passed away the year before. Neither of us wanted the albums, so we decided to plumb them for the images that meant the most to each of us rather than our parents’ vacation shots or photos of backyard improvements.

Among those relating to me, we found several images that I sent home from Nam, including these copies of Polaroid images for my military ID  taken by the security police at Binh Thuy Air Base. This was where we would take the O-1 Bird Dog airplanes (on which I was a crew chief) for periodic inspection (every 100 hours) or rest overnight after a late operation or whatever. 

I spent my tour as one of 10 members of an Air Force tactical air control party that coordinated air operations with the army. We lived and conducted our business with Special Forces Camp B-43 in Cao Lanh, a province capital situated on a tributary of the Mekong River. The commander was a guy named Lt. Col. Joe Callahan, a burly, top soldier who had mischievous streak, especially when it came to pencil-necked Air Force crew chiefs. 

The photos are all about him.

The first was taken in December 1968 on the occasion of my promotion to sergeant (count the stripes) at the tender age of 20. Callow, serious, maybe a touch amused. They issued my card and gave me one of the images which were spit out of the camera in duplicate. I sent it home to mom. 

A few months later I decided to grow a mustache. This pathetic thing was a second attempt. I  shaved the first off months before during a nasty cold. It was more hint at virility than anything else. But that didn’t stop Joe Callahan from sidling up to me in the lounge one evening. (For those ready to raise alarms about military protocols, there were only 40 Americans in B-43 so officer and enlisted shared and usually behaved themselves.)

“What’s that on your lip, sergeant?” Callahan asked.

I explained that I was growing a mustache.

“Let me see your ID,” he demanded.

No mustache, of course. He suggested that I either shave it off or get a new ID card. My stubborn streak took over. No way I was shaving! That night I proposed swapping the next periodic maintenance trip to the air base with my brother crew chief, Nolan Campbell from Tolar, Texas. Nolan toyed with me for a few days (and long evenings) before agreeing. Meanwhile, it was the talk of the compound. 

“Where’s that ID card?” Callahan would ask at every turn.

Finally I made it to Binh Thuy, walked into Security police with my odd-ball request and they gave me a hard time as well.

“We don’t take new mustache photos,” they said.

I spent the night on the base without the new card, dreading my return to B-43 and Callahan. I would have to shave, no doubt and lose face. But when I returned with my pilot in the morning to pick up our weapons (checked in the day before) they guided me in front of the camera.

“Ain’t no army colonel gonna mess with you, sarge!”

So there it was. As you can see by the image I was way more sober. My mom got that one as well, writing a couple of weeks later, “What’s that under your nose? Did you scrape yourself?” 

When I triumphantly offered to show my ID to Callahan that evening, he regarded me with deadly earnestness and said:

“What do I care?” 

The entire lounge fell apart laughing. 

I’d been had.

Happy Vietnam Veterans Day to all my brother and sister vets…with love and respect…whether you have a mustache or not.

- Mike

Last modified onSunday, 31 March 2024 00:00