by Jim Tolbert
I came down the stairs one morning and there it
was. A crude, somewhat cryptic, little sign with big white letters:
Gold and Silver if you have,
You can keep for manager,
That to loose in your room,
Who to indemnify my Hotel,
No understand please.
It hung there on the wall at the foot of the stairs, over that area where
the old Papa San washed the towels. Madam Kim and two of the girls were
sitting on a mat below the sign, next to the wash rack, eating. "What's
with the sign?", I ask, pointing to the wall, and looking at Mama San.
"Him no pay no can stay. Number ten GI. Him number hucking ten". Then she
went into her story as if playing charades. She pulled her hair with one
hand, beat her chest with the other, and all the while, spitting beatlenut
juice and rice. I fully expected her to choke or strangle if she didn't
stop talking, eating or chewing that damn beatlenut. She didn't stop
either, so I backed up a step, and listened to her story.
She was having a running gun battle with one-eyed Billy Gatens, one of
Delta's radio operators. He had spent the night, hung his necklace on the
mosquito bar, and the Co he was with stole it. When Billy discovered his
gold chain missing, all hell flew into him. He came charging down the
stairs and confronted Mama San and all the girls, who were lounging around
the charcoal cooking breakfast. He grabbed the girl he was with, and
ripped off one of her necklaces. Mama San said he was Dinky Dow. Then he
jumped into the middle of the charcoal fire cussing and kicking. Cooking
pots, pans, and bowls flew in every direction, and five screaming whores
un-assed the place.
Mama San went on with her story. She had stopped eating now and was really
into it. One of the girls who could read and write some English had made
this sign, and now everyone was being put on notice. She would not be
responsible for anything you lost in your room. To my knowledge, no one
had ever lost anything before this incident, and the old Korean's wife was
making sure it didn't happen again.
The Kim Song Hotel was a whore house. It didn't start out that way but
that's what it became. I found the place one Sunday afternoon when sifting
thru the sights of downtown Nha Trang. It was just around the corner from
Marie Kim's, on the Pho Dung Pho, which means side street in Vietnamese. I
had been putting away a few at Marie's, and became bored with the
inactivity. Things were so quiet in Nha Trang, and my little section of
the war seemed so distant, it could have been Cancun Mexico.
Marie Kim's in downtown Nha Trang
I first noticed the electronics in the single window of this small two
story stucco. It sparked my interest because that's what I trained on for
so many years. The owner, who was Korean, caught me looking, and came
running up to make a sale. I really didn't want to buy anything, just talk
shop with a fellow radio man, but this guy wouldn't give up. Before I
could get away, he had commanded someone bring up a table and two chairs,
and from out of nowhere, cold beer. That was my first taste of Ba-mua-ba,
33. Some folks said it had formaldehyde in it. I don't know, but I sure
got embalmed that day.
We drank away the afternoon and talked; This Korean opportunist, who had
come to Vietnam seeking his fortune, and a homesick GI, who would rather
be any place but here. It was the first break I'd had since getting to
Vietnam and I was thoroughly enjoying it. My unit was still on operation
in I Corps, I was on my first 7 day in country R&R, and it was 1967.
No matter what we talked about that day, the Korean would interrupt, and
ask if he could get me anything. In the beginning it was annoying, but by
the time I was shit faced, I kinda liked it. He had become as pushy as the
girls I left selling Tea at Marie Kim's. He wanted to make money, and do
it right now, and had already concluded that anything the market could
stand was ok. And right now, I was the only market he had.
"What this war needs is more pussy and booze", I said. Like all male
conversations, ours had already turned to sex, and I was about to convince
Papa San that what he needed was a whore house.
I guess it was his never give up attitude, coupled with that Southeast
Asian greed that caused him to accept my suggestion so quickly. "GIs will
pay", I continued. "Just look at me, you already got one horny son of a
bitch sitting here buying drinks". The old Korean and I became good
friends. I think of him now as old, but in fact, we were about the same
His first girls were local, right out of the Nha Trang area, untrained,
and right off the farm-rice paddy as it were. Later, as his business
picked up, he started bringing the professionals up from Saigon. Along
with these girls came the trouble. Petty theft between them, an occasional
case of the clap, and fighting between the girls became more frequent. One
of those pros almost broke up his marriage when her belly got big, and she
talked too much. I saved his ass in the interim by convincing Mama San it
was mine, only to loose face when it was born Korean. By then, his wife
had calmed down, and only ran off the girl.
Initially, the Kim Song Hotel was exclusively a Delta Project
establishment. It was their own private whore house, and a home away from
home for many. I had carried the word back to Ahn Hoa, along with some
pictures, and that's all it took. When the operation in I Corps ended, it
resumed at the Kim Song. By that time, Papa San and his quaint little
whore house were both up and running.
For the next year or so, on every standdown, you could always find project
personnel down there kicking back. It was where they unloaded, in more
ways than one. Unwinding from an operation usually consisted of excess
eating, excess drinking, and excess; well, you know the rest. And there
was always that support group thing, where the recon team members sat
around getting shit faced, and talking about their last time in the hole.
For the non-operatives, this didn't take on much significance, but recon
tolerated us anyway.
One Sunday afternoon, Gephard, Dobbins, and myself were lying out on the
small balcony at the Kim Song, watching the street scene below, and eating
some of those oversized shrimp Mama San had burnt on the charcoal. The bay
of Nha Trang produced some of the biggest shrimp I'd ever seen, and the
Vietnamese knew what to do with them. Somewhere down the street a radio
was playing. It was tuned to AFN, and the singer was exclaiming, "It's
such a pretty world today, look at the sunshine, look at the sunshine",
and the sound floated in along with the smell of fermenting Nouc Mam.
Swoosh, swoosh, came the noise, followed by a hysterical scream. And three
bad assed green berets almost killed each other trying to get off that
balcony, and back inside through one door at the same time. The screaming
continued, followed by another swoosh-swoosh, and then came the laughter.
It was coming from somewhere down stairs, but we didn't go down to see
what was taking place. The screaming girl met us on the stairs with
nothing on but a frightened look. She came up three at a time, and right
behind her was George Pruitt with a fire extinguisher, stoned out of his
mind, and laughing his ass off. "It's such a pretty world today, look at
Robinette said to me once, "Jim, if you take two green hornets, and one
dexi, you can go all night". Most of us had a pill kit which contained
some 27 different pills, to include these two which were in the speed
category. And like a dumb ass, I tried it once. I couldn't get down off
the ceiling long enough to even talk to a girl, let alone go anywhere.
George Pruitt was having that same problem. He had popped a couple of
hornets along with a dexi, drank all afternoon, and was still on the
It takes a great deal to stop a Green Beret once he's on a mission. It
took three of us just to hold George. I don't know what his mission was
that day. Maybe it was to cool off the whore so he could handle it or
maybe he was just playing fireman. But it took a lot of doing to get that
extinguisher and calm him down. We quieted the girl down too, with the
price of a short time, and the promise to hold Pruitt.
One evening during the monsoon season, when the whole world was off
limits, and everyone waited for an expected VC attack, Pruitt and I were
hiding out at the Hotel. We thought we were the only Americans in town
until Papa San knocked on our door and told us there was a crazy American
wanting to get inside. They always locked the doors late at night and
didn't open them again until morning. When we opened the door, there stood
a young skinny American with horn rim glasses. He was dressed in black
pajamas, and was wearing one of those conical hats. He looked like a big
VC who had bleached out. SP4 Joe Walker, newly assigned to the project,
had just arrived in a Cycle-lo. "Damn, this guy's got balls. How'd he get
through all those roadblocks? I want him on my team", George said.
There were many places in Nha Trang where SF hung out, the Streamer Bar,
Marie Kim's, the Nautique, and others. But there was only one Kim Song
Hotel. It was Delta's unofficial safe house for 1967-68. A halfway house
for project personnel, somewhere between the war and home. And it was
staffed with the world's best therapists, both physical and psychological.
Many Delta marriages probably owe their survival, and subsequent
longevity, to the little whore house on the Pho Dung Pho, And that may
have been my greatest contribution to the war effort.
For every one who found his way to the Kim Song Hotel, there was at least
one story. For every girl who worked there, there were as many stories as
customers. Some knew some, but the whores knew all. I can only remember a
fraction, and here I've told a couple. "It's such a pretty world today,
look at the sunshine".