When I was in Viet Nam in the late 1960s we had this open spot on the post where we’d set up a ballyard. It wasn’t much of a ballyard. It looked out toward some barracks and a helipad. The helipad was in use and we had to stop more than one game while the choppers kicked up dust all over the field. Someone found a bunch of old metal poles that weren’t in the best of shape, but were more or less round. We found a guy who could weld them together to form a backstop frame, then somebody scrounged some chicken wire (and we all had enough sense not to ask where he got it) and managed to create a reasonably acceptable backstop. There wasn’t a lot of grass so we didn’t need a mower, but we still needed a shed. So lumber was found (again I knew not to ask where it came from), nails were procured and we put together a really ugly-looking shed that had four wall, a roof, a door with a couple of rusty hinges holding it on the shed. We found some paint, of course it was Army olive drab green, painted the thing, and we had our version of a baseball Taj Mahal. Inside we stored three bases we’d gotten through the USO, some chalk that someone had appropriated from a supply unit, a spreader that looked a lot like those grass spreaders you see used on suburban lawns all over the country (except it was also olive drab), and an umpire’s chest protector. And that was it.
Well, except for one thing. Moses (his real name) taped up a Playboy centerfold on the inside of the door. It was some obscure actress that never amounted to much in the movies. I don’t even remember her name. But, as he pointed out, it was nicer to look at than the spreader.
We played ball there for a while then came a big mortar attack that shredded a lot of the post (I wrote about the incident and its fallout in a post titled “They Mortared the Ballyard” on 30 May 2012), including my tent and the ballyard. After cleaning up our own messes, a bunch of us headed over to the ballyard to check on things. Moses was with us. There was shrapnel imbedded in the backstop, a mortar round had landed squarely on the spot where third base would normally reside, and of course the shack was a wreck. We figured it had been hit at least twice.
Moses got to the shack first and started pulling it apart. The spreader was in pretty good shape, the ump’s chest protector was a wreck, there was chalk everywhere, and there was a big piece of shrapnel stuck right in the center of one of the bases. It was awful. Then we heard from Moses, “They nuked my girl.”
This was a crisis. We only used “nuked” when something was beaten up beyond repair. All of us ran over to him. He reached down, pulled up the remains of the centerfold, and started crying. There were three holes in the paper, one up around her head, one down close to her feet, and a third somewhere around her staple. (None were in a place for an off-color joke, which I would have lovingly stuck in at this point.) Moses was crying. “They nuked my girl,” he repeated.
Now you have to understand the position of the pin-up in the life of a GI in Viet Nam. Everybody had one. My unit officially allowed two, one attached to the inside lid of the footlocker, the other on the inside door of the wall locker. I had both. Mine inside the footlocker was Ruta Lee (picture above, but not the same shot I had). I met her at some event or other (a USO tour I think) where she’d signed a bunch of pictures, personalizing each, and I got one. The one in the wall locker was some centerfold whose name I don’t recall. But for us the pin-up was “my girl.” (and if you had pictures of two only one was “my girl”) It didn’t matter you’d never met her (although I’d actually met Ruta Lee), or that you were never likely to meet her, or that she never even knew you existed, she was still “my girl”, and a curse could be leveled on anyone who said anything about her. And now someone had “nuked” a “my girl” We all knew at that point that the Viet Cong were the epitome of evil. (You can get a sense of this if you watch the movie “Stalag 17” and pay attention to “Animal” and his love affair with Betty Grable.)
Moses was inconsolable. We offered to find him another picture of the girl, but he wouldn’t hear of it. “Wouldn’t be the same,” he told us.
“What? We can find another copy of the same shot.”
He shook his head. “Doesn’t count. It wouldn’t be my girl.”
Somebody finally found him another copy of the same girl in the same pose (Actually it was me and this other guy. We stole it from a stack of Playboys to the USO Club.) and he put it back up in his locker. He never looked at her quite the same and eventually took it down and put up a centerfold of another woman.
We finally got the ballyard back to its former “glory.” We even put up a new shed and patched the ump’s chest protector. Chalk was harder to find, but someone did. We made sure to put up another pin-up shot. We had to find one and someone asked about my Ruta Lee shot. No way I was giving up “my girl” as a target for Charlie (I did give it up when I met my wife). So they stuck up a shot of Annette Funicello, which was still there when I left.