Friday, April 19, 2013

Battlefield, Vietnam - The Great Beer Strike of 1969"

Good morning loyal readers,

During the summer of 1969 I was half way through my first tour in Vietnam.  Unlike, veterans during World War II and the Korean War, Vietnam troops had some luxuries that we felt was our due for putting up with bungi sticks and barbed wire and 100 degree heat accompanied by 90 degree humidity. 

Cigarettes in the Base Exchange (BX) were ten cents per pack, beer was $2.40 cents per 24-can case, the same price as a case of Pepsi or Coke.  Since we paid no excise taxes, a quart of gin, or rum or vodka was $1.10.  But the benefits didn't stop there.  Unlike the poor G.I.'s in the Middle East, thanks to the patriotic support of the American beer companies (or..maybe they just wanted to cultivate our beer habit early), all of the beer companies shipped enough free beer to Vietnam to provide a daily ration of two cans of beer per day, per troop.  We thought this expression of charity was about as good as life got.  While we loved the Red Cross Donut Dollies and the little red Christmas bag with toothbrush and disposable razor from the Red Cross, the free beer was tops with us.

The way distribution went was the First Sergeant would take receipt of our free beer, store it in the unit "day hootch", then throw a 24-hour party one day each month out in an open area of our compound.  As troops came off of their duty, they were free to "beer up".  We also used beer as barter for steaks from "questionable sources" and often had beer and steak cook-outs.  We even rented Saigon bars for a day to host our parties (hostesses extra)  by trading "mama san" six or eight cases of beer to close down the bar to the public for our parties.

Then, one sad day in the summer of '69 the Great American Beer Strike started in the states.  I can't remember if it was union distributors or workers at the breweries themselves but the effects were the same:  a huge plunge in unit morale.  A Budweiser or a Miller or a Pabst Blue Ribbon could not be found anywhere "in-country".  We were all devastated and took our revenge with copious amounts of rum and cokes and vodka-sevens.  But of course, you always crave what you can't have..and we missed our cold beers. 

Then, a few weeks later, two beer company executives stood proudly, saluted the flag, and vowed to somehow get "beer to the troops".  Those two companies were Schlitz and Carling Black Label!  Alas, while we were deeply appreciative of these two beer companies, many missed their Bud and their Pabst.  I'm sad to admit that the efforts of these two fine beer companies did not satisfy the palates of the Bud and Pabst drinkers.  Since we Air Force troops considered ourselves of superior intelligence to the Army pukes we took our massive Schlitz and Carling Black Label rations and traded it to Army mess halls for steaks and other goodies.  We knew the Army troops were bigger beer drinkers and far more desperate for "portable potions".   If I remember correctly we were even able to trade beer for a couple of jeeps.

I can't recall when the beer strike ended but, when it did, the folks at Bud and Pabst expedited our beer rations and we were soon basking in premium suds once again.  For months afterwards one could go to the BX and find pallet after pallet of rusty cans of Carling and Schlitz; it got so bad the BX started discounting it to clear out the backlog.  Some of the more budget conscious guys even bought it because it was so cheap.  What's a rusty can and flat hops when you could get it for half price?

I would hope that somewhere, on some military installation, someone thought enough of Joseph Schlitz and the Carling company to construct a plaque in their honor.  If one exists it would most likely be on an army base. I'm not a big beer drinker these days.  But the next time I'm in an Officers Club I'm going to belly up to the bar and order a Schlitz.  It's the least I can do.


grenadavet said...

Great story!

Anonymous said...

Makes me nostalgic for ye old navy, a pint of grog and throw some millers on the barby ;) jo

JustCommonSense said...

Forgot about the "grog" tradition, jo...guess it helped stave off scurvy, huh? :)

Anonymous said...

LOL! I have read a fair number of war stories and it's details like the ones in your post which make them interesting. Also, when some absurdly ingenious move by a desperate unit wins the day makes many of these stories engrossing to those of us not afflicted with the chick lit gene. jo

Sir. Sparks said...

More stories please.

A Modest Scribler said...

Thank you, Sir.