Long Tieng, Laos
September 12, 1971
Mark was awakened from a sound sleep by someone banging on the door of his room in the officers’ barracks. At first he didn’t know where he was, but then he came to the realization that he was in the quarters that had been reserved for him by Davis King, the CIA agent in charge at Long Tieng.
Mark had spoken at length with King the previous evening when he arrived at the secret base. He had given King his standard speech about the purpose of his visit, and King hadn’t questioned any of it. Mark suspected that Cheadle had already informed King that Mark was up to something else, but King, like Cheadle, would follow orders and support whatever actions Mark intended to take. Prior to being dropped off at the officers’ barracks, Mark had asked Davis to set up a meeting this morning at 0900 hours with Ross Stockwell, Krit Shinawatra, and Johnnie Kong. Looking at his watch now, he saw that it was only 0730.
The knocking persisted, so Mark pulled on his jeans and made his way across the room. “OK, OK! Hold on; I’ll be right there!”
When Mark opened the door, he was immediately grabbed in a bear hug and lifted into the air by a jubilant Johnnie Kong. “Sa-bai-dee, Mark! Sa-bai-dee, my good friend!”
“Jesus, Johnnie, take it easy! You’re more dangerous than the goddamn Pathet Lao.” Mark broke free of Johnnie’s embrace but then smiled and gave him a gentler hug. “How you doing, you dumb-ass mountain monkey? Did you miss me, or are you just looking for more free magazines?”
“Mark, I read so good now. You should see me read Sports Illustrated. Yeah—I know how to spell Super Bowl: S-U-P-R-B-O-W-L! How you like that?”
“No doubt about it, Johnnie, you’re ready for a job at the State Department. Those guys don’t know anything about the Super Bowl either.”
Mark was truly glad to see his old warrior pal. Johnnie was always smiling and was the kind of friend who would do anything for you. But when the bullets were flying, Johnnie was the guy you wanted on your side. As amiable as he was in a social environment, he was also a focused and deliberate soldier who made the right decisions amid the fog of war.
Mark put on a polo shirt with a Washington Redskins logo, slipped on the black jodhpur boots he’d had handmade in Bangkok, and threw a lightweight flight jacket over his shoulders. To be sure he wouldn’t have any problems moving around the base, he clipped his CIA photo badge to his belt.
“Hey, Johnnie, I brought you a present.” Mark pulled a green baseball cap with a New York Jets logo out of his duffel bag.
“Oh, man, dis da hat that Broadway Joe wearing in my Sports Illustrated magazine. Mark, you see my magazine have story about Joe Willie and Super Bowl Jets? Oh, dis so cool!”
“I remembered how much you enjoyed that issue of SI, Johnnie, but you should know that there have been two Super-Bowl winners since the Jets: the Kansas City Chiefs and the Baltimore Colts.”
“Me no care about them guys—I like air-force jets and New York Jets.” Johnnie quickly put the hat on. Mark knew he would cherish this simple gift. Most of the people in Laos had so little that even owning an American baseball cap meant a lot.
Johnnie and Mark stepped outside the barracks and turned up Long Tieng’s one paved road toward the headquarters building. As they walked, Mark could see two Royal Laotian Air Force T-28 fighters taking off from the main runway. They had several 750-pound bombs under each wing. “Where do you think those guys are headed, Johnnie?”
“Rainy season coming to an end. Pathet Lao are building up near the Plain of Jars. They gonna make a run at Long Tieng pretty soon. T-28s don’t do shit—we want Phantoms and B-52s.”
“Well, Johnnie, we’re going to have to leave that fighting to somebody else. I have a job I need to do, and I need your help.”
“OK, Mark, let’s get some chow first.”
In the officer’s mess tent, Mark and Johnnie picked up trays, silverware, and plates and made their way toward the bins filled with pancakes, bacon, scrambled eggs, and rice. Today was a very good day at the mess tent because they also had some fresh fruit. After filling their glasses with orange juice and topping off stoneware mugs with coffee, they sat down to enjoy their reunion and talk about the future.
As Mark looked around, he was reminded of the unique nature of the fighting force in Laos. Raven FAC pilots with cowboy hats and handlebar mustaches were sitting next to Hmong officers in uniforms that blended Laotian military garb with traditional tribal headbands and scarfs. Laotian Air Force pilots lined up to get their food dressed in flight suits, and Thai infantry officers walked through the tent in camouflage combat fatigues and carrying pistols in leather shoulder holsters. It was really a makeshift army fighting a determined and numerically superior enemy.
After a leisurely breakfast, they dumped their dirty plates and utensils on a table where Hmong women collected the items to be cleaned and walked the final block to the headquarters building. Hmong guards saluted as they entered. Mark led Johnnie up the stairs to the office of Davis King.
“Mark, how are you doing?” Davis asked. “Hope you got a good night’s sleep in the Long Tieng Hilton.”
“It was a pretty good sleep until my little buddy over here came crashing through the door.”
Davis laughed and turned to Johnnie. “Johnnie, I like that hat. You’re not going to wear it when you’re on patrol, are you?”
“Oh no, Davis. This for when I get dressed up and go with friends, or to good bars in Vientiane. People will think I play football for the New York Jets!”
“Johnnie, at five feet five inches of height, I don’t think anybody’s going to mistake you for an American pro football player.” All three men laughed heartily.
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