Sgt. Jacks and the Beanstalk
By Chris Oakley
I saw some crazy shit go down while I was in ‘Nam, man, but nothin’ crazier than the day the giant plant popped up out of the ground back in ’67...Anyhow, the whole thing started when my platoon CO, this wet-behind-the-ears second louie who thought he was the next General Patton, called me into his office and said I had to go into town to scrounge for food supplies on account of the resupply helo that was supposed to bring our new K-rations down from Saigon was grounded because of a busted rotor.
So I signed out a jeep from the motor pool and drove into town with about a half-dozen cases of Miller beer because the second louie had this buddy in the Quartermaster Corps who always seemed to get stuff when nobody else could find and he wanted me to make a trade-- the beer for some chow. Well, about halfway there this old Vietnamese guy flags me down and says "Hey, GI, you make deal?" He pointed at the cases of beer and I was scratching my head because I couldn’t for the life of me figure what he could possibly want with it.
Well, it turns out his grandkid was some kind of village big shot who’d just killed a tiger and he wanted the beer for a party they were havin’ in his honor that night. He offered me a handful of beans that he said could grow a whole bean patch quicker than you can say "Nixon’s the one"; I wasn’t sure if I could believe the old-timer or not, but I figured the cook at Battalion HQ could make a nice stew out of it. After being in a firefight for two days straight nobody in my platoon was all that hungry anyway.
So I say "OK", he gives me the beans and I help him put the beer in his oxcart, then I turn the jeep around and head back to base. Well, brother, when the second louie found out what had happened, he let me have it but good; he was so worked up he made my old drill sergeant look like Shirley Temple. He bawls me out for being a disgrace to the Army, not knowing my ass from my elbow, all that jazz. Then he makes like Sandy Koufax and tosses the beans into a nearby rice paddy.
Well, next thing I know, the ground starts shaking like a go-go dancer. I figured either we were havin’ a water buffalo stampede or one of our B-52s had let its bombs go too early, but it wasn’t like that at all. Instead this King Kong-sized plant pops up out of the ground and shoots into the air like a Saturn 5 rocket...
Everybody and his cousin starts runnin’ for cover, just like in those Civil Defense A-bomb drills from the ‘50s. McPherson, our radio guy, beat Roger Bannister’s four-minute mile by at least two minutes, and our ammo guy LeRoux scrammed so far out of sight I think he could have made it to Cam Ranh Bay if he’d wanted to. Even the second louie was heading for the hills-- probably the first smart decision he’d made in years.
Me, I grabbed my M-16 and holed up in one of the guard posts on the perimeter just in case Charlie tried to pull something funny while that plant was actin’ up. This went for about ten or fifteen minutes, and when it was all over the damn thing stretched all the way to the Moon. The second louie radioed battalion HQ for orders about what we should do with the beanstalk; battalion HQ passed it off to division command; division command kicked it upstairs to Westmoreland’s office in Saigon; and Westmoreland called the Pentagon.
We must’ve waited at least six and a half hours for them to tell us our next move. McPherson could have grown a beard in the time it took for the Pentagon’s answer to reach us; ditto our G-2 guy, Belasco. He paced so much I think he wore a hole in the floor of our barracks. But the worst part of it wasn’t the waiting...no, the worst part came when the second louie tells me that the brass hats want somebody to climb that damn stalk all the way to the top-- and guess who’s stuck with that job?!!
It was worse than the time I got malaria from that patrol in Quang Tri back in ’65! The second louie knows I’m a lousy climber (I almost washed out in basic training on account of it) and he tells me to do it anyway! Still, I was as curious as the next guy to find out what was at the top of the beanstalk, so I strapped my field pack on and started scrambling up to the top. About halfway up the air started gettin’ kind of thin and I was starting to wonder if maybe I should’ve joined the Navy instead...
...and then I got to the top of the beanstalk and would you believe it, there was this giant castle about ten klicks away. Honest to God! It made the Hearst Mansion look like a tenement shack. Soon as I laid eyes on the sucker, I wished I’d brought my Super 8 home movie camera with me when I first shipped out from the States-- I could’ve taken some great films of that joint, let me tell you. So I started to walk up to it to see if anybody was home....
....I almost keeled over when I laid eyes on the front door. Christ, that thing was bigger than Mount Everest! The whole time I was looking at it, I thought: I’d hate to be the poor delivery guy who has to ring the doorbell at THIS address. Lucky for me whoever owned the joint had left the door open a crack, or I might have been stuck out there all day long!
So I sneak in to scope out the rest of the joint, and I’m trying to raise platoon HQ on my walkie-talkie when I hear this guy who sounds like Lurch from The Addams Family with a hangover bellow "FEE FI FO FUM!" You’d think I’d be scared as hell by something like that, but all I can think about is how totally friggin’ dumb that line sounds. Even Jacqueline Susanne could’ve written better dialogue than that, for cryin’ out loud!
Then WHOMP! this big boot comes out of the ceiling about two klicks behind me, and I started to think that maybe I was safer back in the jungle dodgin’ punji stakes and RPGs, ‘cause the guy who was wearing that boot made Bill Russell look like a midget. I mean, he could’ve bench-pressed the Queen Mary with those arms of his-- and for all I knew, maybe he did.
"FEE FI FO FUM!" he goes again, and I’m thinking maybe I’d better haul ass out of there quick, so I duck while he’s trying to grab me and do the 800-meter dash down the hall to what looks like an empty storeroom...
....only it’s not really empty. There’s a big wooden table inside, see, and on top of it’s sittin’ a goose the size of a Volkswagen that was laying honest-to-God 24 karat solid gold eggs! For a second or two I thought maybe I was on one of those LSD trips Timothy Leary used to talk about! But damn if that gold egg didn’t turn out to be real when I got a better look at it.
Then I heard this real soft music comin’ from the other side of the room; it sounded kinda like Liberace, only it was being played on a harp instead of a piano. So I looked around to see where the harp was at, and next thing I know I’m layin’ eyes on this chick who looks like Ann Margaret, Marilyn Monroe, and Catherine Deneuve all rolled into one. I mean, she was stacked like you wouldn’t believe! I couldn’t figure out what a dish like that was doin’ with that jerk who’d just tried to squash me flat till she started givin’ me the straight dope on why she was hanging out there.
Turns out the guy had her under what you might call a long-term exclusive contract to be his personal jukebox, only she wasn’t happy with the gig and wanted out. So I said, "How about you and me both blow this Popsicle stand right now?" By the look on her face I could tell she liked the sound of that idea, so I made room in my field pack for the harp and we both started tip-toein’ real quiet back to the vine; the goose, who wanted outta there just as bad as we did, tagged along right behind us.
Things were working out okay until the guy with the King Kong-sized boots figured out we’d made a break for it. No sooner than did I start to get on the vine to climb back down to platoon HQ than you-know-who lets out a really loud "FEE FI FO FUM!" I damn near had a heart attack over that. Quicker than you can say "lock and load" me, the harp girl, and the goose were scrambling down that beanstalk back to platoon HQ with the harp girl’s ex tryin’ to catch up to us.
Soon as we get back to headquarters I tell the second louie that I need a flamethrower or a chainsaw and I need it NOW. He must’ve been as spooked by the big guy as I was, because instead of giving me a hard time he just says "OK" and tells Belasco to grab one from the armory. Soon as I get my hands on it, I start sprayin’ away at the root of the beanstalk trying to burn a hole through that thing. Not an easy job to do, trust me....
The big guy was about halfway down the stalk when my flamethrower finally managed to punch through to the other side of the root. I yelled "Timber!" and everybody made tracks to the nearest ditch or bunker. The stalk tipped over like a drunk at an officers’ banquet and started falling sideways....
You could figure out by the way he was hollerin’ as he fell off the stalk and went sailing through the air that Mr. Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum didn’t like what was happening one little bit. Well buddy, I thought, that’s your problem; considering that he’d tried to squish me like a roach and he’d treated the harp girl worse than Cinderella had it from the ugly stepsisters, I didn’t have a whole lot of sympathy left over for him if you get my drift.
He must’ve been goin’ at least 500 mph when he finally hit the ground, and believe me he hit it HARD. It was like one of those meteors my science teacher used to talk about back in junior high; the ground was shaking again, just like it did when that crazy beanstalk started comin’ up out of the ground in the first place. Some geology professor at USC thought it was an earthquake, but that’s another story....anyway, when the shaking stopped, me, the harp chick, the second louie and the rest of the guys in my platoon walked up to the crater the big goof had made when he landed.
While we’re all standin’ around gawkin’ at it, the second louie gets a phone call from Saigon; soon as he hangs up, he turns around and says Westmoreland wants to see me pronto and I should wear my Class A dress uniform to the meeting. I couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was for until I got off the plane at Tan Son Nhut Airport and the general’s jeep arrived to take me to his office. Well, it turns out that when I chopped the beanstalk down and it fell over, the tip of the sucker landed right smack on top of Ho Chi Minh’s palace with Ho still inside-- squashed him like a grape!
The long and the short of it was, Westmoreland wanted to pin a medal on me for taking out Uncle Ho. And not just one of those dinky little good conduct ribbons either; this was the actual, honest-to-God Medal of Honor we were talkin’ about here!
When I got back to the States me and the harp girl were practically celebrities....everybody from LBJ to Dick Cavett was callin’ up on the phone wanting to meet me. I must’ve gotten offers from every studio in Hollywood, not to mention all the magazines that were poundin’ on my door wanting interviews and all that stuff. I even had some bigshots in politics sendin’ me letters saying that I should run for Congress after I got out of the Army.
I must’ve been on Johnny Carson at least five times after the giant bought it; come World Series time they flew me up to Boston to throw the first pitch. With the money I made from tellin’ my story of how I knocked off the giant, I bought a sweet little penthouse out in Lower Manhattan-- the super in that building wasn’t too keen at first on havin’ the goose around on account of it went against his "no pets" policy, but after I slipped him a fistful of 100’s he changed his tune real quick...