Like most large base camps, our base camp in Cu Chi employed indigenous personnel to work many of the non-military job positions. These included operations such as the snack bar, ice house, massage parlor, hooch cleaning, PX and the barber shop. I think in most cases, the South Vietnamese received relatively good pay for their efforts.
Each day, the civilian workers would file through the main gate and head off to their respective work areas. Since few, if any, civilians were allowed on the base after dark, all of the workers filed back out just before dark. I found it amazing just how many civilians worked at the Cu Chi base camp. Sometimes I wondered if any of them were sympathetic with the VC or NVA.
My team spent most of the time in the field and as a result, we had a difficult time staying as squared away as our desk-bound First Sergeant required. By “squared away” I mean fresh haircuts, shined boots and clean uniforms. After all, we were living in some pretty crude conditions.
About once every week or so, two members of our team would drive back to the base camp to pickup gasoline, mail, C-rations, ammo, dry-cell batteries, etc. We usually took this opportunity to get a hamburger and soft drink at the snack bar, pickup personal items at the PX and get a haircut (individuals risked a good chewing out if their haircut was more than two weeks old).
The barber near our battery area was a real character. He was a small man, maybe 5′ 6″ and 110 lbs. and had the habit of, well, “indulging” while on the job. Typically, there would be half a dozen or more soldiers sitting in his small shack, waiting for his services. Before the barber started each haircut, he would take a pretty good pull from a whiskey bottle. In addition, he usually had a joint burning in his ashtray. This fellow was pretty well lit by the end of the day, so I tried to get my haircut as early in the day as possible. These barbers used straight razors to trim the hairline and I sure didn’t want any accidents.
In addition to the haircut, Vietnamese barbers typically included a massage of the shoulder and neck areas. They thumped all around our necks with their hands held together. This technique produced an interesting popping or clapping sound. Maybe the sound was just for effect, but it sure felt good – very relaxing. After the massage, they twisted our head left and right, producing interesting cracking noises from the vertebrae. After considering the straight razor and head twisting, I’m real glad the barbers were on our side.