Thursday, May 10, 2012

Baseball Tournaments Continue and The Death of "Surfer Joe"

The Tournament Trail Continues____

As I headed to Convoy around 3:30 yesterday afternoon I noticed a few bands of showers forming throughout the route....Showers?  It wasn't really supposed to rain...but once again Mother Nature decided to take a different course....I drove through several spots of rain.  One west of Rockford along the St. Marys River on US 33, another by the tiny berg of Glenmore in southern Van Wert County, and a few more spotty areas of rain as I approached the Crestview High Schools baseball/softball complex.

My old buddy Jim, my partner for the game, was already in the lot when I arrived at 4:15 or so....the showers had moved out, but a west wind could be felt in the partly cloudy 65 degree temperatures.  We walked over to the diamond, talked to the coaching staffs, received a supply of baseballs for the game, and got paid...there would be few surprises this day, the coaches, players, and fans, all knew each other well, and all knew or at least have watched Jim and I umpire many times at this park, and with these teams over the years.

Lincolnview's Lancers, on Crestview's turf, would be the underdogs....the records said as much...but the Lancers would give the homestanding Knights all the wanted before falling 5-3 in a game played in just under two hours.  I thought I had a good strike zone, and Jim didn't miss a beat...only one strange call, that being a "Ball Lodged in Equipment"  call by Jim as he noticed a ball get caught in the catcher's chest protector....he moved the runners for Crestview to 2nd and 3rd, both would score on a double to right, and that would end the scoring.  Crestview will move to to the Coldwater D4 District against St. Henry next week, I will likely have the plate in that semi-final contest.  We move to three man umpiring crew for the Districts, and Garry will be joining me and veteran Ed from St. Marys in the 3 game set.   Jim on the other hand will be working the Districts as well....his farther north in Bryan, near the Michigan State line.

No game on my schedule tonight....just a Freshman double header for tomorrow at Celina, and then the District will end my Spring or not, this season has flown by.

The Death of "Surfer Joe" Godfrey_____

Way back in late December 1969, I was transferring from Nha Trang to Tan Son Nhut Air Base midway through my Vietnam tour.... looking back it seems amazing how many days and gray hairs have I went through since those days?

I was assigned to "C Flight" Security upon arrival, that would be overnight work on the dark, foreboding perimeter....I quickly settled in at the huge complex.  Tan Son Nhut was much larger than Nha Trang, and instead of day shift Law Enforcement, I would work overnights in the towers and bunkers of Echo Sector...the site of death and attacks from the NVA and VC during the previous 4 years.

One of the first people I would meet was a character who had been with the 377th SPS, working security since the spring of 1967...Chris Godfrey was his named....I chose to call him "Surfer Joe", after all he had that California look about him.  "Joe" had been in-country for nearly 3 years by the time I arrived, and would stay for a few months past my departure date of 29 June 1969....3 1/2 years working Security, including being on duty the night of the TET Offensive in late January 1968.

Godfrey was, to me at least, your prototypical California guy.   He had obviously been working on his tan for his entire Vietnam tour, his hair was streaked with either natural or "summer blond", and he was into the newer "head" music{as we called it back them} of Led Zeppelin, Cream, and that ilk, rather than the California sound, from the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean.  Chris, like many of us, could be found afternoons around the base pool, just a stones throw from the 377th SPS Barracks...we all, at least the white guys, would spend hours before heading off to our night shift, working on our tans.

Chris "Surfer Joe" Godfrey, if there are records to show, probably spent more time with the 377th SPS in Saigon/Tan Son Nhut, that any man in history...some spent 2 tours and even three tours in Vietnam, but Chris spent 3 and 1/2 tours{years} at Tan Son Nhut, in succession.  I left that summer of 1970, Chris headed home a few months later...I never saw him again, but I did hook up with him through the VSPA{Vietnam Security Police Association} and "talked" with him via e-mail on more than a few occasions over the past decade....he passed away this past Monday: 

I just hope that his family realize or come to realize what a legend, although he would never admit it,  that he was to many men who came and went during his long tenure at Tan Son Nhut....God Rest Your Soul Brother!

Photos-From Parkway Independent Photographer Pat Agler, me working the plate, and coach Schumm working me at the Shawnee Sectional last Saturday....Bunker 51 site of death and mayhem at Tan Son Nhut on 31 January 1968....Chris Godfrey was there before and long after TET, me in early 1970 heading out on Charlie Flight....and The VSPA, where  Chris Godfrey, and many others have hooked up with old comrades over the years.


Thom Bell said...

I too was saddened by the news of the passing of my dear friend Chris Godfrey. I first met Chris in December 1968 upon my arrival at Tan Son Nhut, AB, RVN in his cubicle in hut # 1306. My cube was just inside the back door on the right side, Chris was on down in the middle. I had purchased a refrigerator at the BX and was selling beer and pop by my second day in country; Chris had the only hot plate in a ten mile radius. One morning I smelled scrambled eggs and ham in the hooch and with 2 beers in hand, flip flops and skivies headed down to Chris's cube. Chris and his bunk mate Don Seagraves were enjoying a delicious breakfast of c-rations of ham and eggs with tobassco sauce. After a short introduction I traded the 2 beers for some breakfast and conversation. Chris and I became fast friends after that. His wealth of in country knowledge became extremely useful to me and I think he enjoyed my entrepenuer spirit. He introduced me to the dark side of Saigon, the wheeling and dealing and money making business of which he had become a master. The black market was alive and well and quite profitable. I could get more descriptive but out of respect, I won't. Chris rotated back in the summer of 1970, one month before me in July. Even though I still had 9 months of service left he invited me to come out to California after my discharge. I did and we hooked up again in yet another adventure in Security. He had connections with a security firm that provided professional security officers for hollywood personalities and he wanted me to join with him being my immediate supervisor. He wanted someone he could trust to be his right hand man. I had the opportunity to meet Elvis and Pricilla, Jim Brown (Cleveland Browns), Rod Sterling, Rod Taylor, Art Linkletter, Sammy Davis Jr., Sandy Duncan, Artie Johnson (Laugh In), John Wayne (the Duke) and hundreds of others.
Chris' brother Pat wanted to teach me how to be a gigalo to the rich single women of LA. I passed on that idea but sometimes wonder where that may of taken me. I left California in 1974 after 3 years of incredible learning experiences and the building of a wonderful friendship that would continue right up to Chris' passing. I would not have missed it for anything. I will remember Chris Godfrey for the rest of my life.

Thom Bell, Middletown, OH

PRH....... said...

I'm trying to picture my VSPA Buddy Thom Bell as a Hollwood Gigalo .... Now that I've got that disturbing photo out of my head, I cannot add much to your story, except to say this.

I met Chris, in late December of 1969 a full year later than you, I was bunked with a Hispanic guy, who for some reason his name escapes me,in the upstairs of the same barracks{what was our number?}. I also hung with Joe Aceavedo, we had our own adventures in downtown Saigon. I left TSN in late June of 70, spending 6 months there, after my tour at Nha Trang....Chris, or "Surfer Joe" as I tagged him, was for sure a California Dude, and with his experience, he knew the ropes, and let the rest of us know them....I'm just glad to have had the chance to find him via VSPA and E-mail over these past decade. He was indeed, one of a kind!