During the Vietnam War, my stepfather, John Adams, was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army. As such, he was responsible for the lives of a number of men, including his own, and he took this responsibility very seriously. For many soldiers, the Vietnam Conflict is a hard thing to discuss, and John is no different. What little you can get out of him is not very pretty, and tends to showcase the horrors of a conflict many people think the United States was foolish to be part of.
John agrees but, as was his duty, he went to Vietnam and did his job to the best of his ability. He saw many good men die, and carries many scars from this era of his life. However, I'd like to share a story he once told me that brings humor and light to a dark era of our country's history.
One day, John and a few of his men were invited by a local tribal chieftain to have dinner with his tribe. A commanding officer from the NVA and some of his men were also invited, as this chieftain was neutral in the conflict, and both sides were asked not to bring any weapons with them. John never told me if his men or the NVA men abided by this rule, but no one was killed during the dinner, so I'd like to think that the meeting was amiable for all sides.
The tribal chieftain invited John and his men into his living quarters, where a rather elegant feast was laid out, including a local delicacy: shark eyes.
Yes, you read that right. There before him and his men was a bowl filled with the eyes of sharks that had been fished out of the waters nearby. John said they were very mushy and slimy, and they stared a dead stare at him, causing him to swallow hard at the thought of eating them. He did his best to keep his rising gorge down, smiling and sitting down at the table, thanking the chieftain for his hospitality.
John knew he had to eat the eyes. The NVA men were already partaking of them, and for John to refuse them would have been seen as refusing the chieftain's hospitality, a diplomatic no-no of gargantuan proportions. If they couldn't have this chieftain as an ally, they at least wanted to make sure he wasn't an enemy. If John refused to eat the eyes, he ran a real chance of making the chieftain into just that.
John says that in Vietnam there is a beer called "Tiger Beer", which he says is about as strong as whiskey. John immediately asked for some of this fabled beer, and began throwing them back. "After three or four of those, I didn't care what I was eating. Even if there were raw monkey's brains, I'd have slurped them down with abandon." Drunk and full, John and his men left that meeting with a new friend, a new experience and, most importantly, with their lives.
"I couldn't tell you what they tasted like, and I'm not really curious to try them sober. Tiger Beer, on the other hand, is a different matter entirely," he says, smiling.
Some historians say that beer saved civilization, and that's probably true. But in one of the most violent conflicts in US History, Tiger Beer saved some US Servicemen from making a great diplomatic and tactical blunder. I'm just glad at least one of those men lived to tell the tale.