Ever hear the story of when Raquel Welch visited troops in Vietnam? It goes something like this. The whomp, whomp, whomp of the Huey helicopters made conversation almost impossible. Minutes before, they had taken off from the Air Force side of the field at Da Nang. They were flying lead with two gunships as cover. On the right, the Huey Cobra pilot came within a rotor’s distance from the open-sided chopper. “What the hell are they doing?” yelled the door gunner, pulling his M60 machine gun inside the ship to protect it. Those with headsets could hear the pilot chewing out the sloppy flying of some FNG lieutenant.
“Ah, Captain, we just wanted a look,” came the reply.
Raquel heard the crew’s lament and stood in the door, holding onto the gunner with one hand and waving with the other. This brought a cry from the chopper on the left, so she started to maneuver to the other side. Then the chopper hit an air pocket and Raquel landed right in my lap. I still remember the looks of shock and envy from the crew. If they only knew.
Raquel Welch Arrives in Vietnam
When we got closer to our destination, a stage that looked like a small dot at this point, Raquel thought it seemed empty. Big tears came to her eyes. She lifted my earphone and said, “We came all the way to Vietnam, and no one showed up!” But then the chopper started to drop from the sky as part of its combat approach. As it hovered for a few seconds before heading for the pad, the hillsides started to move. Soon, Raquel faced 65,000 cheering soldiers. The hand-painted sign above the stage read, “WELCOME TO THE 1967 BOB HOPE CHRISTMAS SHOW.” Now she really started to cry.
From the moment we landed, with Raquel jumping into the waiting arms of the two largest Marine MPs on earth, her life changed forever. All the teasing she’d faced when she was younger—for her funny name, or “foreign” looks, or “bird legs”—disappeared. Here were 65,000 guys who loved her.
Hitting the Stage
Bob Hope started the first show of the ’67 tour right on time. By then, Raquel had headed backstage, and I was led to a seat 10 rows from the stage. The front rows were filled with wounded Marines and airmen as well as dozens of doctors and nurses. For once, the brass and REMFs hadn’t hogged the choice seats. In fact, it seemed like every general and admiral in the Pacific was sitting on the same log as me when Bob started his routine with Gary Crosby.
But the crowd began to grow restless. The chanting of her name started from the cheap seats and moved forward like rolling thunder. Bob stopped the song he was doing with Les Brown and His Band of Renown and said, “OK, boys, here’s what you’ve been fighting for. Yes, sir, ladies—and please be gentlemen—here she is: Raquel Welch!”
It was Raquel’s moment, and she took charge. Wearing a short blue and white dress that seemed to start about 30 inches above her knees, she took the microphone and moved to the edge of the stage. When she sat down, it was like the rug got pulled out from under tens of thousands of standing, screaming men. They hit the ground with a thud that must have been heard in Hanoi. Then she and Bob sang and danced before performing a funny routine.
After that, Bob quietly left the stage to Raquel. As she and the band started “A Different Drum,” she invited the Marines and airmen up on the stage to dance. For 20 minutes or more, she danced with as many shy, fresh-faced young men as she could. Finally, Raquel reluctantly left the stage while blowing the crowd a kiss.
Getting Some Attention
Bob came back to introduce the brass in the audience. I didn’t have a chance to flee. Starting with General Westmoreland, Bob worked his way down the log. The grunts tried to cheer the loudest for their own leaders. It was a Marine Corps Air Force Base, and it was no contest. The grunts in green took the day.
I was sitting between two Air Force bird colonels. But it was too late. My stomach turned over as Bob announced, “And ladies and gentlemen, one of your own—and my neighbor from California—who just happens to be married to your favorite girl, Raquel Welch. Here he is, the envy of every man here.” Then he pointed to me and asked me to stand up.
What was he talking about? At this point, I just wanted to dig my way under the log. But the two helpful colonels must have figured out Bob was talking about me because of my beet-red face and threw me to my feet. Thus, 65,000 of my fellow Americans booed me, joined by God knows how many Viet Cong watching from the surrounding hills. I would have gladly sat back down on a Claymore mine.
After the show, I sort of wandered about looking for my bride, and that night, the same two giant Marine MPs from before—the “Beasts” that I nicknamed Killer and Bruno—kept everyone, including me, out of the Bachelor Officer Quarters where Raquel was staying. I pulled rank, pulled my hair and would have gladly pulled a gun if Bob Hope hadn’t walked by. And it took him 10 minutes to convince the guards that I wasn’t a spy or something.
Truth be told, Raquel, finally tired of waiting, leaned out the second-story window, resplendent in a diaphanous nightie, and promised each of the MPs a signed photo. But, clever devil that she was, only I could come upstairs and get them.
Raquel and I traveled to a lot of Marine bases around the world after that fateful evening. More than 50 years later, so many Vietnam veterans can take pride in the fact that they helped Raquel find happiness in just being herself. And at least 65,000 of them might smile when they remember booing at me!
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