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The Popcorn Man PDF Print E-mail
on Monday, 12 November 2007

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Published in : , Short Stories

The Popcorn Man
by Bob Vitray, 823rd 67-69


          A few weeks after we arrived at Bien Hoa in October 1967; during the period when the physical effects of jet lag had receded so we were no longer waking up at 3 AM local time; but the psychological effects were still with us and we felt as though we were living in a light haze; I suddenly realized that I smelled popcorn.  One of the Staff Sergeants who bunked at the front of the barracks had managed to get an electric popcorn popper.  I think it may have been sent to him by his wife.  It was like a small wok with legs and a clear plastic cover.  And it made good popcorn.  I know because when he offered me some I took it.  Now the humble popcorn has been around for awhile.  I am informed that George Washington’s uncle grew it on the plantation where George grew up.  Popcorn is not what you think about when you pull the file marked “entrepreneurial success stories.”  And nowadays, thanks to Orville Redenbacher and the descendants of the Amana Radarange, popcorn is available in a wide variety of flavors and there are several easy to use ways to prepare it.  Take for instance the aforementioned round popper.  It required that one add vegetable oil and salt to the unpopped kernels.  Then the operator had to shake it every once in a while to spread the heat evenly.  It produced the best popcorn at Bien Hoa.


            A few months later as I passed by the cubicle on the way to my own I noticed that the Sarge had acquired a much larger popcorn machine.  This one was the smallest version of the enclosed glass box type with a little cooker pot hanging from the top over a plate perforated to allow the “old maids” to be separated from the kernels that had successfully popped.  Something else was new,  A little sign on the machine said 10¢ a bag.  That night I bought a bag.  It was the best popcorn on Bien Hoa Air Base.


            I do remember that at one point he was looking for an assistant and he asked me.  But I was not interested and my second assignment as an augmentee meant I was out at night a great deal of the time so not really a practical deal for me.  I must apologize because I wasn’t taking notes at the time and I can’t remember the man’s name or even exactly what happened from that point on.  Somewhere in there what is now referred to as the “Battle for Bien Hoa” started up.  To us it seemed as if we were on permanent duty as aides to the security police.  Working nights and sleeping days was isolating us from the rest of the squadron to a certain extent and then we were all moved into the first floor of the barracks right down the walkway from the armory.  When we did occasionally get back on daytime duty for a while we attempted to get in sync with the normal diurnal rhythm of a tactical air base during a heavy operational period, but within a week or two something would happen and we would be back on the perimeter or waiting at an intersection with a QRF.


            I cannot say exactly how long it took for the popcorn business to acquire first one assistant and then another.  Then he moved outside the barracks and got a small shipping container to hold his new even larger popcorn machine and raw popcorn in fifty pound bags.  Pretty soon there he was with his own little popcorn shack by the sidewalk that ran behind the barracks of several squadrons.  In writing this one wonder that occurs to me is how they got that box installed.  It was basically a ten foot cube and must have required a fairly heavy duty piece of equipment both to get it to the Red Horse cantonment area and to place it in the fairly narrow area between two barracks.  I heard from a third party that when the popcorn man hit his DEROS he had earned a fair amount in profit and made more from selling the operation to his assistant.


              If the man who did this is still out there somewhere I would love to hear from him if only to make my story more complete and correct.  Would he appreciate that I often think of his effort and success when I get a bit frustrated or blocked?  I knew a lot of Red Horse men who wanted to start a business, but this guy saw an opportunity and he grabbed it.  It was the best popcorn on Bien Hoa Air Base.    

Last update: Monday, 12 November 2007

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