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My Friend Fred

April 23, 2016 My Friend Fred


You may ask what the subject has to do with elephants? Joey says I can take any subject and tie it back to elephants. In actual fact, Fred saw my picture in the Bangkok Post after our final match in The King's Cup Elephant Polo Tournament and sent me an email message. In reality, the author can write whatever he chooses but Fred actually had an impact on me in my formative youth that enables me to do what I do today-no fear of war zones like Laos in the old days, no fear of dodgy airlines and crashes, no fear of security issues in rebel controlled parts of Africa, and so forth.

Fred said he was turning eighty in a couple of weeks and we better get together soon. I said it was just a number. However, you should know that Fred is much, much older than I am. He said I looked fifty in the picture but he knew I was an old "fellow". In any event, he preceded me in Southeast Asia by a few years. We worked for the same company, Esso, though we met in a Bangkok Patpong bar in the late sixties.

Fred grew up on a plantation in Haiti as his father was a planter there. Somehow, he wound up at Yale. Esso Eastern, the Far East Affiliate of what is now Exxon, hired him upon graduation, obtained a critical skills draft deferment and shipped him off to Bangkok and then eventually to Vientiane, Laos. My Esso beginning and experiences were not that much different. Fred was moved from Bangkok to Vientiane, Laos, a very open city in the sixties and early seventies. By open, I mean all of the bad guys and good guys from a war perspective tried in a very haphazard way to peacefully co-exist there.

Esso had a contract with the Agency for International Development (AID) to deliver fuel to the good guys-the Royal Lao Forces and the host of irregular forces such as the Hmong army, Air America and other such folks under the direction of the CIA. Somehow, we also sold aviation fuel to the Corsican pilots flying various forms of valuable and illicit cargo in planes they leased from folks in Washington.


Now Fred really liked Vientiane and his villa was fit for a royal prince. He met a wonderful young lady by the name of Dao (star in Thai). One night Fred took Dao to the US Ambassador's residence for a party. The breadth of the US Ambassador's mind did not extend to include a longhaired hippy looking beautiful Thai woman in his residence with all of the washed out pale faces there. In any event, that would probably have slipped away but Fred and the CIA station chief got loaded, went back to the Ambassador's residence after the party and stole the ambassador's piano.

The next morning the Ambassador called Jack Reardon, the Esso General Manager in Bangkok and declared Fred persona non grata in Laos. Fred was banished to Borneo and, lo and behold, Dao followed Fred to Borneo as they liked to do the same things. Vietnam followed Borneo as a much more lively location. Rocky, the spook pilot mentioned in earlier blogs, lived with Fred. Esso paid for the place and Fred had unlimited military PX privileges from Rocky given his strange civilian/military pilot role. Rocky is best known for his steady diet of Jack Daniels and Jalapena juice. I have much to say about Rocky but we are stretching the realm of credibility to put it in an Elephant Story blog unless there is overwhelming support from you people out there.


Fred is the guy referenced in the May 21, 2015 Blog, Cambodia and Elephants, that mentions Rocky.

When Saigon got boring, Fred was moved to Cambodia. In fact Jean Le Carré lived with Fred when he wrote "The Honorable School Boy". Esso sold the Cambodia business to a Scandinavian group the day before Cambodia fell to the Khmer Rouge and Rocky flew Fred back to close the sale as it had to be done in Cambodia for tax reasons. Vietnam remained a lively war zone, so Fred then became the Esso Exploration Manager in Vietnam. Guts are more important in that setting than geology.

Fred and I spent lot of time together in that period as he had a very liberal expense account and we were involved in some of the Vietnam business including the evacuation of Vietnamese orphans to Singapore and yes, we had one plane crash in the process. In fact, he and I met up in Saigon in April before it was all over to have a farewell party with the Air America types that lasted quite a long time. After the fall of Saigon, there was little Esso business left for Fred and his skill set. He did a short tour in Hong Kong, like a fish out of water, and then there was nothing. I went to Texas in mid-1975. Fred hung out with me in Texas from time to time until one fine day a job appeared for him.


The Esso brain trust realized Fred spoke French. You should know that Fred and I were having a drink in Paris once, I ordered in French and Fred said, "I did not know you spoke frog." He had spent too much time with Rocky. In any event, off he went to Africa, Mali, followed by Chad where he was evacuated by French Legionnaires three times and finally Somalia which broke his spirit as, despite the chaos, the people were not engaging. Fred and yes, Dao divide their time between Hua Hin, Thailand and Seattle, Washington.

Now, you should know that Fred follows a close health regimen. The last time I was in his condo in Hua Hin, he had a blood pressure monitor next to his pack of cigarettes and glass of scotch. Hey, it has worked so far, why change? We plan to have dinner together on May 1 in Bangkok, about the time everything in French Indochine turned upside down forty-one years ago. What is Fred's secret? Sometimes he can be the cowboy and sometimes the Indian.

Apart from, hopefully, being an interesting story, most people today lack an understanding of what happened in that particular era in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. It had a huge impact on the Asian elephant population and a devastating one on mankind.

 

These colorful 100% cotton scarves are actually called a Krama in Cambodia.  A  Krama (Khmer) is a sturdy traditional Cambodian garment with many uses, including as a scarf, bandanna, to carry children, to cover the face, and for decorative purposes. It is worn by men, women and children, and can be fairly ornate, though most typical krama's contain a gingham pattern of some sort, and traditionally come in either red or blue. The weavers in Cambodia where these were purchased for The Elephant Story was featured in our video blog on August 4th of last year.  
(see the video: Cambodian Weavers)