Authors: B. Hesse Pflingger
Jake Fonko M.I.A.
Book 1: Cambodia/Vietnam 1975
A True and Factual Account as Told To:
B. Hesse Pflingger, PhD
Copyright © 2013 G. Ray Funkhouser. All rights reserved.
Published by Tinderboxed Press, a Watchfire Press imprint.
This book is a work of fiction. Similarities to actual events, places, persons or other entities is coincidental.
P.O. Box 9056
Morristown, NJ 07963
Cover design by Kit Foster
Jake Fonko M.I.A./B. Hesse Pflingger. – 1st ed.
Print ISBN: 978-1-940708-01-0
the Jake Fonko Series
Jake Fonko M.I.A.
Fonko on the Carpet
Fonko’s Errand Go Boom
Fonko in the Sun
“It’s key,” explained
Todd Sonarr, my CIA boss. “Tom Polgar, the station chief, has penetrated the Hungarian mission. Now, granted he’s a native-born Hunkie himself, so that gives him a leg up. But that’s just one bunch of Commies, and the Poles are another. I figure, if he can penetrate one, we ought to be able to take care of the other, make a good impression on him. You’re fresh in town, so the Polskis are bound to swallow your Embassy cover. They’ve got to be pretty dumb. You’ve heard all those Polack jokes. Must be something to them.”
Sonarr was career CIA, a Company lifer. In his mid-thirties, he stood a shade over six feet tall, and was beefy, broad-shouldered, close-cropped and sharp-featured. He’d played a bit of offensive tackle at Notre Dame, and while he’d never exactly made All-American, you could tell he’d put time in practice scrimmages. That’s probably where he’d gotten his nose broken. He was a bit too intense for my money. I wouldn’t have wanted him along on a night operation, because he’d have glowed in the dark.
“Shouldn’t I get some training for penetrating a foreign mission? And what the hell kind of mission is it, anyway? Why are there two Commie missions in Saigon? I thought this was our turf.”
“It is, but the treaty we signed in Paris in ‘73 stipulated that the Poles and the Hunkies would monitor our compliance with the terms. Bunch of bullshit, of course—everybody was in violation before the ink on it was dry.”
“Todd, I’ve been in town less than a week. Penetrating a foreign mission seems like a heavy assignment for a guy fresh off the boat with no CIA experience. At least let me get jet lag behind me.”
“Piece of cake, Jake,” he assured me. “Shit, I’ve done it a thousand times. You start off schmoozing with them, and then we play it by ear as things develop.”
I actually believed him, and there began my problems.
Ve Get Too
Zoon Oldt Und Too Late Schmardt.
Of all the tourist garbage I saw during that do-the-Forty-Eight-in-three-weeks-straight trip Dad shanghaied me on at age thirteen, that one item sticks in my mind to this day. It was a sampler-style wall-hanging in a Pennsylvania Dutch trinket shop amongst platters, hex signs and coffee mugs quaintly painted in primary colors; the weirdest candy I’d ever seen; and jars of a hundred varieties of pickled vegetables. Dad (my real one, not Evanston, my step-dad) always tried to cram maximum meaningful activity into the visitations he could wheedle out of Mom. A marathon circumnavigation of the contiguous U.S. followed right in character. Aside from realizing what a humongous chunk of real estate America takes up, I can’t say I got much out of the trip—my mind strayed back to the gang at the beach most of the time. But even now, more than thirty years later, I still flash on that Pennsylvania Dutch motto every so often, invariably after the fact. Funny thing, for some reason it never occurs to me at times when it might serve as useful guidance in dealing with Life’s Little Problems. I only wish it had stuck in my mind March 1975 when
Todd Sonarr sent me into the Cambodian killing fields on that mission that went from hare-brained to horrific in one short week. I won’t say it would’ve saved my life, because obviously here I am to relate the whole sordid saga. But the grief it might have deflected…
I’d returned to Nam “on loan” to the CIA. My first Nam tour in 1970 was as a Ranger in the Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols, the “Lurps.” Following that I’d gone through OCS, done some instructing in field methods at the Army intelligence school at Fort Holabird and the CIA campus at Langley, then transferred to a staff slot at the Pentagon. That tour was out-of-the-blue terminated by this new assignment. Without warning I found myself whisked off to Saigon on the CIA payroll, mission specifics to be given on arrival. So I joined the several thousand American “civilians” supporting the gear and logistics we still supplied to the South Vietnamese. Our side, so we fancied, stood a chance of holding out against the Commies, if only the U.S. Congress would keep the money coming, if only the Thieu government would tone down their corruption, if only the ARVN troops would develop more will to fight…some heroically big “if onlys” there.
Why me, there, then? Why the strange assignments? Why my sudden departure into the unknown? Well, why not, I thought at the time, I’m Jake Fonko, a decorated, hot-shot captain in US Army Intelligence, destined for bigger and better things. Whereas, if my motto had come to mind, I might have been searching for answers to a few puzzling questions. Like, with all the CIA staff in Saigon, why did they pick
to penetrate the Polish mission?
Thus it was
I found myself chatting up Mikhail (“Mickey Mouse,” we’d codenamed him) in the terrace bar atop the Majestic Hotel. Sonarr introduced us at a party the Embassy put on. Like myself he’d been in town only a short time. He seemed eager to strike up a friendship, so we arranged to get together for drinks of a Sunday evening. Our table stood by the low stone wall bordering the edge of the terrace, overlooking the languid Saigon River, six floors below. Up above the heat and bustle of the street, the terrace caught enough river breeze to create a soft, caressing ambiance that suggested the notion of nirvana must have originated somewhere close by. Sitting on a padded, white, wrought iron chair in one of those vine-covered, canopied mini-gazebos, you could easily delude yourself that you hadn’t a care in the world. No doubt that explained why Saigon’s elite hung out there.
Mikhail had a broad, flat face that projected an undertone of middle-European angst. On the slim side of stocky, he had straw-colored, hair and the kind of pasty white complexion best kept out of the tropical sun. With his plain features, you’d never notice him on the streets of any Western city. I estimated him at a year or two older than me. He was a records clerk at the Polish mission, and as far as he knew, I was Phil, a computer systems analyst working in the U.S. Embassy. Fortunately, our conversation never touched on computers, but instead soon got around to my home town, Los Angeles, and American movies, a topic with which I had more than passing familiarity, and for which Mikhail had a surprising enthusiasm.
“This is how fantastic, Phil!” he exclaimed. “Really boffo, if that is proper cool slang! To think you are one time a movie star of the big silver screen! Your Hollywood is practically speaking a shrine to those of us other sidewise to that abominable border, those of us whose appreciate is good entertainment values, I mean, not that we see so much American cinemas, new ones, I mean, difficult to smuggle them in, I suppose, bulky maybe and for all I know our projection machines isn’t handle it to the first place, the technology must being miles ahead in the States. They let us see some of your old classic blacks and whites—but after careful selected, you know what I’m getting to.
Grapes of Wrath
they showed us, Steinbeck being a well-respected author in the East. Terrible how they persecuted those Okras, simply shameful.” He shook his head sadly as if to register solidarity with the downtrodden American masses.
“I wasn’t exactly a star,” I explained. “Not even an actor, really, just what they call an extra. When a script called for a mob scene or a bunch of people in the background, they hired guys like me for a few bucks an hour to fill up the space.”
“But surely you must have some mighty talent elevating you above average George Q. Public,” he gushed. “They can’t just any Tim, Dick and Henry cast into the cinema, not and deliver that slick Hollywood look, believe in that! Even in Poland the directors achieve to certain standards, well, they must, our Andrez Wadja, you know, he’s world class.”
Actually, I did have a talent, as I’d discovered in 1967—a changling face. Lon Chaney, The Man of a Thousand Faces, had one too, I’ve heard. With minimum makeup I could blend into any crowd outside of sub-Saharan Africa. It helped that I stood an inch below average American height and although muscular, was small-boned. Straight dark hair, olive complexion and dark brown eyes like mine will play most places on Earth. My football neck, tapering up from a base wider than my head, was a give-away, but under a collar most people wouldn’t take notice of it.
I’d discovered my chameleon qualities courtesy of my surfing buddy, Eddie “The Flying Bagel” Lipschitz. His nickname came from his amazing ability to drop his trunks and broadcast the brown eye, all the while maintaining positive control of a moving surfboard. Eddie was the favorite nephew of an uncle who ran a casting agency. Eddie convinced himself that the producers of Hawaii Five-O were in dire need of our assistance, and he badgered his uncle into taking a look at the bunch of us—him, me, D.D. and Wild Blue Under.
Jack Lord and Danno had sufficient surfers, it turned out, but at that moment the “Valley of the Dolls” set desperately needed bodies to fill out some last-minute party scene re-takes. The studio had the pressure on Eddie’s uncle to deliver, but not enough of his regulars were available just then. Through such happenstances are great cinematic careers like mine launched.
“I was just a face in the crowd, and I worked cheap, that’s all. A high school kid couldn’t ask for a better part-time job. But I never had any prospect of being a genuine movie star.”
“But surely you must have been hobnobbed by the real stars, cruising the scene as you were, how could one not, the opportunities must being a millionfold? Jane Fonda, for instance, we hear so much about her, and such a zaftig chick she is, you better bet. Tell me,” Mikhail asked conspiratorially, “just between two red-blooded guys, what is she like, in the flesh, so to speak, really?”
“True star quality,” I told him. The one encounter I’d had with Hanoi Jane, I showed up late for a shoot and in desperation for a parking space left my Mustang in her designated spot. She arrived later, boxed me in, and, when I tooted my horn, pounced out with fire in her eye. She gave me a shrill lecture on the dangers of invading her space, parking or otherwise. I slunk away from there just grateful to have both my balls still attached in their proper locations. “An experience no man could ever forget,” I added with a leer.
“In which films were you starring?” he persisted. “I can’t… I mean, who would
I am lifting elbows, so to speak, with a genuine American cinema star from the glamourish of Hollywood. This is simply fantastic!”
I wondered if he’d next untuck his linen napkin from his shirt front and ask me to autograph it. “Let’s see, I look sort of Greek, so they had me in backgrounds in
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
I was one of those soldiers waiting for Redford and Newman when they came bursting out of their hideout at the end. They used me in off-location street scenes in
, that’s a cop-and-robber flick with a lot of car chases. They had me prancing around in an ape suit in the opening scenes of
…party scenes in
Valley of the Dolls
I Love You, Alice B. Toklas
, two of the worst movies ever shot. A couple of scenes in
oh yeah, and
. Once in a great while I’d wind up on TV—
The Mod Squad
I Dream of Jeannie
…but those titles wouldn’t mean anything to you. How could you have heard of them in Poland? Anyhow, it was just a sometimes thing. After college started I hardly did it at all.”
Mikhail was fingering the latch on his briefcase, which he’d sat across from me on the marble table top. He caught me eyeballing him and remarked, apologetically, “Phil, you must excuse me, this country makes me nervous. I’m, um…is to say, you know, these third world peoples, turn your backside, they’ll steal the socks right inside out from your shoes, you don’t keep your eyes peeled on them. In briefcase is papers for a meeting later, would be up in the river if anything happened on them. With no paddle, is the expression, no? So I keep up here, plain sightwise, you know, just in case.”
“Sure, don’t blame you, a man can’t be too careful in a place like this,” I assured him diplomatically (after all, I was working at the Embassy). But I doubted there was any danger of a snatch thief breezing by and running off with it, here on the rooftop terrace of Saigon’s poshest hotel. One thing struck me odd, though. His grammar was flawless when he first realized I was staring at his finger on the briefcase latch. Then he caught himself and lapsed back into broken English. Had my motto been in mind, that would have raised warning flags. Where would a nebbish Polish records clerk acquire such fluency? And why would he try to cover it up? Being a typical American I don’t know from foreign language beyond what’s necessary wherever I am to order food, ask what price and find a bathroom. So back then I naturally assumed that foreigners everywhere would speak accented, ungrammatical English. After all, in Hollywood movies, don’t all the foreigners do that? And so do the folks Americans typically deal with overseas—the hotel desk clerks, shopkeepers, bartenders, waiters, drug dealers, pimps, whores and tour guides who service the tourist circuit. Then why not a records clerk in the Polish Saigon mission? And what difference if he wavers between fluent and broken English?
He glanced at his wristwatch. “My golly, is not the time flying when one enjoys fun!” he exclaimed. “That meeting soon is beginning, making me sad to must be leaving you. What a one fantastic evening! To think I am having the incredible fortunate to make acquaintance to such a famous celebrity, here in Saigon, of all place! What a strange world it is, with no doubtful on that one! I look forward to talking with you next meeting of us. I’m sure I’ll have many more questions over your Hollywood career.” He eased up out of his seat with a surprising athletic grace and, despite the several straight vodkas he’d downed, smoothly threaded his way toward the lifts through the tables, canopies, potted shrubs and white-shirted, bow-tied Vietnamese waiters, leaving me to cover the drinks. But what the hell, I was just one more rich Yank, making my contribution to inflating the Saigon economy. And besides, it went on the CIA tab.