Member Stories: Wetting Down Houdini Style


A recent article highlighting a wetting down party reminded me of my rather unique wetting down party at Da Nang in 1968.  Readers are reminded, that in accordance with the provisions of TINS (THIS IS NO SHIX) story-telling, the first liar doesn’t stand a chance.  Moreover, the accuracy of this tale can only be verified by those who attended the affair—and you all know well, who you are.

I was in the Subic Bay hospital following knee surgery, when my compatriots in Vietnam pinned on their oak leaves following their promotions to Major.  Only my squadron-mate, Bill Stein (who had been out of country during the same time I was) and I had yet to fulfill our celebratory wetting down requirement.  We decided we weren’t going to just fund another boring drink-fest.  Rather, we envisioned delivering a memorable event suitable for legendary story-telling—a semi-formal combat zone wetting down party.  Planning began in earnest.

Our first unanimous decision was to invite Da Nang-based members of the fair sex: nurses, contractors, radio station operators, USO and other available women. We were pleasantly surprised when thirty-four agreed to attend.  The fact that we told them that the dress code for the event was coat and tie for the guys and classy dresses for the ladies probably piqued their receptiveness.  This recruiting success mandated requisitioning of a bus.  It added to our growing list for the Commanding General’s support and approval including: loan of the Wing’s silver service and approval of the coed concept.

The planned menu included lobster thermidor, sautéed shrimp, roast beef and assorted breads, all prepared by the Air Group’s head chef.  The lobsters came to us courtesy of the Air Force Fighter Wing on the eastern side of the Da Nang airfield.  He agreed to exchange the lobsters for a crate of steaks donated by our mess sergeant who owed me a big favor.  The dry ice for the volcanic punch originated from the Navy supply depot office, headed by the former Cowboys’ star quarterback, Roger Staubach, who oversaw the dry ice previously used to super-chill medical supplies.

Things were shaping up, really well and we were on a high. Then we received a call from the Commanding General’s Chief of Staff.

“Major Kogerman, General Anderson would like to have a briefing on your requested support for your wetting down party.  He’s available for your briefing at fourteen hundred this afternoon. Please be on time.”

Click. The phone went dead.


Bill Stein and I got out of our flight gear and prepared for the meeting with the CG that afternoon.  Upon our arrival in the Wing HQ, we were ushered into the CG’s office. Following our formal presentation in front of his desk, he directed us to be seated.   I was mentally preparing myself to be passed over.

“Gentlemen, I do believe, as I understand your intentions, you have ventured on one of the most imaginative wetting down parties I’ve ever seen.  I have certain concerns however, that I wish to minimize.  First of all, I’m holding both of you personally responsible for the safe return of the Command’s silver service. Secondly, I’m directing both of you to be personally responsible for the safe passage of your female guests.  In that responsibility, you’ll be dressed in your best uniforms, bearing your sidearms.  You’re both charged with escorting your female guests from and to their respective quarters.”

“Have I been clear on what I expect from you?” Bill and I shared a glance, both realizing that we certainly wouldn’t be having much fun at our own wetting down party.   We simultaneously responded,

“Yes sir!”

For the next week or so we worked to finalize the event.  The invitations were printed and delivered to our respective squadron-mates, Commanding and Executive officers in other Air Group’s squadron’s, friends in adjacent squadrons and guests.  The invitations were quite specific.  Dress code: coat and tie for our male guests and cocktail attire for the ladies.

The bus arrived on schedule to pick up Major Stein and me and to gather our female guests. Loaded for the trip to MAG -11’s Stone Elephant Officer’s Club, Major Stein and I briefed the ladies on the plan for returning them to their assigned quarters following the event.  I remember thinking at that time that the bus really smelled great. We arrived at the officers’ club and escorted our charges through a gauntlet of panting, envious, uninvited Marines in the bar, to the reserved wetting down site in the back of the building.

Stepping into the banquet room we were greeted by thirty to forty Marines, all handsomely  dressed in jackets, white shirts and ties.  But below the waist they were donned in shorts or cami-colored skivvies, sandals and flip flops. The word to abandon the trousers was promulgated by some unidentified source. I suspected the culprit was the master singer of the Vietnam Red and Green song books, Colonel John Verdi. He was known for logical reasoning. It would have been perfectly rational for him to conclude that since Major Stein and I had covered every other essential detail in our invitation, failing to insist that male guests wear trousers simply meant that trousers were optional.   Having the guys wear not much more than skivvies offered an incredibly classic conversation opener.  The party exploded with enthusiastic conversation, raves over the food and the bubbling dry-iced volcano, multitudes of, “Where are you from?  And an occasional, “Where in hell did, they get the silver service?” At about twenty-three hundred, Major Stein and I headed to the waiting bus to escort the ladies

to their assigned billeting areas.   We waited thirty minutes, but not a single female came aboard the bus.   Major Stein returned to the reserved party space to investigate.  He returned to the bus with no one at his side.   “There’s nobody there. The room’s vacant,” he said.   After an additional half hour of waiting, with nary a single female showing up for a bus ride home, I released the bus driver from his duties.

I returned to the bar, jumped on a barstool and ordered a triple whisky. I sat there for what seemed like an eternity, contemplating the retribution I was facing for making thirty-four women disappear into thin air.  To this very moment, I still don’t have a clue how we did all that.  But in the end, the General got his silver service back. There were more smiling faces then normal the next morning at breakfast.   The attendees did not discuss the party, but speculation ran rampant among non-attendees.

Houdini couldn’t have pulled it off better!


About Author'

Lt. Col Bill Kogerman, USMC (ret.) aka, “Colonel Bill” is a retired United States Marine Corps Naval Aviator with 25 year service, including a combat tour in Vietnam. As a resident of Southern California, he led the largest public-based political initiative in California history, preventing the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro from being converted into a San Francisco-size commercial airport. He has a BA in Psychology, completed the Marine Corps’ Command and Staff College, the U.S. Navy’s Commander’s Legal School, and the U.S. Navy’s Flight School. Bill is an author, poet, public speaker.

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