Skip to main content

Author's Name: Daniel Coogan

Title: "Why I Love to Ride"

It was the summer of love (1967) and it was hot in Tampa!  I had just turned 14.  As with most 14 year old boys, my hormones ruled!! I think I fell in love every other day.  There were 5 children in my family, I was the second oldest.  We had migrated to Tampa from upstate New York when my father’s Air Guard unit was activated.  In New York my father had been operating 2 small airports and flying since his early twenties.  By 1967 he had already done 2 tours in Vietnam flying F-4’s and was now working as a civilian pilot for Continental Airlines flying cargo missions over South Vietnam.  Years later I found out that there was a CIA connection with Continental.

Often when my dad was home from Vietnam, he would take me to MacDill AFB where he would let me do cool stuff, like sit in the cockpit of an F-4 Phantom or shoot his M16 at the dump behind the base.  My father was and still is my hero ! Today at 77, he still flies and is an expert aviation accident investigator.

In the late summer of 1967 I had not seen my dad for about a year.  So when he showed up and asked if we wanted to go overseas with him, there was no way I would have said no.  I missed him terribly!  We flew in a small Cessna he had rented to Montreal, where we spent a few days at Expo 67.  From Montreal we flew commercial to England, Switzerland, India, then finally to Saigon, Vietnam.  Our home was in between Saigon and Ben Hoa in a town called Tu Duc.  The first day at my new home I had my first solo motorcycle experience.

There they were, two Honda 90’s.  A red one and a black one.  I claimed the black one.  It was so cool!  My dad gave me a quick lesson and off I went.  I was 14 with a fake Vietnamese driver’s license, riding through the streets of Saigon.

My younger sister Marlene and I attended and English school in the Chinese section of Saigon (Chi-Lon).  The rest of my siblings spent most of their time in Singapore with my dad’s new wife.  I was allowed to ride the black Honda to and from school daily.  I was also allowed to drive an old WWII military jeep, but given a choice, I rode the Honda.  Charles Bronson had nothing on me.

It was the second week in my new school and I rode the Honda to school with my sister on the back.  When we arrived I realized I had forgotten the lock and chain needed to secure my bike to a pole in front of school.  Needless to say, at the end of the day my black Honda was gone.  My dad got really pissed off and I was heart broken.  I was forced to drive the jeep and for two weeks, it seemed like months.  God, I loved that little black Honda 90!

There was about 14 American kids at my school that were around my age.  The guys all had motorcycles, Honda Yamaha, etc.  All of them small bikes, but to us they might as well have been big ass Harley’s. After school we would hang out at the Ton Son Hut U.S.O. where we made friends with the G.I.’s.  The G.I.’s helped me with many of my firsts.  My first trip to Mamma Son’s house, my first drink, etc.  The G.I.’s were my friends.  Some of them never made it home and I sometimes dream about them.  I still dream about riding the Honda through the streets of Saigon.  We loved harassing the white mice Vietnamese police, and the cowboys, Vietnamese punk thieves on motorcycles.  We would ride our bikes through the streets of Saigon with no fear.

In 1968 things started to change.  It was the end of January and the beginning of Tet, the Chinese New Year.  I was attending a New Year’s party in Chi-Lon given by the parents of a very pretty 16 year old Chinese girl.  Her English name was Snow White and no there were no dwarfs.  My father was at another party given by a fellow Continental pilot.  As the night wore on, the constant noise from the fireworks outside started to change.  They were loud, very loud.  All hell had broken loose in Chi-Lon.  The Vietcong and North Vietnamese were attacking!  My father stormed in to the house and we made for Tu Duc.  I barely remember the ride home, but I do remember I was scared shitless!

For the next two weeks I was not allowed to leave Tu Duc.  Finally after things calmed down I was allowed to ride to Saigon.  The U.S. Military has declared marshal law and the G.I.’s were not allowed in certain parts of Saigon.  I was making my way to the U.S.O. when I was stopped at an M.P. road block.  I was a big and tall 14 year old and was often mistaken for a G.I.  They did not believe I was a civilian and they took me and my red Honda 90 to their headquarters at Ton Son Hut.  They chained and locked my bike to a fence.  They took me to an office for questioning.  They were confused and did not know what to do with me.  They made the mistake of leaving me alone in an unlocked office.  While they were trying to figure out the situation, I snuck out of the office.  The Continental office was across the runway.  When I reached the Continental office I patiently waited for my dad to return from his mission.  He was dropping supplies in Da Nang.  When he landed I explained the situation, so off we went in the jeep with a welding torch he borrowed from one of the Continental hangars.  My dad was pissed!  We drove right up to the fence where my red Honda 90 was being held captive.  My dad had his .38 with him, which he always took when he flew a mission.  As we started to cut the chain with the welding torch an M.P. came up to us and made the mistake of asking us what the hell we were doing.  The .38 came out along with my dad’s military ID and the M.P. walked away.  My dad drove the jeep home and I rode the Honda.  Don’t mess with my bike!

So you see, to this day when I ride my black Norton I still think about those days so long ago, in a strange land so far away.  The heat, the smell, the crowded roads, the G.I.’s who were my friends, the white mice, the cowboys and the friends who I lost such a long time ago.  I seldom talk about my experiences living in Vietnam, so here’s to my new friends, my Norton friends.

This is why I love to ride.