Alfred Hitchcock moment. Yes, I really was there, and these pictures are mine.
Row of bars. The jeep likely belonged to a South Vietnamese army officer.
Elder passing a souvenir store.
Ernie W., strolling down one of the picturesque “avenues” near the Buddhist compound.
Water could only be found at public wells located throughout the city.
Cyclo driver looking for his next fare. These guys were the best tour guides, if you could get past the language barrier.
Grandmother carrying floor mats and boy helping sort sugar cane. Everyone worked; from the very young to the very old.
The streets of Danang were always busy with pedestrians and vehicular traffic. Bicycles were very common, with the occasional motorcycle mixed in. Civilian and military vehicles were less common. The mode of transportation most unique to Danang was the Vietnamese rickshaw or “cyclo.” The three-wheel, pedal vehicle was the cheapest mode of transportation for us, but the cost of a ride varied greatly. The locals would pay as little as 25 piasters, or about 20 cents. A GI might get charged a dollar or more. Negotiation was the key, and knowing a little Vietnamese always helped keep the price down. The shops sold everything imaginable, and jewelry was very popular. Chinese gold was everywhere, as was lab-created semi-precious stones and other gems. Tiger eye was very popular with foreign visitors, as was star sapphires, rubies, and emeralds; all synthetically made. Often you would find a vendor with a line of bread baskets filled with synthetic sapphires and rubies. You could buy them by the handful. A few of the streets were quite picturesque but most were unadorned; with no real architectural style. Streets often were just rows of crowded shops and warehouses. The sidewalks along some of the streets actually were pre-cast concrete sewers. Segments of the sidewalk could be removed to reveal a waste and sewage system flowing directly underneath. Often the smell was beyond description.  
The city market was open daily. Few people had refrigerators or even ice boxes, so most food had to be bought fresh and eaten before it spoiled in the hot, humid climate of Vietnam.   The vendors, mostly women, used no tables. Everything was laid out on the ground in baskets or on mats. What isn’t obvious in any of the photos are the flies, and the spittle from a south-east Asian vegetable called betel nut, pronounced “beetlenut.” It was the Far East’s version of chewing tobacco.
Betel nut, called the areca nut, actually belongs to a class of fruits called drupes. Some drupes, you may be familiar with, are peaches, cherries, and avocados. The nut of the betel nut hardens as the fruit dries, and it is this nut that is sliced and chewed. Usually a few slices of the dried nut are combined with lime or clove and then wrapped in a fresh Betel leaf. A Vietnamese woman would stuff this little, green packet into her cheek and chew on it. Betel nut is a mild stimulant similar to coffee. It affects different people in different ways, but it usually produces a mild hot sensation to the body and a slight heightening of awareness. It also increases the production of saliva, creating a reddish spittle which stains the gums, lips, and teeth. Like chewing tobacco, the excess spittle has to go somewhere, and in the Danang market, most chewers just spit it on the street. Red spittle stains could be seen everywhere among the foods for sale in the marketplace. In Vietnam, black teeth on a woman were once considered a sign of beauty. I saw many older women with shiny, blue-black teeth. The betel nut eventually stains the teeth brown, but to complete the process, a woman would have her teeth painted black with a specially formulated enamel. The tradition of blackening teeth has a double history. One belief was that only animals, demons and savages had white teeth. In order not be mistaken for a demon or evil spirit, Vietnamese would paint their teeth black. Another tradition of black teeth originated from marriage rites. A woman was deemed to be ready for marriage after her first tooth blackening ceremony. It usually took three applications of the special enamel to make the teeth permanently black. Betel nut, though a proven carcinogenic, is very popular as a “chewing gum” in many Asian and Oceanic countries  including China, India, Pakistan, Taiwan, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and the Solomon Islands.   
Ao dai, the traditional Vietnamese dress, was a closely tailored silk ensemble made up of a split tunic over long pants. Students and girls of high school age normally wore white, while older and married women wore a variety of colors.  
Girl Scouts in Danang appeared similar to scouts in the United States, and seemed to be having just as much fun as they romped by.
Women often were very petite and attractive. Marines were always anxious to “meet and greet.”
Street magician keeping kids of all ages enthralled with his slight of hand.
Boys discovering the endless possibilities in a pile of dirt. One thing I found universally the same was the joy of a bunch of kids.
Bicycling could prove dangerous to the rider wearing the ao dai, though I never saw anyone experience a snag.
As so often the case in so many countries, religion played a major part in shaping the political and cultural dynamics of Vietnam. In 1963, Buddhists comprised an estimated 70 to 90 percent of the population; with Catholics making up the small minority. Despite this fact, Catholics ruled the country under President Ngo Dinh Diem. His policies of favoring Catholics with positions in public service and promotions in the military antagonized many Buddhists. Diem’s pro-Catholic policies influenced the allocation of land, business favors, and tax concessions. Catholic hamlets were the first to get foreign aid and arms. The Papal flag was flown over many government faculties and schools, while the flying of Buddhist flags often was forbidden. Anger against the Diem regime reached a boiling point in 1963 when Buddhist monks began setting themselves on fire in protect of the government’s policies. By the end of the year, a military coup overthrew Diem and his regime. In the military takeover, Diem and his brother were assassinated. The indigenous carpenters in our shop were Buddhist. During the cele-bration of Tet, in the spring of 1964, we held a Buddhist ceremony in our shop. The elder carpenter arrived in white robes and performed a short, solemn ceremony during which time he blessed us, our equipment, and the lumber we used for construction.  He placed small bouquets of flowers on the wood piles and our work tables, and burned incense. The ceremony ended with all of us partaking in a drink of rice wine and a chew of betel nut.
Buddhist compound in Danang. Notice the roof peaks adorned with the ancient Buddhist symbol reversed and made infamous by Adolf Hitler, though his “cross with hooks” came from a similar Christian symbol.
Catholic church in Danang, also with its an-cient symbol atop the steeples.
Tet is short for Tet Nguyen Dan, the most important and popular holiday and festival in Vietnam. It is the Vietnamese New Year and is celebrated on the same day as Chinese New Year. The three-day celebration starts on the first day of the first month of the Lunar calendar, around January or early February. Special holiday foods are prepared and families and friends visit temples and each others homes on the first day. Ancestors are worshiped, and children and the elderly receive gifts of lucky money. Not much work got done during the three days of celebration; something none of us minded.
Memo to All Hands From R. D. Walters, Commander, Task Force Element
“Stay off the street as much as possible during the hours of darkness.”
Owners of bars and restaurants frequented by military personnel began installing heavy wire screens over their windows to help prevent the Viet Cong from tossing grenades and other explosives into the establishments. 
“Numerous reports have been received that the Viet Cong (VC) will increase their terroristic activities against Americans.”
The local bars served a variety of drinks. The most popular were beer, sloe gin (for the ladies), and cognac. The most infamous of the three was a Vietnamese beer labeled “33”, or Ba Moui Ba. The beer was the worst I had ever tasted and scuttlebutt abounded about this brew. First, one was supposed to be able to float a dime on the foamy head of a Ba Moui Ba. I can personally attest to the truth of that test. We were able to “float” dimes, and sometimes heavier coins on the frothy stuff. Second, the pasteurizing process for Ba Moui Ba was supposed to be so poor that formaldehyde had to be added to preserve the beer. I have never seen credible evidence to support this claim but hangovers from this beer were notorious. One night, at about 0200 hours, I woke up with a dry mouth and thirst I had never experienced before. I ran to the head and starting drinking water with my head stuck under a wide- opened faucet. I could not get water into my system fast enough.  When I finally looked up from the faucet, three other guys from my barracks were doing the same thing. “It’s the formaldehyde,” one of them said. “It dries you out.” A joke often heard about Ba Moui Ba was, if you drank enough of it and died, you would go straight to the grave. No undertaker’s services would be necessary.
Skull and crossbones are mine
Bars were less than creative in their design. If you saw one, you saw them all. Nothing fancy. The most popular drinks besides beer were sloe gin and cognac. The hostesses were paid by the number and cost of drinks they could get a GI to buy. On more than one occasion, we found the “girls” drinking nothing more than colored sugar water.
Hostesses sometimes brought their babies to the bars. GIs, missing their families, would sit and talk for hours.
Marine on liberty, enjoying the company of a friend. The Marine is on the left.
“Avoid areas were large numbers of local citizens are congregated.”
Babies could melt the heart of the hardest Marine, even a former drill instructor.
“Swallow your pride and remove your self from the area if anyone attempts to molest you or otherwise create a disturbance with you as a focal point.”
The Beginning of the End
I arrived in Vietnam at the end of an era that would never be repeated. Within a year, Marines and other American forces would end their advisory roles and take up arms as allied combatants. We would be exchanging our civvies and docksiders for flak jackets and combat boots. Instead of casually strolling the streets of Danang, looking for the next great bargain or just a cold beer, we would be patrolling neighborhoods with M-14s at the ready,  looking for snipers and booby traps. The freedom we enjoyed with the people of South Vietnam was coming to an end. Distinguishing friend from enemy would mean the difference between life and death. Watching each other’s back would become the order of the day. War was looming, and when it came, ten years of blood, both ours and theirs, would cover the Vietnamese landscape before it ended.
Brass candlesticks and incense burners often were made from spent artillery shell casings. 
Dong were the currency of South Vietnam. We called them piastres or p’s from the French. Military script had not yet been issued so we were paid in American greenbacks and were told to only exchange our dollars for p’s at military exchanges. The black market was supposedly sending American dollars to China to finance the war. I do not recall too many Marines exchanging their bucks for p’s at military exchanges where a dollar got you 75 p’s. The black market gave us 120.  
Temple in Danang City.
Nón lá, or leaf hats being sold on the street.
Siblings helping watch the store of cooking oil.
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In 1964, you were more likely to encounter fishermen unloading their catch, and vendors with their carts selling all types of seafood, as well as “mystery meats.” For less than fifty cents, I often bought a kind of Vietnamese sub. It consisted of a split French baguette loaded with a filling of hot, spicy chopped meat and vegetables. I never identified the meat they used. Rumors of everything from dogs and cats to rats were always circulating. But the “subs” were always delicious and I never had a “Tum’s moment” from eating one. Vietnamese food was always fresh and exciting. 
SHUFLY United States Marine Corps Danang City Operation
copyright 2013
Today, the Danang shoreline boasts restaurants, hotels, pristine beaches and fun in the sun for all.