As soon as I arrived in the 13 TFS I was taken off the base to meet the Maharajah and order my work suits and a party suit. To go to the Maharajahs to be fitted was a rite of passage for all FNGs (F’ing new guys) in the F4 squadrons at Udorn. The Maharajah ran a tailor shop right outside the Udorn main gate. He was not really a maharajah – his name was Amarjit Singh Vasir and his rise to fame began in 1966, when the Udorn wing commander provided him with the basic design for a fighter pilot’s party suit. Fighter pilots loved three things: To Fly, Fight, and Party.
Amarjit never looked back and by the time I arrived at Udorn, he had provided party suits for every rank of Air Force personnel up to and including generals. It was said that he had nearly 100 seamstresses working during the peak years of the war due to the constant turnover of personnel in the F4 squadrons at Udorn. When I arrived in 1973, there were four F4 fighter (4 TFS, 13 TFS, 421TFS, 555 TFS) squadrons and one RF4 (14 TRS) reconnaissance unit. Udorn at its peak was the largest F4 wing in the world. In the squadron he was known more familiarly as “The Thief.”
I suspect because he seemed to have a monopoly in providing these items for all the units. There was also a feeling in the squadron that somehow he passed along all the information about new arrivals to local insurgents who supported the Vietcong in Vietnam. This rumor was never proved but it fueled a sort of love hate relationship with Amarjit. The work suits were for everyday at the squadron when we were not flying, and basically were a short-sleeved light weight jumpsuit, with name, wings, rank, and squadron patches on them–think a well tailored flight suit which actually fit, not like the bags we wore flying. The party suits were for official squadron social events and were much more elaborate with large F4 silhouettes on the back and many, many patches.
Patches were the other speciality of Brother Amarjit. If you had an idea for a patch he could make it. I designed a backseater or Guy in Back – GIB – Power Patch for my party suit which became quite popular. If you designed one for yourself, Amarjit would make extras which he added to his collection. The GIB patch showed the backseater holding a banana on a stick for the pilot to follow. The GIBs often referred to the frontseaters as FUFs, or F’ers up Front, and that was on the patch also. Other popular patches included Yankee Air Pirate, Red River Valley, SEA Olympic War Games, and the Phantom II McDonnell Douglas patch. All of them would end up on the party suit, along with many, many more. If one had flown North there would be a 100 or 200 missions North Vietnam Patch. Since we were flying over Cambodia many had a Khymer Rouge Hunting Club patch on their suits. And then of course there was the universal patch on every fighter jocks’ suit – F’ Jane Fonda. Jane was not too popular for her 1972 trip to Hanoi; even to this day a large segment of the men who served in the war consider her to have aided and abetted the enemy.
So with a new party suit covered with patches, there was only one more thing for the well dressed Fighter Jock and that was a flashy bracelet and or gold chain to wear.
Jewelry was available at several shops right outside the main gate. Many guys had solid gold three strand bracelets with their names and wings on them; mine was a more conservative sterling silver and gold. Most of the gold bracelets it was said came from Vientiane, Laos, which was only about 30 miles north of Udorn. I also had a silver pinky ring resembling my wings. One other bracelet that almost every officer and enlisted sported was a POW bracelet with the name and date of a man lost or missing in action. Many of us wore them until the end of the war in 1975 and I had mine for many years in a box on my dresser. Today I still wear my ID bracelet as a reminder of those days.
Thus outfitted we were ready to party, but that is a story for another day.
And party we did.