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My Vietnamese driver and I left Saigon on a special assignment to Tay Ninh, approximately 45 miles northwest of the capital, in the very early and dark morning of Aug. 9, 1972. I was in Vietnam for the second time. During the communist Tet Offensive in 1968, I was an Army captain in a quartermaster unit in Cam Ranh Bay. I was now a major in the 3rd Area Logistics Advisory Team 9, helping the commander of the Saigon-area quartermaster group, which supplied South Vietnamese soldiers with food, gasoline, uniforms, and other things. I traveled to Tay Ninh that morning to cope with a gasoline shortage.
I arrived in Saigon about 9:30 a.m. A sea of motorized cycles, pedicabs, automobiles, and people clogged the streets, creating a constant drone of noise and dust clouds. I was hungry since I hadn’t had breakfast and wanted to locate a quiet spot to have a late breakfast and write my reports.
Bryan, Hardy W.
Officers from the United States were billeted at a variety of hotels around Saigon. The mess in most of these bachelor officer apartments served three meals a day. The meals were troop issue: a cyclic menu containing the same cuisine was provided to all military personnel. One mess hall opened earlier than the others to meet early and late meal requirements, while the other stayed open longer. When I got downtown, I went to the BOQ for breakfast, which was offered until 10 a.m.
I arrived at about 9:45 a.m. There were a lot of vacant tables in the dining room. I grabbed a copy of Stars and Stripes, the military’s daily newspaper, and took a seat near the rear wall, where I could keep an eye on the door. In Vietnamese restaurants, we were instructed to do so. As about our only protection against an adversary barging in with an automatic rifle or throwing hand grenades, we’d keep our weapon on our lap beneath the table. I put my hands to my firearm and released the safety at least twice in Vietnamese restaurants, but I never had to shoot. I try to sit where I can see the door even now, almost 50 years later. When I have my back to the door, I really feel worried!
I slid my weapon, an M2 carbine with two 30-round magazines taped together, beneath the table and onto a chair. In a shoulder holster, I also carried a.45-caliber pistol. Because it was smaller and simpler to use from a jeep, I preferred the carbine over the M16 rifle. I went to the serving line after securing my carbine on the chair. No one else was at the serving tables save two Vietnamese kitchen employees.
I sat down to have breakfast while writing the trip report and reading the newspaper. The door swung open. When I glanced up, I was surprised to see a well-dressed white lady enter and go through the serving line, which is uncommon in Vietnam. It became clear that she was an American when she neared the end of the queue. She was stunning. I couldn’t stop myself from wondering who she was, where she had come from, and why she was here. I wondered if there was any way I could go to her table and meet her.
She scooped up her tray and went right for me before I could think of a strategy. “Hello, my name is Michele Cornau,” she remarked as she approached my table. “I was born and raised in New Mexico.” She inquired as to if she might accompany me! I had scattered my papers over the table, but quickly collected them and invited her to have a seat. She was extremely pleasant and asked a lot of questions, such as, “Where are you from?” and “How long have you been here?” What do you do while you’re in Vietnam? Is it hazardous? When do you plan to return home?
I saw another white lady grab a tray and proceed down the breakfast line as I was addressing Michele’s inquiries. I was starting to doubt whether or not this was genuine. Was I hallucinating? This has never happened to me before, much alone in a war zone.
The second lady approached my table with her tray in hand. “Hello, my name is Janis Gentry from the University of Utah,” she said. “Do you mind if I join you?”
Now I was seated between two stunning ladies. This could not possibly be true. I was terrified I’d wake up with a “Poof!” and they’d vanished, and reality would return.
Janis asked me similar questions, which I replied while pinching myself to make sure I was awake. Then followed two more dazzling knockouts down the serving line. They followed me to my table.
I picked up my carbine, which Michele and Janis had not seen, since we would need another chair in addition to the one with my weapon. When I did, they both shouted, “Oooh!” and seemed surprised to see my gun. “Greetings!” said one of the two newcomers. Laurie Schaefer here, and Allyn Warner here. Allyn is from Maine, and I’m from Ohio.” I thought it was strange that each lady stated her home state, but it was just a passing thought.
They all appeared to want to know all there was to know about me and what was going on in Vietnam. I couldn’t believe it was happening—here I was, surrounded by four of the most gorgeous ladies I’d ever seen, and I was the focus of their attention. This couldn’t possibly be true!
As she entered the mess hall, passed through the line, and arrived to my table, I barely saw another young attractive lady. “Hello, everyone!” she said. before turning to face me and saying, “My name is Avis Ann Cochran, and I’m from Louisiana.” When I first heard her drawl, I knew she was from the South.
I eventually had the guts to inquire about the situation with the females. Laurie introduced herself as Miss America. In September 1971, Janis, Avis, Allyn, and Michele competed in the Miss American Pageant to represent respective states. They were in Vietnam as part of the Miss America USO trip, which was in its sixth year.
“Hot damn!” I said. “Wait till everyone hears about this!” says the narrator. I was going to take advantage of the situation while it lasted. When Avis completed her meal and they were about to depart, I asked if I may take a photo of the two of us to commemorate the moment. “Sure!” was the response. “Please make your way up to our rooms.”
Bryan could show his friends back at headquarters a poster signed by Miss America, Miss Utah, Miss Maine, Miss New Mexico, and Miss Louisiana to indicate he had breakfast with Miss America and six members of her troupe. Hardy W. Bryan | Courtesy of Hardy W. Bryan
I went down the corridor with them to their rooms, my carbine slung over my shoulder, still believing it couldn’t be true. Two of them grabbed my arms and led me away. “This isn’t happening to me!” exclaims the narrator. I repeated to myself once again. However, it was!
Two massive military cops were not going to let me get past them as we reached their side of the BOQ. They’d received their orders. Miss America’s or my pleadings were ineffective. It didn’t matter whether I drew a rank. Laurie instructed me to hold on and she’d bring me a photo.
Two additional ladies, also Southerners, arrived to meet the “lovely major” as they waited. Miss Virginia was Linda Jean Moyer, while Miss South Carolina was Pam Inabinet. They were all beautiful, graceful, pleasant, and, as previously said, exquisite.
The military police determined that it was time for me to go. I expressed my gratitude to the Miss America group for an amazing trip and for visiting the soldiers in Vietnam. I left in a daze, unable to believe I had a dinner with Miss America and four of her court members on my own!
I went back to my office and informed everyone about my adventure. They didn’t believe me until I showed them the poster with five of the ladies, including Miss America, signed on it. For a week, I made it a point to have breakfast in the same mess hall, but I never saw or heard from them again.
Thank you, Miss Virginia, Miss Utah, Miss Maine, Miss South Carolina, Miss New Mexico, Miss Louisiana and Miss America for giving me a breakfast in Vietnam I shall never forget. V
Hardy W. Bryan served in Vietnam from October 1967 to October 1968, and then again from November 1971 to October 1972. He retired as a lieutenant colonel from the Army and now lives in St. Petersburg, Florida.
This story first published in Vietnam magazine’s August 2023 edition. Subscribe to Vietnam magazine and follow us on Facebook for more stories:
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