Behind Enemy Lines To Find Gold
In 1972, I was a Marine Corps pilot, a lieutenant ﬂying helicopter gunships, stationed onboard an aircraft carrier oﬀ the coast of Vietnam. This was my second tour to Vietnam. My ﬁrst tour was in 1966 as a midshipman, a student at Kings Point, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.
I was a 25-year-old pilot on board another ship. This time it was an aircraft carrier.
One day aboard the aircraft carrier, I received a letter from my rich dad saying, “President Nixon took the dollar oﬀ the gold standard. Watch out, the world is about to change.”
President Richard Nixon took the U.S. dollar oﬀ the gold standard on August 15, 1971. He made his announcement during the popular TV show Bonanza. Apparently I had missed that episode of the TV series—and the President’s important announcement.
In 1972, I had no idea why or how the world was going to change. I did not understand President Nixon’s message. Yet rich dad’s warning in 1972 intrigued me.
In the pilots’ “ready room” on board the carrier, I found a Wall Street Journal and began searching for answers. Even the Wall Street Journal had scant coverage about gold, except for a few comments on the price of gold rising from $35 an ounce, and ﬂuctuating between $40 and $60 an ounce. In another publication, I found an article written by some “crackpot” predicting gold would go to $100 an ounce.
The ﬂuctuating price of gold intrigued me. Why is the price of gold rising? I asked myself. What does it mean?
Ted was a fellow pilot who was also interested in gold. During our free time, we began our own study, doing our research to better understand the relationship between gold and future global change.
I met Ted around the same time President Nixon took oﬃcially ended the gold standard because the United States was importing too many Volkswagens from Germany, too many Toyotas from Japan, and too much ﬁne wine from France. The United States had a balance of trade problem.
Ted and I studied a map of Vietnam and soon found a gold mine. The problem was, in 1972, the United States was losing the war and the gold mine on the map was now in enemy hands. We formed a partnership and scheduled a mission for the next day. Our plan was to ﬂy from the carrier, cross enemy lines, locate that gold mine, and buy gold at a discount.
Early the next morning, we lifted oﬀ from the carrier and ﬂew approximately 25 miles across the sea into Vietnam. Our anxiety increased as we ﬂew over the burned-out, smoldering wreckage of tanks and other vehicles left behind by the retreating South Vietnamese Army. The North Vietnamese Army was heading south after the South Vietnamese. Once we crossed the line into enemy territory, Ted and I knew we would be in serious trouble if we were shot down and captured. For obvious reasons, we had not told anyone onboard the ship where we were going.
Behind Enemy Lines
Following the map, we soon spotted a large cluster of giant bamboo surrounding the village we were looking for. The village was about 30 miles behind enemy lines. Rather than rush in, we ﬂew low tight circles, once to the left and then right, over the village. If we had taken ﬁre, the mission would have been over and we would have ﬂown back to the carrier.
Not taking ﬁre and believing we were safe, we landed in a grassy ﬁeld. We shut down the aircraft and headed into the village, leaving our crew chief with the aircraft.
Even today, I can still vividly recall Ted and myself, strolling down the village path of hard-packed mud behind enemy lines, waving at Vietnamese villagers as they sold vegetables, ducks, and chickens. No one waved back. Most just stared at us, apparently not believing two American pilots were stupid enough to stroll into their village in broad daylight, in the middle of their farmers market … in the middle of a war, behind enemy lines. We smiled and raised our hands, showing the villagers we were unarmed. We had left our personal sidearms with the helicopter. Ted and I walked without guns because we wanted the villagers to know we came as businessmen with dollars, not as Marines with guns.
The Art of the Deal
We met a young boy who led us to the “gold dealer” deeper in the village. The dealer, a tiny woman whose teeth were bloodred due to chewing betel nuts, smiled and greeted us. Her office was a tiny bamboo shack, with a bamboo blind propped up, indicating she was open for business. Nixon had closed the U.S. “gold window,” but her gold window was open.
Ted and I, both Marine pilots and officers with college degrees, soon realized we did not know anything about gold. We had no idea what real gold looked like.
The Vietnamese-woman’s gold pieces were tiny nuggets, held in 3-inch diameter, half-inch thick, clear, circular plastic pill cases. Holding up the plastic cases up to the light, we got our ﬁrst look at real gold. Unfortunately, her gold looked like tiny dried raisins that were painted gold.
“Is this gold?” I asked Ted.
“How would I know?” snapped Ted. “I don’t know what gold looks like. Don’t you know what gold looks like?”
“I thought you did,” I replied, shaking my head in disbelief.
“That’s why you’re my partner.”
The pressure of doing business behind enemy lines was getting to us. Ted thought I was an idiot and I thought the same of him.
Our opening bid was $40 for an ounce. We knew that the “spot,” the international price of gold, was around $55 on that day. We thought we could get a discount since we had U.S. dollars and we were behind enemy lines. The tiny woman with red teeth just smirked and was probably thinking, the two of you are idiots. Don’t you know that the spot price of gold is the same all over the world?
Try as we might, she would not budge off her price. She knew the “spot was the spot.” And by now she knew we were real idiots. If she had been dishonest, she could have sold us dried raisins painted gold. She could have sold us rabbit droppings painted gold and we would not have known the difference.
Suddenly, our negotiations were interrupted by frantic shouts and terriﬁed screams from our crew chief: “Lieutenants, lieutenants, get back now.” Immediately, my co-pilot and I ceased our negotiations and ran through the villagers’ farmers market and back to the aircraft. I heard a squawk and felt badly when I realized I had accidentally kicked a chicken and then stepped on a duck as I sprinted back to the aircraft.
My imagination was running wild. I could see the lines of Viet Cong in black pajamas and North Vietnamese Army troops in khaki uniforms crossing the rice paddies and approaching our helicopter. It was then that I remembered we were unarmed and could not defend ourselves.
The little woman with the red teeth was right: we were idiots.
It was a long, quiet trip back to the carrier. Ted and I said nothing to each other, and the crew chief dared not ask us if we had any gold.
Landing back on board the carrier, Marines, and sailors gathered around our helicopter. After the aircraft was shut down and secured to the ﬂight deck, Ted and I emerged from the aircraft. The sailors and Marines were now staring at Ted and me. Crossing the ﬂight deck, heading for the showers and our rooms, all we said to those staring at us was, “Don’t ask.”
After Ted and I showered oﬀ the mud, we returned to the pilots’ ready room for some well-deserved laughter.
Our commanding oﬃcer threatened to have us brought up on charges. The operations officer threatened to have us wash our helicopter in front of everyone. Yet it was the weapons officer who got my attention. He said, “If you had brought that gold on board ship, you would have been arrested.”
“What? Why would we have been arrested?”
“Because it is illegal for Americans to own gold.” “Why is it illegal?” Ted asked.
The weapons officer did not know. And the incident was dropped. After all, there was a war to ﬁght, and we had more important missions to ﬂy in the morning. The meeting came to an end and we all went to dinner.
But I had a new question in my mind: Why was it illegal for Americans to own gold?
That question led me to continue my ongoing ﬁnancial education and seek my own answers.
Editor, Rich Dad Poor Dad Daily