“Is that a United States Marine tattoo?”
Late in November, 1975, I had just arrived in the Philippines with a good friend of mine, John Silao, who was my college roommate. I had gotten discharged from the Marines because it just seemed to me that they wanted everyone who had served in ‘Nam out. The ‘Old Corps’ was cutting down in size and crusty ‘old salts’ were welcomed to leave. The New Corps wanted new blood, men and women who they could mold, troops who did not have the ‘bad habits’ learned in the war.
Our plan was to stay for a year, but John soon realized that he should go back to USA and finish his studies in Photography in order to ‘make it’ in his homeland. I was determined to find a way to make money and stay for a while. A cousin of John told me about the movie Apocalypse Now, a Vietnam War movie was casting extras. I thought that sounded like a great thing to do so I went with him to the place they were signing up extras.
In 1975, early in April, the communists had finally captured Saigon. I was in college at Mount San Antonio, not really knowing what I was doing, smoking a lot of marijuana and without direction. I watched the news and felt terrible that the United States had abandoned the Vietnamese people. I had read and seen the news articles about the Vietnamese Boat People who were escaping everyday from communist tyranny, many subjected to attacks by pirates. The pirates would board their ships, which were usually overcrowded and rob, rape, terrorize, those who had managed to escape from their land. Many made their way to Thailand, some of them reached Hong Kong, others were picked up by merchant ships and taken to the Philippines.
John’s cousin took me to the casting office where I signed up as an extra. The casting director noticed my tattoo, the U.S. Marine Corps emblem on my right forearm. His name was Ken Metcalfe and he was the local casting director who had a lot of experience in film work in the Philippines. Ken asked me, “Is that a U.S. Marine tattoo?” I answered, “yes sir, it is”, well, he invited me into his office. Ken found out that I had served with 1st Recon Battalion, in-country Vietnam. Ten minutes later he took me to see the director Francis Coppola, who was very excited to meet me. He offered me the job of an unofficial military adviser, working as an assistant in the casting department directly under Ken Metcalf. I would handle all the foreign extras, teaching them how to act like soldiers, look like soldiers.
Ken Metcalfe, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0582465/ who became like a mentor to me, took me back to his office asked me when I could start, I told him I could start today. “Oh, by the way I asked, how much do I get?” I was absolutely shocked when he told me $100.00…per day, six days a week! He wanted me to start right now helping him to sort out the hundreds who had come to sign up as extras. So I grabbed a clipboard, a stack of applications, and a loud hailer and went outside to take care of the mob outside.
I found that the loud speaker of the hailer did not work very well so I just raise my voice, speaking like a drill instructor. “Yoo…Listen UP! May I have your attention?” Some wiseass called out, “Who the fuck are you?” Keeping my cool, I responded with, “I am the One who gives YOU the WORD. The WORD from the Production, the WORD that YOU need to know if you want to work…NOW listen up, here is THE WORD.”
I then asked for anyone with the U.S. military experience to come forward and a dozen men came forward. One was to become a great friend and go on to be quite well known, R. Lee Ermey, a former US Marine Drill Instructor and combat vet. Ermey and I would work together in "Boys of Company C" directed by Sid Fury (who also directed "Purple Hearts"). I then asked them to be my assistants, promising them some extra pay, and very soon all the people had filled out forms. Thus began my work with the movie which was to greatly affect my life for the better.
The next fourteen months I worked as the Set Production Assistant, managing not only the foreign extras but all extras, Filipino, Vietnamese, and the Ifugao tribe, while on the set. I worked under 2nd Assistant Director Larry Franco, who was the main 2nd AD under 1st Assistant Director Jerry Zeismer.