MPC (Military Payment Certificates) Conversion

September 2014

    From:  Jim White

   Dated:  September 24, 2014

Subject:  MPC Conversion

Michale,
The discussion on Getting Paid in Vietnam (Click here) http://www.afvnvets.net/conv--gettingpaid.html ) touches on MPC conversion and I know that on October 9, 1970, we had a MPC conversion in Vietnam.  Capt Lamson (Adjutant) and I collected over $13,000 from everyone and then went to Tan Son Nhut to get it changed to the new version before returning to the AFVN compound and giving it back (as appropriate?!).  I went through a number of MPC conversions during my years in Korea and Japan (1954-57, 1959-1965 and 1967-1970 and I know that AFKN/FEN announced from early morning that everyone was to bring all their MPC to their work or duty station for conversion immediately.  The whole idea was to cut out all the black marketeers, etc.
I'm surprised that you say that the conversion in 1967 was a big surprise to Det 3.  Surely AFVN, including Det 3, should have been among the first to know because the conversion was usually announced by the military radio/TV stations from early in the morning.  But, I guess it was different for the units which had to pull in their scouts, etc.  Their commanders would have had to know at least a day in advance.
And, yes, in Korea and Japan, on conversion day many of the local mama-san's, etc., at least figuratively, jumped from tall buildings.  Throughout the day you would see them standing along the fence or at the gate pleading for the GI's to convert their old MPC to the new.  But, once a GI had made one conversion--he could make no more.  And, if a GI showed up with a rather large sum of MPC cash for his one-time conversion, he was immediately under suspicion for trying to get the new version for someone "outside the gate."  Buying things in the PX for a local national, even as a gift, was considering black-marketing and was therefore a court-martial offense, and the penalties could be rather harsh.  But that doesn't mean it wasn't done.  In my early days in Korea, a short-time [if you don't know what that term means, you weren't in the military!] cost (1) a carton of cigarettes which one could buy at the PX for $1.00, (2) $2.00 in MPC, or (3) who knows how much in the local currency!  Guess which route most of the GI's took.  Cigarettes were rationed (a carton a week as I recall) so the heavy smokers would ask the non-smokers to buy cigarettes for them so they could also have cheaper fun outside the gate.
Speaking of "overpaying for services--I really did it "up brown" once.  I got to Vietnam on July 30, 1970 and was getting a little shaggy by August 10th, so I went to the barbershop in the Cholon PX compound.  I hadn't used MPC for several years so I was still getting used to the MPC as well as the Piaster/Dong.  I decided to give the barber a 40 P tip but I accidentally gave him $40 MPC.  Didn't notice my error until later that day when I was back in the Iowa BEQ and checked my wallet--$40 short!?  Ouch!  Never saw the barber at that shop again.  He must have decided that (1) he was getting paid off Mafia style and had better disappear, or (2) he had enough money he could retire.  Actually, I rather felt sorry for him over what I had done.
Jim

    From:  Michael Goucher

   Dated:  September 25, 2014

Subject:  MPC Conversion

Jim-- I was wondering, reading through entries on the AFVNVets.net site (links via Facebook), whether any conversation had ever been initiated remembering the 1967 changing of US MPC currency?  Since I was out in the boonies in Pleiku it was to Det. 3 only a big surprise.  All over RVN every unit pulled in their scouts and other remote units and the currency swap was done on a Friday. In Saigon, we learned, it was like the Great Depression with people jumping out of tall buildings.  The ordinary folk had adopted the MPC as a de facto national currency, because it had more purchasing power than the piastres.  One could even solicit help from a friendly GI to purchase PX goods for consumption by locals having MPC to spend in the Exchanges.  US Tobacco products were coveted, and cherished by locals when they could get them. Now that I am older and more politically aware, I reflect now and again on the cautions given to us upon arrival during our "Welcome to Vietnam" orientation week; that was, we were not to overpay for services or in any way "do harm" to the Vietnamese Economy by bringing into their culture our up-scale practices, wants and needs. After the war when the hordes of US capitalists migrated to "Communist" Vietnam, the "harm" was accelerated and Ho Chi Minh City (beloved Saigon) became the Miami of the East.

AFVN Group Conversations

    From:  Michael Goucher

   Dated:  September 25, 2014

Subject:  MPC Conversion

I see Frank Rogers mentions it in passing . I guess it was quite an event in my younger mind.  The reason we didn't know what was going on re: the great MPC swap of December 1967 is because Det. 3 was an outpost (Dragon Mtn), we didn't have our own radio station and the only thing we knew from AFVN Saigon was that we were in lockdown until we heard otherwise.  At some point during that particular day we formed a 10-vehicle convoy and the entire US contingent on the mountain headed for a hootch at Base Camp Enari.  It was after were were lined up that we were told what this detail was all about.  I was also getting my pay direct deposited into Chase Manhattan, which I had been advised to do by (the missing AFVNer) Richard Shumer back stateside.  It sounded good to me and the big interest rate was a plus.  So most of us on the mountain  were only responsible for what we had in our wallets at that moment. Trust me, nobody at Det. 3 was stashing money - US or Vietnamese - in a box under his bunk.  No one trusted the locals who worked our laundry, etc.