Friday, February 11, 2011

From The Editor: The Navy Exchange, Hair Spray, HSAS, and Corruption

In the previous diary entry on 7 July, Clark wrote, "Believe it or not, hair oil is not available at the PX, and this has been a sore point with me.  The PX has lots of female hair spray and lots of other ladies items even though there are only about 200 nurses in all of Vietnam.  But they don’t have things like men’s hair oil."

Clark was one of many contemporary observers who noticed that the Navy Exchange stocked quantities of women's items, like hair spray and cosmetics, that exceeded the 700 authorized females in South Vietnam.  Clark does not elaborate here, but it was apparent that the exchange stocked the hair spray for Americans to gift their Vietnamese girlfriends.  It was also apparent that large quantities of PX hair spray, along with alcohol, cigarettes, stereo equipment, television sets, movie and slide projectors, and clothing consistently appeared on the Saigon black market in the summer of 1965.  The story of PX hair spray is a story of corruption.

The Cholon Post Exchange and Commissary Store was located at 100 Hung Vuong Street in the U.S. Navy Headquarters Support Activity Saigon (HSAS or HEDSUPPACT) compound.  In 1965,  it was the largest and most profitable Navy Exchange in the world.  In November 1965, its sales exceeded 8.7 million dollars; the net profit from 1 June to 1 November 1965 was more than $1.75 million, more than twice the amount registered by the second-ranked Navy exchange at Yokosuku, Japan. 

Inside the Cholon Post Exchange, 1965.  (Photo courtesy Richard P. Clark, Jr. collection)

The Commissary store was a giant supermarket that served the U.S. military community and stocked a million-dollar inventory that included more than 1,500 canned and packaged items, 122 varieties of meat, and forty kinds of produce. 

Inside the Commissary Store, 1965.  (Photo courtesy Richard P. Clark, Jr. collection)

Captain Archie C. Kuntze was the commander of HSAS, the U.S. Navy's largest off-shore command.  In mid-1965, HSAS was a considerable military empire that reported through a chain of command that was independent of MACV.  In addition to the PX and commissary, HSAS had the responsibility of unloading ships in Saigon port, disbursing paychecks to all American military personnel in South Vietnam, operating all bachelor officers' and bachelor enlisted quarters, running a field hospital and dental clinic for sick and wounded troops, and feeding and entertaining American military men in clubs and messes.  HSAS also had the responsibility for administering more than $100 million in U.S. government funds.

Captain Archie C. Kuntze, commander, Headquarters Support Activity Saigon, 1965.  (Photo courtesy U.S. Navy)

Kuntze was a high-living divorcee who styled himself "The Mayor of Saigon".  He slapped backs and shook hands at cocktail parties and social functions as though he were an American big-city mayor. Kuntze hosted his own parties which the American press reported as the most glittering and the talk of Saigon.   He acquired a Taiwanese girlfriend, Jannie Suen who was nineteen years younger than him, and lived in an elegant villa at 74 Hong Thap Tu in downtown Saigon. 

Kuntze behaved in a manner seemingly calculated to draw attention to himself and to annoy General Westmoreland.  For example, HSAS controlled all non-military vehicles in South Vietnam and was responsible for providing MACV with cars for Westmoreland and his senior staff.  Kuntze's official car was a 1964 Buick sedan with whitewall tires, the only vehicle with whitewall tires in all of Vietnam.  Although Westmoreland was a four-star general and the senior military officer in South Vietnam, HSAS assigned Westmoreland a less-prestigious Chevrolet sedan for his official vehicle.  Kuntze also aggressively courted the American and Vietnamese press.  Rare was the day that his picture or a story about him did not appear in a Saigon newspaper.  Whenever the Viet Cong bombed one of the hotels he had converted into servicemen's quarters, Kuntze rushed to the scene to direct rescue efforts and give briefings to newspeople.

Shortly after assuming command of MACV in 1964, Westmoreland pressed Admiral Ulysses S. Grant Sharp, the commander-in-chief, Pacific, and Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, to replace HSAS with an Army logistical command.  In the spring of 1965, McNamara approved the logistical command and MACV drew up plans to phase out HSAS and turn over the Navy's responsibilities to the Army's 1st Logistical Command by the spring of 1966.

In mid-1965, investigators from the Defense Department, Navy, and Army flew to Saigon to look into problems associated with Kuntze and HSAS.  One of those problems involved 150,000 cases of hair spray requisitioned by HSAS.  Other problems included unexplained loss of significant quantities of exchange supplies that surfaced on the Saigon black market, and currency manipulation. 

By May 1966, Kuntze's empire collapsed.  The Navy dissolved HSAS and ordered Kuntze to the 12th Naval District headquarters in San Francisco, California.  In a World War II-era barracks at Treasure Island in San Francisco, Kuntze went before a court-martial and faced charges of illegally importing Thai silk in excess of his demonstrated need, illegally converting $12,000 of Vietnamese piasters and U.S. military scrip into dollars, and maintaining a mistress in his personal quarters.  In November 1966, a court composed of three admirals and six captains found Kuntze guilty of three acts unbecoming of a naval officer:  allowing Jannie to live in his quarters; allowing her to use a U.S. government vehicle; and importing Thai silk.   The Navy reprimanded Kuntze and reduced him in seniority, which ended his career.  Kuntze retired shortly after the court-martial.

The Navy handled the case delicately because its investigators had uncovered evidence implicating senior South Vietnamese government and military officials in black market activities.  Jannie Suen disappeared without a trace.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. It's YOKOSUKA, Japan...also, there's only two types of Navy commands: ashore and afloat...

  3. Richard Clark, I served in the army for the 525 MI Group in Saigon, Vietnam in 1967 and in the 149 MI Group on Danang. Vietnam. I went to the PX in Cholon several times between January - May 1967. Good to see a photo of it. I pulled guard duty at the Phu Tho PX Depot in Saigon and saw the corruption and leakage that went out into the black market. I read "The American Mayor of Saigon" by Larry Engelmann. Do you have a photo of Jannie Suen who's real name was Sun Pei Kiong? There was a photo of her presented at Captain Archie Kuntze's court martial at Treasure Island in San Francisco, California. Do those records still exist? You can text or call me, Bill, at 435-469-2407 or email me at I would like to talk with you. I have several wire photos of Archie Kuntze and his court martial that I have collected and one when a bomb went off a destroyed a vehicle in Saigon.