I know what you’re thinking (Thomas Magnum voice)… What would happen if you mix a couple of Green Berets, a large contingent of Marine embassy guards, copious amounts of alcohol, and a dress-up holiday (Halloween) that isn’t really known or celebrated in a country, in this case, Bolivia?
Why it was fun… for the American kids, and by saying that, I fully include the children of the American contingent, whose parents were part of the embassy or the construction that was ongoing at the time. And well, it was fun for the military members who got to dress up and become kids again during the holiday.
During this time many moons ago, as my son would say, “before electricity,” the Bolivians didn’t celebrate Halloween. While we celebrate it on October 31, Bolivia would celebrate “All Saints Day” and the “Day of the Dead,” which fall on November 1 and 2, respectively. Now, the American version of Halloween is catching on more and more with the youth of Latin America. But back then, not so much.
For you James Bond fans (raises hand with a Vesper Martini glass), the opening sequence of Spectre begins with Bond in costume marching in the Day of the Dead parade… but I digress.
Let’s do something for the kids
The Special Forces guys stationed at the U.S. Embassy in La Paz got along famously. We also hung out together during off-hours, and there was a ton of mutual respect. They were great guys, and the Gunny and his wife looked after them; she was almost like a den mother to them all. They have a really tough job to do, especially in a city where “Gringos” are not loved, but were tolerated at best.
Of course, my partner Dave and I would never do anything to get them in trouble, right? Well, not most of the time. But that is a story for another time.
Back then, Dave and I bounced between the embassy and the jungle. We were also putting together a course for UMOPAR, a special operations unit of the Bolivian police. As we were going to be around for Halloween, we decided to throw a costume party for the military personnel and significant others, our Bolivian partners, and some of the embassy and DEA staff that we were close to. The embassy always threw a big costume party for the majority of the personnel.
The Gunny and his wife stopped by one afternoon in our office in the embassy and told us they were throwing a haunted house party for the kids at the Marine House and asked if we would like to help out and dress up like monsters that Sunday evening, which was about a week before the actual day. I was non-committal at first, but as my partner said, “Let’s Do Something For the Kids.”
So, we got well-oiled early Sunday and ventured to the Marine House. I decided to dress up like the Terminator, layers of tin foil pressed and molded around half my face and glued to keep the transformation. The molded foil around half my teeth was uncomfortable, actually, it hurt like hell, but medication from Mr. Jack Daniels alleviated that.
The Marines were not supposed to drink until AFTER the party was over. Oops, those SF guys blew that one out of the water soon after arriving. As an old SF friend once told me, “It is better to be a bad influence than no influence at all.” So, by midafternoon, we were all showing the kids a great haunted house, but we may have been having more fun than they were.
At about six that evening, the Jack Daniels was running low, as well as vodka, tequila, and other adult beverages. We offered to make the run to the liquor store, but as we say in Boston, “a Paaacky Run.” Into the car we jump, and off we go. About a mile from the store, we stopped at a traffic light. As Dave and I were talking, I glanced out my side window and saw a Bolivian family staring in horror at me. The Jack made me somewhat stupider than I already was, and was like, “WTH are they staring at?” My partner said, “You’re dressed like a Terminator, you dumb**s!”
We proceeded to buy even more liquor than planned because “It is better to have it and not need it rather than vice versa?” besides, we could put whatever was left in the bar at the Marine House.
Arriving back, everyone was worried about us because we were so late, and the last of the kids had nearly left. But they all had a great time because the community, so isolated in Bolivia, did everything together… at least back then.
“Drunken debauchery sir”
Somehow, the SF house got the reputation (undeserved, I’m sure) as a party house. So, we were prepping for a costume party for between 35-50 people, or so we thought. We had a huge place. We were each authorized an apartment but decided to pool our cash and live together. The house was enormous, and it was plush. We decorated the place, and our Bolivian neighbors watched with fascination and amusement.
The Marines brought over an actual aluminum coffin which we propped up against the stone entrance. One of the Marine corporals placed himself in the coffin to greet passersby and invited guests.
We had a huge sound system from Dave’s home back in Fayetteville, and the music was blasting all night long. Around 10:00, I was getting my second-10th drink, I can’t recall, when Dave said to me, “Homes, have you noticed how many people are here?” It was then I noticed it wasn’t 50 people but about 350 people in the house, out in the front, and out in the back yard.
We had not only the military folks but many of the State Department and Spooks from the top floor as well. The prevailing thought was that the embassy party was always okay, but they wanted to cut loose this year. Then around midnight, I noticed about 20-30 Bolivians who none of us knew but were partying amongst the Gringos. I asked them what brought them there.
They said they were in downtown La Paz, about three-four miles away, and heard about this big bash in our neighborhood. “Party on Garth.” The men were all dressed as sailors and the women as hookers. They were only dressed like that… right? I think so. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
The next Tuesday, we had a weekly Country Team meeting, and the ambassador said, “Thanks to everyone for coming out to the residence for the annual Halloween costume party, but attendance was a bit lower this year because I’ve heard the SF trainers had a huge bash.”
“How did it go?” he asked as he turned toward us. I just shrugged, but Dave said, “Total drunken debauchery, sir.” He turned back, “And the Marines? Did they behave?” Of course, I said of course they did. But Dave added, “They partied like good Marines, sir.”
Then the ambassador replied that the Marines would be restricted to the Marine House for the time being.
As a footnote, I have all of the photographic evidence, which will not be released to protect the guilty. But Halloween was fun. Where were you in 1992?
Steve Balestrieri is a proven military analyst. He served as a US Army Special Forces NCO and Warrant Officer in the 7th Special Forces Group. In addition to writing for Sandboxx.com, he has written for 19fortyfive.com and SOFREP.com; he has covered the NFL for PatsFans.com for over 11 years. His work was regularly featured in the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle and Grafton News newspapers in Massachusetts.
Feature Image: Airmen of Team Minot dress up for Halloween at Minot Air Force Base, N.D. Oct. 29, 2021. Candy was handed out at the 5th Medical Group’s Trail of Terror and the 91st Security Forces Trunk or Treat. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Zachary Wright)