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Travel on North

Evening finds me on another plane - Vietnam Airlines flight to Hue. Immediate contrast: No other airplanes visible as we turn around at the end of the strip. Back where we touched down, a "Follow Me" truck is our guide to the parking area. Good idea; I don't want the pilot getting lost at this point in the game.

Outside baggage I meet "Tho" who will be my personal guide for the rest of the trip. He is a former South Vietnamese Warrant Office, then 2nd Lt., then 1st Lt. who was an ARVN (member of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam) from January, 1968 through April, 1975. Because he was a 2nd Lt. for a very short time, he spent only 18 months in a "re-education" camp. Many of his friends spent two to four years in same. He was then unemployed from 1975 through 1990. Finally the government relented and he is very happy working as a guide. Tho has two daughters plus twin sons and has been married since 1968. He laughs frequently and loudly, perhaps because I join him in same.

My driver, Hugh, spelled "Huieu", drives, Tho gives me a wrapped welcome gift: a small marble monkey - in honor of the year of the monkey both this year and in 1968.

After leaving the air facilities, next miles have wall to wall one-story houses and stores much like I recall from 1961 outside of Clark Air Base, Philippines. My memories from when 1st Radio Battalion convoyed through here in January, 1970 are only of rice fields and an occasional bombed out structure. Tho tells me virtually all this construction is since 1990.

Around 9PM we stop at a restaurant on the main drag. I hear sixties music from across the street. Very pleasant temperature outside. I have another bowl of beef noodles then type this up. Tomorrow I'm off to Dong Ha, Camp Carroll, Khe Sanh and Lao Bao (Ho Chi Minh Trail.)

Good night.

Feb 23, 2004

Tho tells me there are two ways to get to be a Warrant Officer:

1) Go to school. This is what he did - University of Ohio, 1967. HE is then on the officer path.

2) Be an enlisted man, minimum 15 years. Then become Warrant Officer. Possible to be promoted to Second Lt. but that is the end.

We drive north pat eh Citadel of Hue. We will visit that on Feb 25. About five miles out of town the buildings are replaced by full views of rice paddies. They were present all the time; just the view was blocked by one layer of buildings.

Tho's father - Sgt Major in French Military Police - retired in 1955. Father and son's uniforms are similar except the background color on his ARVN hat is brown; father's background color was red.

Yo, Marines, get this: Tho worked as in interpreter for 8th RRT and then 63rd Signals Battalion. He wore civilian cloths but was paid by military. Our military thought hiring a pure civilian as an interpreter could end up hiring as spy (Tho calls it hiring a "Two-face.")

Did I tell you I feel very lucky to have him as a guide?

Tho's spoken English is poor because he doesn't get to practice but he amazes me with his world knowledge:

MAC-V (Military Assistance Command-Vietnam) was active from 1965-1972

DAO (Defense Attaché Office) was active from 1972-1975

Today's people factors:

1 million in military

1 million in police

We stop at a Catholic church with an Immaculate Mary statue contained under a sixty-foot tall set of concrete mushrooms. Nearby is a tower used for cover by Viet Cong in 1968, 1969, and 1972. Americans bombed the tower in July, 1972 ending three months of VC occupation.

Pass miles and miles of verdant land, rice fields, and water buffalo. Tho points out a school where he, age 17, was seduced by a teacher, age 34. He was horny, she was horny. Apparently she had many student lovers so when she became pregnant no one knew which student was the father. Sounds like a tall tale to me.