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.)
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
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