Skip to Content

My Vietnam War, 50 Years Later (Part Two)

Memory, Writing and Politics

 
Click here to go to My Vietnam War, 50 Years Later, PART ONE: "A REMF Way Out In The Front"
 
                                                                  MEMORY, WRITING and POLITICS
 
That writer’s place inside the imaginative mind where things rise from the unconscious and find their way outward to the fingertips and onto the keyboard to become words -- that place is neither fact nor fiction. This is a fact. Donald Trump has made this fact more clear than maybe anyone ever has in modern memory. In that writer’s place, I’ve always employed Bao Ninh’s character Kien from The Sorrow Of War and the ill-fated 27th NVA Battalion as stand-ins for the unit I helped locate for death and destruction. I see the lush terrain of Vietnam’s Central Highlands now in my mind as an opening master shot in a movie. The camera is looking out the open door of a Huey in the early dawn hours. There is actually no door at all on the chopper, and cool air is rushing into the passenger compartment where I sit on a canvas seat with no seatbelt holding my M14 rifle. (In 1966, REMFs still had long, wood-stocked M14s.) Everything is green and gold from the rising sun. I’m stunned looking at the winding Se San River like a golden snake slithering through the forest reaching to the horizon. This was probably the most amazing, most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen. The image and moment is seared into the creases of my mind.

DF team member and jeep at a firebase, in the Central Highlands and Chinook lifting a load on a slingDF team member and jeep at a firebase in the Central Highlands, and Chinook lifting a load on a sling

Earlier that morning, I’d leaped up onto the top of our three-quarter-ton truck’s box, and as an olive-drab behemoth, two-prop Chinook slowly lowered itself down toward me, I’d slapped a metal ring onto a hook below the massive copter’s belly. Out the door of the Huey, over the Se San River, I watched the truck with its box containing maps and DF paraphernalia trailing in the wind on a sling beneath the Chinook; a jeep and trailer had been driven inside the belly of the beast. Our mobile DF operation was headed toward the border as part of a huge operation to engage and clear the NVA streaming down from the north via the Ho Chi Minh trail and into the Highlands. There is an amazing sense of power one gets -- especially as a kid -- from being a small part of such a powerful and immense army of men. I realize now we were looking for young Vietnamese men like Kien and the 27th Battalion.



story | by Dr. Radut