Vietnam War Reading Analysis

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Vietnam War Reading Analysis.

Directions: Read your assigned person. Complete your section of the chart. Be sure to give information on their views of the war. Things they saw, events, actions etc. Describe their experience.


Views on War/Beliefs/Role in War?/ Describe experience/Important Events

Terry Farish

Albert French

Colonel David Hackworth

Larry Heinemann

Ma Van Khang

Christian Langworthy

Lady Borton

Nguyen Ba Chung

Phan Tien Duat

W. D. Ehrhart

Leroy Quintana

Khanh Truong

Khanh Truong joined the Army of the Republic of Vietnam as a paratrooper in 1966. He was wounded in the Lower Laos Campaign of 1972 and discharged. He fled Vietnam in 1985 and settled in the United States in 1986; in 1988, he began a career as a writer, poet, and journalist.
I joined the army very early, when I was still a teenager, ready to assume all the rights and duties of a citizen. Although my army jaunt lasted only seven years, it left permanent, ineradicable marks on me.

In my first venture out with my unit in a "leopard spot," or Viet Cong-infiltrated, area outside the city of Dong Ha, I was accompanied by two paratroopers. When we reached the bend of the foot path, we sighted an enemy. With the automatic reflex of "trained" fighters, all three of us raised our guns, aimed and fired. The man was hit, falling headlong onto the grass; his body went into paroxysm. We ran forward. The wounded soldier's eyes grew wide open, his mouth twisted. Blood oozed from the chest, and his arms and legs jerked about in shock.

"Big find, brothers!" one paratrooper exclaimed. He immediately dropped to his knees beside the wounded man, trying to extract the gold ring from the man's finger. The finger, however, was too big, and the ring refused to come off. The wounded soldier was still alive, his eyes still open, his limbs still jerking helplessly, and blood still pouring out, soaking his shirt. The paratrooper became angered, cursing repeatedly. He pulled the camp knife from the top of his knapsack, put the man's ring finger on a tree root nearby, and, without hesitation, cut off the finger.

During the Lam Son 719 campaign at A Luoi base in Lower Laos, I witnessed hundreds of deaths -- deaths that were tragic and unjust. With our troops surrounded, our commanders decided to withdraw along the path of a spring, hoping to get back to Route 9 and Dong Ha. Bordered on two sides by walls of mountain rock, the spring became our death march. Guessing our move, the enemy had placed a heavy machine gun above, aiming at our path. We knew that we'd suffer high casualties, but didn't have a choice. The alternative would be the wiping out of complete units. Soldiers elbowed each other, pushing and stepping on each other to rush forward, under the barrage of machine gun fire. Screams. Cries. Sounds of bodies tumbling into the water. Fallen bodies piled on top of each other. The spring ran with blood.

At about the same time, on the hills of A Luoi, the enemy had overrun us, and artillery was called to fire on our own position. Men seriously wounded were left behind, becoming targets for artillery fire. The lightly-wounded rushed to open ground, waiting for airlift by helicopters. There were too many soldiers; they fought each other to get onto the helicopter, to hold onto the skids. When the helicopter reached altitude, men fell to the ground like ripe fruits.

These images sometimes re-appear in my dreams.

I hate war. I detest war.

I hate and detest those minds calcified by hatred, both inside and outside Vietnam. The war ended 22 years ago: why do they still want to skin each other?

That's the reason why for the last seven years, despite all the hardship, I have tried to keep alive Hop Luu journal. It is a forum for the Vietnamese without distinction of "inside" and "outside." It is a meeting place of minds who have overcome hatred, who, one small brick at a time, help rebuild a country that has gone through too much war, poverty, and backwardness.

Leroy V. Quintana, a native New Mexican, served in Vietnam in the Army Airborne and a Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol unit in 1967-68. His poetry and fiction have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. Two of his poetry collections, Sangre and The History of Home won the American Book Award.
Five Poems About Vietnam

Armed Forces Recruitment Day
Albuquerque High School, 1962

After the Navy, the Air Force, and the Army, Sgt. Castillo, the Marine Corps recruiter, got a standing ovation when he walked up to the microphone and said proudly that unlike the rest, all he could promise was a pack, a rifle, and a damned hard time. Except for that, he was the biggest of liars.

First Encounter

You have stopped for a break, stand up to put your gear on and hear shots, see the flash of the muzzles. You have been followed. The whiteness of the branches that have been cut along the way tells you you're on a new trail, but the sergeant is a stateside G.I.: barracks inspections, rules and regs. You are probably surrounded. There are five others beside you. You are twenty-three.

You look quickly around you: the sky, the trees. You're far from home. You know now that your life is no longer yours.

Natural History

To cross a river meant leeches. A company of NVAs crashing toward you would be a troop of baboons.

A green snake named Mr. Two Step, for the number you'd last after bitten. It was said the NVAs carried flashlights. One night frightening scores of them turned out to be a swarm of fireflies.
The whir of birds' wings turned out to be artillery rounds. Threw stones at a cobra once, the sun going down.
Fire at it and the VC would know our position. A VC moving slowly in the elephant grass
happened to be a water buffalo. One night they overran the compound.
Loaded down with grenades, AK-47s from North Vietnam, mines strapped to their chests:
these were only the mosquitos. The VC only a little more than a whisper's reach away, we called in the Cobras. They came in hissing, cannons twice as fast as the old gunships. It was also said the VC kept chickens leashed to strings. So easily frightened they were perfect warning. One night, shivering uncontrollably with fear,
knowing I would have to kill whatever was out there, walking slowly, scratching.
Home Finally Going Home

We landed at Ft. Lewis, got measured, issued new dress uniforms and sent to the Mess Hall, choice USA steaks. A sergeant said Pass me the salt, boy to a corporal, and he did. Outside, the buses waiting to take us to the airport. We were home finally going home.

Poem for Our Dog Afraid of Thunder on a Rainy Day

I know what it is like to be so afraid on a rain-soaked day such as this. On a rain-soaked day such as this in Vietnam I prayed fervently.

In Vietnam I prayed fervently shivering uncontrollably in the mud. Shivering uncontrollably in the mud as men whose duty it was to kill me filed by. As men whose duty it was to kill me filed by only a little more than a yard away. Only a little more than a yard away
on a rain soaked day such as this. The type of day that dogs don't understand.

Christian Langworthy was born in Vietnam in 1967 with the birth name of Nguyen Van Phoung. He came to the United States in 1975.

My brother and I were the sons of my mother's clients. She never told us their names. She just said that they were both killed in the war. One father died in a helicopter accident, the other was ambushed while crossing a bridge. She told the same story to all of our neighbors, but even as a child, I sensed that she was lying. She never cried when she related these stories to anyone and seemed to enjoy each moment of the retelling. She even laughed once, recounting to a woman how she loved my brother's father more than she loved mine.

My mother's clients were all around us, on the street corners and in the pool halls. They were prison guards, truck drivers, mechanics and pilots. They were sergeants and majors, captains and corporals. My brother and I watched as they performed their military duties in the prisons, on the streets, or on the landing zones. We watched them pilot their Hueys and Chinooks, and caught bubble gum thrown from the back of deuce-and-a-halfs. They were our heroes, and we were fascinated by their weapons of war. We often imitated the way they walked and carried their rifles. We played war games on the streets with the neighborhood boys. Every military piece of trash that we found became a prized possession: belt buckles, brass shells, helmet liners, or canteens. But the most prized items were live rounds. We spent endless hours trying to fire the rounds, striking the priming caps with nails or dropping them off rooftops onto cement. We unscrewed the bullets from their brass casings and used the black powder to make crude fire-crackers which we threw as if we were throwing grenades. We wanted to be soldiers. We wanted to march on the streets with the men in the green uniforms. But what my brother and I most wanted was for one of these men to be our father, though our mother told us our fathers were dead.

My mother's clients talked to us in a language we didn't understand. They patted our shoulders, handed us candy, and the men who stayed for more than a day bought us toys like boxing gloves and battery-powered toy jets. We never saw our mother together with these men. She would leave for a day and come back late at night and, if she thought we were awake when her clients were around, we always heard whispers and hushed voices.

One afternoon though, during the height of the monsoon season, my brother and I slept in the far back of the bungalow behind a make-shift bamboo partition. It was dark in the bungalow and we awoke suddenly, disturbed from our daily nap. Through the pattering of the monsoon rain, we heard voices groaning. Being curious, we both went out to the front room which was lit by a hurricane lamp. In the center of the room on a table, an American man was on top of our mother. My brother and I, our curiosities piqued, approached the table and walked around it. Our mother told us to go back to sleep, but we ignored her and watched. She was wearing a blouse, but was naked from the waist down, and the man's green trousers hung around his ankles. His hips moved up and down. He said something and our mother yelled at us, and we ran into the far, back room where we always pretended to be asleep. Lying on floor mats, we heard the man yell at our mother and the door slam shut as he left.

Weeks passed, the monsoon season ended, and the men in the green uniforms entered and left our lives. More and more often, they were sleeping in our bungalow. One man let my brother and me drink a little whiskey after he had sex with our mother. Another man was taken away by MPs who knocked on our door in the middle of the night. Whenever we could, we slept cuddled with our mother, but her clients took most of her nights. It was only during the afternoons, when temperatures were too hot to do anything, that our mother napped with us in the cool air of the bungalow and held us in her arms.

One day, my brother and I returned from playing on the streets to take a nap. A soldier was with our mother. She told us that he was staying for a short while. My stomach felt sick. My brother went into the bungalow and laid down, but I ran back out to the streets. Something had gotten into me. I searched for a stick, a long piece of metal, anything, but all that I could find was an ice-cream stick broken in half lengthwise down the middle. Wielding the ice-cream stick in my hand like a knife, I went back to the bungalow. My mother and the soldier had come out to look for me. I confronted them near a neighbor's clotheslines where white bed sheets hung. I'll kill you, I shouted at the soldier and waved the ice-cream stick threateningly. Go away.

He did not understand what I had said, but he understood my body language. He laughed. My mother was furious. She was going to hit me, but the soldier stopped her. He pulled money from his pockets and extended his hand. I grabbed the money and ran to the nearest street vendor where I bought a pop-pistol and roamed the streets, shooting at people until it was time to go home

Ma Van Khang was born on December 1, 1936 in Hanoi, where he now lives. Ma worked for many years as a teacher in Vietnam's Northern Highlands; later he became a journalist.
Unlike the two realistically-portrayed sculptures about soldiers -- male and female -- nearby, which we can respond to directly, the Vietnam Wall is like a book with many pictures and pages, which to truly appreciate requires an inner perspective.
Those are pages cast in stone, beautiful and sad, with hundreds of lines standing mute, one after another inscribing the names of those American soldiers who died. They force us to read slowly; they force us to think.

To us Vietnamese, war is always an exceptional situation testing our love of our country, our courage, our determination, and our ability. War, to us, is also synonymous with hardship, loss, and sacrifice.

I spent months and years under the shrieks of American fighters and inside their bombing curtain. I was in the city of Yen Bai when it was bombed and destroyed in 1965-66. I was by the shore of Thach Han River and at Ai Tu base -- all still covered with gun smoke in 1973. My two-year-old son had to go down to the underground shelter with his grandmother a couple of times a day. My wife, after finishing her shift, had to take up a rifle to guard the electric plant at Lao Cay province.
Those were the years when death was always near. In the 30-year war, all five brothers in my family joined the army. And one -- my younger brother -- was killed. He was an intellectual, with high hope and great determination, and he was preparing to take the entrance examination for the Polytechnique College. One summer day in 1966, he and I talked in a local restaurant. Having only a few piasters left, I ordered two small cups of sweet soup -- our farewell meal. Right after that he had to take a 3-month training course to be a 37-mm antiaircraft operator. First he was the machine operator, then the distance estimator.
In a letter to me, he wrote that a momentary fear would immediately cause a mis-reading. For in the telescope, the F105 and the F4H looked frightening! I can never forget the one line he wrote: "Only now I regret deeply that I did not always listen to you earlier." That line brought me to tears.
My brother was killed in Quang Tri in 1972. A civil guard buried his body at the edge of a forest. Later, it was transferred to a provincial cemetery, where my family and I went to identify his remains. I recognized him because of his exceedingly long leg bone; he was the tallest in our family. We gathered my brother's bones into a trap, then camouflaged it inside a knapsack. The train conductor, if he knew it was human bones, might throw us off the train. So, on our long trip home, I kept praying to my brother to give us his blessings. We successfully brought him home.
My father said "If you know how to learn, even mountains and rivers are books." The Vietnam wall is a book. War is a great book that we all need to read. And so I have read the Vietnam wall slowly, carefully, line by line. I tried to read it with a great deal of thought, with calmness to achieve a measure of peace. It was Dostoevsky who said, "Great ideas are spawned in sufferings." After a great loss comes experience and growth. To meditate on the war, on the loss of loved ones, is to meditate on how to live rightly in peace and friendship among ourselves.
I have read the work of many American writers who are also veterans. I find them very much like myself. They too know how to read the pages written about a bygone war.

Larry Heinemann served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam in 1967-68. He has published three novels, including Paco's Story which won the National Book Award.
I have no pleasing memories of my war year, with one singular exception. The mountain. The Nui Ba Den.

I was drafted into the Army in 1966 and served with the 25th Division in the middle of what the French called Cochin China, assigned to a mechanized infantry battalion. We rode armored personnel carriers. A.P.C.s; "tracks," we called them. We generally rode roughshod, armed to the teeth, through the countryside around Cu Chi and Dau Tieng, Trang Bang and Gau Da Ha and Tay Ninh, the Ho Bo and Bo Loi Woods. To make a long story short, we were not pleasant people and the war was not a pleasant business. I have no doubt we radicalized more southern Vietnamese to Ho Chi Minh's national revolution than we "saved."

The part of the world we fought in is as flat as the back of your hand. And above it stands the Nui Ba Den, 996 meters high, solid stone, and visible from almost any place, as if Mount McKinley were set in the middle of Kansas. On summer days, the very top of the mountain was enwrapped with a bit of stone-white cloud, like a flat-brimmed, fraying hat.

I always tried to take the last night guard, from three or four in the morning until breakfast. Night watches were mostly pathetically interminable reveries. And there in the moonlight the Nui Ba Den would be, like a fuzzy apparition. We watched in the darkness as processions of Viet Cong made their way up and around the mountain, each man carrying a tiny perfume bottle lamp, each light not much more than the flame of a birthday candle. The mountain seemed to shimmer at such times.

And then there were those few mad, murderous nights of fighting -- "bitter fighting," as historians call it. My life's everlasting night horrors; the worst nights of my life. The killing would cease only when the sun rose, the smoke cleared, and the dew burned away. You looked up and there was nothing but meat and a wood line that looked like ruined drapes. And then you looked out across the way, and there, rising sharply above everything, was the Nui Ba Den.

Sitting guard in that last, long hour before dawn, the mountain would cut a clean silhouette from the scrub of dirty dark; soon a blunt, shadowy brunswick green; then a peculiar gray-green as the light gathered above us. The mountain was textured with the rubble of mold-stained boulders and thick stands of timber; then a transparent, seedling green; the sky all but blue. Then -- boom -- the sun rose, the world all color, and there it would be, the Nui Ba Den, vivid and entire. The green of all green.

Since coming home from the war, I have made several trips back to Vietnam, and heard a number of legends about the mountain -- all antique.

It is named for a woman named Ba Den; "ba" being a mode of respectful address to signify a matron over 40 -- "ma'am." One story goes that Ba Den's husband was killed in one of the many wars of Vietnamese history; she so grieved his loss that she climbed the mountain to be as close to heaven as she could manage, then committed suicide. Another tells that Ba Den and her soldier-husband lived at the foot of the mountain; while her husband was away fighting she was captured, raped many times, and died of shame. A third story says that she was a devout older woman, a stranger to the people who lived there, but remarkable for her spiritual simplicity. Ba Den, it is said, visited the mountain to pray and meditate.

The story I favor is this: the woman Ba Den was to marry a soldier, but on her wedding day her husband-to-be was called away to war and never returned. Yet Ba Den waited, cried so hard and long that her family thought she would lose the sight of her eyes, and, as the legend has it, she became the mountain. A pagoda shrine was built to the memory of her faithfulness and devotion.

The Nui Ba Den has always loomed large in my memory of the war; in my 30 years of dreams and nightmares; in my imagination and my writing about that time of my life. Nowadays when I visit, I ride up highway 22 toward Tay Ninh, and just north of Gau Da Ha, I see her. The Nui Ba Den, the widow who waits for her soldier's return, rises into view, and I feel I have come home.

How odd.
David Hackworth He spent almost 26 years in the Army, over seven of them in combat theaters. After five years in Vietnam, Hackworth, then the Army's youngest colonel, spoke out on national television, saying, "This is a bad war... it can't be won. “

In the spring of 1965, America began to dispatch a great conventional army to Vietnam. Pound for pound those airmen, marines, sailors and soldiers were collectively the finest warriors we had ever sent to war. In the beginning, they were highly trained regular volunteers, who had long been indoctrinated to kill a "Commie for Mommy."

But the Americans were trained to fight the Soviet Union. Their doctrine, tactics and equipment were designed to engage a Communist enemy on a European battlefield, not an Asian opponent in the jungle. The training and mindset of their generals and admirals were to fight great air, land and sea battles not unlike those that brought us victory in World War II.

There was another problem. Their Vietnamese opponent refused to be sucked into a war of attrition or to fight an American style war. He had over the centuries defeated the Chinese, Japanese and the French not by fighting by conventional rules, but by following the strategic and tactical doctrine of Sun Tzu, written two and a half thousand years before: enemy attacks, we retreat; enemy digs in, we harass; enemy exhausted, we attack; enemy retreats, we pursue.

For eight years, the powerful U.S. war machine mostly attacked shadows and mainly bombed an invisible enemy. It was seldom able to lock its opponent into the much sought-after classical big battle, where it could bring to bear its overwhelming firepower and technological advantage over its Third World foe. The enemy fought battle for battle mainly on his terms and almost always played the tune. He acted, we reacted. When the fight was over he danced away to fight another day, almost always leaving the ground bloody from American casualties. He took his lumps too, but they weren't shown on the Vietnamese nightly TV news. And he was prepared to pay any human price to wear down his American opponent.

Sadly, from "The Iron Triangle" to "Hamburger Hill" -- always in search of the big battle, the big victory, the big knockout -- the American leadership never learned. What worked in World War II was the standard. In their haste to recreate a Guadalcanal or a Normandy KO, the top brass failed the basic lessons of war-fighting: to understand your enemy and know cold the nature of the war.

For eight years, America fought the same battles on the same terrain using the same obsolete tactics. There was no clear cut military plan (The Objective, a principle of War), nor was there an institutional memory. Front line unit leaders were shifted every few months and the division and corps commanders -- whose tenure was considerably longer -- were totally out of touch with what went on down at the pointy end of the bayonet. The mistakes that were made in 1965 were repeated each year, as each annual crop of American cannon fodder was fed unto the field until 1973, when we withdrew.

The valiant men with the rifle squads, platoons and companies well understood the enemy's game. How he would dart in, make them bleed and run away. How he was into making the Second Vietnamese War a protracted affair that would frustrate America's leaders and wear down the American people, who from the beginning of the conflict questioned the morality of the war, wondered how our country's national security was even remotely at risk in the far away jungles of South East Asia, and saw the poinlessness of our being there.

Virtually no senior commanders spent time with the grunts to learn the true nature of the war. Most were isolated from the fighting men -- not unlike the French, British and German senior brass of World War I. Similarly, they lived in royal comfort, complete with white-coated servants and sparkling China-set tables, safely away from the killing fields. When a battle did rage, they whirled above it in helicopters making decisions that may have worked in another war, but didn't make sense to the men on the ground. These sky-borne leaders became bitterly known to the men who did the dying as "The Great Squad Leaders in the Sky."

The Vietnam War was a disaster from its bad beginning until its tragic end. It killed four million Vietnamese and over 58,000 Americans. Millions more, Vietnamese and Americans, were wounded by shell or shock and the war came close to ripping our country asunder. With the exception of the Civil War, no war wrought such long range damage to the American soul.

Did our military establishment learn from the tragic lesson of Vietnam? The mistakes were all buried. No autopsy was conducted. In 1993, in Somalia, the U.S. Army made exactly the same mistakes that were made in Vietnam. Again, mainly young Americans paid the supreme sacrifice.

Unless we learn from the past we will again face dark days ahead.

Albert French was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on July 5, 1943. After graduating from high school, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps in January of 1963. In 1965, he served as an infantryman with Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment in Chu Lia, Vietnam. Following his Marine service, Mr. French became a photo journalist and magazine publisher, then a writer.
Time crawled through the days and nights like a snake you couldn't see. Then sometimes you could see its head, its tail. Sometimes you could see it all; it could coil, hiss, spring at you, before you knew what you saw. But you'd feel its bite, then its poison would sting you.

Just sitting for a moment could be everything, precious time you didn't want to pass. Sitting on the sand bags, staring out into the night, watching the stars could be precious moments, before you looked down into the dark, watched it creep about, and you'd think about the nights gone by when fires burned, somebody screamed until they died.

Sitting back in the tent area could be a good time. Easy talk could take you everyplace, back home. It could take you to parties, warm beds and long, soft hair. Laughter could take you further than talk; laughter could take you away from yourself. It could make those fears, death thoughts you had in your mind go away. It could change it, until it became a billion little pieces of things that didn't make a difference.

Seconds could change time forever, stick it in your face, make you look at it, make you look at some guy's face. He's dead, you don't want to see him, see yourself lookin' at him and seein' you layin' there. Blood and everything else that flows is pourin' out of him. Flies are already gettin' stuck in the blood. But you would have to move on, take more steps. Time would walk with you, wait with you, then run off screamin' and leavin' you alone and stuck with your own fears. You don't give a damn about the time, let it run away. It don't mean anything here anyway, you're dead already. You been dead as soon as you got here. You don't want to say it, you just want to pretend your alive, still livin'.

The rain could become a part of the time, nighttime, daytime. It could come and not go away. It could make you a part of it, wet and cold just like it. It could fall on your face, keep fallin' in your mind, make you hear it all of the time. You're tryin' to see through it, you got to know what's comin', got to see where you're going. You want it to stop so you can clean your rifle off, get dry, but you know it ain't goin' nowhere. You got to keep going, wadin' through its mud and floodin' waters. Some snake is floatin' by, going the other way. It's wet, just like you. It's going where it doesn't want to go. Or maybe it's going home. You know you're not.

God can sneak up on you anytime, then leave quickly. Most of the time, he comes at night when you're alone in your hole. He can just be there, you can look his way, talk, whisper to him. You can ask him why, why, why. Sometimes, you won't talk to him. You don't want him close to you, messin' with your head. Things ain't never fair. Everything is upside down, everybody can get killed. Them little crosses hangin' around dead necks, didn't save a damn thing. Lewis was always readin' that black book, always crossin' his heart so fast you thought he was havin' a fit. The flies got in all his blood. That little girl was runnin' for her life, scared as hell. She couldn't have been anything else except a child of somebody's God. If God wanted to reach down and get her, it didn't have to be with that damn automatic. Makin' her cry.

Maybe God ain't here, maybe you're just talkin' to yourself, thinkin' he's here. Maybe when he gets here, he won't sneak up on you, get in your head and see you like this stuff sometimes. Like changing things forever, like the cold rains and dark nights, like hiding them, then sneakin' out and killing somebody forever. Maybe God stayed in the states, stuck on a penny. Maybe he's coming over when he hears about this stuff. Maybe he's going to let his angels sing at night, dance in the day. Maybe when he gets here, he'll put things back together, open up some bodybags and let guys live again. Maybe he'll let that little girl go play, sing, dance, love one day and have babies. Please hurry, God.

I remember one night, perhaps I had gone too far. Maybe God didn't want me to go no further, wanted me to live, tell about it, write about what he had to watch us do. I know now he cried, it was never raindrops fallin'. No, there ain't that much rain to ever fall.

I was so close to death, I could smell its ugly breath. A bullet had gone through my throat. I was standing in the dark, looking across the rice paddy. We were pulling back, and I was asking this guy if anyone was left back there. I couldn't see anyone, couldn't find my friends. The only thing I could see was patches of fire burning in the far tree line. This guy turned and looked back too, then turned to me and muttered only the dead. I turned, pulled back, came back. But I brought the time with me and turned it into words that will hopefully live forever.

Terry Farish worked for the Red Cross in Vietnam in 1969-70. She was with the 25th Infantry Division in Cu Chi and the U.S.A. Support Command in Qui Nhon. Since Vietnam she has dedicated herself to teaching and writing.
I went to Vietnam because it was so much a part of the culture I lived in. I went to a women's college in Texas not far from the primary helicopter school at Fort Wolters. Angel, my friend, married a W.O.C., a warrant officer candidate. The W.O.C. I dated was later killed.

I went, also, because of my mother. Her brother brought home his war buddy -- who became my father -- from World War II. They had both won Purple Hearts and from that time my mother held military service in esteem. My most vivid childhood memory is of my mother crying in pride for Eisenhower at the Republican National Convention. The band's patriotic music gave her chills of excitement and passion. I remember the woman with the powerful voice who began the roll call of the states, and my mother said "Alabama" the way the woman said "Alabama." Later sometimes my mother would say the names of various states in the woman's voice when she was trying not to be sad.

My mother and my father tell his war stories together. My father says, "I was in Northern Africa in the war." And my mother says, "He was with Patton. You remember him." My mother thinks of war in conjunction with its protocols, the Geneva Convention and the respective roles of combatants and noncombatants.

When I said I was going to Vietnam, my father said he hoped I wasn't going to be hanging around with the officers like the Donut Dollies did in World War II. He grinned. When I left they were proud. They were the only parents in Houston they knew who could say their daughter was in Vietnam.

I went with my mother's passion for serving. I was at Cu Chi in an eight-girl unit and we took recreation programs out to fire support bases. I couldn't work enough. I took any run they'd give me, even Sunday runs if a unit called and said they had men in. We worked in pairs, traveling by chopper since the roads weren't secure, and were often stranded in a place because there was contact -- fighting -- or heavy rain and a chopper couldn't come back for us.

We spent so much time in the field. When I was brand new in country, I stayed ten hours on Meade, a fire support base in the center of an A.R.V.N. base camp (Armed Forces of Vietnam). It was all artillery. There were seven men to a gun and every guy had a dog or a monkey. We moved from gun to gun talking. One of the soldiers told me he was twenty-one that day. It wasn't uncommon to turn twenty-one over there, but I told the mess sergeant and he dug up a stubby candle and put it in a piece of cake and when the soldier came through the mess line we sang happy birthday to him. Soon I'd be seeing men we programmed to in 12th EVAC, the hospital, but it always took a while to remember which fire support base I knew him from, and which guy with the monkey or the puppy he was.

I learned the men's war, hanging out with them waiting for choppers. I listened to war stories. We girls seemed innocent to the soldiers and they were chivalrous and offered us their bunkers and candles if the choppers never came. Some men hated us for being there, we didn't have any business in this place. Some men were grateful. A lot of them wanted to talk. They were angry. They said they were only there as targets to bring Charlie out. And when Charlie came out they'd bring down artillery on him for the body count. I heard about fragging.

Later I got so angry. I didn't like General's Mess when we were required to get dressed up to go to on Sunday nights. My father didn't have to worry about my hanging out with the officers. The bravado over body count at General's Mess rang false to me, though the general was kind to us and talked about his family.

On Sunday mornings we had staff meetings. We'd still be in our bathrobes and our hair in curlers and we'd sit under the umbrella we ordered from Sears and sometimes we'd have to wait for a chopper to stop hovering above us to go on with the meeting. I remember hoping a unit would call and we could get clearance and go out.

The protocols of war were liquid in Vietnam. It wasn't my mother's war. It felt amorphous. It rained and rained. I didn't know at 21 what could happen to the W.O.C.s I'd dated back home in Texas, or how sorrow, for so many, could endure.

W. D. Ehrhart served three years in the Marine Corps, including thirteen months in Vietnam (1967-68) with 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, receiving the Purple Heart, two Presidential Unit Citations, and promotion to sergeant. He later became active with Vietnam Veterans Against the War. A writer, poet and lecturer, he lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with his wife and daughter.
I first began to consider joining the Marines in the late fall of 1965, soon after the battle of the Ia Drang Valley, an engagement which confirmed for the first time the presence of North Vietnamese regular army troops in South Vietnam. As a senior in high school, I was then in the midst of applying to colleges, and within four months I would be accepted at four of them, but throughout that winter and into the spring of 1966, I kept coming back to the thought of delaying college long enough to serve my country. A few years earlier, I'd written on the cover of my school notebook John Kennedy's clarion call: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country. " Now I had my chance to answer that challenge.

When I was nine, the Communist Soviet Union had launched into orbit around the earth Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, demonstrating their potential ability also to launch atomic missiles at the United States. As a ten-year-old, I had cowered beneath my desk at school during nuclear bomb drills, waiting for the Russians to attack us. Over the next few years, the U.S.S.R. and its evil minions had built the Berlin Wall, spawned Communist insurgency in Laos, and tried to put nuclear missiles in Cuba. I had watched on television as Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev pounded his shoe on the podium at the United Nations General Assembly, shouting, "We will bury you!"

Kennedy had said we would bear any burden and pay any price to prevent that from happening. And then Kennedy was dead, and a few days later I had stood for eight hours in freezing cold just to get a glimpse of his casket lying in state beneath the Capitol dome, and when I saw it, I had cried. A year later, during the 1964 presidential election, I rode around the streets of Perkasie, Pennsylvania, on the back of a flatbed truck singing Barry Goldwater campaign songs because I felt that Lyndon Johnson was too soft on communism. Moscow's communist henchmen were by this time clearly escalating their drive to conquer the free people of South Vietnam, yet Johnson seemed afraid to confront them with anything more than words.

To my dismay, Johnson won the election, but I fully supported him in 1965 when he began the systematic bombing of North Vietnam, sent the Marines into South Vietnam, and finally ordered the military to switch from a defensive posture to the offensive mission of seeking out and destroying the Viet Cong. "If we do not stop the Communists in Vietnam, " Johnson said, "we will one day have to fight them on the sands of Waikiki." Johnson was finally catching on, I thought, and by March 1966 my own mind was made up: college could wait. My country needed me now. I would join the Marines.

And it had to be the Marines. That was never in question. "The Marine Corps Builds Men." That was the recruiting slogan back then, and I wanted to be a man. More than that: I wanted to be a hero, and Marines were heroes almost by definition. The Halls of Montezuma. Belleau Wood. Guadalcanal. The Chosin Reservoir. And what in the world looked sharper than that U.S. Marine Corps dress blue uniform? Yes, indeed, if I was going, I was going as a Marine.

My parents were none too keen on the idea. It wasn't that they had any political or moral objections to the war, but only a question of who would want their child to go to war when he could go to college instead? But our long and sometimes heated discussions finally ended when I blurted out, "Is this the way you raised me? To let other mothers' sons fight America's wars? " And of course, that was not the way my parents had raised me, and that had ended all discussion. I left for boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina, in June 1966, nine days after I graduated from high school. At the time, I did not even possess a draft card because, at 17, I was not yet old enough to register with Selective Service.

Seven months later I arrived in Vietnam, where everything I thought I knew about the war in particular, and the world in general, came head-on smack up against reality. But that's another story.

Pham Tien Duat served in the army protecting the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Probably the best-known war-era poet in Vietnam, he also worked as a journalist.
In the eary days of 1997, I made a visit to Thai Binh, a province about 100 kilometers northeast of Hanoi. There I discovered a surprising phenomenon -- the many woman-veterans who had decided to live the rest of their lives in temples and pagodas. In over twenty pagodas, I ran across more than thirty nuns who were former members of the army or Vanguard Youth on the Ho Chi Minh Trail during the 1965-75 period.
Why do they choose to be nuns? The reason is shocking in its simplicity: they were wounded by bombs or chemicals during the war, or were too old to get married at the end of the war. To get away from numerous complications in civil society, they find it best to dedicate what remains of their lives to the religious calling. Before, there was a war, and the war took place on the battlefield; now there is still a war, and it smoulders at the feet of the Buddha.
The women, too, want to put the war behind them, to forget it, but they can't. How can those hundreds of thousands of wives forget when their husbands were killed before they could ever have their first child, and now live the rest of their still young lives as widows? How can those thousands of children born deformed at birth forget? How can thousands of invalid veterans forget?
And yet, to open a new and bright chapter between the U.S. and Vietnam, it seems best if both sides close the door of the past. And rightly so, for hatred is neither good for others, nor for oneself. That sorrowful door to the past needs to be shut. But, in order to close a door, it's worthwhile to understand what it is that we close. Sadly, after over twenty years have passed since the war ended, many can still only vaguely see the contour of that door as if looking through a veil of mist.
I am a writer who fought during the war. With me, hundreds of other writers, journalists, film directors, etc. -- Americans and Vietnamese -- have tried to write about the war, to describe and analyze it, but it still doesn't seem enough. It is as if I were standing in the midst of a crowd and calling out, but the noise makes it impossible for my friends to hear. There is therefore no choice but to call out once again, even if the voice becomes hoarse, until it is heard.
Perhaps in order to really forget something, we first have to know fully what it is that we want to forget. And it is a difficult thing: there is a limit to how much we can remember. When I asked the name and age of a nun in Thai Binh province, she went rummaging through her old papers and things to find a piece of paper with my own handwriting on it. Only then did I recognize her as a beautiful soldier I knew during the war. If it is that difficult to remember a person's face, how much more difficult it will be to remember the face of a war.

Nguyen Ba Chung is a writer, poet and translator.

For a Vietnamese to write about the Vietnam war is to write about one's self-definition: the war touched every aspect of one's reality -- personal, communal, philosophical, political, religious, and cultural. The problem with this self-definition is that it isn't so much self-definition as picking a position that's already defined -- left, right, middle, pro, con, or indifferent. There is no position on the war that hasn't been already discussed, analyzed, praised, or condemned. Yet neither is there a position that takes into account all aspects of Vietnam's two thousand year history of hard-fought existence. And that, I believe, is the essence of the Vietnam tragedy.

I still remember vividly the exodus from our village in the North to Saigon in 1955. I was 6 years old. My family was a sort of middle-level landlords -- not rich, but with enough land to have hired hands. My father was killed in 1948, before I was born, in one of those periodic sweeps French troops made to villages in the Red River delta. One of my maternal uncles, who worked for the Resistance, sent word that we should consider leaving because we owned too much land and would have problems in the coming land reform campaign. So my mother and her father's family, all supporters of the struggle against the French, fled to the South, together with about a million others, the majority of whom sided with the French.

We settled down in the suburbs of Saigon, then called Gia Dinh province. I grew up in the South, graduated from high school, and went to college. In this milieu of schools, books, public discussion, I believed wholeheartedly in the causes of South Vietnam -- the struggle for freedom and democracy against the "devilish" and "anti-nationalist" North Vietnamese. I was as gung-ho an anti-Communist as any American conservative.

As I was an only child, I was exempt from the draft, but not from the turbulence of the war. The Buddhist uprising against Ngo Dinh Diem raised the first doubt in my mind about South Vietnam. It didn't make sense that a country of about 80% Buddhists, with a religious history stretching to the first century, had a Catholic president who had no faith in his Buddhist brethren. It perhaps made sense when the French created Ordinance #10, which legally recognized Christianity, but not Buddhism, as a religion. The French were, after all, well aware of the potential power of a Buddhist challenge. But it made absolutely no sense at all when either out of arrogance or the most incredible political ineptitude, Ngo Dinh Diem kept that Ordinance in effect for the nine years he was in power. There was something deeply wrong in the make-up of South Vietnam. I still remember the tremendous joy in Saigon when Diem was overthrown in 1963. I went into the streets, watching the city exploding into a spontaneous celebration.

Later on, I also began to pay attention to how the South's American allies ignored Vietnamese history. Vietnam is an ancient country, with a culture so vibrant that it could withstand a thousand years of Chinese rule, and still come out intact when the Chinese were overthrown in 938 A.D. Yet the foundation of the U.S. efforts in South Vietnam was a nation-building program, as if Vietnam were some kind of recently discovered Paleolithic tribe.

In December 1971 I left South Vietnam to study American literature at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. It was in America that I finally had access to scholarly works on Vietnam, especially its recent history

It was an unforgettable trip. What struck me the most was the inexplicable feeling that somehow I had never left. Such was the power of that village. Such was the power of that culture. And such was the power of that people. For the first time, I saw another side of Vietnam, a side that even I, born and bred in Vietnam, never knew: the Vietnam of the village -- its traditions, its hardships. and its way of life that has endured through centuries. There were people in my village, which was about 50 miles from Hanoi, who had never visited the provincial capital, barely 7 miles away. The rhythm of life, except for the Communist-imposed agrarian reform, appeared unchanged from time immemorial.

I believe the U.S. had noble aims in Vietnam -- freedom and democracy. But because it aligned itself with a group of Vietnamese who carried heavy colonial baggage, and for the most part had already betrayed Vietnamese history -- that two-thousand year history -- it could not succeed. Similarly, Ho Chi Minh had all the righteous causes -- independence, unification and social justice -- but because none of the Western powers supported decolonialization, Ho and his revolutionaries had to ally themselves with Communism, a doctrine whose basic features -- class warfare, dictatorship of the proletariat, and utopia -- ran against the very grain of Vietnamese culture, a culture that had endured for thousands of years.

When a great country makes a mistake, it has great consequences. A great country, however, also has the capacity to remedy its mistake. The Vietnam war was a tragedy of the gravest order. We who were, and continue to be, witnesses to that tragedy, owe those who suffered and continue to suffer horribly from its consequences through no fault of their own, an unspoken debt. It's the debt of our own humanity.

Lady Borton  a journalist, peace-activist, and nurse.
Mine was a lowly job. Working in wartime Quang Ngai, I held the lofty title of Assistant Director for the American Friends Service Committee's Viet Nam program, but in truth, I was merely a glorified errand-runner. While my western medical colleagues fit war-wounded Vietnamese with artificial limbs, I made runs to the American base to pick up mail, fetched supplies, and transported patients, stopping along dusty village paths to chat, listen, and watch. In this way, I saw crucial details that American military leaders, G.I.s, and journalists failed to grasp. I became aware of hidden roles Vietnamese women played in the war.

Strange to say, as a woman and a foreigner, I never felt afraid in a land at war. Unarmed, I knew I posed no threat. But I also knew to be watchful. One day in 1970, not long after I'd taken the first American journalist to the site of the My Lai massacre, I went to fetch a patient, Nguyen Van Kim, who lived near the My Lai Road. Ten years old, he had stepped on a mine while tending water buffalo and lost the lower part of one leg. I drove the truck as far I could and, parking it, started walking down a dirt track suitable only for ox carts. As an American woman walking alone, I was like the circus come to town. Two boys spotted me. "Ba My! Ba My! -- American woman! American woman!" they taunted, racing after me. Other children followed, shouting obscenities.

I turned, hunkered down on the dirt, and engaged the kids in chitchat. As we talked, a woman my age approached and stopped beside us; the boys became silent, watchful. The woman was barefoot, her hair pulled back into the traditional nape knot. On her shoulder, she carried a bamboo yoke with two baskets of rau muong, leafy vegetables grown in irrigation sluices. "How old are you?" she asked, her tone neutral. Her baskets hung level with my eyes. They seemed to bend her yoke more than the load of vegetables warranted. I wondered what she'd hidden under the rau muong. Rice? Medicine? Ammunition?

"I'm twenty-eight, Older Sister," I answered in Vietnamese. I rose and bowed. I knew we'd begun a risky game of "Twenty Questions." I'd always figured I was protected from Viet Cong arrest by two qualities: First, I considered no Vietnamese my enemy, and second, I spoke Vietnamese. However, I also figured that if I were questioned by the Viet Cong, I'd have a limited number of answers to plead my case. Here, I'd already used one reply, with no points gained.

"How many children do you have?" the woman asked. "None," I answered. "I'm not married. How could I have children?!" The woman giggled. One point gained, I thought, but two answers used.

"Which army base do you work at?" Her tone changed now, from noncommittal to ominous. She set down her baskets, freeing her hands. My last chance, I thought. "I have no connection with the military," I said. "I work for a peace organization. We help war-wounded on all sides." I described Quaker Service work in Quang Ngai, our assistance to North Viet Nam, and to areas of South Viet Nam controlled by the Viet Cong, or Provisional Revolutionary Government, as it was officially known. The woman straightened. "We are grateful to you Americans," she announced, "for saving us from the cruelly vicious, wicked, imperialist Viet Cong."

I relaxed: I'd won my reprieve. I assumed then, as I always did whenever I heard such overblown gratitude that the speaker sympathized with the V.C. This wasn't a taxing deduction, for 95% of the Vietnamese in Quang Ngai province supported the revolutionaries.

Our conversation soon eased into talk about our families, the nutritional value of rau muong, and the U.S. peace movement. For a few moments, where we each had intended to travel that afternoon, what we'd intended to do, did not matter. We were simply two women talking, despite the war.

Later that afternoon, I swung by the American army compound to pick up the mail, entering the base as the Vietnamese cleaning women left it. I'd often chatted with these women and knew that many of them lived near the My Lai Road. The maids flirted unabashedly as the M.P.s checked their empty baskets for contraband. What fools those M.P.s are, I thought. Doesn't it occur to the them that the contraband these women carry is information hidden inside their heads? Don't the M.P.s realize that their cleaning maids probably pace off warehouse measurements while they sweep, memorize shipments they unload, and note details of any unusual activity? In the years since, I've checked out my guesses, and learned that I was right. Women formed the core of the North Vietnamese/Viet Cong spy, liaison, and distribution networks. Mental picture by mental picture, overheard conversation by overheard conversation, they absorbed information about the enemy and carried it away. The woman I met on the My Lai road served the cause of revolution as valiantly as their male counterparts.

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