By Jim Barker, Undisclosed
Writing Type: Prose
By Jim Barker
It was the spring of 1989. Dateline Vietnam.
This is about a surviving veteran’s return, as a member of a private delegation to advocate for the rights and release of Amerasian children and their mothers. As visual reminders of the war, their social status was commonly described as "the precipitate distilled after water is poured through garbage.”
The first stop was to be Hanoi in adherence to diplomatic protocol. It felt like walking toward the mouth of an unpredictable dragon. For three days before the flight, sleep was almost negligible. Memories and emotions were being revived which caused me to experience a tsunami of energy.
My international flight touched down at Noi Bai Airport. The humidity was pronounced, as it was the advent of the rainy season. In the mix of hyper-anticipation and fatigue, I quickly found a shuttle and proceeded toward town to join my colleagues. The road was like an elevated dike with rice fields below, glowing in incandescent green.
The motel was located on the bank of Hanoi’s West Lake. I had brought along running shoes and was eager to take an independent tour of the area. The colony and chorus of frogs nearby screeched at such elevated decibels that any immediate thought of sleep was impractical.
I set forth on a casual run in the direction of the airport. Farmers and other local people were returning on their bikes from their day’s labor. Noticing my foreign features, people soon started shouting in Vietnamese “Russian! Russian!” Feeling affronted by these declarations, I turned to a particularly obnoxious cyclist and responded in Vietnamese to his shock and surprise, "Look, do I seem arrogant, intoxicated and overweight? I am American!"
Sometime later, returning to the motel area, I noticed a lighted tennis court and some men volleying. Seating myself on a bench next to a man of similar age, we almost immediately became engaged in a friendly dialogue. I was invited to play with the others but declined, curious to get more acquainted with this friendly fellow.
As we conversed in his northern dialect, his private world began to unfold, particularly when we recognized we were both war veterans. Our exchange reached the level where I could ask him if he had gone on missions into the South. He replied his unit had ambushed convoys at times. His job was firing a rocket-propelled grenade. I further asked if he was a skilled shooter. He replied that he had made some hits, that he was accomplished at his job. This caused an internal shiver and a galvanic skin response. I then realized he was not gloating about the experience of creating casualties to South Vietnamese military or Americans; he was simply stating he was a good marksman.
He then disclosed his life aspiration.
"l am writing a play that I hope will be accepted. The main characters are two American soldiers and two Vietnamese village girls. There became a time when an American group of soldiers came into combat by a village far in the countryside. After the fighting, one soldier abducted and assaulted a young pretty girl. After finishing with her, he took her life. The other soldier, noticing the potential danger to the other village girl, protected her from possible violation. Sometime later on another operation, the soldier who had committed the crime died his own savage death. The noble soldier survived and ultimately returned home.
“After the passage of years his heart would not allow him to forget his experiences, particularly the special village girl. He then made a journey back to Vietnam, was able to locate the village, and fortunately found the girl, now a mature young lady. Both had retained deep memories and sentiments. Together united, they pledged their lives in marriage and returned to America."
In reflective summary he stated, “You know in war, the only levels that profit are those above us."
I bade him farewell and wished him best of success in having his play well received. It was a personal revelation that in spite of global conflicts, individual bonds can be forged that transcend institutions and ideologies.
Returning to the motel fatigued yet euphoric, I entered a late-hours bar and snack shop. I was the sole American in the large room filled with Soviet and Eastern European engineers and technicians. Tobacco smoke hung in the air while the customers were absorbed in their own conversations and strong beverages.
I approached the ladies covering the kitchen, who politely stated it was already closed. As our conversation in Vietnamese evolved to their great delight and surprise, they managed to produce some rice and eggs. Payment was refused. So here I was being feted and liked by North Vietnamese citizens as their former enemy, in contrast to the sullen and private Eastern Bloc personnel who were supposed to be their friends.
Now, this veteran can state that the expression of the heart is the most powerful weapon for peace in the world.