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Jim, just finished reading your book. Really enjoyed it, and had a difficult time putting it down. The memories just came rushing back as I read each chapter. I served as Platoon SSG, 3rd platoon, Delta Company, 6/31st, 9th Infantry Division in 1969. As you probably know, the 9th was in the rice paddies south and west of Saigon. Just to let you know “The Legend” was alive and well in May of 1969 when I saw him. for the first time, in the small village of Vinh Kim which was in Dinh Tuong province near My Tho. He was serving with a MACV advisor unit at the time. We had just arrived in Vinh Kim to provide security for the Dong Tam basecamp, and he walked into our small compound. He was wearing his black beret and carrying a starlight scope, an M-16, and a crossbow….he was also wearing a very large bowie knife. He was without a doubt the scariest thing that we had ever seen. Apparently the Vietnamese parents told their children that if they were not good, he would come get them at night. 🙂 He had dropped by to tell us that he was going out on one of his one man ambushes, and the general area where he would be. He told us that the PF/RF outposts were mainly VC, and that had watched the VC come and go at night…via his starlight scope. He told us that he would set up an ambush on an L shaped trail and take out the last man with his crossbow. BTW: Many of my men still remember him quite clearly.
FYI: While in Vinh Kim I met a young coke girl, and we ended up falling in love with each other. When I returned home to graduate school in 1970, she did not want to come with me…she would miss her family too much…she changed her mind at the last minute, but it was too late. We lost contact, but I never forgot her. In 2001 I went back to find her. I found her to be a widow with 8 grown children. I brought her to the US in 2004 and we were married. She is in Viet Nam now visiting her family, and I will join her next month. The rumor that we had heard that she was VC turned out to be true. Her father and brothers were all killed fighting for the VC. As it turned out most of the village was VC, and the local ARVN/VC had an agreement; that is, if you leave me alone, I will leave you alone.
Best regards from a fellow “grunt”.
Hi Jerry. It’s always great to hear from another grunt–especially someone who remembers Naipo “Mokuwahna” Robertson. People who met him, or even saw him don’t forget. I suspect he may still be a legend in Vinh Kim. Also, that is a terrific heart-warming story about your goig back to find a long-lost love, and finding her so many years later–but not too late. That’s wonderful.
Your book was more than just an interesting read for me. I told Richard Baker, our mutual dear friend (aka “Richard Cook” in the book), who gifted it to me, that this book put a stake in the ground of my very existence. It answered life-long questions for me, and took me to a place and time I never knew, luckily never had to, but always felt great anxiety about–a “haunting” blind spot I could not reach. I did not serve. But Vietnam was such an integral part of all of our lives back in the sixties, I truly believe that given the book’s universal appeal with its hard dose of reality, every baby-boomer at the very least, should read it. It defines us. And I thank you for that.
As for me, I graduated from Kent State University in December of 1969. (Yes, Kent State!) My lottery number was 122. I was at the Federal Building in downtown Cleveland taking my Army physical on May 4, 1970, the day of the campus shootings–consumed by uncertainty and fearful of what my future would be. Ironically, probably because of the campus unrest, Nixon stopped the draft at number 115 that year, so I never got called up. I have since asked the “why me” question a thousand times out of both guilt and great relief–why was I spared? That’s why I remain so grateful to you, Richard, and others for what you went through.
Great book. I ordered three copies for Christmas gifts this year.
Bob, you are certainly right. To our generation, Vietnam was the nucleus, the core around which we all orbited in one form or another. Emotions were intense and bridges were seemingly burned. Those fires have not cooled much, or dissolved into soft embers of shared smiles and remembrances, but at the same time, the intensity we shared is like cement that binds and holds a generation in its grip, like aging Yanks and Rebs meeting on battlefields past. Frankly, I can’t think of another spot, another battlefield, in this country that recalls the explosive chaos of our generation’s intense feelings and impulses as much as Kent State.
My book, A Haunting Beauty, has really resonated with vets of that time, and with younger people who discover the beauty of the place—and the soldiers and women who were there. But my greatest satisfaction comes when it connects in some deep way—“a stake in the ground”—with those who saw the whole thing as an incomprehensive quagmire, or as a huge transgression: a moral offence.
I wanted to avoid the usual shock and disturb nature of most Vietnam lit, and present the reality…the true humanness. And if it answers long-held questions and takes you to a place you never knew, and to people you thought you knew, then it’s successful. Thank you so much for your comments and for recommending it to everyone.
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