E Mails and Blogs
While visiting Vietnam, I sent e mails to my e mail list of some 1300 persons. I also sent blogs to the Clarion Ledger newspaper. I am posting them here as I wrote them. There are references to pictures which I sent along with the e mails. I am not reposting those pictures as most are located somewhere in the website.
First Full Day
Welcome, to Mississippi East. Hot, muggy, dripping sweat, showers in the afternoon. We're at start of rainy season where it rains in Saigon atr least two hours each afternoon.
Much has changed, most has not. A lot of co0nstruction, road building, ultra modern buildings in central business district, Hotels are same on outside, but very modern inside. Most built by French. Oldest in 1893, three more incl;uding ours from 1900 to 1930. But still modern inside, GREAT service...and the prices...they're not cheap. In fact don't think you're coming to a country where you can get stuff cheap. Our lunch today was $20 each, could have gotten much less has we chosen to carve up a chicken hanging out on the street,
Got here Tuesday night (our day here). At 11:30 p.m. passed the Cathedral downtown built more than 100 years ago by French...Scores of people were outside praying. Did not look to be organized...just praying.
Expected to see A LOT of military, but besides custom have only seen one jeep all day long. It was one of ours and looked brand new.
Went to Cho Lon--Chinatown here, and several other markets, There's no way to forget them. CROWDED as always, anything and everything for sale from gold to fish and vegetables, cloth of all kinds, cookware, you name it. And Haggling--Also the smells--a mixture of foods cooking, bread bakingm charcoal burning, and people doing their business, but I have to say they were clean.
I was going into one public place and three ladies yelled at me..."Sir, Sir, one dollar, please." Yes, nothing is free.
Went to the US embassy, now consulate. Was a simple plaque on the outside of the wall, actually on sidewalk commemorating the Viet Cong soldiers who died for victory on the lawn during Tet of '68. I remember well the shape of the buildings at that time and the soccer field nearby which was a battleground area.
Oh, when we got here last night, we went up to the rooftop garden lounge. We are staying at the Rex Hotel. It was after midnight, a Vietnamese band was playing US songs. I remembered, I have been here before.
Goooooooood Morning, Mississippi
It's 5:30 a.m. Friday morning here---from Vietnam
Goooooooooood, Morning Mississippi!
Wow, it's great to be alive! We are going into the Mekong Delta and where I spent 12 of my 18 months in Vietnam. If it is like yesterday, there will be a lot of changes. I just could not believe the sprawl. Stopped at a roadside fruit stand to get mangroves and other native fruits...I passed.
Our guide has been GREAT. Young man, 31...went to University here to major in tourism. Their school year and grades are identical to ours. BUT--and something I agree with--once you graduate from high school you have a choice to make---university or two years in the military. Either get an education or serve your country before going to work.
Your opportunites here are not dictated by the state. You can do what you want. Except for those industries of national impact--oil, transportation, the like---private business is private. Headlines in yesterday's paper was signing of agreements between U.S. companies and Vietnam for business ventures. The businesses will be owned by the businesses.
With 8.5 million people in this city alone and more than a million around, there are opportunities. KFC is the only fast food franchise spread out over the city. I saw ad for one Pizza Hut in a high end office building. Some of the newer buildings are very modern, glass structures. If I remember will include a picture of one just for Agnes (The Diamond Plaza).
As to the food. Except for evening meal in hotel (and except for one night, I have chosen Vietnamese--first night I just had to have SPAGHETTI!) have eaten on the local "economy". Food tastes great, have lost perhaps a couple pounds due to low fat food. I've eaten a lot of it!
Will include picture of second course soup serving of shrimp, noodles, broth, fresh vegetables. The soup is in cocoanut shell.
Some observations: AT our consulate yesterday morning was HUGE, I mean HUGE crowd of people waiting to obtain a VISA. Guide says that everyone wants to come to U.S. to see family or attend college. The world hates us---but it is where the world wants to go.
Went by the water treatment plant--Trudy Fisher of DEQ and Dr. Thompson at Dept of Health--when I was here, it was a lone structure on a hill protected by tanks (armored, not water) with plenty of expanse around it. Today it is sprawled and there is no open ground to be seen anywhere.
Ads: from huge billboards to small store signs there is a mixture of Vietnamese and English signage. What's noticeable is the omnipresence and use of the western, idealized (by men of course) women to grab attention for everything from computers to hair design. The Vietnamese women pictures in some ads all are made up to look lke western women--short skirts, cleavage (I notice everything) facial make up.
Businessmen here where suits, women where appropriate dress or business outfits. Have seen (and very, very few) eamples of "plumbers cracks" either in the your men or women. Many, Many people are dressed "like us" on streets---comfortable jeans or slacks, pullovers. I think I was the only person (male) I saw wearing shorts yesterday.
Here's some pictures: 2 is a tv on plane...watched 3 movies. This is one mapping the progress of plane from Atlanta, to Canada, Alaska, and then dipping down to Korea. 6 is airport in Korea (Inchon/Seoul), 14 is view from the rooftop Garden of hotel;
23 is the Continental Hotel---car bombed during the war, 31 is the inside of the post office. I do not have an email quality outside picture to send, but it was built by French way early last century and around the building are plaques naming outstanding French scientists, except for one of them...any guess as to who? If you said ol' Ben Franklin, you would be right...The French all but worshipped him and he the French women. picture 36 is Notre Dame Cathedral across street from Post office. Daily Mass is still offered here.
51 is inside one of the markets we went to. I wish I could describe the size of the place, compactness of the stalls, and especially the smell. EVERYTHING is sold in here including (literally) the Kitchen sink. Kitchen pots and pans, cloth (more raw cloth than you'll ever see in your life in one place), clothes, fish (live), fresh vegetables, fruits, cooked food. Wal Mart must have gotten its inspiration from here. 52 is the outside of the market (this building is nearly 100 years old), 63 is an example of the wiring grid both telephone and electrical prevcalent in Saigon except in the hotel area.
109 is the presentation for the soup course and tea totalers---YOU WILL learn to develop a taste for beer or risk Montezuma's revenge, 111 is the presentation cocoanut shell open to dip out the soup, and the last one, 116, is a barge in the background and an old man plying the Saigon river in his boat.
Well, that's it for this morning. In a couple of hours am going to the Delta. Am really looking forward to this part of the trip.
End Of Day
Traffic is organized chaos. Trust me on this...you might think you can drive in any condition, but, trust me, I know of no one who could make it on the streets over here. Watching from the roof top restaurant last night, the scene below looked like orchestrated ballet, without the conductor.
No traffic police, no traffic lights, but at a major intersection, thousands of motorcycles made it through. In one 30 second period, counted 57 motorbikes, one car. Now, that was just in one lane going one way on a four lane boulevard. That does not count oncoming, crossing, or traffic going in the wrong direction and at 9:30 at night.
The main boulevards are beautiful with parks separating the opposing lanes, with trees, gardens, and sculptures in the central business district. This morning at 6, people were playing bamitton for exercise in the traffic! Side streets and areas out side of CBD is quite the opposite, narrow, congested, everyman and woman for themselves, driver (any driver) seems to have the right away.
On the streets and in the hotels, everyone says good morning, smiles, very friendly.
Went to a pagoda on our trip yesterday. Part of it was roof covered, part exposed to the sky and there was an afternoon shower. Incense burning. There was a sense of deep reverance and you could really feel it.
Also went to a "factory" where handicapped persons, mostly veterans (have I said this before...losing track of time) design and make the Mother-of-pearl inlaid pictures, jewelry boxes, jewelry that you see. Unbelievable craftsmanship. It is all really done by hand, from washing the pearl shells, duck egg shells, to chipping, peeling, affixing painting. I've always thought "handmade" meant someone turned the machine on. Real people really do make those items.
From the government buildings yesterday, the country's flag waved. A single gold star against a red background. The flag the North Vietnamese had. Really didn't matter to or bother me. At supper last night atop the hotel on Rooftop Garden Restaurant, you could make out the Continental Hotel a couple blocks away. You can imagine during the war American officers, senior enlisted, and diplomats housed at the Rex where I am staying having breakfast four decades ago and hearing, seeing the Continental car bombed early on in the war and how they must have felt.
Across the street, the Vietnamese flag was lighted and waving. It mattered.
Despite your feelings on that, you have to hand it to the Vietnamese people. Through 1,000-1,500 or more years of history they have been occupied by one foreign country or another for the better part of their existence; yet, as a people they have persevered.
They are extremely hard workers. Did see a number of street people, but in a city of 8.5 million you would be surprised not to.
We are in the heart of the Mekong Delta...Can Tho...The largest city (one million) in the Delta and the last big city before reaching Cambodia about 2 hours or less away. Can Tho is 150 miles from Saigon but it took us nearly five to get here. traffic was horrendous. I cannot even begin to describe bumper to bumper, no man's land passing, 1o's of thousands of mopeds...Have you ever scene a family of husband, wife, and two children on one of these things. How about one carrying a washing machine, and another with five dogs. Get this...three on a threesided basket in back, one across the gas tank, and the other in the driver's lap...he was taking them the obedience school!
And the shops...150 miles gain of one after another in very few spaces only an honest to God's factory filled the gap. There is no zoning, little interference from the government. Incidentally we were told sales tax is 10% and income tax is a flat 10% no deductions.
You pay to go to public school (about $200 a year) except for pre k which is 40 a month because the kids get two meals. Also if you are too poor to pay, here's how they handle it. The village or district government of a city know who is really poor and they will write a letter to the school asking the child be allowed in.
Also, if you are old and poor, your children must take care of you. If they cannot, you go to live at a hostel. If you are the poor parents of children, they go to an orphanage. Health care is not free and according to our guide their is no free food nor transfer payments to the poor.
We could not find or the guide did not want to go to the base camp we wanted to go to. I have to tell you---Mac Huddleston and Mac Gordon will know this, this aina't your Daddy's army days Mekong Delta. The pot holed two lane highway is four lane. There are no open areas with rice paddies, swamps, or palm tree jungles. It is wall to wall shsops the whole way. Despite the crowded conditions, I did recognize the turn off for the basecamp, only because the once two lane original bridge going into Tan An is still there along with another two laner in opposite direction. We made it clear in no uncertain terms to the guide, we would take a left hand turn outside Tan An on the way back.
Mac, if Dong Tam is still there, I and you would not know it. Our guide did take us to a site where the VC overwhelmed an ARVN (Army of Republic of Vietnam--The "good guys") in 1963. Some 200 ARVH soldiers were killed with their three US advisors. The helicopter shot down is displayed (or one like it) and around what is left of the defensive areas are displays of where a chopper went down, APC burned, or bomb dropped. If I am not mistaken while it was a wiwn for the VC, it was the battle that eventually brought in regular US troops. I believe, this was the one where the advisors had to plead with the area commander to commit more ARVN troops and he would not. The request went up to HQ iin Saigon and they refused reinforcements.
Eventually the decision was made by US commanders that if we were to be iin this war, US troops would have to fight it. I hope we have learned a lesson from that battle that if a country requesting our aid refuses to mobilize, train, pay, and commit their forces first, we are better off to back off from the invite.
I have often railed aboput the (I know I will mispell) beugiosse--I won't even attempt living the high life among the little people, but iin Can Tho, we are staying at a nice, a very nice hotel. Can Tho is a much cleaner city it appears than Saigon, of course it onl;y has a million people to "control".
Here's some more pictures. As I attach them, I'll explain 125 are some homes amongst the squalor for the richer.
128 are women and older men working in a rice paddy. Like the US, somethings are the same. Our guide told us that younger people do not like the hardwork. This work use to be women only, now older men must do, too. They are planting rice plants by hand. 132 is a family plot in the middle of the rice field. You these then and now dotted all over the country side in the middle of fields. My unit was attacked by RPG's from behind a group of crypts. I called for artillery which would not fire and dustoff helicopters would not come in to take out our wounded until we suppressed the firing. I did thenn, and feel sorry to some extant now for the families of the dead in those crypts. I had 106 mm jeep mounted recoiless rifles which were very accurate.
By the way, in Vietnam, couples are allowed by government to have two children. !8 is the age for women, 21 for men to marry. In the city, both men and women wait until they have establ;ished themselves with a good job and decent apartment before marrying and put off starting a family. In the country, they do manage to marry earlier, do not put off having children, and by 25 they have three.
We did get of the main road to go to the war memorial and picture 135 is a country road and is what the main road looked like 40 years ago. This one would have been dirt. 145 is rice being put on the road to dry. Prior to this they would have through stalk, chaff and all into the air. The rice being heavier would fall, the rest blow away. 149 is an interesting one. We decided these "MIGHT" be punji stakes. The ends are sharpened, they are pointed in the same angle, they are barely out of the water, and they are hardwood. They are in the area of the battle I described earlier and would have blocked soldiers coming across the creek to aid the attacking or besieged troops.
185 is a shop that looks just like the thousands of other shops lining the road, 164 is a ladt making incence that you might be burning next week, 188 are more shops, and 213 are actually nicer shops by the restaurant we ate at.
Again, there's much more, but if you got this far, I hope you don't mind me sending pictures. The internet has made this so easy. I am at the hotel, but even iin the backwater towns here, they have access to wireless internet "cafes" everywhere.
By the Way
Our guide's wife is a teacher of pre-k through 3rd grade.
She makes $100 a month, university educated. He will make more than that in tips for this trip of six-seven days work.
Sunday Night 9:33 p.m.---9:33 a.m. Mississippi time
I cannot begin to describe to you the morning. We were coming back from Can Tho, our guide said he and the driver now knew the way to Tan Tru. 3 hours later we were asking for directions. Look, I knew how to get there. We went over and stopped at two places with bridges. I had indeed built a bridge at both places which were eventually replaced by concrete bridges. Then an old man said he knew of a bridge that Americans built that was still there.
Now as you view these pictures, any hardtop roads you see were dirt when I was there...we called the material laterite or as some of us Southerners noted, "The red clay of georgia". On this or the next group of pictures you will see just how wide/narrow the road was in the dirt road scene. Those roads have not changed.
In this group of pictures, you will see me with a group to townspeople. THEY WERE CHILDREN WHEN I BUILT THE BRIDGE! I had my original pictures and they began yelling for friends and pointing themselves out in the pictures. They all remembered us doing the bridge. When I get hole and post the pictures on my website, you will see "then" and "Now" The 287 foot bridge is now concrete, mine was timber.
You will also see a river. This is a major tributary of the Mekong. From here we launched our large rafts to carry APC's or the small ones to carry infantry. You will see a picture with a van on the road. This was a large dirt, just plain dirt path. We landed our helicopters here to load up and start an assault on a position.
You will also see a modern two story school following those river pictures. This is a community college. It is built on our basecamp and the first one is exactly where my platoon's positions were. We eventually took matters into our own hands because every time a Chinook landed, it would lift our ten man (GP MEDIUM TENTS) out of their stakes. We travelled to where Mac Huddleston was stationed and stole corrugated tin roofing from the supply point for our roof and got rid of the tents.
Unfortunately we were ordered by the battalion commander who saw the contraband to steal some more and pass it out---we did---we were good at what we did.
You will see a tall memorial. This is dedicated to the VC who died in the area. This spot was where we held our POW's for transfer.
Keep in mind, whatever you see was all rice paddies and dirt roads...all of it. This was a hamlet of maybe a few hundred people, now it is a town with a modern school for the surrounding students.
I hope you enjoy the pictures. The people everywhere were very, very, nice to us and you will see as I was taking pictures, children jumped in and wanted theirs taken, too.
Everyone who receives. This is a letter I sent to Agnes an hour ago. I am unable to access my list from here...Venus Jones has been send from Capitol, but I am able to get some. Today was a very very good day. As you can see what I told Agnes, I had to convince our guide that once I arrived at a certain location, I could drive myself. One of the last pictures is a nice looking building, a school building. All of this was rice paddies, all of it. That building literally sits on my "hole" in a rice paddy during the dry season. All the roads you see were dirt roads (I am going to bring a lump of dirt home). The river shot is where we launched our large and small assault rafts. The people around me actually recognized them selves in the original pictures I brought. I readily recognized one "child" as she had a split lip and still does...they were very excited...and I was, too.
Attached are pictures of our hotel in Can Tho AND---my bridges...after some "discussion" I kept telling the guide how to get there and he kept stopping for asking for directions. All but one have been replaced, The metal one is the furtherest. We turned around there to go to Saigon. But, I said in a humble American Arrogance, please take a right in .5 kilometer. Go 1.5 Kilometers. If there is not a sharp right follwed by a sharp left and a river staring at you in the middle of the hamlet, we'll quit.
IT WAS THERE!!!! The bridge has been replaced, but the townsfolks after seeing my original pictures all came running and picked themselves out as children! What a gathering. A lady recognized her home next to the bridge and when I started taking pictures under the bridge, kids came running to take their's too.
It was a WONDERFUL morning. The pictures I took with my small camera came out a bit blurry, but the ones with the bigger one are BEAUTIFUL. I am send the email ones here...you can see how excited the locals were.
I love you
The Following Are Blogs:
Posted 6/29/2008 6:43 PM CDT on clarionledger.com
One of the most gratifying moments of my life occurred yesterday morning. Sunday---it is now Monday morning 6:30 a.m. as I write this.
After a discussion with our guide while we were mired "in the boonies" with him trying to find a place on my "operations map", I convinced him to take a right, go 1.5 kilometers and if there were not a sharp right turn in the road in the middle of a hamlet followed immediately by a sharp left and BANG, your at a river, we could turn around and go back to Saigon.
As we entered the hamlet, now a town with all the thatched hooches gone, there it was, the turn, the "S" turn, the river. A timber bridge I built 41 years ago with 11 men is gone, replaced by a concrete structure. Gone are all the hooches that were there, the huge thatched rice storage house, all replaced by tin buildings.
But there was a stucco home on the upside of the bridge where my medic played guitar to entertain the children. There was the river flowing as fast as ever, and there were people, people who were children when my men built this bridge.
When I pulled out my 41 year old Kodak moments, they began calling for people and soon we had a crowd of laughing women and puzzled men. They recognized themselves in my pictures. They are now 50-55 years old. People were hugging me, laughing, passing my half dozen or so pictures around. Showing me who they were in the pictures, they held their hands over their mouths and gasped and then let out with a laugh. They remembered, as I had, when we built that bridge 40 years ago last summer
I had one of myself and four of the guys in the platoon chilling out back at our basecamp in another hamlet with some Carling Black Label. They pointed me out skinny body and all.
When I began taking pictures of the underside of the bridge, a group of children jumped into the picture, and then more. I might return in 40 years to show them what they looked like, and then again, I might just be a feeble old man of 101 telling anyone who will listen about a bridge I built in Vietnam to link two parts of a hamlet.
Thank you, God.
Trip to 9th Infantry Division Base Camp
Posted 6/26/2008 8:32 PM CDT on clarionledger.com
Don't worry (as if you might). I am ok. Today as we I went to our old army base and found what was left of the berm, and went through the traffic, I came to a near death experience. It was awful, frightening, I was scared out of wits when it occured. I could not believe I attempted it. I thought sure half way through the experience Steve Holland and Earle Banks would be on the next flight to Saigon. Thank you, Jesus, for my quick recovery.
I crossed a street in Saigon at 8:45 p.m. tonight trying to obtain my First Coca Cola and Chips.
Remember what I said about I didn't think anyone back home could drive over here? Well, let me add, only the brave, dumbfounded, or starving would dare attempt crossing eight lanes. No wonder these are boulevards. There two lanes going one way, a grassy median, four lanes of two each in opposite directions, a grassy median, then two more lanes in an opposite direction of the first two. The medians are a necessity for heart checks and rest!
We left Saigon today going north and east. Now, as I remember it, once out of Saigon, it was all rice paddies, open fields, rubber plantations to our base camp, but nooooo. It's all built up with shops for 20 miles. The shops are no more than 20 feet wide, if that and on each side share a common wall. Will post pictures on my website when I return. Imagine this scene from Jackson to Madison up HWY 51.
I did find the 9th Div Basecamp. Could not tell what, if anything, is left as it is now a Vietnamese army camp. There was a berm that was probably what is left of our original perimeter berm. Trees are growing on it and what was once 400-1000 meters of free fire zone we cleared is now a mangrove plantation.
Also large amounts of tapioca farming going on.
I am going to attach some pictures here and will try to give an explanation. I made a lot of notes, but I'll do them in the morning time here. It is now 9:24 p.m. and you all are about 11 hours behind us.
Incidentally for Representatives Sid, Mac, and Billy--there are remants of Long Binh left, but most of it is now a High Tech Industrial park. FYI--Long Binh had largest above ground ammo supply in world--Vietnamese Army now has their ammo stored there, and Long Binh was central to all admin and supply for area around and south of Saigon.