"At the age of fourteen I was spending most of my days on the American army compound in Da Nang. It wasn't safe for me to live at home where I would be recruited to fight for the Viet Cong. I would wash clothes and cook food for the GI's. At first I looked up to them as adults, but as I spent more time with them I realized they were children like me. Most of them were eighteen years old. Still kids. When they got scared they would call for their mothers into the night. At this age I still didn't know which side I was on. The way the war was going it seemed as if I would have a pick a side soon. I made good friends with an eighteen year old GI named Charlie in the camp. It was around Christmas time and his parent's had sent him a big package from home. Christmas was a foreign thing to me and I was very interested in the big box filled with red, green, and blue presents. Charlie's parents had sent a box full of presents for all the children in the village that he patrolled every week. Before leaving the base to deliver the gifts to the children, Charlie gave me a small red present filled with candy. The last image I have of Charlie is walking out of the army base holding a huge box of presents. A day passed and Charlie didn't come back to the base. A patrol troop was sent to the village to go look for him. When they got to the village the villagers told the soldiers that they had seen Charlie with the presents, but that they hadn't seen him since. A few days passed and the general of the camp had found a new tunnel that was right outside the village. The soldiers smoked out the tunnel and found 8 VC men. After questioning and probably torturing the men the general found out what had happened to Charlie. The general knew we were good friends so he told me when I ask him about it. During this time more and more VC fighters were going into the villages trying to recruit more fighters. The villagers couldn't resist the VC or they would be killed. Well, it turns out that Charlie had gotten to the village and was able to deliver the presents to the kids. Charlie was invited into a hut of a villager. He was sitting on a chair with a small child on his lap, watching the little guy opening his present. A VC member was standing right behind Charlie and slit his throat while Charlie was distracted with the kid. They tied Charlie to the chair and weighed him down with a large rock and threw him into the river. The general found Charlie the same day he interrogated the VC soldiers. I was heartbroken. I would loose many friends during the war. One week, one month, two months. I never forget them. One thing I admired about the US soldiers is that they never left a man behind. The VC would sometimes use their own men as bait, and hundreds of bodies were never discovered after the war. The day Charlie died I knew I could never support the VC. I don't feel Vietnamese. Not one hundred percent. I'm somethinpg else, I don't know. Crazy. They used to call me that all the time on the army base, because I was so young and so involved. Crazy."
|Photo credit: Kelsey Eiland|
Before coming to Vietnam I considered myself to be very anti US involvement in the Vietnam war. Now that I'm nearing the end of my journey I feel a bit different. I think a lot of actions of some American soldiers and a lot of US policy was bad during the war. However, I think there were those soldiers who were actually fighting for a better Vietnam and a freer people. The country had been divided long before the Americans arrived. More Vietnamese died after the war than during it, due to famine and incarceration. After the war the people did not have a choice. It was Communism or die. Forty years later Vietnam is a different country. Many more people are educated, there is international economic cooperation, development is booming, and hey, there's even a Burger King 15 minutes from my dorm. However, Vietnam is still a place where you could be killed for criticizing the government, where there is a huge amount of political corruption, and where the concept of freedom is defined by the party. People don't talk about the government here, even in private spaces. At first I thought it was strange, but after hearing my new friend's story I finally understand why. Fear is like a genetic trait. It can be ingrained into a person's being, passed down generation to generation through stories and memory.