The double swinging doors to the ER were open. Three tables under bright lights had a patient on each one. The area was buzzing with commotion and activity. I could see only parts of the patients through the staff working on them. The nurses were cutting uniforms off and pulling off boots and letting them drop to the floor.

IV's were popping up around each patient like strange antennae. Doctors and nurses were calling out commands while medical aides were running back in forth between the patients, picking up bloody swabs and bandages, bloody boots and pieces of clothing. It looked like the movie MASH, only there was no joking around, no Father Mulcahy in a white collar under his chaplain's uniform.

The Catholic chaplain who was standing by me continued observing the action of the staff. He had done his duty when the men were off-loaded at the chopper pad. I don't remember how long I stood there before I spoke.

"Hi, Jerry," I said to the priest. "Looks like a busy afternoon."

"Welcome, Don. It never is slow here. They're either coming or going."

"I know,” I said. “We sent a bus load down to you on Sunday."

"You were at the firebase that got overrun?” Jerry asked.

"I was on the firebase, but I wouldn't call it being overrun. It was exciting. It was the first time I slept on a firebase since being in the country," I told him.

Jerry changed the subject. "My assistant is in the office. He has the room numbers of your men. He told me to tell Dave to stop by when you got here."

"I told Dave to hang out for a while at your office. I'll go on up and see my men and check out with you before I go to MACV."

"By the way, two of your men were air-vacced to Japan this morning,” said the Chaplain.


I went up and got the room numbers and visited the troops. They were interested in what happened after they were dusted off and where they would be transferred to, and what they were going to have for dinner. Their spirits were high. After all, they were going home and none of them were wounded too severely, but just enough to make it back to the world or to Japan.

I stopped by the Chaplain’s office as I was leaving, picked up Dave and headed to MACV for the night. Dave dropped me off. We agreed to meet on the beach around 0930 the next morning and then head back to An Khe after lunch. I checked into the BOQ and was assigned a small room with clean sheets. Down the hall was a hot shower and flush toilets. What a wonderful pause of refreshment to have indoor facilities.

That night after a long hot shower, I went to the officer’s club for a steak dinner and a poor floorshow of some Vietnamese girls dancing and singing to Beatles’ songs. I met a Lieutenant Colonel Al McKittric who was in Qui Nhon to inspect MACV. He was with the Inspector General's office in Saigon.

We hit it off from the start. No doubt both of us needed companionship and conversation. We drank a bottle of dry red wine and commiserated with each other about the state of the war and the politics of Vietnam. He knew a great deal more than I did about how the U.S. got involved with South Vietnam. I really was naive about the war and how our government got involved.

Jim, when I joined the Army in ‘66, I believed that America was fighting to save Vietnam from the Communist Red menace. I believed that Russia was attempting to take over the world and our army was in Vietnam to stop their aggression.

I mentioned to Al that my SGM blamed the Navy and their screw-up at Tonkin for our becoming involved in the war. He laughed. "Sounds like an Army Sergeant. Tonkin did give President Johnson the excuse he was looking for to up the ante and to draft more troops. But this mess started back in the Roosevelt and Truman administrations."

I gave him a look that said, "Go on, I'm listening."

He continued talking, "Roosevelt said toward the end of WWII that he favored nationalistic self-determination in all the European colonial areas. He stressed international postwar peace that would depend on America's global leadership. However, he didn't reach out to the nations like Vietnam and assist them in their quest for independence."

He went on to say, “Ho Chi Minh was a communist, but I don't believe he was necessarily in bed with Russia at that time. In fact, in a speech on independence to his people and in his quest for Vietnam independence, Ho used a well-known American phrase."

Al stopped, took a sip of wine. "Do you know what the phrase was?"

Smiling, I said, "No, but I bet you're going to tell me."

Al looked right at me and began to speak again. "We hold that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." He went on to say, "If Roosevelt had encouraged Ho at that time, no telling what might have happened and how the New World Order would have fallen out. As you know, Roosevelt, like America always does, gave in to the French and let Ho go off on his own to seek assistance from his old Russian friends." He paused before continuing.

“Ho was really active in Vietnam in 1945. He set up a provisional government after Japan surrendered and later declared the independence of Vietnam. The situation was so bad that the British forces had to come to Saigon to return authority to the French. That's when LT. Col. Peter Dewey got it. He was the first American to die over this country. The Vietnamese thought he was a French soldier and shot up his jeep, killing him." He stopped speaking, took another sip of wine, and went on telling his story.

"Truman was no better in his attitude toward Ho Chi Minh and Vietnam then Roosevelt," Al continued. "Truman was satisfied to let France and Vietnam solve their own problems at first but later sided with the French. In 1950, his administration ended up supporting the French in their struggle to maintain control over Vietnam and Indochina by having the United States grant them three billion dollars. Our country was so fearful of the Russian brand of communism that we failed to look into Ho Chi Minh’s idea of communism. I think if we had, we might not be here today."

I tried to give some input to his information by suggesting that we were involved with Korea at the time of Truman and really didn't have any idea that Vietnam would be a serious factor in our life. Al agreed, but went on with his history lesson.

"The French had a battle on their hands. I think they, like us, underestimated Ho’s ability to lead his people and underestimated the ability of the Vietnamese to fight. I know you heard about the French losing the battle at Dienbienphu; I think that was around 1954."

I chimed in, "I was a freshmen in high school, wearing white buck shoes."

Al smiled. "I remember that, too. I also remember Eisenhower talking about the Domino Theory after the French were defeated. You know, all the small nations were standing in a line across the world like dominos and when one falls to the communists, there is a chain reaction and all other countries began to tumble one at a time. America was coming off the McCarthy hearings and still had the fear of a communist under every bush. So Ike continued to provide aid to the French, but he did have the balls to refuse to send in any U.S. troops."

I said, "What I remember most about Eisenhower, was the slogan, I like Ike."

Al looked at me and said, "Where in the hell did you go to school?”

I answered, "I was into running track, trying to make out with girls, laying on the beach all afternoon and planning to go to college. I wasn't much of a student. In fact, I remember telling my counselor at the time that I had a scholarship to a Baptist college to run track but was afraid of more school. I told her I wanted to join the Navy. She suggested that I try college and if I failed, it would only be one year and then I could join the Navy.”

"You remember Kennedy, don't you?” asked Al, as he took a long drink of wine. He reached over with the bottle and poured me another glassful. "I know you’re Baptist, but what the hell are you doing in Vietnam? I won't tell on you."

"Thanks” I said. “And I do remember Kennedy. I was in seminary when he was elected. The big theological debate at that time was if he were to become president, would he owe his loyalty to the Pope or to the people of the United States? I do remember somewhere in that time frame, after his election there was some talk that the reason he supported Vietnam was because the government of the South Vietnam was Catholic." I was on a roll now with my bit of history. “And I also remember the Bay of Pigs mess and how Kennedy screwed that invasion up. I remember television, showing pictures of Russian ships bringing missiles to Cuba. In that time frame I believe that James Meredith was enrolled at Old Miss. That was the big news."

"Your education was lacking some even if you were in seminary," said Al. "Let me go on and enlighten you so you won't blame the Navy for your being here in Vietnam. You’re right. Kennedy did support Diem. In fact, he sent Green Berets Special Forces into Vietnam as advisors to try and help the South. However the Vietcong defeated the South Vietnamese Army in the battle of Ap Bac. That was a critical battle for the Cong."

Al pushed his chair out and crossed his legs to get more comfortable. “You'll remember, Chaplain, things were a mess on the home front. Martin Luther King was doing battle in the South with you bigots." He paused and smiled. "Well, with some of the bigots. Then Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Buddhists were burning themselves in the streets of Saigon and finally, President Diem and his brother were murdered, with America's blessing." Al shook his head as if in disbelief. “I'm sure, if it was not for American help that General Nguyen Khanah would not have seized power in Saigon."

Al went on talking, “By then, President Johnson was in full command and after Tonkin's fiasco in ’64, he began to send in mega-troops. We bombed the hell out of the Vietcong in the north for three years; as Commander-in-Chief, he was determined to whip out the North Vietnamese communist insurgent. By 1966, there were over 200,000 troops fighting in South Vietnam."

I reminded him about the students and their protests. Al jumped in and pointed out that there were others. He said, “Don’t forget the Veterans and Martin Luther King. He began to call for Johnson to end the war and bring the boys home. All that was too much for Johnson. He announced in March of ’68 that he was through. He wasn't going to run for the presidency again."

"I remember that, too,” I said with a big simile. In 1966, I was one of the 200,000 that made it possible for him to send more troops to Vietnam. I was pastor of a church in Fresno. My young men in the congregation were being drafted and they had to go, so I joined. Now here I am getting a great a history lesson on why I'm in Vietnam."

"Good, you need it," said Al with a laugh. He looked at his watch. "It’s getting late, Chap, and I have to get up early tomorrow.” One last thought for the night. I think Nixon is going to try and call the troops back home in a couple of years. He's going to try to flex his military might and then pull out with some kind of treaty. I personally don't think it will work. We may get home some day, but when we do, we won't be called winners. Chaplain, I enjoyed talking with you tonight. I bet you'll sleep well after all that wine, I know I will. If I don't see you again, cover your ass and look out for Charley."

"Thanks, Al. To say the least, tonight was the best briefing I've had since being in the Army. Take care and God bless.”

I wished I could have listened to him longer, but I was dead tired, so I joyously tucked myself into my clean white cool sheets and dreamed of being home in my golden adult playpen.




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