Friday, 28 April 2017

The living and the dead. Vietnam 1965 1975 notes & photos

South Vietnam. Students in Saigon and dead vietcong in Phan Thiet.

Two Vietnams that lived side by side

A certain privileged upper class and those that died.

Monday, 24 April 2017

The French Doctor: part 2: Vietnam notes & photos 1965 1975


The French Doctor: part 2

I searched around Saigon and eventually found a doctor who pleased me. At this time there was an acute shortage of civilian doctors in Vietnam. Large cities like Saigon had a number for those that could afford them. I believe there were whole provinces that had none. The Vietnamese tended to rely on traditional medicine and only turn to medical help as a last resort. A German hospital ship in Saigon on a goodwill mission reported that by the time they got to see any sick people it was usually too late.

I thankfully never had to suffer from the pedal powered dentist's drill I saw in one dentist’s.
On the other hand you could go to a pharmacy, discuss what symptoms you had with the pharmacian and buy whatever medicine you needed without a prescription, if you had the money of course.

This doctor, Dr. Crozafon, had been in Vietnam most of his professional life. He knew the country the Far East and he knew men. It was the first time in my life I felt at ease in a doctor's surgery. He also had his own laboratory which helped. The system I arranged with him was this. I would arrive unannounced at his surgery at eight o'clock in the morning, having had no alcohol for 24 hours, no food for 12 hours, and his assistants would take the necessary blood samples etc. for tests. I would come by a week later and be examined by the doctor who would have all the results in front of him and I could then leave him knowing I was in good health. He had about half a dozen rather delightful pretty young assistants which helped matters. I remember him trying to explain Anglo-Saxon logic to them.

There were many diseases in the country, but it was usually a fear of things such as rabies that was uppermost in my mind. I remember being in a cinema in Saigon in those early days. There was a French woman sitting next to me. She was eating peanuts and dropping the shells on the floor, at the same time saying Nguyen Cao Khy was the man for her. I also thought she was playing footsies with me. When the light came on she completely ignored me, I looked down and saw a rat around our feet. I put my feet up on the seat in front of me and did so every time I went to the cinema in the future. The woman didn't seem to notice anything. I was in a restaurant with PB in Saigon when I heard a sort of hissing noise down by my feet and there was a rat sitting on its haunches begging for food. One of our spotter plane pilots at Van Kiep was bitten by a rat in his sleep and had to have anti-rabies shots. I think they were still in the stomach in those days.

We had an outbreak of bubonic plague in our province. I decided to risk another inoculation, bad side effects but less so than in New York. Not many dead from it and at least a general attack on the rat population. I did rather like reading Camus' ‘La Peste’ though.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

The French Doctor: part 1: Vietnam notes & photos 1965 1975


The French Doctor: part 1

I decided around this time I needed my own doctor. The medics at the camp were very good for anything minor. The field hospital for anything major but nothing in between. My own experience with doctors had always been very limited. A visit to one felt like being summoned to the headmaster's study at school to be punished. Perhaps it was never helped by the feeling of impending doom whilst in the waiting room; similar to that experienced outside the headmaster's study waiting for the order to enter. The only time I'd been on sick parade in the army I'd been charged with being incorrectly dressed. No pyjamas in my pack. That had been because of a very minor worry about my eyes brought on by reading Reader's Digest. Each edition had a medical article describing exactly the symptoms of something you had.

The US forces radio didn't help either. Every twenty minutes or so they came up with some announcement giving the symptoms of this or that fatal illness until you became hypochondrical. We had been vaccinated or inoculated against the usual typhoid, typhus etc. and the more exotic yellow fever and bubonic plague as well.

When I was in New York waiting for my flight I had had a bad reaction to the anti-plague inoculation and my arm had swelled horribly. I didn't want to tell the office or they might have postponed my departure. My girlfriend had a slight swelling in the groin and I said she had probably caught the bubonic plague. An instant look of utter terror was followed by a telephone call to her doctor and she was off for an appointment. Of course there was no real problem but it's funny the way people react. Her sister was married to a Decca man and there had been problems. One of my mother's best friend’s daughter's in the Bahamas had been married to a Decca man and there had also been serious problems. My mother didn't approve of us. She thought we were a danger to women.

When my final telephone call arrived one morning at 9 o'clock informing me that my flight would leave at one o'clock I woke up to find the abscess on my arm had burst, the bed was covered in blood and I had a hole in my arm big enough to put a little finger in. I showered, filled the hole up with antiseptic cream, wrapped it in a bandage, reported to the office to collect my ticket and travel orders, saw Laura again for a couple of gin and tonics, caught my flight and had my arm treated later in Saigon.

There were three other Decca personnel on the same flight but they were bumped off in Hawaii to make place for other higher priority passengers. I was the only one to arrive in Saigon and the office thought I was terribly keen, and they didn't know the half of it.

Monday, 10 April 2017

A New Car: Vietnam notes & photos 1965 1975

A New Car I managed at long last to get a car. For some reason, very high taxes I think, buying a second hand car in Vietnam was expensive. Maybe the locals didn't pay taxes, I don't know. We were able to import tax free cars, usually from Japan. The Japanese dominated the market in cars, motor scooters, and fridges etc. The word Honda became synonymous with motor scooter. The girls used to ride side saddle on the back, most elegant. I picked up my car in Saigon, a very underpowered Mazda, delightful to drive though, and took it back to Vung Tau. Driving in Saigon for the first time was quite an experience. Over the years it played havoc with my blood pressure. I had no Vietnamese driving license and didn't bother to get one for a number of years. When I eventually started conforming I was able to exchange my Bahamian license for one. Many years after that I was able to exchange the Vietnamese one for a French one that I still have. I didn't have any number plates either. We were given special numbers begining with an X on, I think, a green plate. This of course denoted that we were part of the US war effort. When I got back to Vung Tau and had the plates made up I had a set of local plates made which I used when travelling on roads where it was wiser not to be associated with the Americans. There were two colours of petrol, one for the military, and one for the local population. I cannot remember at that time the price of petrol ever being taken into consideration when running a car. I was also beginning to slip into my various identities. When stopped after curfew by the US military police I produced my Vietnamese identity papers. With my beard and strange accent they couldn't hold me. It rather confused them when I drove onto their airfield in a US 3/4 ton wearing my old basque beret, khaki drills, filled up with petrol and took off up country where they weren't allowed to go. When the Americans started to wear berets I switched to a bush hat. If stopped by the Vietnamese police I would produce my US Defence Department Identity papers so they couldn't hold me either. The thing was to always confuse the enemy, friend or foe and put some doubt in their heads as to who you were. I was to live under a curfew more or less permanently all the time I was in Vietnam. It varied according to the security situation etc. Usually in towns in periods of quiet, from midnight until five in the morning. In small towns or the countryside it could begin as early as eight. Being out after curfew was not too bad if you were recognized as a foreigner but some places were very dodgy, the Vietnamese local defence forces were very trigger happy.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

After the battle. Vietnam notes & photos 1965 1975

The victors take a break from the fighting whilst the dead pay the price of defeat.
South Vietnamese Regional Forces and their opponents the Viet Cong. Phan Thiet 1968.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

The Field Hospital: Vietnam notes & photos 1965 1975

The Field Hospital

One morning I was faced with an acute problem, 'prolapsed haemorrhoids'. Once the initial panic had subsided I made my way to the nearest road and thumbed a lift from a passing jeep which appropriately belonged to the Red Cross. I asked the driver to take me straight to the military field hospital. On arriving there, as I was not a stretcher case, I was told to visit the out patients at the other end of the airfield. As I could hardly walk they provided an ambulance. At the out patients they asked for a dollar before I could see the doctor. This was a dollar in the new military Scrip that was meant to combat the black market but which in fact created another one. I didn't have any so I had to go around trying to sell some of my piastres amongst the other out patients. The doctor then said I had to be admitted to the hospital but as there was no more transport I had to hobble back down to the other end of the airfield. Once admitted my dollar was returned to me.

I spent a not unpleasant week there. The patient in the next bed had a gaping shrapnel wound in his leg. The most seriously wounded were flown straight out to Japan or the Philippines.

They had female nurses who came round and massaged our backs every evening. Christmas Eve a medic produced a bottle of bourbon. I dislike bourbon and for that matter rye whiskey also. Christmas day John came round with a flask of brandy which helped. We also had a visit from Vietnamese school girls who gave each of their wounded allies a Vietnamese doll in the traditional Ao Dai. I didn't try to disillusion the young girl in front of me. All very sweet. Better than the woman from one of the agencies that provided succour to the wounded trying to give me some razor blades.

I always had a problem with my beard with Americans. They associated beards with hippies. This was the 1960,s; I with outdoor living. We had all worn them in the out islands in the Bahamas. The Royal Navy was not exactly hippy, although in the British army only pioneer sergeants could wear them.

We were covered by all sorts of medical insurance, Blue Cross, Blue Shield. etc. and still being young were not unduly worried about health. Anyway there was always a cold beer or a pipe of tobacco which cured most things. Being scared to death by real danger also helped.

An American fellow I worked with had explained it to me when I arrived. When the mortars come in you're on the ground trying to dig a hole with your hands. In the morning you’re glad to be alive without a care in the world.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

The Vietnamese: part 2: Vietnam notes & photos 1965 1975

The Vietnamese: part 2

I will not go into a detailed description of the Vietnamese army. I will write about how I perceived it at the time. It was much maligned as to a fighting force. One should not attack the fighting capabilities of the Vietnamese people though. The Viet Cong and Regular North Vietnamese army were also Vietnamese and they did prove their worth, if only to the other side.

There were some very good units. By upbringing I am not normally taken to parachutists, but the Vietnamese Parachute division I knew were very decent people. It was to be effectively destroyed as a fighting force later at Quang Tri. The Marines were I believe good fighters but of somewhat questionable character and said to be loyal to Nguyen Cao Khi. Frankly I avoided their company, I found them very dangerous. They were also destroyed at Quang Tri. There were good Ranger Units. Montagnards as I call the Ethnic hill tribes were used by both sides as so much cannon fodder. The Vietnamese called them Moï.

The regular army had been trained to fight a conventional war; the Viet Cong fought a guerrilla war. They were originally armed with Garand M1, which I have said is a superb rifle, but the wrong one for the Vietnamese and the conditions of that war. They would later use the US M16.

They were also beset by political intrigue and corruption. I believe a brigadier general was paid less than a US army corporal. If I remember in the time of the French the lowest paid French public functionary had to be paid more than the highest paid Vietnamese, no matter if the Vietnamese had a doctorate and the Frenchman was barely literate. This was somewhat redressed during the latter part of the French rule but far too late.

There were also Regional Forces, which operated as a sort of militia in their own provinces. The Popular Forces, who guarded the villages and hamlets, and a Peoples Self Defence Force in the towns, much like a Home Guard, and probably more dangerous to the people they were guarding than the enemy. There was a form of Gendarmerie whom I always found decent. Also the civil police about whom I have spoken.

There was a small navy about which I knew very little.

The Air Force was very Gung Ho. I might deal with their commander, Nguyen Cao Khi, later. One cannot write a story about the war without him entering it. The pilots mostly flew A1E Skyraiders. A prop driven fighter plane used in close air support. Very courageous, a pilot's life was not worth much if he fell into enemy hands. We had a Skyraider clip its wings on our antennae whilst doing a victory roll over the camp. The antennae was 300 feet high.

Another nearly overshot the runway whilst landing at Phan Thiet, which was on a cliff, and then out popped his whole family of about six people.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

The Vietnamese: part 1: Vietnam notes & photos 1965 1975


The Vietnamese: part 1

Who exactly were these Vietnamese who were beginning to take over my life? The average GI with his tour of duty of one year never had a chance to learn. There were those, both military and civilian, who spent years in the country and learnt the customs and ways of the people but were I fear never listened to in Washington.

It is not my intention to give an account here of their history. Only as I perceived it at the time. Later I was to learn much more. I bought three books on the country. A Village in Vietnam, I forget the author, but it was a very detailed account of village life which was the basis of Vietnamese society. The Smaller Dragon, by Joseph Buttinger, a very easy introduction to the history of the country. And, Viet Nam, by a Vietnamese, Do Van Minh, himself First Secretary at their embassy in Rome. I was to get to know, and still do, his family very well much later on.

The Vietnamese had progressed down from what was then North Vietnam during the centuries, destroying the Kingdom of Champa on the way. The Chams were a people of Indian origin, and then progressing into the Mekong delta region belonging to Cambodia. They were a very warlike people and had driven out the Chinese after a thousand years of domination and fought a civil war that lasted a hundred years. When the French conquered what they called Indo China in the late 19th century they divided it up into five entities. Cambodia, Laos, Tonkin, Annam and Cochin China. The last three were more or less the three cultural regions of Viet Nam. After the French were driven out Viet Nam was divided politically into two countries. The communist North Vietnam, and the Republic of South Vietnam.

All three regions spoke the same language although with different dialects. It is said the purest is in the north and the most incomprehensible in the centre. There are tribal ethnic minorities in the highlands. There were said to be 20,000 Chams still in the centre. About a million Chinese lived in Cholon, a city attached to Saigon. Many had migrated during the troubles in China in the 1880's. About a third of the population of the Meking delta were Cambodian. There were upwards of a million refugees from the north, mostly Catholic, often entire villages had moved with their priests and settled en bloc in the south. The main religion was Buddhism plus there were two main sects. The Cao Dai in Tay Ninh, and the Hoa Hao in Long Xuyen in the delta, the armed forces of the latter were I believe the last to fall to the communists in 1975. The language had been latinised by the Jesuits ( Cecil Rhodes) in the seventeenth century. Simple in structure an absolute minefield for westerners.

Leaving aside the political intrigues, personal jealousies and ambitions etc; it was an incredibly complex structure. In the north though, everybody followed the party line or died. Not democratic but efficient. Whilst trying to absorb these facts, apart from the various military forces I had to get to know the character of the people. | Trang chủ | Tin thế giới
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