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Tuesday, 20 March 2007

All is not quiet in Phan Thiet, Vietnam

I crossed the bridge and found a South Vietnamese armoured unit at rest in front of the Provincial Headquarters. I took a few photos and wandered around. They had some US advisers with them but I did not interrupt their conversation. I went off and came across a 106mm Recoilless Rifle team. The whole street was destroyed, a pall of smoke hung over everything, and everyone was alert, although not with that nervous tension that worries me. Everyone seemed exhausted. There was a body sprawled on the ground. I asked what was up with him and somebody said he was sleeping. A good army habit to be able to sleep anywhere. They were largely uncommunicative. The closer to action a soldier is the less he has to say. Some more photos and I wandered off.
I fell in with a mixed group of South Vietnamese. Regular and Regional Forces. With them as escort I continued exploring. Hopefully they knew what areas were secure. We went through some more damaged and destroyed buildings, a school complex I think, and came across dead Viet Cong lying here and there. I started taking photographs. I felt completely emotionless. As I was taking a photo of a particularly gruesome bullet riddled corpse there was suddenly the sound of bullets whipping around my head. The Vietnamese took off with the speed of greased lightning. My reactions were a little slower but not much. Running, I tripped over some piping on the ground and went sprawling. Jumping up I continued in a blind panic. I turned the corner of a building and rejoined my companions who burst out laughing. I joined them in the laughing. When one makes a complete fool of one's self the best thing to do is laugh. Also I was begining to understand this Vietnamese habit of laughing in happiness if one escapes danger. Much better than visiting a psychoanalysist.
Having had enough excitement for one day I returned to our camp.

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