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Monday, 26 March 2007

The Post Office: Phan Thiet: Vietnam

After a long month of intense activity on the part of the Viet Cong the situation eased up somewhat. There had always been long periods of relative calm broken by sudden flashes of fighting. The US army could put soldiers into the field for a year with one minor break half way through and then withdraw them. It was rare for them to spend two one year tours in Vietnam and three was exceptional. If wounded, once they had been medevaced by chopper they could be in a field hospital within half an hour and if necessary in Japan or the Phillipines a day or two later.
The Viet Cong, now supported by North Vietnamese regulars, were in the war until victory or death. A wound more often than not was fatal. In fact there was a policy to wound as many as possible as these were considered more of a burden to them than the dead. Malaria was always present. We took our pills every Sunday morning at breakfast. The enemy's medical support was rudimentary at best. They were extremely motivated.
For the local population the war was unending. Phan Thiet quickly went back into a more or less normal routine. One of the sights that was most heartwarming and beautiful was that of girls leaving their schools. I read about it later in the library of The Cirque Sportif in Saigon in a book that a Frenchman had written thirty years before. I myself had opened a post office box to receive my personal in country mail. There was of course no normal mail for us outside the military. No telephones either. Actually the mail delivery for the Vietnamese was exceptional considering the war, but we at the camp belonged to the US military system and all our mail, as I have stated came through the 7th US Air Force and California.
The company had its own letter box at the post office in Saigon. PO Box P 12. I still remember the number as I was to take it over as my own later on. However, when one of our English Decca employees received an urgent telegram about a death in his family that required his immediate return to England it lay there two weeks because our rather incompetent American secretary couldn't be bothered to pick the mail up from there.
Anyway I would go by the local post office to pick up my mail, from PB mostly, before going to the adviser's mess for lunch. Being a young man I would stop the 3/4 ton and watch this long line of schoolgirls leaving the local high school. They would all be wearing their long white Ao Dai's, some with waist length hair, others with conical straw hats. They would usually walk in pairs. Unhurried, they would move sedately along, sometimes serious, often quick to laugh or smile. The war could have been a thousand miles away. I've probably said this before but it was one of the most moving sights in Vietnam. It also had so much dignity and has probably left me in utter contempt of the unsightly hordes of hooligans I was to later see leaving the schools of the so called European culture, if that is an appropriate word. I think they found me slightly amusing with my beard, serious unsmiling face, sitting there in the US 3/4 ton with it's big white star on the side. I have no photos. That would have been in bad taste.

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