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Monday, 12 March 2007

Saigon at War. Memories of Vietnam

Tan Son Nhut airport was deserted. Not a soul. No immigration, no customs inspectors, no police, no visible military. No hope of recovering my luggage. I found a telephone, called the office and was sent an armed escort. I spent a rather uncomfortable night on the office floor and the next day moved down town to a house the company now kept for personnel in transit.
I had not been expected, nor exactly welcomed back. The whole atmosphere had changed. Perhaps this had to do with the on going Viet Cong offensive, or with the fact the military had more or less taken over. The 16th Signals Company of the US Army would appear to be running things now and we were in an advisory role. I would get to know and not like the new area manager.
Saigon itself was virtually deserted. A city that one had known to be full of hustle and bustle. It had always amazed me the amount of energy that there was in the east. People had always seemed to be on the move or sitting down in cafés. Talking, shouting, laughing. Now nothing. We didn't have much to eat either. The Vietnamese, who had stocked up for the New Year festivities, were not too badly off for food but for us there was nothing as all the shops and restaurants were shut. A tin of spam doesn't go very far between four grown men. On the roof of a house opposite two Orang Outangs were kept in small cages. Looking up when I heard their pitiful cries I saw one of the biggest rats I had ever seen outside their cages. Why keep them in two cages? Why keep them caged at all? How could one be a neighbour and live with it? Their cries went on all the time I was in this house, or when I visited it later.
Nobody seemed to know what was going on or what would happen. It is probably often the case in war that those outside the theatre of operations know more of the overall picture than those on the scene. Conversly those not present can also get a false picture. A photo of a flattened street in Saigon can give the impression to a loved one at home ten thousand miles away that there is great danger. If you are on the scene you note in passing that it had happened two or three days before, or in any case it was the next street and not the one you were in. Danger is always relative. I remember being very alert, very sober but not unduly worried. I had recovered my sub-machine gun and pistol from the office without which I would have felt most vulnerable.

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