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Sunday, 20 July 2008

Battle for Cholon. May 1968. Vietnam remembered

South Vietnamese soldiers (ARVN) during the fighting in Cholon.

Cholon is Saigon’s Chinese city. About a million inhabitants. It is by far the largest concentration of Chinese in Vietnam. Of course there is no town in the country that doesn’t have its Chinese shops. They have always been the “shopkeepers” of Vietnam. Every time there have been disasters in China, war, revolution or famine, its northern neighbour has spewed forth large numbers of its population around the globe.

At the time I went to Vietnam, 1965, very few if any Vietnamese police spoke Chinese. They more or less ran their own community. The result was the government of South Vietnam had little idea of the level of Viet Cong or Communist infiltration into this community.

Earthenware jars were used extensively throughout Vietnam. Either to store rice or other commodities in or as flower pots. I always found them attractive around the courtyards of people’s homes full of plants and such like. Of course plastic was making its way into people’s lives. Horrible if practical I always connect plastic to pollution; of the spirit as well as the environment. The jars though were always appealing even if they suffered greatly during the fighting.

I am uncertain what military unit was involved. They were not the field police which were used extensively in the fighting in Saigon and Cholon as I still remember many details about them. This was forty years ago and my memory is perhaps not what it used to be. They are armed with American M16 rifles and M79 grenade launchers. When I had arrived in 1965 the regular army was still equipped with the old M1 Garand rifle. I had been issued with one in Van Kiep plus a steel helmet. A lovely rifle excellent in open country at four to six hundred yards. I proved a very good shot with one. I had however been brought up on the Lee Enfield. Both rifles belonged to what I will call the old school and were not best suited to take on the Kalashnikov or the AK47.

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