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Sunday, 25 April 2010

Vietnam memories: The story: part 15 and 16


The Road to Baria: part 1

I mentioned earlier that we always travelled by air. That is to say all our official trips were made by air. Whatever journeys I made by road were completely unauthorized and if I had vanished nobody would have been any the wiser. However we had to go to Van Kiep by road when we lived in Vungtau. The French had had a convoy wiped out on this road, but this was unlikely to happen to the US with their air power. The Vietcong did blow up the bridges periodically and once mortared the airfield at Vungtau.

At first we travelled by these three wheeled vehicles. The Vietnamese would put eight or ten people in. We travelled alone. It was not an unpleasant journey. Once though coming off duty all I could find was one loaded with charcoal which took days to clean off my body.

We were then sent some official transport. We should have had a jeep and a three quarter ton truck per station. No stations received any jeeps and it was said our US major lent them all out to his friends for favours (I think the figure was fourteen). We were given US military driving licences without asking us if we could drive. I had to pick the truck up one evening from the airfield. In the dark I couldn't find the lights nor could I find the reverse. I managed to drive it back to the mess. We then used it as transport to go to Van Kiep. I should add here that the camp was called Van Kiep and the town nearby, the provincial capital, was called Baria, the province being called Phuc Thuy.

While the US would only drive this road in an armed two vehicle convoy we usually drove alone. Sometimes there were two of us, often just one. I am trying to remember the distance. I will say about twenty or twenty five miles until someone corrects me. It was the big white star on the side of the vehicle that worried me. Later we bought our own cars which improved things considerably.


The Road to Baria: part 2

Once coming back from Baria I saw a vehicle on its back in what used to be known as Madame Nhu's shrimp farms. This had been a project of the sister-in-law of the then president Ngo Dinh Diem. Now they had reverted to nature. In fact the whole length of the road between Baria and Vungtau was bordered by mangrove swamps. Mud at low tide, water at high tide.

This was low tide and the vehicle was lying on the mud. There were a dozen or so arms or legs sticking out. It was obvious to me it had been a simple accident. I wasn't driving.

I asked the driver to stop. He put his foot on the accelerator and took off at high speed, a sort of wild look on his face. I forget his name, I wouldn't mention it in any case, but he was beginning to crack up. There is a certain fear which over time builds up in one, one gets jumpy and panicky for no reason at all. This is another of what I call the shades of fear. I thought it a pretty poor show, but then maybe I had been in the scouts and he hadn't. There was a tendency on the part of some people to never get involved in anything outside their job. All I saw was a simple accident that required the help of passersby. He saw a vehicle, perhaps blown up by the Vietcong, and panicked. It's strange how after a period of forty years things still irritate one. It is probable that at the time I was angry for a day and then shoved it to the back of my mind for many a long year.

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