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Friday, 10 March 2017

The Road from Vung Tau to Saigon: part 1

The Road from Vung Tau to Saigon: part 1

I had to go into Saigon on private business. A number of Decca people had private business concerns which I may deal with later. I took PB along as interpreter. I hired a car and chauffeur.

We left Vung Tau early in the morning, passed through Baria with no trouble and had gone a few miles further on when we heard an explosion up ahead. It was a beautiful day, after a number of years one gets used to the nightly crump, crump of artillery; one hopefully learns to differentiate the sounds of outgoing and incoming shells, mortars or rockets, machine gun fire etc. One learns to live with it. To have one's knee jerk for years after the war every time a car backfired or one heard a loud bang was for later. We pushed on and found a large crater in the road. As we were able to drive around it and there were no destroyed vehicles we were not unduly concerned. There was no traffic in either direction though.

A few miles later we arrived at a large village. There seemed to be a lot of activity, traffic had piled up, not moving in either direction. Questions were asked about what had happened on the road we had just come along, and we were informed that a bridge had been blown up ahead.

Like any loyal subject of Her Britannic Majesty, I decided it was a good moment for a tea break and we duly found a tea house where we discussed the situation, in the manner of people deciding, due to cloudy weather ahead, if they should continue with their picnic or not. PB was North Vietnamese and they are a very steady people. We decided to abandon the car and driver, which could not continue anyway because of the blown bridge, and continue on foot and try to pick up transport further on. We came to the end of the village and left people and cover behind us. The road was raised above surrounding rice paddies. There was not a cloud in the sky, not a sound to be heard. A beautiful day for a young couple to be walking along a quiet country road. We came to the destroyed bridge. One span, about three feet wide, was still passable and we crossed over the first, destroyed part of the bridge. I then stopped and looked around me.

There was the wreckage of one of these three wheeled vehicles. I couldn't see the driver, perhaps he had fallen down below. I didn't look below; it was not the moment for idle curiosity. I looked to my left and saw a rather fat peasant woman. I couldn't see her face. Her body was in a most strange posture. Part of my own survival mechanism kicked in and I thought, 'What a strange manner in which to pray'. It was the eternal prayer of death. This was one of the shades of fear I have talked about earlier, an escape from reality. The body goes calmly through all the actions required of it, but the mind blankets out the truth. I looked to my right and saw a young girl sleeping. She must have been about twelve years old. A very beautiful face, untroubled in its sleep. I looked down her body and saw her guts hanging out onto the bridge, her stomach ripped open. Hers was the final eternal sleep of death. I looked around. Not a sound. No movement. Nothing. I looked up and high in the sky I saw a spotter plane. So high it might have been an eagle. I looked at PB, she remained very calm and without a word we continued. PB was always very brave. The fact that we would never show any weakness to one another I found quite natural. The fact that we might have both been nutty didn't occur either. There is a Vietnamese phrase 'dien cai dau' again with no accents, which Americanised was 'dinkydow' which might have been appropriate. It means crazy.

We continued on for a half mile or so and I saw movement to my left. A patrol of Regional Force soldiers was advancing quickly along the drainage ditch beside the road. They were led by an ashen faced officer, his right arm held out in front of him holding a Colt.45. His shaking hand all too visible. He did not give us a glance. He looked how I inwardly felt. We continued on until we came across a lone three wheeled taxi vehicle, which for an exorbitant fee took us to the next village where we found transport to take us to Saigon.

In Saigon I took care of my business. The evening was not quite as relaxed as I would have hoped. The dinner rather tasteless. We had to return the next day.

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