Monday, 24 September 2018
The destruction of Phan Thiet: Memories of Vietnam 1965 1975
The Destruction of Phan Thiet
A large part of the town now was beginning to look apocalyptic. There is some strange fascination about watching napalm being dropped. The product itself is utterly loathsome. I had been watching these attacks for some time when jets started dropping what I took to be 1000 lb bombs just across the river from us. When they exploded everybody ducked although we were out of range of debris. The shock waves themselves though played on one's nerves. A member of the recoilless rifle team was taken away with shell shock. Perhaps there comes a moment when one has had enough.
They had flown in a battalion of montagnards. It had been said that neither the Vietnamese nor the Americans wanted to flush out the Viet Cong from the destroyed buildings. Quiet, undemonstrative fellows I had seen them sitting at the airfield earlier waiting for orders. I always felt they were often used by the powers that be as so much unaccountable cannon fodder. They sent them in now against the entrenched Viet Cong. A slow cautious advance. I saw a hand grenade tossed at them by the defending VC. A shell exploded in the river just in front of us. Which side had fired it?
Most of the town’s people had a resigned air to them. It was difficult to say where their sympathies lay. Many certainly hated or feared the Viet Cong but the Americans were causing most of the destruction. It is very easy to be detached when one has no family involved, when one can say, 'I've had enough', and just pop on a plane and fly home. One is not involved. For the Vietnamese people this had been going on in one form or another since 1940. There was a deep ingrained mistrust of anything to do with whatever government was in power. They looked to the village and family for security. With the destruction of village life, village headmen had been one of the first targets of the Viet Cong years before, and still were, it was to the family they looked to.
I went back to the relative security of the airfield carrying a couple of C rations with me.