THE OTHER SIDE
During the war many things happen that seem impossible, acts of courage, stupid or funny things that many can't understand why or how. When you are young, scared and far away from home these things can take place. It was 1967. I was an 18 year old, pushing 19, in a place called Phan Thiet, south of our usual operating area near the ocean, a place I thought was great. We had the ocean to play in at times, but by no means a safe heaven. But we were the Cav, we were always in it.The town was better than any other I'd seen, was not Saigon, but darn nice for a change. This town had decent streets and buildings, paved roads, etc. The town was separated by a river and a bridge. Our side was sort of an R&R place. I was told the VC had the other side. I found that hard to believe: we had ours, they had theirs, but I learned to accept it.
I had a pass to go into town this day, but I was bored with the regular tradition of drinking with the guys because I was so curious as to what was going on the other side. You see, one day I saw a truck loaded with junk and Vietnamese going over to their side looking hard at me as if they could kill me. I thought, "Why?" "They don't know me." Well, I started to ease my way towards the end of town. Standing on the bridge that separated us, I acted as if I was just watching the water flow under the bridge. It had an arc to it in the middle so as not to be able to see over it. I slowly worked my way over the hump. Wham. I'm in! I walked down the middle of the street. A total opposite of what we had. The streets were dirt and no sidewalks, a few chickens running around and older people just staring at me blankly. As I went further down the street, I heard music coming from the last so-called bar. It was a dismal place. I walked in.
I heard the voices go silent, I couldn't see very well since I was in the sunlight and it was so dark inside. As my eyes adjusted to it, I noticed about a dozen men, all hard-looking types, not your typical farmers. I knew I'd crossed over the line, but I kept my game face on. I walked up to the bar and ordered a beer as best I could with my poor Vietnamese/GI lingo. The bartender looked past me at the oldest man there, as if waiting for an OK. A pause of silence, then he gave me a lukewarm beer. As I drank it down, I ordered another. Then I said to give everybody a beer on me. He did. About the second order, the air seemed more relaxed. I leaned my M-16 against the bar as if to show I was no threat. We continued to drink, when the older hard-looking guy behind me had me join his table. None of them spoke English, but we seemed to communicate in a typical GI fashion. There were no weapons around but mine, but you could tell these weren't farmers for sure, yet we seemed to be at ease after the beer flowing, and I was buying!
The older man was trying to tell me stories with is hands, as if he were shooting at a helicopter. His words I did not understand, but could somewhat understand him. I, too, did try and communicate the same way, but did so as a GI shooting back. This seemed to be a point of interest and humor to them. After all, we were getting drunk together. Hours passed. It seemed as if I was part of them. Then a young Vietnamese came running inside and saying, "GI, GI MPs." I jumped up and looked outside. There were a few American MPs in a jeep slowly approaching down the street. After all, I wasn't supposed to be in this side of town and they must have heard an American was here. I started to panic, was past the curfew. The new drinking buddies I had attained seem worried for me too. They led me out the back, through a path and heavily jungled path. I was thinking, as drunk as I may have been, "I'm in deep stuff. I'm with possible VC and out of bounds to boot."
We got to a place were the river was narrow. They pulled out a log from under the brush and pushed it across the river and motioned me to cross over. I did so. I came up from behind the other side of the village and walked through as if nothing had happened. The MPs asked me why I was still in town and I responded that I fell asleep in the back of one of the saloons. They escorted me back to camp.
This story seems impossible to have happened, but it did. Weird and crazy stuff happens when you are far from home and young. To this day I wonder how I got away with it that day. Perhaps we're all not that different..
Originally posted on 1st Cavalry Association Guest Book,
May 19, 2003
by, and included here with permission from R. Thom Jefferson.
İR. Thom Jefferson, 2003-2009, All Rights Reserved.