Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Vietnam -- My Solo Trip To Eagle Beach -- What a story to tell

Traveling To Eagle Beach by yourself wasn't exactly the easiest thing to do.

Okay, actually it was, I just didn't want to be in the same 2 1/2 ton flat bed truck a bunch of already half drunk infantry soldiers.  So, I hitch hiked from Camp Eagle to Hue. A lot of black dressed women with straw hats were squatting along the side of the road the air heavy with diesel exhaust, honey suckle, water buffalo, and marijuana.

Many time weathered faces wrinkled like sun riped prunes would look up and you. Some smoked pipes and saw through hazed eyes, some with cataracts so thick you knew they were blind, and the younger ones with enticing I'm for hire looks you knew would net a horny GI.

But the most notable feature about the woman of Vietnam was even the aging women possessed a flame of life I have yet to see parallel with any woman of any age elsewhere in the world.

But there was also a characteristic of the women in Vietnam which simply marred the beauty, their teeth. When an elder woman smiled, she didn't show white teeth, she showed black tea stained teeth.

"This is as far as I'm going to be able to take you, " said the driver of the 3/4 ton truck. "You should be able to get another ride up to Camp Evans from where I'm going to drop you off."

"Thanks," I said, "I appreciate you getting me this far."

I'll admit, I was a bit scared. The intersection was very busy with a street cop in the middle of all the racket looking a bit frustrated at all the honking cars.

This spot was an eerie mess of living and 1968 Tet Offensive reminder of the dead who found the citadel a visual reminder that Hue can be left calm as sleeping lion or be woken up to spit you bones out in front of its gates.

So, I'm watching the policeman.  A Moped with a young man and woman come up to the four way stop. The policeman has his back to them. But out of the corner of his eye, watches as they try to sneak into the traffic.  He whistles at them to stop.  They do.  He goes back to moving traffic back and forth in front of them.

But youthful impatience tries to do it again.  This time, the policeman pulls his gun out and tells the two to pull over and wait. They do what they are told.

While I'm watching this, a hard and heavy tractor diesel let's me know he's coming to a stop. He sees the situation unfolding, stops, "Hop in, I can take you to Camp Eagle."

Without hesitation, I'm up in the shotgun seat and closing the door.

"Jesus," says the driver, "What did they do?"

"Nothing but piss off the policeman."

"Oh, that explains everything. Damn sure not in the US, are we?"

"Name's Bordeaux. Yours?" he asks as he spits out his chewing tobacco.

"Edwards."

"Yankee from the sound of it. Might want to remove your watch. Easy steal. Better in your pocket than nowhere."

I started pulling off the watch, "So where are you from?"

"Louisiana.  Cajun coon ass through and through."

His words were flavored with French and brewed from the bayou.

He went through the low medium and high gears with so much precision you could barely feel the cab twist and raise by the torque.

"Guess you're going over to Eagle Beach by the looks of your clothes. And you aren't infantry, you smell too goofy to be a grunt."

I smiled.  "I'm with the 4th Battalion, 77th Field Artillery. Cobra mechanic but I'm working as a stringer for the battalion."

"What in tarn nation is a stringer?"

"I'm a writer and photographer for the unit."

"Oh," he said sounding a bit disappointed. "Wana coke?"

He pointed behind the seat, "Cooler back there. Grab one for me whale you're at it."

I did and we popped the tops of some ice cold body satisfaction. It was hot, muggy and the fine dust made your sweaty skin feel like sandpaper.

"I'll take you up to where the vehicles cross by LST. You'll have to jump into a duce and a half to get across." he said.

"Appreciate that."

There was a few minutes worth of silence as we literally, drank down the cola without breathing once.

"So tell me something, Bordeaux, how long have you been driving on highway one?"

"For almost nine months. And let me tell you something. This place has to get better to die," he was deadly serious.

"Son, let me tell you what, if you're a Vietnamese, you better not be riding a moped and get involved in an accident. Even if you don't get hurt bad. You will be by the time its all over.

"And if you're unconscous, you'll wake up naked or dead. Or both. 

"They'll plum rob you dead."  He shook his head, "I've never seen anything like it. Some of those Vietnamese are like human vultures just waiting for road kill."

After we got out of Hue, he put his boom box between us and it started playng the cajun version of American band stand. I started singing, if only to myself,  I can't wait till I get out of his truck cause cajun ain't that cool.

I still think I could hear his music a quarter of a mile away from sight over the hammer of his diesel.

The air smelled of fish oil and LST exhaust. You could see and hear the fish jumping out of the water.  A few minutes later, I was in the back of a duce and a half and riding the LST across to Eagle Beach.

Since I had already been to Eagle Beach before, I discovered that while I was suposed to be there all day relaxing and having a good time, I couldn't wait to get away and ride the roads of adventure.

Unfortunately, someone I knew saw me and I had to ride back in one of the trucks that brought the infantry up to Eagle Beach. As luck would have it, most found a way to pour themselves into the back of the first truck leaving those who didn't drink.  Way I saw it, the exhaust breath of the drunks could have fueled the duce and a half all the way back to Camp Eagle.

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