Finale of a series of six
I asked Dave for his favorite memory of his 16-month Vietnam tour coordinating Vietnamese espionage agents. He “had an interesting episode on one of the few times he visited Saigon.” He explained that he generally avoided that city “because that’s where people get hurt.” He met his buddy Sammy Little there for a threeday vacation. Sammy had similar duties as Dave; running Cambodian border “Trail Watchers”. While wandering around marketplaces, Dave found a large oil painting that he had to have. It had the vivid colors of the area – “a canal with the mustard colored water you see there. And deep green plant called a cache tree with a bright red bract in the center.” He tired lugging the painting around so they took a taxi back to their hotel – but the painting would not fit inside. They held it on the roof with their arms sticking out from the taxi’s windows. Nearing their hotel, explosions started going off all over Saigon. Their driver stopped the cab and ran off. Dave and Sammy ducked behind a nearby building. When realizing they had left the painting on the cab’s roof, being the loyal friend he is, Sammy dashed into the street to retrieve it. To take on plane back to Can Tho, Dave cut the canvas from the frame and rolled it up.
Life in Vietnam was very dangerous. There was no way to determine if a Vietnamese civilian was either friend or enemy. Dave said his scariest time there was when the Vietcong overran his part of the city for two days. He pulled down the steel shutters on his windows and locked his door. Black clad Vietcong soldiers padded down his street. His neighbor was a doctor who parked his vehicle by the front gate. It was marked with red and white crosses and David figures the Vietcong respected that.
Dave has mixed feelings about his time in Vietnam. His officer’s efficiency report had a comment “this case officer was directly responsible for over 100 enemy killed in action confirmed.” He was proud he did his job so well but heartsick over the collateral damage to non-combatants from air or artillery strikes he had ordered. He provided an incident where that really came home to him. He was visiting the Can Tho Provincial hospital, the only medical facility for Vietnamese in the area. Injured Vietnamese came from many miles around for medical help, generally victims of the war. Entering a hallway, he found a regal elderly Vietnamese woman staring up at him from a stretcher. She was wearing a beautiful white dress and feebly asked for water. He got her a cupful. He learned the woman had a nicked carotid artery and that the hospital was not equipped for that type of surgery. She was dying and had been placed in a comfortable air conditioned spot. As she slowly expired, David spotted a small gold crucifix hanging from a chain around her neck. His earlier Catholic training told him to make the sign of the cross on her forehead and recite a Hail Mary for her. When walking back to his quarters, David wondered if one of his intelligence operations had caused her death. He realized how a bomber pilot must feel; excited at the successful targeting of the enemy. But, like a pilot, he had to block out the human suffering it caused. Unfortunately, this time, he was too close to the results to do that.
After 20 years of military service, Dave was 37 years old and ready to retire. He declined a job offer from the CIA because it required him to go to North Africa. He had promised his wife and kids that “daddy is going to stay home this time.” He spent 32 years in his second career, the insurance business; the last 20 working for Miller Insurance in Tualatin as an agent.. He now is an author, using his military experiences as background for novels. His short story, Mekong Delta Angel, about the elderly woman he gave water to, was included in the Oregon Writers Colony book “In our voices”, published in 2008. His first novel ”The eye of the Viper” came out in 2007. He has written six books and four more are in manuscript stage, ready to be released in 2018. The books are available on most book websites and by order at Powells Book Store in Portland.