January 1, 1969
The plane lost the race with the sunset as we flew across the Pacific.
With refueling stops in Hawaii and Guam, the sun finally lapped us. My
watch no longer reflected the heavens around me as morning did not arrive
on schedule. All I knew for sure was the year 1969 had just begun. I had
spent my waking hours (many of which should have been sleeping hours) of
the previous year, developing the skills necessary to be an infantry
Sergeant in the jungles of Vietnam.
As we descended through the clouds I caught my first glimpse of Vietnam. It was not what I expected. The landscape was covered with fields. Only a few trees along the waterways but nothing that looked like the jungle I had envisioned. I began to wonder if I was in danger yet.
The plane landed safely and the airplane doors were opened. I stepped out of the plane and felt the January heat. As I made my way down the steps to the tarmac I realized this was just an ordinary airport. The baggage handlers were already unloading our duffel bags as we were led into the terminal. Walking through the terminal I noticed all of the travel posters of exotic places the airport served.
I was loaded on to a bus and I began to survey the country that would be my new home either for one year or the rest of my life. I looked at the Vietnamese people on the crowded streets. There were men, women and children doing their daily routines. I was feeling sorry for myself, but I could not imagine what it must be like to have grown up in a war zone. My goal was to survive a single year, but the people before me had obviously already survived many years.
On the bus trip to the replacement station at Bien Hoa I noticed:
At the replacement station I was put on the second floor of the barracks. Across the street was the ice cream parlor. I had been denied conveniences for the last year in the name of preparing me for Vietnam. Now I was in the best facilities of my short military career.
While recovering from jet lag and waiting for my permanent assignment at the replacement station, I was given an assignment to clean up an office. As I supervised the waxing of the floor, I looked around the office. On top of one of the file cabinets was a thermal grenade. I theorized its purpose was to destroy secret files in case of an emergency, but then again it may have been a gag military cigarette lighter. Behind the oak desk and leather chair was a picture window. On one side of the window was an American flag on the other side was a military flag with hundreds of colorful campaign ribbons. The window behind the desk provided a panoramic view of the base at Bien Hoa.
As I looked out over the base, I understood this was just the beginning, but I had not expected the war zone to look so permanent.
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