PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICE
1st Marine Division (Rein.), FMF
FPO San Francisco, California 96602
Release # 979-70 August 26,1970
RFLECTIONS By CpL. “J” Richards
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DANANG, Vietnam – – Only a short time ago he had been sloshing his way through mid-calf-deep rice paddy water, working his way carefully through a treeline, knowing it was infested with enemy surprise firing devices – – – any of which could maim or kill. He knew a constant, growing feeling that he could only identify as fear.
Today, he was with a young child, grinning as if the child were his own.
He experienced the strange feeling that Danang, home of the 1st Marine Division command post, just didn’t fit in with his conception of how people lived in a war zone.
On this day-off from field work, he sampled the easier life: hamburgers and cold beer at the Freedom Hill Recreation Center, an air conditioned movie and walking around without the necessary rifle, flak jacket and helmet he carried as a second skin in the field.
He followed the stream of men from the movie to the Red Cross Center. Something was happening there, he didn’t know what.
Feeling paranoid about being in a bui9lding with so many other people who had no outward concern about being bunched together as he did in the “bush,” he mingled with the crowd.
A little Vietnamese child chame up to him, looking as if she wanted something. She pointed to to the ice cream bucket she was unable to reach. He understood.
Quickly fishing two strawberry ice creams from the bucket, he offered on to the girl. He turned to find a seat and found the girl standing before him with questioning eyes. At last he smiled, and with a sweep of the arms that have carried wounded buddies to a med-evac helicopter, he carried the young girl onto his lap. She smiled.
Both silently ate their treat while watching the many Marines eagerly entertaining the young guests from the orphanage.
The girl knew her “ABCs” and recited them…as far as she could go, and then counted to ten…for her big escort. He grinned and laughed. They both were over the nervousness of their meeting.
Lost in their own world, the combat Marine, battle-wise yet apprehensive before a young girl, and the girl communicated without words.
“Cahm un Omb” – Vietnamese meaning, “thank you, sir,” was about all he understood clearly when she had to go.
He sat back in the thickly cushioned easy chair and knew that tomorror would be easier.,
*(Most of the story is true, though some of the “he” includes others as well. I actually came out of a months-long period of almost constant field duty with 1stMarDiv maneuver battalions at the company, platoon and squad levels with active patrolling sometimes three-times a day and more than a few times under fire and under threat of mines and booby traps – dictated from Washi9ngton and Saigon (MAC-V – Military Assistance Command – Vietnam) to be called “Surprise Firing Devices” whose like can be found today in Improvise Explosive Devices, the concept of “Booby” being a pejorative, I suppose. I have helped carry wounded Marines to med-evac choppers but not before this piece I wrote in mid-August of 1970. I added that for literary effect. I had absolutely no idea that the piece would be accepted, much less published: I had grown a mite sick of war in the eight months in-country and seven months in The Bush on a mostly constant basis. I had yet to be interviewed for an alleged atrocity I committed – in fact I did witness a “field interrogation while accompanying a civilian journalist, John Sullivan, in July, and whose pictures he published appeared worldwide and caused a shitstorm. The party at the Red Cross center was absolutely true to life. I left the center for a moment when I entered and found out what was going on – only to search for my photographer partner John Gentry with whom I had shared the last few weeks in some pretty terrifying bush. He was at the beer garden, but had only a few brews killed when I got there. We had gone to see Shirley McClain in some inane fantasy movie, “Sweet Charity” and though the air conditioning more than made up for the movie. I grabbed John – and he his camera – and went to the party. He took a USMC Combat Correspondents Association Award Winning photo of a monstrous Marine, New Orleans black jazz joyfully trilling from his borrowed trumpet with a tiny Vietnamese boy trying – mostly unsuccessfully to reach the keys, holding onto the Marine’s ears and wrapping his shorts-encased legs around the man’s neck. I sat down to watch the entire party and then this girl came up to me and looked and then pointed to the big bin of ice cream set off to our quieter side of the party. Everything else is still – and in the story – exactly as it happened. I also wrote a story – a letter to the editor, really, about what M-16 bullets can do to the human body – after reading of the Kent State National Guard shootings, and another after some German nuns were massacred out by An Hoa by an North Vietnamese Army sapper unit on a terrorist mission, but those were to my hometown newspaper and not USMC-sanctioned. I never did find out if the story I wrote got published anywhere. I was back in “The Bush” the day after the party.)