(Ed. Note: Dale Dye and other CC “Snuffys” returned to Vietnam this week. This is Dale’s first installment):
An emergency room physician circulated among the survivors. His diagnosis was quick and easy: Terminal culture shock. If the moment had been some jangled parsec in the psychedelic sixties he’d have called it a bad acid trip, but the Doc knew where and when he was even if the shocked Veterans kept claiming if couldn’t be Vietnam, the war-ravaged turbulent country they’d left behind nearly 50 years before.
It started the moment they began to unwind from 17 hours jammed inside a turbo-jet tin can that roared out of Los Angeles, through Hong Kong and into Danang, headquarters of their old 1st Marine Division where most of them served as Combat Correspondents in the bloody gut of the Vietnam War at various times ranging from 1965 to 1970. Giving them the bored bureaucrat stare at passport control were guys in familiar olive-green uniforms festooned with red collar tabs. The last place most of them had been so close to uniforms like that was up on the Demilitarized Zone—at places like Con Thien, The Rockpile, and Khe Sanh. Back then the uniformed Vietnamese were carrying AK-47s rather than rubber immigration stamps.
On the bus ride through throngs of mini-bikes and motor scooters toward a five-star resort, most of the returning vets kept their greying heads on a swivel, unable to completely relax despite constant reassurances that they were safe from ambush. “Traffic still sucks,” commented former Corporal Rick Grimm, one of the Combat Correspondents who often navigated Danang streets choked with cyclos and military convoys, “but at least they now have traffic lanes and some drivers actually pay attention to them.”
Early in the morning of their first full day as Combat Tourists, the loose gaggle of eight Marines and one lonely former dogface who did his time far to the south in the Mekong Delta with the U.S. Army’s 9th Infantry Division, found themselves in full flashback mode as they rode up to Monkey Mountain in a convoy of six salvaged American military Jeeps. Danang metropolis, or what they could see of it though a blanket of morning fog, spread below them. In deep water harbors and offshore in what the U.S. Navy used to call Dixie Station, there was not a warship in sight. Sampans and a few of what rural Vietnamese fishermen called basket boats bobbed sedately in the South China Sea. Atop the mountain, famed for rampaging hordes of rock apes, they searched in vain for remnants of the AFVN station that used to broadcast from the heights of Monkey Mountain while retired Captain Dale Dye entertained with impromptu lines from “Good Morning, Vietnam.”
It was all a little too civilian, a little too civilized for the Combat Correspondents who came expecting to see…well, expecting to see at least a remnant or two of the war they fought and wrote about for the Marine Corps. “Don’t these people realize we fought a war here?” asked retired Sergeant Steve Berntson who was badly wounded in Hue during the Tet 1968 fighting. Well, no. Actually, they don’t, as most of the current Vietnamese hustling and bustling through the streets of Danang were born after the war in their country ended.
In desperation, the tour group, sponsored on the return to their battlefields by The Greatest Generations Foundation out of Denver, Colorado, hustled to a local Vietnamese military museum, where a diminutive female—in crisp uniform and unsoldierly western eye shadow and lip gloss—invited them to view exhibits of captured American (running dog imperialist) and South Vietnamese (puppet army) equipment. Naturally, the lights were out in the sector of the museum that contained information on American forces who were based in or around Danang. And nobody could find the switch to remedy that.
So, it was time to retire to the hotel bar for war stories the way we remember it. Plans are firm for tomorrow’s expedition south to what little remains of the An Hoa combat base, Go Noi Island, and the infamous Arizona Territory. More from there soonest.
— Dale Dye