In July of 1993, my friend Tommy and I went to Vietnam in an attempt to go to the
actual location where my father was last seen alive. I knew it might be difficult
to actually make it to that area I refer to as "Ground Zero," but
was very hopeful. My main goal was to see the country and
experience the culture like dad did and, if lucky, get to
the actual location where he was reported missing.
|My friend Tommy (l) and I worked together in the service
Arriving in the airport in Saigon (Ho
Chi Minh City) in mid-July it struck me how much the place looked
as if the war was still going on. The airport looked as if it had
not been repaired since the US left in 1975. There were Soviet
airliners with Vietnamese markings on them parked on the
taxi-ways and flight lines. Many of the planes were broken and
clearly needed maintenance. We processed through their customs
agents with no real problems, then went to find a taxi.
|A Vietnamese woman carrying fresh fruits to market. Note the old 50's era French Jeep in the background. Old military vehicles are everywhere in Vietnam.
We had a good hotel in downtown Saigon, the Bon Sen. It was
not the equal of the famous Rex or Continental, but clean, safe
and relatively inexpensive. I was moved by all of the disabled
Vietnamese veterans and beggars on the streets. Since the war's end,
this has been their only livelihood. One man had only one leg and
was forced to hop to go anywhere. He had no hands but held a
begging in the crook of one arm. In a
situation like that you have to pause for just a second and look
at the effect the war had on the Vietnamese people.
|Street scene in downtown Saigon
Tommy and I checked into our room, got settled in, then
went out on the streets to get oriented. We found a tour guide
and invited him to meet us later at our hotel. As we walked
through the streets of Saigon we also met Tay. We became friends
instantly and decided to hire him instead of the other guide.
There was a little hassle later with the first guide, but looking
back, I think we made the right choice with Tay.
Tay was an employee for the U.S. Embassy
during the war years. After the North took over he spent ten
years filling in B-52 bomb craters on the Cambodian border. We
hired Tay and a driver for the first full day of searching. Tay
took us north west toward An Loc. I screwed up and read the map
wrong, which caused us to go out of our way. After that my friend
Tommy jokingly harassed me by calling me "Pathfinder"
the rest of the trip. He had a pretty good sense of humor. Its a
good thing I did too.
|Everywhere we went we drew a crowd
We approached the area where dad was reported missing from the
south east. Vietnamese and Russian engineers had built a large earthen dam in this
area with a concrete spill gate several stories tall.
This was a construction project started after the
war but never completed. The entire dam was approximately 10
kilometers long. I was able to determine where we were by the
terrain features at our location. Using my compass, I shot an
azimuth toward the location were dad was reported missing. From
where we were the site appeared to be under water. By the time we
reached this point it was late and had started to rain so we
headed back to Saigon.
|This Russian built dam and dike irrigation project formed the Dan Tieng Lake
After Tay picked us up at our hotel on day two we decided it would
be best to approach the area where dad was last seen from the
north west. The plan was to go to the city of Tay Ninh then
travel to Noi Ba Dinh. Noi Ba Dinh is a mountain in the immediate
area where dad was last seen and is a great landmark to navigate
from. It was approximately 10 kilometers from the mountain to
dads last reported location. We got to Noi Ba Dinh, then
continued on to a little village called Tan Thiet. One kilometer
east of Tan Thiet we stopped to ask directions, which had been
our practice as we traveled. One of the locals, a militaman of some sort,
got very confrontational because he didn't believe we were entitled to be
in the area. As he argued with Tay, he put his hand on his pistol as a
threatening gesture. Fortunately, we were allowed to leave the area, but
because Tay was very shaken up we did not return. To think that we were
within seven kilometers of where dad was last seen alive, but were unable
to traverse the final bit of ground because of a local bully!
|Nui Ba Dinh mountain rises majestically out of the plains of Tay Ninh province providing an excellent terrain feature to orient on
In retrospect, I feel the trip was a partial success because I
was able to see and experience what my father had seen and felt --
the people, the culture, and the Vietnamese countryside. Getting
so close, yet still being so far, was bittersweet and only
served to fuel my desire to continue the search.
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