July 14, 2002
In 1966, fifteen Americans walked in; 485 days later, eight walked out. More Americans died in the rice paddies around a forgotten place call Chulai than in all of Desert Storm.
Last Christmas, I went back to a village where I had fought 35 years ago. It is 400 miles north of Saigon, now called Ho Chi Minh City. The North Vietnamese had also changed the name of the village – to show who had won the war. A solitary Marine squad had fought in that village, living among 6,000 Vietnamese. In 1966, fifteen Americans walked in; 485 days later, eight walked out. More Americans died in the rice paddies around a forgotten place call Chulai than in all of Desert Storm. And for what?
In the village, I visited our old fort, now a kindergarten, and prowled around the moss-covered stone foundations, kicking up old memories. When I walked back out to the paddy dike, I was surrounded by smiling villagers. An old farmer (my age) peered at me and said: “Welcome back, Dai Uy.” A third of a century later, they remembered me, a young captain from decades earlier. They asked by name about the other Marines who had gone home those many years ago and led me through the trails to a palm tree overlooking a bright green paddy. There they showed me a rough marble marker – their memorial to the seven Marines who had lived in that village for a year and a half and who had not walked out.