09 November 2006
Trang Van Nguyen
That Huey is evacuating the last of the Americans from Saigon in 1975.
I hadn't seen this image before. It's a different angle than the famous image we normally see of this event-
Interesting, in that he has a big chunk of that left skid off the pad, which means he had to be hovering while people got aboard the helicopter.
From this perspective it looks like all he had to do was slide forward four feet or so, and he'd have been more secure on that pad. Wonder why he didn't?
Was he in that much of a hurry?
Maybe. There are a bunch of folks on that ladder.
Now, to the task at hand-
How much do you know about Viet Nam?
We've discussed the fact that President Johnson probably led us into that war under false pretenses, rightfully causing much of the valid suspicion of our government today. But once committed to defeating the Vietnamese communists, shouldn't we have finished the job we started?
Hindsight is such a wonderful thing. We know now if we had ignored Walter Cronkite and stuck to our task, history would read differently for us, and millions of Vietnamese citizens would still be alive.
I want to tell you the story of one of them:
When I first started flying EMS, we made our shift change at 10 A.M..
By the time I briefed the oncoming pilot and finished all my paperwork, it frequently was closer to 11 A.M..
On those occasions, I would often run to the closest Chinese restaurant and get food to take home and share with Sara Jean.
The proprietor of the restaurant, a young asian man, would smile at me as the waitress took my order.
Wearing my "Captain's uniform", I stood out like a weed among the daisies.
On about my fourth visit, he came from behind the counter and asked in good, but accented English, "what line do you fly for?"
"I'm a helicopter pilot. I fly the helicopter ambulance here in town."
"Oh? Were you trained by the ARMY?"
"Yes sir, I was."
"Were you in my country?"
And at this point, we became friends.
"Are you Vietnamese?"
"Yes, I am."
"Then yes, I was in your country!"
The next few times I came, he refused payment for my food. I finally had to tell him if he wouldn't allow me to pay, I would quit patronizing his restaurant. After that, I'd get home and find extra large portions and items of food I hadn't ordered in my sack.
I resorted to leaving a big tip.
He introduced himself as "Tony".
I later found out his real name was Trang Van Nguyen.
Tony was 13 when that picture was taken in 1975.
Tony's father was the Commander of the South Vietnamese Air Force.
When it became obvious Saigon would fall, his Dad parked a Huey and Pilot in Tony's back yard. When the enemy tanks rolled into the heart of the city, his Dad loaded the entire family onto the Huey, told them he was staying to continue the fight, stepped off the skid, and saluted them goodbye as the Huey departed for the safety of an American ship just over the horizon. Tony hasn't heard from his Father since. It's unlikely his Dad survived the ensuing purge...... those with strong links to the old Republic of Viet Nam government or the United States were quickly "neutralized" as political risks.
We had it won.
But our enemy was more dedicated, more disciplined, had a long-term vision, and the stomach for a long, dirty fight.
We Americans have a VERY short attention span.
So here we are again.
President Clinton called for regime change in Iraq. We accomplished that.
Now it appears we'll abandon the Iraqi people to a horrible fate, as we did Tony's Dad.
Arab perceptions of us as weak and unable to take a punch are validated.
We are weak. We will get what we deserve.
I'm dismayed, but unsurprised.
If you are a Sunni Arab in Iraq, you are now terrified.
You're probably a better student of American history than the average American.
The bloodbath is coming.