We Were Supposed to Be the Good Guys

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic

We were supposed to have been the Good Guys! Yet I feel tainted somehow, and have for far too long. We were the guys in the white hats coming to the rescue. So why do I feel guilty?

WE WERE SUPPOSED TO BE THE GOOD GUYS

By Al Garcia

We were supposed to have been the Good Guys!  Yet I feel tainted somehow, and have for far too long.  We were the guys in the white hats coming to the rescue.  So why do I feel guilty?  The reason for my feelings became instantly clear to me as soon as my foot hit the ground in Saigon, Vietnam on that early evening some 48 years ago or so. 

I was 19 years old and I believed what I was told, whether it was by my parents, by my teachers, or by my Government.  And my Government had sent me to this God forsaken country along with thousands of other soldiers, to help the people fight for their continued liberty and freedom, or so I had been told, and so I believed.

It didn’t take me very long after we landed at the Tan San Nhut Airport in Saigon in 1969 to realize that things were not as I had been led to believe.  It immediately became apparent to me by the way American soldiers seemed in total control of everything and everywhere I turned.  The Vietnamese soldiers and civilians that roamed and wandered throughout the airbase seemed tired, resolved, deferential, and servile in manner and in tone to the Americans. It was as if I had landed in a country that had been taken over by America, not a country being helped by America.  That was my first impression of Vietnam, as sad as it sounds.  The sight and the feel of that moment was even worse.

Imagine the feelings and thoughts going through my mind, even as immature as my mind probably was back then.  Imagine being unable to share my thoughts or feelings with anyone that day or in the days to come.  I found myself totally alone in the middle of hundreds of other soldiers.  A deserted island onto myself.  A weird feeling in a bizarre atmosphere.  And this was just the beginning.

The days that followed were more revealing than the first.  Seeing Saigon bursting with life and lights and sounds seemed to betray the purpose of why I was even there.Streets filled with vehicles, with American music filtering through the open doors of bars that littered the narrow streets, and hookers in mini-skirts beckoning to American soldiers walking leisurely and unhurriedly along the streets.  In other areas of Saigon I saw children and old people begging by the side of the roads, while American soldiers in their brand new combat fatigues and yet unused M-16s, self-importantly and conceitedly pushed them aside to make way as they swaggered by, totally ignoring them, as if they didn’t matter.  And, as I later came to understand, these people really didn’t matter.  It wasn’t about them.  It was all about America and the Americans.  And I was one of those ugly Americans. 

Within a day or so I was on my way to my assignment as a journalist at the Public Information Office in Can Tho in the Mekong Delta, about 105 miles south of Saigon (about a 40 minute flight).  The word “delta” should give you an idea of where I would be stationed.  The Mekong Delta – the fourth largest area in Vietnam.  Tropical and monsoonal, with only two seasons – the rainy season and dry season – about seven rainy months and five dry months a year.  Not exactly a resort on the Caribbean. 

 My arrival at Can Tho International Airport was uneventful – no bombs bursting through the air, just a normal 40 minute flight minus the complimentary drinks.  This airport was constructed by the U.S. Airforce as a military airfield in 1965 and was used by both the American and Vietnamese Air Force.  Again, like Saigon, the American influence was overly abundant. 

Unlike Saigon, Can Tho seemed more “countrified,” more rustic, unpolished and unsophisticated, if you could call Saigon in 1969 “sophisticated,” that is.  For me Can Tho was for all intents and purposes “the boonies,” a place out in the middle of nowhere.  Everyone knew where Saigon was.  But Can Tho? 

Well, here I was in the boonies, sweating like a pig in my brand new green jungle fatigues, brand new M-16 in hand, and carrying a briefcase and camera.  I felt like a Gomer Pyle character in bad B-movie – the naïve young soldier ready to take on the enemy but instead looking foolishly like the 19 year old kid I was.  I just couldn’t hide it.  I was playing with the big boys now.


Submitted: May 22, 2021

© Copyright 2021 A.Garcia. All rights reserved.

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