The Time Machine

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

Vietnam was certainly a dark and ominous place to be, especially in 1968-1969, during the height of the war. But even then, in between seeing the agony of war, and waiting and hoping for a dreamless sleep that might come with the night, for some of us, there were those moments of exhilaration and delight. And I experienced many of those moments while traveling throughout the Mekong Delta.

THE TIME MACHINE

By Al Garcia

Vietnam was certainly a dark and ominous place to be, especially in 1968-1969, during the height of the war.  But even then, in between seeing the agony of war, and waiting and hoping for a dreamless sleep that might come with the night, for some of us, there were those moments of exhilaration and delight.  And I experienced many of those moments while traveling throughout the Mekong Delta.

Exhilaration may not be the exact word I’m looking for.  It was more like an escape.  A complete and total escape from the reality of the war, to a place beyond the sound and cries of the realness that was razing the lives and the minds of the young and the old, the weary and the weak, and the warriors and their adversaries.  A momentary pause in an otherwise senseless and idiotic existence.

For that brief moment, I was above it all.  Above the hate, the killing and the horrors that war creates and commands.  And I was literally above it all -- the air washing way the stench of death, and fanning the cries of pain to the recesses of another time and another place.  I was high above it all.  And it felt good, and clean, and safe. I was in a cab, taking me to a nowhere place, in a forsaken land.

The cab was a Bell UH-1 Iroquois Army helicopter.  The Army’s equivalent of today’s Uber or Lyft for you civilians.  For me, this was my daily choice of travel.  My ride to and from.  My time machine, that took me away from the fatigue and exhaustion of striving to survive, physically and mentally.

I was probably on a helicopter more so than I was on a jeep while stationed in Vietnam.  Helicopters flew me to isolated outposts by the Cambodian border, to mountain top garrisons or to strongholds along the great forests that dotted the landscape.  It was during these flights that I escaped in body and mind, and felt the exhilaration of life reenter my being, and replenish the essence of my humanity.

On any given day, I would just show up at an Army airbase outside Can Tho, and find out who was flying where.  By then, I was pretty well known on the base.  I’d ask if I could hitch a ride and be dropped off either somewhere along their route, or at their destination.  It was as easy as that.  There always seemed to be room for me.  Having PIO (Public Information Office) credentials opened doors, provided easy access to all types of transportation, and great accommodations at the best hooch at any outpost – and all at taxpayer expense, of course.

Helicopter pilots were usually wild and crazy guys, and nicknamed “cowboys,” for the way they careened over the top of trees surrounding the airbase, barely missing the tree line, allowing the rotor wind to dramatically part the foliage below.  My stomach may have used another word other than “dramatic,” to describe the rapid and swift climb.  Nonetheless, the rush was exhilarating, as was the sight of the ground moving away from us, and almost being able to touch the tree tops as we sped up, up and away.  These were “hotshot pilots” who loved showing off, each and every time they got behind the controls.

With both side doors open, and the rotor above, the sound and the wind could obliterate all thoughts from your mind.  The sudden gush of air, at first alarming, quickly welcomed, and refreshing.  Within minutes, the sight of the landscape below, a masterpiece of nature to behold. Any notions of possible sniper fire upon leaving the ground soon vanished from my mind, and I am captivated by the spectacle below.  And every time I was on a helicopter, I would experience the same feeling and euphoria, and it never disappointed me.

Helicopter jaunts were by far the most exhilarating form of transportation for me.  They were fast, gave me the opportunity to unwind and relax, and got me to the most remote and often beautiful locations in the Mekong.

I do recall hitching a ride to Saigon on a Lear Jet one morning.  A private Learjet, with a male attendant, and drinks and snacks!  No kidding.  Of course, it belonged to none other than a two-star general visiting Can Tho.  As I said before, PIO credentials were like having an American Express Platinum Card – you can’t leave home without it!  So, it was the General, the flight attendant and myself - only three people in a large, luxury plane.  Now, this is the way to conduct a war!

In any event, the time I spent flying above the countryside were times I got to escape the reality below.  I saw the beauty of the countryside, majestic mountains and flowing rivers.  The colors were breathtaking, especially when seen from above.  Everything looked beautiful, serene, undamaged and innocuous.  Yet, I knew that hidden beneath the canopy of trees and concealed along the banks of the rivers and the streams, and on the hillsides and mountain ridges that I could see for miles, there lurked the evil that man does, and does well – war.

But, for a brief moment, the time it took to fly from point A to point B, I was able to escape the scenes of war, and see a scene that could inspire the heart and the mind, and even make me believe that the land and people below deserved better than what was happening beneath the deceiving beauty from up high.

My exhilaration of escape always came to an abrupt end, when the helicopter landed and I returned to the reality of war.   My time machine had stopped.  If only I could stop in another time and place.  That was only a dream, and in war, there is no time to dream.


Submitted: June 21, 2021

© Copyright 2021 A.Garcia. All rights reserved.

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