A ditch, six feet wide, two feet deep and a mile long, ran alongside the runway at Soc Trang. At one end, across the ditch from the runway, our ten OH-6As were parked on PSP [pierced steel plating]
When it rained the ditch overflowed; the water racing past our area, under the concertina wire, through a screen of tall bamboo, past a ruined Buddhist Temple and into the jungle beyond.
When it wasn’t raining, the dew from the runway trickled into the ditch and filled it enough to keep the water moving slowly past our aircraft.
Once, the water took on a pink cast as it moved by us. If you followed the pink upstream you would find where it flowed, a little redder, into the ditch. The water got redder as you followed it to the skids of one of our ships, up the side and onto the cargo deck where it bloomed to a deep crimson. A jellied mass of blood, about the size of a pillow, lay a half-inch deep on the deck . In the heat, it turned to a jello like consistency that took a stiff brush and countless buckets of water from the ditch to wash out of the aircraft.
The blood came from a hole where a mans arm used to be. The hole came from an RPG fired by an NVA regular. The RPG came from the Soviet Union. The NVA regular came from the Democratic Republic of Vietnam-N. Viet Nam
The Democratic Republic of Vietnam came from a vision in the mind of Ho Chi Minh. The vision followed a very crooked road from his birthplace in North Viet Nam to where the blood sluiced into the ditch at Soc Trang. Every inch of that long, long road was soaked in blood; French, American, Australian, Korean, New Zealand, Cambodian, Laotian, Thai, Russian, Chinese and Vietnamese blood. A lot of Vietnamese blood.
Was it worth it?
Depends on who you ask. You can’t ask Ho Chi Minh, he died a few months before the blood went into the ditch at Soc Trang. His heirs must have thought it was worth the spilling; after their victorious march into Saigon they decided that not enough Vietnamese blood had soaked into the ground, so they kept at it for a few more years.
It was all forty years ago. The ‘Great Red Beast’ has moved on to a score of other wars and drunk deeply of human life. Why think about it now?
I don’t think about it much, and when I do time seems to have worn the sharp edges off my memory and it doesn’t cut the way it used to. But, I dream about it, now and then; dipping the bucket in the water, one foot in the ditch, scrubbing at the bloody mess with that useless stiff bristle brush. And then the gorge rising in my throat so that I have to step away for a moment, breathe the fresh air, watch the water flow under the wire, through the bamboo, past the temple ruins and into the jungle where it disappears. You can’t see far in the jungle, so I don’t know where all the blood goes.
If I were a more clever man I would weave an analogy of the blood spilled then and the blood spilling now, and work it all into an insightful metaphor of the wire and bamboo, the temple, the jungle and the ditch.
But I’m not that clever, and I have no great insight. All I have is a fading memory and an occasional dream. And a deep, abiding distrust of the visions of men, no matter how glorious they may seem.