M Y O B

The Life and Times of Bruce Bramson

RETROSPECTIVE

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LOOKING BACK

I feel obliged to post a brief discussion about my experience in Vietnam, looking back after 41 years that have elapsed since I departed.

In many—most, in fact—ways, I had it easy. I was not in the military, I saw no combat, and I suffered no  damage. I never got further from Saigon than Long Binh, not even to Vung Tao, even then reputed to have some nice beaches. On many days in Saigon, one could easily forget there was a war going on as the local folk went about their daily business: take away the jeeps and duece-and-a-halfs, and Saigon could be pretty much like any other city in the orient at that time.

What bothered me most was how hopelessly incompetent most of the americans I worked with were! One could forgive the mil pers: they had no training in insurgency or jungle warfare, most were draftees who would much rather have been elsewhere. They were paid a pittance, considering what they had to do. Many were from the US deep south, and were basically racist pigs: their understanding of and behavior towards the Viets was appalling. None spoke, or even tried to speak, Vietnamese; they were frustrated when Viets did not speak english; and they generally referred to them as “gooks” and other disgusting epithets. The women and girls were fair game for rape and worse, and the goal of most enlisted men was to climb high enough in the army to get out of the EM barracks and into a shack job.

But the civilian crew with whom I had the most contact (being one myself) were just as bad: in many ways, they were worse, because supposedly they  were “professionals”, there to do a job, and handsomely paid for it. The few I met who actually tried to get something done were snowed under with regulations and paperwork. But most of the civilians I met were dead-beats uninterested in work, more interested in a cushy shack-up and fat salary to augment their retirement pay (usually from the military).

For the guys who actually fought on the ground, I had and still have the greatest admiration. Their job was not easy, and was made far worse by the stupidity of the generals in charge, most of them comfortably ensconced with a local female who waited on them hand and foot. The “grunts”—ill-trained, ill-prepared and often just plain ill—were just cannon-fodder. On unfamiliar soil, unable to know what was going on right under their noses (because none spoke the language), they were up against a force which knew the territory, spoke the language and could not readily be identified as friend or foe. It was one fucked-up mess, and I met almost no one in country who was not willing to admit, with a little “lubrication”, the whole exercise was an abysmal failure.

Of the Viets, on the other hand, I had the highest admiration. To me, trying my best to behave like a guest in the country (which I was) the Viets I met were unfailingly polite, helpful when needed, charming and often very nice to look at. Using the most basic elements of “being nice”, I found, would get me anything I wanted. Most often, a simple smile was all it took, and (as will be seen shortly) I a few situations developed where the typical “ugly american” approach would have gotten me nowhere. The Viets worked hard, put up with our presences generally with a stoicism that amazed me. Somehow, using back-street machine-shops, they kept the taxis and cyclos and motorcycles—at least 3 million of them—running. In my book, the Vietnamese populace deserved far better  treatment, both from their own government and from ours, than they got.

What saddens me most now is that we ought to have learned something from our collective experience in Vietnam, but subsequent history proves we did not. Since 1975 there has come the first Gulf War, which may well stand in history as our last “successful” campaign. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were ginned-up by a fake warrior who had never seen actual combat, who had the brains of an idiot, and whose second-in-command was a conscienceless manipulator. Whether we get ourselves out of these countries intact remains to be seen.

LOOKING AHEAD

The appearance of this blog will change slightly: armed with a camera, I set out from Saigon to see more of Southeast Asia by motorcycle, and arrived nine weeks and 5003 miles later in Singapore—beyond which one does not go far on a motorcycle, unless it has pontoons! On a world map, it looks quite insignificant: basically, I drove around the gulf of Tonkin. I had a grand time!

I did keep a diary, at least as far as Penang. But I used my diary to prepare some long letters which have survived. I’ll use a combination of these sources, along with my fertile memory, to let you in on some of the events along the way. The pictures will trigger many memories for me to share with you.

However, getting OUT of Vietnam turned out to be more difficult than planned: I’ll describe that in the next page.

In the meantime, here’s my visa for Cambodia. Presumably all systems were “go”.  I hadn’t reckoned on PA&E’s penchant for screwing up!

Cambodia Entry visa

The saga continues next page.

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Written by Bruce

December 14th, 2009 at 10:09 pm

Posted in Saigon 1968,VietNam

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