40 years ago today the last of the personnel left Vietnam from the rooftop of the embassy, climbing a rope ladder to the hovering Huey chopper. The last two combat troops on the ground were Air Force Combat Controllers, of which our beloved Jeff Emanuel and I are alumni of.
It seems like yesterday (I left in November of 1968 after the Tet Offensive in January) that I felt the heat, the sweat, the perfume of the flowers and the stink of the war all mixed together. You were always wet, I remember that clearly. If you weren’t wet from sweating, you were wet from the rain. It first time I felt dry was on the commercial flight back home.
The Vietnamese were a lovely people, steeped in tradition and honor. They weren’t all the Dreaded Victor Charlie and were used and abused by both sides. They were merely pawns in a chess game that was already Checkmated long before I got there.
On the 28th, the last of the official combat troops boarded transports and headed home to protests and demonstrations. In the end, it seemed like the peopled hated us, but the truth is they did not. They were just getting tired of 20 years of struggle and we lost, so we were ostracized. The truth is the tide had turned many years before that.
Yet, behind their outward contempt for us, the real people were afraid to see us go, they just had to act like they hated us so the wrath of the NVA was avoided.
I loved it and hated it there and would love to go back now that it’s peaceful. Perhaps someday I will be able to.
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