I asked my father once, back during the mid-1950s, if he was glad he’d served in the Army. He served in the Medical Corps in the South Pacific. I remember he got an odd sort of look on his face, paused and said, “I’m glad I had the experiences but I wouldn’t want to do it again.” I know what he means.
Dreams are a strange phenomenon. Last night, I dreamed about Vietnam and I guess that’s not surprising, considering the current circumstances. The dreams I had were not the frightening type I had for over eighteen years after the landing gear retracted just after lift off at Tan Son Nhut. The dream I had last night was about a war orphan I photographed in ’69. I mentioned the orphanage at An Lac in my original post. Well, forty-two years ago, I walked through the gates of the walled orphanage and was immediately inundated by children just wanting to be held:
Yeah, that's me under there.
I wandered around the compound taking pictures and managed to catch this young fellow who had been scooped up by a friend:
He was a cool little guy who just couldn't seem to get the hang of the crutches someone had given him, so, when we took the kids to the zoo, we carried him right along.
A few weeks after I took these photos, I was transferred and never returned to the orphanage. I thought about those kids for many years after the country fell.
When I reconnected with Betty Tisdale, the lady at the orphanage, I found out that the little boy had been adopted by a couple in St. Louis. I was fortunate enough to meet them last year at the An Lac reunion in Columbus, GA. They named him Phillip and, unfortunately, he died from kidney failure three years ago.
Well, St. Louis was in my path today so I stopped by to visit Russell and Patty for a few minutes. We had a very nice time and made plans for a future get together. As I had many miles to go today, the meeting was brief. I was mounted on my bike, helmet on and waiting for the BMW’s computer to give the okay to blast off. Patty gave me a big hug and said softly, “I feel like I’m touching Phillip when I hug you.” I couldn’t reply as I had a lump in my throat the size of my Arai helmet. I just nodded and slipped away. That hot St. Louis bothered me for several miles as my eyes watered heavily. Damned heat!
As I pushed north, I thought about how astonishing this entire reconnection has been. I recalled my dad’s words, too. While I’m glad I had the experience, I do wish I could do it again but with the wisdom of my 64 years. I would have spent more time with those children. Missed opportunities . . . . .
Oh, in the first post, there was a photo of a little girl sitting on a GI’s knee. Well, that soldier was me and I’ve been in contact with her. Xinh Mai didn’t make it out of Saigon when the country fell. Today, she owns a small clothing store and has two daughers, one a physician and the other is a merchandiser for a department store.
That’s her in the white blouse at the site of the An Lac orphanage. Life can sure be interesting.
Tomorrow, I'll push on to Mike's home. I'll try to update on Tuesday evening. Wish me luck with the presentation!