As I mentioned before we had to have permission from each province to take professional pictures and conduct interviews. So we quickly packed and checked out of the hotel and began heading to Ben Tre province. When we arrived we had to stop at the foriegn relations office to pick up an "escort." He was very cool to us. His name was Mr. Cu..foreign relations officer for Ben Tre. Later I learned they are relatively suspicious of anyone who wants to take pictures or is looking for an American death site because they had a big POW camp there in the province. Needless to say, there wasn't one bit of trust he had in me or the camera.
I sat beside Gen. Vi, who refused to look at me while I was talking. He was one cold cookie, even more so than the foreign relations guy. After introductions, I was asked to state my purpose or program. I did and included the added plan to locate Bill's death site. Still cool, the Gen asked where * and rand and job*..there was something happening. The expressions on everyone's faces changed. The Gen. sat back in his chair then laid his hands flat on the table and leaned forward (I thought, oh, shit). he leaned forward, speaking to me throught the translator, said at that time in that place he had been in command of the NVA Regiment in that area. He asked how Bill was killed. I told him (of course, typically, the girls and I were crying). He gave his second in command some commanding sounding words and things started happening. The maps I had were taken, they pulled down their maps, everyone was talking at once...they were excited. Gen Vi knew the location. The next day we were to be given a map leading us there and someone from the site's local vet association would take us on. He told the girls and me he was sorry for our loss and he was their Vietnam father. He announced we were invited to "drop in" anytime. His second in command said he was their uncle and my protector. Everyone was crying..even the general. He got up, shook my hand then hugged me, then he kissed the top of the girl's heads and wanted pictures. Out came the polaroid and the cameras. Essentially, we were given the keys to the Province and guarenteed help and acceptance from Cam Tho, or Cam Thap, the next province.
Then we went to interview another widow, another "mother hero" whose husband had been a 3 star gen. She had headed the Women's Union of VN. She also lost her husband, 3 sons, 1 daughter and several nieces and nephews. When she learned of their deaths (napalm in a bunker) she cried so much her eyes dried out and now she is blind. At 95 she is very alert but has difficulty speaking so her 12th child, a daughter, talked for her. The daughter was also interviewed by us as a Son/Daughter. This was a lovely old woman confined to a wheel chair. Her daughter lived with her and someothers. The house and yard were lovely and clean, they even had a telephone.
An interesting thing learned today was that Ben Tre Province had over 200,000 widows from their wars - 100,000 are still living.
We returned to the hotel, lunch, nap and then to "Charity School" for children. They have approximately 60-70 children who live there. Most are abandoned because of birth defects or orphaned, a few still had their families. When asked if the children had been from parents exposed to agent orange the standard response was, "Perhaps, but your gov'nt's research says it is inclusive.
The staff was wonderful. The children seemed to be happy and well. The day we were there a group of blind children had KP and were washing dishes. All the children were taught basic living skills, if they were blind they were learning how to read, and being taught like any other kid in school. The deaf were learning signing and could read lips. There were several crippled children. One young boy who was blind wanted to play his flute for us. It was an ivory flute (don't know what it is called but it is held and played like a clarinet) and he taught himself to play. It was beautiful. They he led the singing. Deep strong voice, beautiful. It was extremely moving to hear him. that child was so talented. Then all the children sat on the ground (in the shade) this same boy led the singing. Sarah had plopped down in the middle of a group and entertained and entertaining. Mitty and TJ were taking shots of what was going on and also with some specific children, About 8 little kids had attached themselves to me. One little guy called "Chu" had been orphaned and he was determined to teach me to converse in Vietnamese..starting with numbers. He was also fascinated with my beads and my silver cross with red stones. So were the girls in the group..round of polaroids with the necklace on them..
The problem facing the school/boarding house/orphanage is funding. I was tremendously impressed with the entire setup (they even had a bathroom for both sexes) Those kids, blind, or deaf, crippled, or with less visible problems were well behaved and happy. one of the really impressing things was their independence. The children appeared to be very able to move about the premises freely and independently.
We left there and returned to Ben Tre. By now our escort was very pleasant. He had come to believe we were sincere in our project.
After dinner we decided to "do something". Now in Ben Tre there isn't a lot to do. They do have a park with a small lake across from the hotel and we could hear music being played (Julio Iglasis..though we were in Mexico) and the market was still open. so we decided to ride bikes to the market. Well, I tried to ride a bike but the seat was too high and the handle bars kept slippin to a "down" position. One of the workers at the hotel had a motor bike he volunteered to drive me on. The others rode bikes. Sarah had one and TJ packed Mitty on his. Needless to say we stopped traffic. Finally made it to the market. Ulterior motive was finally revealed..seems while I had been napping, Lan took the girls and ordered Ao Dais. They wanted to pick them up. Then back to the hotel. It was all a lot of fun.