Thursday April 3

We left early for Vinh Long Province. The veterans there would know more about our goal of hot to reach the site. Everyone was tired and hot. Tension was running high...I had dared to deviate from the program..we had planned to visit 2 other provinces in search of the site, but now it wasn't necessary and I told them I didn't want to waste anymore time..that this would give Mitty and TJ time to take their shots in HCMC. The tension had to do with saving face. I had been told earlier that if I had 2 guides from different agencies with me, one would accept responsibility or both would want all the responsibility - depending on how things progressed.

Anyway, we reached Vinh Long. Just before going into the door for more green tea and selling the project, Tam said to me, "Don't mention your project, just tell them why you are here." If not my project - why was I there? We went into this huge room with a huge glass conference table - I was coldly asked to state my purpose - now this table was probably 15 x 7. Five men had spread out on the other side. Not a relaxed face among them. And I was trying to guess the right answer since I wasn't supposed to mention the project. What I saw were 5 men who could prevent my reaching the goal of Bill's death site (this worse than the worst test anxiety) I started talking, but finally, I told me Tam he needed to talk for me. I had visions of just crying right then and there. I didn't know what to tell them. the correct response to "Don't discuss the project" was Mitty and TJ needed permission to shoot scenes. Eventually they warmed up - polaroid did it again. and they sent us on to Dong Thap Province Veteran's Assn. But 1st a night in Vinh Long so TJ and Mitty could take shots. We were all so tired.

April 4, Friday

Left Vinh Long at 6AM for Dong Thap. Arrived there about 8:30. a beautiful drive, had to take the ferry a couple of times and finally made it to vet association there. They knew where the place on the map was. We were put in boat, referred to as a canoe. The boat was a large motor boat with a huge motor - a water skier's dream. They had to push it out of dock (tide was down, mud was up..up to their knees). We had to board by getting down the mud bank then grabbing the rail on the bow and supposedly stepping up onto the bow. Well, I made it down the bank carefully stepping on the small rocks or pieces of broken concrete. But this short, round, fully packed body had a difficult time "stepping up" onto the boat. As I hung there with one hand on the railing, one knee on the edge, the other knee just wouldn't go up any farther. The thought of falling into the muddy bank of the Mighty Mekong River was enough to get me up and over. Of course our ABC camera man caught it all on film.

Once all were boarded, off we went from canal to canal, Mekong River, canals again. Beautiful scenery. Felt like we were watching the scenery in "African Queen". The further up the canals, the stranger the villages. One guy scared me..he was standing along the bank holding a net..he didn't move or look at was as though he was trying to be invisible. It sort of reminded me of the deep bayous in La. and Mississippi.

We came to the village, managed a more orderly exit from the boat. First stop was the Vet association place (a room). Again, I had to explain and the maps were shown. The man on the sofa said he remembered. Mitty questioned how after so many years, he could remember. "It is my village, not easy to forget." was his response.

They checked our maps and off we went on foot - through rice paddies, along clay walls, jud, heat, and humidity. I thought about out guys humping it with full gear..I don't know how they managed. This was a large open area of several paddies. I can't imagine what it must have been like to move through that area quietly and undetected.

The heat and humidity was incredible as we filed along the walls. Finally reaching a field of farmers harvesting the rice. We must have seemed a strange sight to them. They stopped and looked at us like we were aliens. Our guide stopped, checked his map. one of the farmers came over to ask about this unusual sight...he was old, had a fairly long gray goatee, wore a checked scarf wrapped around his head - he was told what we were doing. He and an old woman got really excited and started talking fast..We had arrived. He kept pointing and moving around. Our interpreter finally told us. The old man had seen it happen. He watched the stuff being loaded onto the huey, apparently there was another helo hovering around also. As the helo on the ground lifted off it exploded or something inside did. It was beyond flying and fell back down, the other chopper took some debris from it and had to set down. A 3rd chopper came in to medivac. The old man took me to a large area in the paddy that was indented. He said that is where the loaded one fell.

"So long ago," he said, "but the earth still remembers." Even the rice stalks grew in a different direction in that spot. Sarah, Mitty, and I sat down in the center of this area. We had brought with us flowers and fruit. We lit the joss sticks and were just there. We put our arms around each other and cried for a bit..then we just sat there with out own thoughts..we began to talk to each other about his loss, what it was like for each of us. They wanted me to tell the dream again of his death. When we were peaceful with it we prepared to leave..Bill was a Christian and I had taken nothing to symbolize that, so I took off the cross I had worn nearly everyday we were there and placed it with the other things. Before we stood up, we looked around us, there was only rice paddies and a large tree line off a bit. Then we noticed the farmers and the villagers who had followed us to this place. They had gathered at a respectful distance and were grieving with us and talking quietly about what they remembered.

We left the place after some time. The villagers and workers leading the way. We were invited into the old man's house - a thatched hooch with dirt floor. Board beds with straw mats, a large table and those peculiar little stools. We had tea (I was given hot water or the weakest tea imaginable) he said it would cool me off - it did...the dreaded tap water least I hoped it was just tap water and boiled. The villagers crowed in doorways and any available space.

Then, in waddles a pig, I can only guess where it had been rooting - it had thick mud under it's chin and on it's snout. Sarah, who loves little pigs, squatted down and started petting it..all the kids crowed in the room gave a unanamous, "ughhh!" Obviously this was a "food pig" not a "pet pig". The owner of the pig asked Sarah to accept it as a gift and to take it to America with her. She thanked them graciously and said she couldn't do that.

Many hugs, many pictures, the girls picked up a few more Vietnamese uncles and I got another protector. The polaroid was used till it was empty and I had no more film with me.

We left, retracing our route. Ate dinner and drove on to My Tho for the night. WORST HOTEL of the trip - but then, what could I say - I had agreed to spend one night with the woman whose pig sty was practically part of the kitchen and whose hens rooseted on the beams...inside. Still, I was glad to have my shower shoes.

April 5, Saturday

The next morning we took a boat tour for scenery. stopped at a couple of islands, ate fruit, incredible fruit. Then returned to HCMC - we were glad to be back and especially off the road (after dark it is really death inviting). The Saigon Hotel looked and felt like a palace.

We had a free night to do as we pleased but were were so tired it did little good. TJ, Mitty, Sarah, and I wimped on the food. One can eat just so much pho (noodle soup) spring rolls and such - so we went around the corner to resturant catering to tourists - we had hamburgers. Best tasting thing in days.