Chu Lai beach, 112f, the scent of sally joints permeates the hot dry air. I’m lying on my back joint in my lips, the young bloods music playing loud. Most of us are in the water, swimming or surfing or just trying to forget what they remember.
“Hey, I’m looking for jingles” I answer, what for. I open my eyes and this guy looking like Brad Pitt before Brad Pitt looks like himself is leaning over me. I been assigned to 2 squad and I’m to bunk next to you. Says his name is Ken. I’m jingles or Don. I tell Ken to get to his boxers and enjoy free time cause 2 days, we in the shit again. Ken goes to the hooch and comes back in a few minutes and has a Ricoh TLS or something. He ask if it’s okto take pictures. Now I know why they put him next to me.
Some girls are working the guys and one comes over an lays on top of me. I know her well. Ken is looking at her cause she’s French Vietnamese and about as fine a woman as ever was. She whispers in my ear. “he baby”. I smile and tell her I pay. The fee is $5.00 and $2.00 credit fee. The girls know us and trust us to pay later in the day.
She slides over to Ken and climbs on top of him. Slips her hand in Ken’s boxers. I looked at his face and saw the sun in one eye and the moon in the other. It took Ken about 30 sec to release. She hugs him, kissed his neck, kisses his lips, lays close on him and tells him, I love you baby. About 15 min later, she takes her silk dress off and Ken’s boxers. A few guys and me watched as she took his boyhood away and made him feel like a man. She rolled over to me and said 10 dollar baby.
Ken said to me Don, that’s the first time I did it. Ken, in your life you will never find a woman that can be your angel like her. He looked at me like, a lost boy. Ken, we are walking corpses. Our souls are lost, humanity is a word. At 20, I learned there exist things worse than death. That girl makes me feel like I am alive, like I want to be alive. That girl accepts me no matter who I am or what I do. She is the angel of love and mercy, for all of us.
Ken told me hid dad owned a few banks. He wanted Ken to come to Nam and be a hero so when he came back to the bank, it would draw a lot of business. Ken made me promise something. He told me that if he didn’t make it to mail the letter in his pocket to his dad. I wonder how he knew he wouldn’t make it and how he knew I would.
A few days later we had to do a sweep of the village. It was just our 2 squad. We at the time were 11. We were looking for activity by VC. So we sitting smoking cigs and breathing. Then we heard a girl crying and screaming. We all ran to her defense. Then we stopped in our tracks as this girl squatted and gave birth to a baby. We were all so used to the taste, smell and feelings of death that this miracle took hold of us and unarmed us. Chuck, our medic went to her aide. He also was on his 4th tour and could speak Vietnamese. He talked with the girl and she said she was 14 2 days ago.
She said the VC came to the village an killed her 2 brothers and father. They took her and her sister and 4 of them raped them many times. She never saw her sister again. Her mother told her to leave because she can’t afford to take care of her and a baby. Mother told her to go and never come back. Kissed her good by and that was it. (14, dammit, 14, she delivered at 14, what does that mean?)
Then we heard a shot ring out. We all hit the ground. Chuck covered the girl and the baby. One shot, we knew it was a sniper. Roger had the M79 and looked up in a tree and fired. The canopy exploded and something fell with the leaves and branches. The partial remains of the sniper. Medic, Medic….calls out we run over to where the call comes from ….. son of a bitch, first out 10 days in country, first sex with an angel, the sniper chose Ken because no helmet on. East target. I looked at Ken humped over, head and face mangled. We stood around and kinda hurt and maybe saying prayers privately. I reached in Ken’s pocket as he asked me and put the letter in mine. It occurred to me that we found what we were looking for. VC activity, Ken paid the price and the girl, the aftermath of the VC rapes.
We got back to home as we called it an and we put the girl and baby on Ken’s bunk. Chuck said that we should call the girl Gai, meaning sister. For everyone of us, Gai was our sister. We took care of her and the baby and she took care of us. She would come lay with one of us after a while. NO SEX EVER! It was finding humanity and she needed to as much as we did. We got the MPs to give her ID as a civilian worker and she was safe on base. When we came back from a mission, the hooch had flowers all around, was clean, and a real feeling of life.
I sent the letter to Ken’s dad and I wanted to write my letter to him also. I couldn’t, because I had never with all I been thru or would, ever hated anyone as much as Ken’s dad. I wrote a small note that said….. I hope your satisfied that now you have your hero back home.
If you need to ask what these memories have to do with my photography, well……..
….oh, my Leica M4….. no film for 2 weeks.