Chance Encounter in Vietnam, a true story
By Richard Taylor
I joined the U.S. Army at age eighteen to go to Vietnam. I was a patriot who believed in the cause (then), but I also wanted to see war, see it first-hand, and use that experience to write the Great American Novel. Even though I am now an author (my new thriller Red Mist has just come out), Ive never really written about my two tours in Vietnam. Thinking about much of what I saw and experienced there makes me angry, still.
But, as in any experience in life, there were lighter moments, too. I arrived in country and was assigned to an advisory team, a unit of approximately thirty or so specialists whose job it was to advise, educate, and support province-level regional force troops think national guard, but not limited to weekends. I was an anomaly in my advisory team as I had no skills to impart, no specialty, really. I was in fact as close to a blank slate, professionally speaking, as you could get. I think I was assigned to be the province intelligence NCO because Id briefly signed up for Army Military Intelligence officer candidate school back in the states but decided I didnt want to lead men in combat and withdrew my name from consideration.
Being a brand-new province intelligence NCO (noncommissioned officer), I decided to get to know my province. Id been assigned a new jeep, a somewhat worldly and under-motivated interpreter, and plenty of ignorance as fuel, so I set out on a road trip that led me, finally, into the rubber tree plantations just south of what was called War Zone D, a kind of no-mans land (it was more a their man's land than our man's land kind of area). My interpreter, Huong, a man far better educated and experienced than I, kept telling me that this was inadvisable he didnt use that word, inadvisable, exactly, preferring more colorful terms. Still, I was carrying an M16, an M79 grenade launcher, a .45 caliber pistol, and by this time a full nineteen years of life experience (a guarantee of immortality) and I was determined to see what I could see.
As we drove farther and farther into dark territory, I noticed that the kids in the hamlets we passed along the way stopped smiling and waving and began to stare at us ominously. Hmm. But onward we went. We passed a couple of burned-out American vehicles, relics from an ambush that occurred months earlier, I later learned, taking the lives of half a dozen American soldiers. But, onward. We drove past a magical grotto created by an isolated, unlikely and yet magnificent waterfall. The canopy overhead became fuller and darker. Huongs unhappiness became louder and more assertive. He suggested we return to the province capitol forthwith. No such luck. Id seen plenty of movies about Americans at war, and the hero always came out OK. I was the hero. I admit I was somewhat less concerned about Huong, who at best was a sidekick and thus considerably more mortal.
The road went northward toward the Dong Ngai river, skirted it for several miles, and then turned south. The road was really good, Huong pointed out, because the Viet Cong maintained it to facilitate moving supplies down province. I said something like, Hm? Really? Thats very interesting.
We left jungle overgrowth and returned to rubber tree terrain, mile upon mile of row upon row of rubber trees, old land long cultivated and owned by French colonialists whod somehow come to an accommodation with the Viet Cong. That somehow accommodation included providing the enemy with supplies, Huong told me. He now despaired of ever convincing me to return to where we outnumbered the enemy, I could see, and sat glumly on his side of the jeep with his face in his hands.
We drove in silence for several miles until I heard something that was so strange and unlikely that I stopped the jeep, and then turned off its engine, to hear better. It was the sound of women laughing and cavorting somewhere off in the distance. I heard splashes. Huong, I said, whats that? Huong just shook his head and looked away.
I got out of the jeep to go investigate. I strung my M16 over my right shoulder, the grenade launcher over my left, and set out through the rubber trees to find the source of the sound of laughing, splashing girls. Huong remained in the jeep for a long time, but eventually I heard him catch up to me as I pushed on through the cultivated forest.
I moved from tree to tree, looking down one aisle of rubber trees, then following another row, then a third, each tree separated from the next with exact calibration. Still, I couldnt see the source of the laughter, even though the sound was growing closer.
Then I pushed out of the forest altogether and found myself standing in Beverly Hills, or at least a close approximation of it. There was an Olympic-sized swimming pool, and immediately beyond it, a cabaña, and in the distance an absolutely huge French colonial mansion.
There were five French girls sitting or lying beside or in the pool, all of them in their late teens or early twenties, and most of them topless. I didnt notice the others, though, at least not more than casually, because the girl standing on the diving board preparing to dive caught my attention and held it. She was gloriously beautiful with true golden hair that was already wet and hanging to her shoulders. She was totally naked and her pubic hair was as light and golden as the hair on her head. Her body was perfectly proportioned, lean and fit. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, clothed or not, then and since. She had a tiny cleft in her chin, high cheek bones, and lips that turned unusually, and delightfully, this way, then that. I was too far away to see the color of her eyes, but I imagined they were green. The intelligence behind them was certain and inviting.
The sight of an American soldier armed to the teeth and his Vietnamese interpreter emerging from the forest into their compound must have startled them, for not one girl moved for what seemed like an eternity, but could have been no more than a moment. Then one of the women on the opposite side of the pool stood up, picked up her suit top that had been lying beside her, and began to put it on as she marched for the house. She called out a name in French.
The beauty on the diving board just looked at me. She didnt try to cover herself she only had her hands with which to do so, in any case and after a long moment twisted and said something in French to the remaining girls beside the pool. They grinned, and one chortled. I imagine my expression said everything they needed to know about me. I was American, I was young (not, but almost a virgin), and Id never been in the presence of naked, beautiful girls before.
The golden beauty standing on the board turned a little so that her body faced me and curtsied. This drew much amusement from the other girls, who started jabbering to one another. They all stood up. They all curtsied.
We have to go, Huong said from beside me.
A Vietnamese man ran from the house, followed shortly by two Frenchmen. Seeing them, the golden girl dove into the pool to hide her nakedness, while the other girls ran for the cabaña.
We have to go, Huong said again. They have guns!
Yes, so they did. I even looked, briefly pulling my gaze away from the golden girl who was swimming to the far side of the pool to keep me in sight. She was grinning and was greatly amused by the effect she still had on me.
If the Viet Cong think they make deals with Americans, they'll be killed in their beds. They might shoot at you... us... just so theres no misunderstanding.
We go. Now!
We went. But not before I made eye contact with the golden girl one final time. She brought a hand up from beneath the surface of the water. To wave at me? Or to brush hair from her face? I never knew.
The men didnt chase us into the trees. I was armed, after all, to the teeth. By the time we got back to the jeep, Huong was breathing heavily, and sweating. We go back to province capital, he said. Yes? We go back now!
Sure, I told him, not really thinking about my road trip at all, or anything else Id seen but the women beside the pool and in particular the golden girl on the diving board.
Miraculously, Huong and I were not killed returning to province headquarters. Its been more than forty years since the golden girl turned her lovely, naked body toward me and curtsied, and if I close my eyes, I can still see her, a great beauty incongruously discovered in the middle of a war. I dont know what became of her and I doubt shes spent much time wondering what became of me, but I do hope war did not consume her, or for that matter, life. She was in that instant of our meeting the most beautiful human being Id ever seen.
Copyright © 2009 by Richard Taylor
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