tremble clef

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Rufus Wainwright, "Going To A Town" (2007)

In 1969, a young man living in Dayton, Ohio found himself heading to Vietnam. He had been drafted into the US Army. He was a conscientious objector, so had been trained to be a combat medic. His orders sent him to the 85th Evacuation Hospital in Phú Bài, which is just south of the city of Huế, Vietnam's former capital. American soldiers couldn't be posted much further north than that during the War. Huế, after all, was just south of the 17th Parallel, the military demarcation line that had split Vietnam into halves, and the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the Tet Offensive.

A typical GI's tour of duty in Vietnam was twelve months. For some reason, he ended up stationed in Phú Bài for fifteen. During that time he had one chance to go on an R&R, which he did in Australia. All through the time-off, however, he couldn't wait to get back to Vietnam. And when the time finally came for him to leave the country, after more than a year of seeing first hand the toil of the war, he cried and cried.

I am not that young man; this is not my story. I am, however, lucky to be that man's friend. For that, and many other reasons besides, I can only recount the facts.

A few weeks ago, my friend and I went to Vietnam (and Cambodia) -- along with Reno Dakota, his fellow medic at the 85th with whom he has stayed good friends all these years, and Reno's wife, Buzzi. It's been over thirty years since they were there last, and it's overwhelming to think about all the blessed things that have happened since.

We went back to Huế. There was nothing left of the Hospital, which is not too surprising. It was only ever a bunch of hooches, pitched on a patch of land at the end of the landing strip at Phú Bài airport. We drove up and down Highway 1; our driver and guide touched us with the effort they put in to help, stopping each time they saw someone older and running up to them to ask if they remember the American hospital that was around there during the War.

Now there is a kind of storage bunker where the Hospital used to be, and our guide tells us that the Vietnam People's Army utilizes it to store petroleum. The entrance is marked by a couple of yellow walls, with a slogan painted in red. The guide tells me it says something like, "The Army and the People, Working Hand in Hand."


We get out of the van and walk around. Reno Dakota took photographs. My friend scooped up some dirt, which he will send to two other army buddies.

One night in Huế, I told my friend how unspeakably sad it made me to picture him first coming to Vietnam. "Nobody should have to go through what you went through," I said, though, like most words in the situation, they were woefully inadequate. "Better me," he replied, "than someone who couldn't handle it."

5 Comments:

  • What a way to return, with such an excellent gloss on Rufus' "I'm so tired of you, America" that retains the direct subject matter of GTAT (after all, you were with Reno "American Fabulous" Dakota), while deepening it immeasurably.

    By Anonymous esque, at 11:13 PM  

  • Thanks. I actually listened to "GTAT" quite a bit on the trip, and it really seemed to capture something, somehow.

    By Blogger Brittle, at 2:15 PM  

  • Like The Magnetic Fields? What a strange road...

    I love the picture.

    By Blogger xolondon, at 8:32 PM  

  • Great to have you back--a wonderful post. You should teach writing classes on how to blog (no, really, don't you think that would be a great class?). Arcite

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:58 AM  

  • Ha, I wouldn't pretend to be any kind of expert on blogging. But thank you!

    By Blogger Brittle, at 11:18 PM  

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