In bewildering fascination, Saigon, formerly the capital of French Indochina, held me captive for about a week. The rich blend of people, some in fancy western threads and others staying true to their native attire, were walking about in a fairly normal city scene.
Some were shuttled around in decent cars and yes, there were clunkers to be seen as well. Others took cyclos without a second thought and there were quite a few people going about on bicycles. Then of course there were the troops going from here to there on foot and in military transport.
The smells coming from restaurants, fresh food vendors and street-food stalls were definitely interesting and I found some delicious too.
While sitting in a local bar on yet another sweltering hot evening, engaged in the usual sipping of ice cold beer, I was startled by what I was certain to be the sound of an explosion. A little shaken to be sure but more so curious, I walked over to the open doorway and peered out. A couple of more distant bangs followed.
The scene outside was that of the city’s people going about their daily routines, intermixed with our G.I.s and some foreign visitors … and children playing around the streets. I then heard a siren in the distance.
Seeing nothing out of the ordinary I returned to my table, not really sure what to think or how to react. I say this because most everyone else in the bar seemed relatively calm about the boom and bangs.
Timing such as it was, these bangs became the discussion at our table. My friends and I were told by a couple of Marines standing at the bar, to be aware of the children and youthful people here; perhaps an occasional grandparent too. They must’ve sensed my concern.
There have been occasions wherein children pretending to play ball outside, were actually culprits of (most likely forced) no good actions. They were usually near an establishment where a good number of G.I.s were to be found. A ‘ball’ would roll inside.
Now either someone will pick it up and roll it back outside or it was ignored but sometimes, before one could realize it, kaboom! Not only the visually dense population of American and Allied troops but the average citizen of South Việt Nam, all were targets in this damned war.
And as was the wartime usual, you couldn’t really trust anyone. Decidedly we were unable to distinguish the difference between North and South Vietnamese citizens; who had the grenade … or worse?
As if on cue, a ball rolled in through the open doorway and right then and there, my heart stopped beating. I was sure of it because I don’t remember taking another single breath!
After what seemed like forever but only a moment or two later, a youthful lad came in after it and took it back out straight away. Clearly I’m still here to say, that wasn’t a hand-grenade, or for that matter any other exploding device that evening.
Towards the end of our Việt Nam stopover I wanted to stay back in the city for an overnight. Though I knew I’d have to rise before the morning sun to get back to the ship via the 5a boat at shore, I will admit I chose to engage a female companion and so retained a hotel room.
It was after only a few minutes of being in this room (probably for the best) when the moment about to be, was disturbed. There was sudden (again with the heart-stopping) and loud non-stop banging. I instantly opened the door to see guns staring me down.
There were 4 that I could see and two of them were pushing their way into my room; these gunslingers didn’t wait for an invitation to enter. They briefly looked around. I definitely wasn’t going to argue or question these 2 Vietnamese (n or s? don’t know) soldiers with -credit to my imagination- itchy trigger-fingers on those cold & scary (what looked like) AK-47s, surely loaded and ready to shoot!
No English was spoken and they left shortly after arrival, taking the girl with them. The only conclusion I arrived at was the girl must’ve been North Vietnamese, posing as a South Vietnamese family girl. Or was it the other way around?
Okay I’d finally had enough of my own shenanigans; no more shore time for this boy, I would stay in the ship for our remainder of this Việt Nam stopover.