I climbed down a rope leading into the boat which would take us from our ship to the Qui Nhơn Harbor shore. We didn’t tie up at any dock instead, the boat took us aground into the sand. The trap/exit door opened up and we’d jump out onto Vietnamese soil. We walked up the beach and into Qui Nhơn town.
Being hyped up right from the start, I felt a little scared but it was certainly comforting knowing that I was never alone; we were always in one another’s company …mostly. And as we walked, carefully at first, thoughts of what the Skipper and some of the Marines had told us, rushed to the forefront of my mind.
Absorbing the street scene crowded with men, women, children, the young and the old, I began to relax; they were basically just people like me. There was plenty of street cooking which smelled amazing and lots of little shops and bars. I felt eyes on me.
I’d see them waving in order to attract us into their shops. Thinking of the families back home, I saw some things which interested me such as handmade trinkets, clothing, jewelry and the like.
I detoured with a couple of the guys into one of these places, a tailor shop. The tradesmen were Indians, like myself. Why I found this as a surprise, I do not know.
And perhaps we were obvious as new to the area because almost immediately, we were asked to join them in food and drink. “Let’s talk, have something to eat and enjoy.” They actually closed the shop for a couple of hours.
After a shared meal and hearing the stories of where we came from originally, how we found ourselves in this little corner of the world etc., they asked us, “What can we do for you … what would you like to buy?”
From these Indian tailors, I would buy a couple of slacks. As measurements were being taken I asked, ‘Aren’t you afraid to be here in this war zone?’
The shopkeeper reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of cash from both pockets. In his fairly decent English he explained, “Of course we’re scared sometimes but this is home. If we must run suddenly, at least we have our money with us. My wife and kids do same. It’s how we handle.” Fascinating, I remember thinking to myself.
After a much enjoyed evening in comforting hospitality of the locals, we knew it was getting late. With the Skipper’s speech still fresh in my mind, it was definitely beach time.
Making my way there I remember looking at the sights along the way and thinking of the fun time ahead tomorrow. At the shore we were just in time to hear a Marine’s voice blaring through a bullhorn, “Load ‘em up!”
Several of us to include guys from some of the other ships in the harbor, climbed aboard this fairly large boat and off we went. Each various group would let them know which ship they had to return to. I called off the Trans Western.
Thank goodness for our Marines for in this dark night amongst all the boats anchored offshore, there was no way we ourselves would know which one was ours. We arrived at our ship and quickly climbed up the rope ladder.
Myself and the other guys headed straight for the mess hall to raid the refrigerator and pantry for a late night snack before turning in. The chef had tuna salad and fresh breads waiting to be turned into midnight sandwiches.
A full day it was and I was more than ready for some snuggling down in my bed. That’s the sum of my first day in Vietnam. Not bad at all.