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TITLE: The U.S. Military In Vietnam Were Good Americans
By gene hudgens

All critiques appreciated. Critical critiques needed. The American Press in Vietnam was too often unfair and untruthful.
Most Military Persons Tried to be Good Americans in Vietnam

Regardless of what the anti-American-military “American press” and the-anti-American- military “Jane Fonders and Hollywood” tried to betray, America and the American people can be and should be proud of their military.

It certainly seems strange that in so many cases the individuals and groups that did the most criticizing of their military are the ones that gain the most from their military. Without our great and loyal military we would not have our freedom that we enjoy...and these bigots would not be making their millions. Hypocritical bigots disgust me.

When I arrived in Vietnam in January 1967 I was sincerely proud to be representing America and our government in every way.
I have always had a Christian heart and it has never been difficult to appreciate my surroundings and especially people in the surroundings. This was especially true in Vietnam. The Vietnamese are kind gentle people.

On this tour in Vietnam I will not remain in a combat unit and participate in combat. Instead I will be working in an office on Tan Son Nhut Air Base supporting combat units that are in combat situations.

In fact, I, like most American military persons in Saigon, I will enjoy a safe comfortable life in a Saigon hotel. My hotel is located in the center of this big busy city. I remember that I arrived at Tan Son Nhut about 8 a.m. I spend most of the day in processing and meeting the crew that I will be working with in the Tactical Air Support Element. The office is located on the third floor in a very large modern building and it is air conditioned.

The Army and Air Force teams are understaffed and I am welcomed with open arms. Office personnel work around the clock and the twelve hour day shift ends at 7 p.m. By the time the night shift is briefed it is near 8 p.m.

Soon after the evening briefing is complete my five new friends and I load in to an eight passenger bus and begin a most exciting ride through busy Saigon. One has never seen busy, crowded, and noisy streets until Saigon is observed. At least I had never seen anything like it.

An hour later we arrive at the Plaza Hotel, which is an eight story concrete building. It houses, I guess, at least 200 Americans. The front entrance is near the busy street and is guarded by a four man Vietnamese military guard force which is protected by an effective concrete wall.

When I enter the hotel I have an immediate feeling that I was going to like the accommodations, even before seeing my room. Several large fans are noticeably moving the hot air. We pass by a reception desk which is staffed with a Vietnamese man and woman. Both are very friendly and my friends relate that all of the staff is friendly and helpful.

One of my friends remarks, “Guess what, the elevator is working today.” He explaind that it is not unusual for them to walk to the rooms on the fifth floor. The two-man rooms are nice and also have a large fan.

We are hungry and it is agreed that we will meet in the hotel restaurant, on the third floor, in fifteen minutes. We do and I am certainly impressed. Miss Than, a very nice Chinese woman, checks our meal card as we enter. I'm told that her father owns a large import/export company in Saigon. (At least some people are not being adversely affected by the War). She speaks beautiful English. There is a nice choice of American or Vietnamese food. I definitely fall in love with Vietnamese food this evening and I seldom eat American food during the next twelve months.

Around 10 p.m. I am returning to my room. My room mate is not there this evening, so I strip, shower, and in little time I am lying on my American style bed resting and mentally reliving my first day in Vietnam.

I am wild-awake around 11 p.m. I dress and decide to look for a place to get a beer. The restaurant is closed, so I go to the reception desk. The lady is now alone. When I ask if there is a near-by place to buy a beer I am surprised that she too speaks lovely English.

She explains that she has a few warm cokes and beers under her counter and that I am certainly welcome to have my choice. I choose a Bud. I offer to buy her a beer, but she explains that she prefers cokes, and will accept my offer for a coke.

We talk for about an hour. She explains that she worked on an American base for a year and tried hard to learn acceptable English. She has worked here for a year and enjoys it very much. She explains that naturally her salary is more than she would make in a Vietnamese job. She explains that she normally works the night shift and has a very small comfortable room thirty minutes from the hotel.

“Mr. Jim, as she refers to me, do you know what I miss most from the air base?” “What?” I ask. “I miss those big delicious red apples.” She smiles. After that I try to bring her an apple or two each day.

The next morning I sm waiting by the lobby exit at 6 a.m., as planned. Our little bus arrived right on schedule and this time eight of us squeeze on board. The traffic is as busy and hectic as it had been the evening before. I ask questions and am told that the hotel is owned by a wealthy Chinese man and that he insists that his staff, especially the women, not socialize with Americans; other than being friendly and helpful while on duty.

Mr. Chung, also Chinese, is the driver assigned to our section. Our section chief, Col. V…(I can not spell his name) is a full-Colonel and Mr. Chung is his private driver. Col. V… enjoys a private trailer as his quarters on base and almost never leaves the base for any reason, so his enlisted staff has almost 100% use of the little bus.

Mr. Chung goes out of his way to help all of us in any way he can. In return we all try to do things for Mr. Chung; like insuring that he has cokes and apples to carry home with him every day. The ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch your back” philosophy really works.

The second day a sergeant cames by the offic collecting money for one of the office cleaning ladies. Her child is desperately ill and she has no money to pay for the medicine and doctor. As usual a fair amount of money is collected.

Our office sponsors a Vietnamese children’s home. Besides taking presents on Christmas and hosting an American style Christmas, we also collect extra money when there is a special need. In Vietnam in 1967 there is always a special need of one kind or another...and Americans always pour out good will with money and concern.

Our office is only one of many offices that sponsor something and support needy Vietnamese in many ways. In April we are asked to donate quite a lot of money to purchase 200 small radios from the Base Exchange. Colonel V… wants to make a visit to a Vietnamese military hospital on the outskirts of Saigon and insure that at least 200 patients have a tiny radio gift.

We draw cards to decide which seven of us would accompany Col. V… to the hospital to make the gift presentation. I am lucky and make this very special trip. It is a shock to see the deteriorated condition of the hospital building and the unbelievable crowded conditions. As we drive into the hospital parking lot I see beds and patients on every balcony. In the hospital, beds or chairs, with patients, occupy every available free space in the halls and rooms. The bedding is old, stained, and worn,but it is very clean.

The hospital is understaffed with doctors and nurses, but these doctors and nurses are doing a marvelous job. They all look very over-worked, tired, and near exhausted. The saddest sight of all are the patients. I guess that at least 80% are amputees, mostly lower extremity amputees.

When we met with the doctors and nurses to present the radio gifts, I ask why so many patients have feet or legs amputation. The chief doctor quietly explains that the most common injury is from cluster mines, a small anti-personnel mine, designed to injury the feet and legs. He explains that by the time the injured arrive at the hospital many or most already have an infection. He explains that the hospital does not have enough or the proper antibiotics to stop the infections; thus it was very common for gangrene to set-in.

He further explains that few Vietnamese doctors have the training, as most Americans have, to stop gangrene or to do the proper amputation. He explains that it is most important to attempt to save the knee, since with a workable knee an artificial leg is most effective.

Therefore, they most often do not take a chance and let the gangrene spread to the knee; therefore they amputate more quickly than most American doctors do.

A few days later Mr. Chung develops pneumonia and is hospitalized. Col. V. assures Mr. Chung that he will not be replaced, and we all donate money for his bills and give him gifts for him to give to his family. He pays all of us back many times with fond gestures.

It becomes an enjoyable routine to stand at the reception desk and chat with the Vietnamese night staff, which is normally only Miss Kim. Several weeks later I made my normal stroll to the reception desk, but Miss Kim is not there. Instead, an older Vietnamese lady is on duty. I ask about Miss Kim and the lady relates that Miss Kim become very sick and was rushed to the doctor…and was operated on very early this morning. I relate that I want very much to visit Miss Kim.

The lady smiles, and askes if I am Mr. Jim. She explains that she saw Miss Kim just before the surgery and Miss Kim explained that Mr. Jim might want to come see her. She asked me to give you the address if you do want to visit her. You are to take a taxi...and remember that she loves apples.

I ask if Miss Kim will be back to work soon. The lady replies that Miss Kim is extremely sick. I get Miss Kim’s address from the lady and rush to my room. I put two applies in my pockets and quickly leave the hotel and hail a taxi. The driver is soon at the address and points to the side door. As I approach the house I see a very old lady sitting in a chair by the building. I show her the note and address and the lady holds my arm and guides me to Miss Kim’s door and opens it.

I really did not expect to find the terrible site I see. The room is small, no fan, and little furniture. I see a female lying in a smaller than single bed. She is asleep. On a chair, which is pulled near the bed, is medication and a glass that has flies crawling on it. I quietly take the glass to the tiny sink to wash it. The water barely runs from the pipe. There is no dish towel, so I use my T-shirt.

When I return to the bed, Miss Kim wis moaning. I whisper, to avoid shocking her, “Miss Kim, is there anything I can get you or do for you?” She tries to smile, but her big smile is not there. “Thanks for coming. It is so nice of you. Yes, will you hold the medicine directions so I can read the note” She asks.

I hold the small paper close to her nose. She asks, “How many of the big pills are in the envelope.” I reply that there are ten. She whispers that she has missed taking her tablets. She asks what time it is. I tell her it is 8 p.m. “I’ve missed two tablets...I think. Will you get me some water and one big tablet and two smaller ones?” She asks.

I watch the dirty-looking liquid finally half fill the glass. “Will you try to lift me so I can drink?” She asks. When I slip my hand under her neck and shoulder and attempt to lift her she screams. I apologize and she explains that they had operated on her stomach and the pain is awful. I finally manage to get her lifted enough to swallow the pills.

I place her medication near her pillow and sit close to her bed. She is wet with perspiration, so I take an old cloth, finally soak it with water, and slowly wipe her face and neck. She whispers, “Mr. Jim, will you take one large pill and two smaller ones and put them on the chair before you leave. I can’t afford to miss any more pills.” She says as she tries to smile.

Miss Kim’s older friend sitting out side the room speaks no English and I do not feel she will sit up all night with Miss Kim to assure she takes her medication. I whisper to Miss Kim that she will be alright, but I'm not really so sure myself. I give her a tender kiss on the head and leave. I have already decided that I will return at 1 a.m. to insure she takes her pills.

I return to the hotel and begin to look for a few items to take to Miss Kim. My room mate has a large plastic water can in the bath room. I fill this can with ‘clean’ water and find a sack in which to place a few rags and a towel, a liquid soap (from my room mate’s shelf), and an extra tooth brush and paste from my case.

I returned to the desk and ask the lady to please insure that I am awake at 12:30 a.m. She does and I am back to see Miss Kim at 1 a.m. Sure enough she is asleep and has missed the medication time. She is shocked that I have returned to care for her. She is still very sick. I use the fresh water to wash the glass and then to gently wipe her face, neck, and arms. She tries to smile, but it still doesn't quite happen. She manages to take the medication and then she dozes off again. I leave feeling very sad and concerned for her.

I am due on shift 7 a.m., but I leave a note on my friend’s door saying I am already at work. I then take a taxi and again go to Miss Kim to insure she had her medication. She is awake and this time totally shocked that I have again returned to see her. “Why do you do this for me.?” She asks. “No one has ever done this much for me. Tell me why, Mr. Jim?”

“I’ll tell you why. You have a cute nose.” I then bent over and kiss her little nose. This time she does manage a smile. I soon leave, but many things are going through my mind. I am still worried about Miss Kim. I am also thinking about my family and hoping someone will help them if a similar situation arises.

When I get to work I explain the situation to a friend on the night shift. He asks if Miss Kim has a frig in her room. I say no. He states that is normal...few people have refrigerators. “Jim, there is a small frig in the store room. It belonged to a sergeant that left for the States. You can have it.” He says.

Later in the morning I am explaining in more detail what has transpired. My best friend offers to cover for me while I do some shopping at the Exchange. I buy disposable plates, cups, napkins, utensils, a couple of pots, some soft foods, disinfectant spray, and bug spray.

When I return to the office, Jeff, my best friend, offers to accompany Mr. Chung and me and help with the refrigerator. By 8 p.m. we have the frig in the van and are on the way to see Miss Kim.

When we arrive Miss Kim has managed to turn over a bid and I notice that she now has fresh trousers and shirt. She explains that the old lady washed her down and helped her change clothes. She recognized Jeff and remembered his name. When she sees the frig she begins to cry. Mr. Chung was happy to help us, but refused to come into Miss Kim’s room.

The next problem is hooking up the frig. The plug does not fit the wall outlet. Mr. Chung again cvomes to the rescue and soon returns with a young electrician, who has the frig operating in five minutes. Miss Kim is obviously feeling some better, but not much better. She promises not to miss any more pills and makes me promise not to come back until after work the next day.

When I do return after work the next day I am certainly shocked. Miss Kim is propped up slightly and has a big smile. The room looks like Mr. Kleen made a surprise visit. I ask how the room got cleaned. Miss Kim smiles and explains that she made a deal with the lady next door. The lady can share the frig if she keeps the room clean and helps me get well. “You see, Mr. Jim, I’m a real business girl...especially when I have a frig to negotiate with.” She jokes.

“Miss Kim,” I ask “Will you explain what all happened. What was your problem?”

“I had a slight stomach ache for two days, but it was not bad, so I didn’t get worried.
About 1 a.m. I began having terrible pains and I called my work mate and asked him to come quickly and relieve me. I took a taxi to an old family friend who is a doctor. I could not get out of the taxi and the driver got the doctor to come to the taxi and see me. He immediately diagnosed the problem as a ruptured appendix and said it would take too long to get to the hospital and that the hospital likely did not have a night doctor on duty...and likely did not have an empty bed etc.

They carried me to his apartment, where he has a tiny clinic and a small operating room, but no patient beds. After a quick exam he and his wife began preparing me for an operation. They quickly put me to sleep and I’m not sure what time they operated, but I stayed at his house until late afternoon. The doctor said it was better that I recover in my room than in the hospital, because he could more easily check on me and that I would be safer than in a hospital. I was alright until the ambulance came to move me. I thought I was going to die. The slightest move made my stomach hurt so badly that I thought the stitches were tearing out.

“Mr. Jim, the doctor could not believe what you have done for me. He asked me to pass his thanks to you also.”

Miss Kim was back to work in two weeks. I think I noticed that all of the staff was a bit friendlier after Miss Kim returned. I continuedto spend jtime at the desk talking with Miss Kim until the day I departed Vietnam.

I naturally thank my God for giving me a safe return home to my family. I am also thankful that He guided me, as He guided so many others… to do a few good things for a few people in Vietnam...while being so far away from our families.
“Professional” American press reporters could have and should have amplified the many good things the American military did and accomplished in Vietnam. Unfortunately, too many of the press reporters “were not professional”…or fair...or honest. They too often blew isolated incidents out of proportion; thus successfully brain-washed the American public into believing that the majority of their military in Vietnam were village burning, women raping, drugies and savages. The American press often acted unprofessional. Almost all military personnel in Vietnam were good Americans.
(c)Gene Hudgens
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