Boondocker's Diary: Page 18
The morning sun rose slowly above the hilltop. Across from our perimeter, just outside the wire was the dump. Smoke steamed up in white wisp's spiraling towards the sky. The acidic smell of waste and wood and discarded food was a toxic blend which poisoned the air around us. It was as though we were on another planet; this could not be real, though it was real. This added to the hellishness that was Vietnam.
Seen through the smoke were the Vietnamese scavengers. They came daily to forage through the dump for food. The children came with mamma-san, Together they would dig through the rubble for a meal. Their skin was charred with blackness and ash. The children were always wide eyed and hungry looking, raggedly dressed and continually clutching mamma-sans finds. A can of c-rations half eaten which may have survived the fires; a wooden box, wire or tin - they used what we discarded. The sing-song voices jabbered on and on as they seemed to describe what they found to their young. They appeared to blend into the smoke, and the blackness engulfed them at times as they squatted and dug into the twisted land. Ever working, ever searching for a meal.
C-rations were brought around to our holes. We paused and ate while we watched the hungry dig for their breakfast. Guilt filled some of us and we would toss a portion of our rations to the children. They would scramble to pick up the cans and run them back to their elders who would gladly accept the offerings.
Others as in every walk of life enjoyed seeing the pain of others. This was the ugly side of war and the ugly side of humanity. I realize that war will change men, and I realize that this land was filled with death and loss. War never changes but the inside of a man will, I make no excuses for what I am about to say. Regardless, these were still my brothers.
I remember this well, as I have never been completely able to forget what I saw. My own brothers stood upon the tops of their bunkers throwing cans of C's at the women and children. With a vengeance, aiming for them. Cans would bounce off the head and face of these people. They would stagger and bend to pick up the food while being jeered at by these Marines. The banter between them was insane. They cheered with every direct hit. Inside my heart grieved for the injured child or mamma-san.
Blood trickled down the faces of the unfortunate. It would mix with the ash and sweat forming clumps which seemed to disfigure their faces even more. They never showed any pain. Tears would stream down silently from their eyes, yet malice was not evident. I saw one mamma-san who had been struck in the forehead with a heavy can of c-rations. Her head was laid open and her hair was matted with dried blood. I saw her stoop to pick up the can which had struck her. As she straightened she held the can to her chest, she turned slowly, and with the utmost humility she bowed and thanked the Marine for her food. Tears streaming, blood flowing, yet filled with a dignity these sorry bastards would never realize.
A child grasped her mamma-sans ragged shirt and cried, not understanding completely what had transpired here. I grew into a man that day and learned what true humility was. It was a lesson unwanted in a land of hardship. I still see the look in the eyes of that precious woman, I still see the look of terror written upon the face of the innocent child. I will never forget that moment in time where the weakness, yet gentle humility of one lady silenced a Marine perimeter.
The next morning, no hostility was shown... just respect. Food was given and not thrown.
Richard D. Preston
Page created: Saturday, 27 May 2000