Click on the player above to listen to the podcast or read the transcript below.
Listen to the podcast by clinking the player above, or read the transcript below.
Episode 16 “A Special Dinner”
In today’s episode, I want to share a memory of an event I experienced in Vietnam — a dinner with some newly made friends.
I was working in the Fire Direction Control Center on a remote mountain firebase in Vietnam. We shared the hill with some American infantry units and even a South Vietnamese artillery unit.
One day, a Vietnamese soldier stepped into our bunker. I don’t remember that ever happening before, but I tried to be friendly and find out what he wanted.
His English wasn’t that great, but then my Vietnamese was non-existent.
Somehow, we did manage to communicate.
He was from the Vietnamese artillery unit on our hill. He worked in their FDC and just wanted to say hi and meet us.
I introduced him to the members of our team and gave him a tour of our FDC.
Well, a tour might be a little strong. After all, our FDC consisted of one computer, a couple of radios, and our map.
I assume he had a similar setup in his FDC.
We chatted for a while and then he left. It was a very pleasant interaction. Over the next several days, other men from his unit dropped by our FDC and we became friendly with one another.
I even have a picture of their group in my photo album.
There was something very unusual about their group. One of their “men” was just a kid. He couldn’t have been more than five or six years old.
I wondered why the kid was with a military unit in the field.
My Vietnamese friend explained why.
The boy’s father had been a member of their FDC unit. The Vietcong had killed the boy’s father and the boy’s mother, and now the boy was alone.
So, the soldiers in that group basically adopted him. No legal proceedings. The country didn’t have social services like we do in the states. The kid would have been on his own. But the soldiers took care of him and made sure he was safe, even if that safety meant being in an artillery unit on a hill in Vietnam.
I have a couple of photographs of that group and that boy. In fact, one of the pictures is on the wall of my office. I wish I could share those photos with you, but I don’t think that would be wise.
Posting pictures without consent is never a good idea, but in the current communist regime in Vietnam, it might pose an additional problem.
Even though the pictures are more than half a century old, if those men and that boy are still alive, I don’t want their safety to be put at risk by posting a picture of them on the internet.
We had a great time together. Our conversations extended over a couple of visits as we shared about the challenges and experiences of our roles working in FDC.
Then, one day, the soldier whom I had initially given the grand tour of our FDC unit to, came over and invited us to have dinner with his group at their Fire Direction Control Center.
I checked with our 1st Lieutenant, the Executive Officer of our unit, and he thought it would be a great idea.
On the designated day, our 1st Lieutenant joined us as we headed across the hill to the Vietnamese FDC.
They had a table set out for us and put on a first rate spread. They treated us to a delicious meal and good conversations. I had no idea what several of the items were that they served us, and I didn’t ask because I wanted to be polite and enjoy everything, whatever it might be.
They began by serving each of us a drink. One of my fellow FDCers did ask what it was. We were told in was rice wine.
Now I don’t drink alcohol, not because I am against it, but because my dad was an alcoholic and I saw what it did to him and to our family.
But at that meal I drank the rice wine that was served us, and even though it had a little bit of a kick, I told them it was wonderful and thanked them.
Remember, my goal was to be polite.
The table was filled with rice and vegetables and meat.
Rice I knew about and it tasted good.
Most of the vegetables I recognized but some I wasn’t quite sure of. Still, I tried them all and thanked them for the delicious food.
The meat looked like chicken slices, but I had never seen chickens running around the firebase, so I wasn’t really certain what it was. I didn’t press the issue but just enjoyed the meal.
Towards the end of the meal, I was feeling brave and asked what the meat was.
I was expecting him to tell me it was some exotic jungle bird.
He didn’t say that.
Our host responded … “Dog.”
I wasn’t sure I heard him correctly, so I asked again.
“Dog,” he repeated.
I smiled and told him it was great.
I had just eaten dog.
That’s another memory I brought back from my time in Vietnam.
I did learn a couple of lessons during my time on that firebase.
It’s good to be polite. Interact with people. Try to get to know them. And when they show you kindness, be gracious and thankful.
Recognize when people do good things. I was impressed with the soldiers on that firebase who took over the care of the young boy who lost his parents. There was a war going on, but they were willing to put up with the responsibility of caring for someone else. I also need to be willing to help people in need who come into my life.