As we remember those who served on this Memorial Day I would like to share with you one very poignant recollection from my brother-in-law William Fields, of his time in Vietnam. Sometimes, during the fog of war, humanity beckons.
No one is more cherished in this world than someone who lightens the burden of another. Thank you. ~Author Unknown
It’s Sunday here at Dong Tam, in the year 1968. It is 5am and already hot. It has been a long nineteen days near the Cambodian border and I am glad to be back at base camp. Sundays are normally a day off for us when we are at base camp and everything is quiet. After being in the field, it is nice to take a shower with running water. I have gone through my mail and package, taken all of the hard candy, chewing gum and treats out and stuffed my pockets full.
I don’t really remember how I found out about the orphanage located in the city of My Tho; this place was too large to be called a village but nowhere as large as Saigon and places of that size. The majority of the orphans were there because their parents were killed by the Viet Cong for being friendly with, working for or assisting the Americans in some manner. The Viet Cong had nearly destroyed My Tho on several occasions, but each time the damage to the orphanage had been repaired.
Most of my pay is sent home and an E4 doesn’t make a lot, even with the extra one hundred dollars in combat pay. I have fifteen dollars left over from this month’s pay and I am really tempted to go out and have a few drinks on post with some of the guys; but this day I won’t because it has become somewhat of a ritual for the members of A Company, 9TH Signal Battalion, 9TH Infantry Division to get together after morning chow and head out to the orphanage.
We gather C rations from the mess hall, money from whoever will pitch in, medicines and bandages from the aid stations and headquarters company, and gather up a couple of medics or doctors. We thank the Lord they are so willing to come with us because they have their hands full on this 600 acre base even when it is quiet. The extra money goes into the donation can being passed around.
The date is June 30TH. Our three duce-in-half and two-three quarter ton trucks are loaded with supplies and live bodies. We are escorted down the road about forty clicks to the MY Tho Orphanage, which is supported by the local Catholic Church.
Upon our arrival we are greeted by the two Nuns who oversee the grounds. There must be close to 500 kids, ranging from infants to seventeen year olds. It breaks my heart to see so many.
We unload the vehicles and get the supplies to their proper locations. The medics and doctors grab their packs and bags and start giving the care for which they are known. We ask the sisters what we can do to help – cleaning, moving things or maybe some construction projects.
When our projects are complete we spend the rest of the day looking after the children, comforting them, and passing out the candy, treats and gum that I have stuffed in my pockets. Just playing with the kids, even if they can’t speak our language or we theirs, creates a universal bonding that only can be seen and felt when children smile. No translation is necessary. They know we care.
It’s been a long day, and a great day but it’s getting late, so we pack up and start the trip back, because it’s not safe to be on the road when it’s dark.
I made many trips to the My Tho Orphanage in the first half of my tour. In the last half, I was in the field and not able to make as many visits, unless I was home on a Sunday.
I guess looking back on my tour of Vietnam I would have to say: “Yes, Sunday’s were my favorite days.” I often wonder what happened to all of those kids, and on Sundays I still remember that I would stuff my pockets full.
A Company, 9TH Signal BN
9TH Infantry Division