The Price of Admission
By Marc Levy
Marc Levy "flying" MIG 21 at the
Hanoi Air Force Museum, 1995.
A converted airplane hanger, admission fifty cents, outside the Hanoi Air Force Museum thick vines creep up the skeletal remains of deactivated SAM missiles forever frozen in the act of launch. Inside, directly past the entrance, a jet fighter canopy, the name PARKER stenciled in red paint, lies mute on the smooth cement floor. The walls are dotted with framed black and white war photos. M16s are shackled to the walls by thick iron nails. Large wood exhibit cabinets hold typed documents and war regalia. Not far from the fighter canopy lay rows of upright vacant ejection seats, as if the pilots had just bailed out. A half dozen green flight helmets, visors up, sit like impatient skulls waiting to tell their stories. A half dozen silk parachutes splay across the floor like giant squid risen from the deep.
I'm sitting in the cockpit of a MIG 21. After Seth snaps the photo a young American enters the museum. While the two of them talk I wander away.
In a dark corner on the far side of the museum I spot a stack of M16s. Kneeling, I pick one up, wipe away years of dust, sit down cross-legged, cradle the weapon, go back in time. How long before Seth arrives I don't recall. He listens patiently while I jabber:
"You see this button? You push it to split the rifle in half. Push here to release the ammo clip. This thing is the retractor rod. Pull it backward, let it fly, you're locked and loaded." I turned the rifle sideways, exposing the belly of the barrel. "Here, right here, the grill, you keep a tooth brush to clean the breach. Only problem, they melt in fire fights. Now watch this." I push open the stock latch. Out slides a metal cleaning rod, a plastic bottle of lubricant. "That's LSA. You put it on cotton patches to clean the bore. You do that once a week."
I keep chattering. The words rocketing inside my head. Twice, three times someone calls my name. "Put the gun down. You need to put it down." Childlike, I look at Seth, set the abandoned weapon on the cold floor, sob for quite some time.
Marc Levy was a medic in Delta 1/7 First Cav in '69-'70. He lives in Salem, MA. You can reach him at MedicintheGreenTime.com.