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Some Things You Never Forget. . .Or Forgive
By Roger Quindel
On March 17, 1968, I was severely wounded in a rocket attack that killed nine other soldiers. Five days later I was shipped to Camp Zama Hospital near Tokyo, Japan. On April 4 Martin Luther King was murdered. On June 6, as I was lined up to board a plane to take us back to Vietnam, they announced that Presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy was murdered in California earlier that day.
One of the really great things about being stationed at a firebase next to the village of Trang Bang was that you could always buy those little pleasures that were never available when in a base camp far from any village. Things that you take for granted until you are totally and absolutely deprived of them. Like what you ask? You can buy soda. You can buy a beer. You can get film for your camera. You can buy extra food from the locals or even pot if you were into that sort of thing.
One mid-morning, a few days into my stay at Trang Bang, I bought a cold coke from a young girl. Just when I turned away I heard this Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) Lieutenant screaming at her. She quickly fled the scene. I asked a little boy I had befriended what happened. "Didi mau" (she go). The officer had forced her to leave. I really didn't get it. We wanted her here. We wanted to be able to buy a cold soda. Now she was gone. Hours later she was back. I bought another soda. As I was putting the change in my pocket the same ARVN officer raced at her screaming once again.
This time was different. He smashed her full force in the face with his rifle. She screamed in agony. I got blood on my pants leg. I couldn't believe what had happened right in front of me. I was going to kill that ARVN officer. Our sergeant jumped in front of me and put his arms around that inhuman beast. "Don't shoot him. Don't! We can't have a firefight with the ARVN's (our allies)."
"Sarge move. Sarge, please move. I am going to kill him. I don't want to hurt you." Other soldiers gathered. Some tried to calm me down while others helped get this monster away.
We are risking our lives to put motherfuckers like him in charge. This is bullshit!
That incident cemented my view that we were fighting for nothing. Our politicians back home; our command staff in Vietnam all knew that our allies were far worse than useless. They were a menace to their own people. How can you possibly justify permanently disfiguring a young girl for selling a can of soda?
I felt this savagery personally because just three months earlier I had eight bones in my head broken by shrapnel from a 122-millimeter rocket. I knew what she was going to go through. But I had excellent medical care from doctors and nurses who knew what they were doing and had the equipment and medical supplies I needed. She would have little of that.
So why would an ARVIN officer—our "ally"—so brutally attack a young girl for selling soda? It turns out he was in charge of prostitution, drug, drinks, and food sales in Trang Bang. Any Vietnamese involved in any of these businesses with American soldiers had to pay kickbacks to this officer. He would then give his commanding officers their share. I don't know if our sergeant or our officers were a part of this—other than renting the bunkers, the ones we built to protect ourselves, for prostitution—but I wouldn't have been surprised.
It was a dirty war that cost US taxpayers one trillion in today's dollars. Some people and some soldiers would do anything to get their share. She was not part of his crew. She had to pay a price. She had to be an example.
And we had to fight, be injured, and even die to keep this abomination of human behavior in place. Our sergeant promised us something would be done about this incident. We are still waiting.
Roger Quindel was a Radio-teletype operator with C battery of the 3rd/13th Artillery Unit October 1967-68. He spent nearly 4 months along the deserted Cambodian/Vietnam border. He marched with, and has been a member of VVAW since the march on Washington, DC in 1971.