Sketches from a Notebook – Memories of Vietnam (7)

Nha Trang – July 1968

Our last day in Nha Trang – then to Sài Gòn, and, some days later the plane that would carry us to the States. Lieutenant Vy had asked me to drop by his office at the Province Headquarters.

The buildings of the compound were skeletal white under the noon sun. It was so quiet now, so clear. The blasted main building stood a grim memory of the recent offensive.

Vy’s office was in a newer edifice, not far from the sands of the beach, in that corner of the complex bordering the sea and the river. A few palm trees were diligently perennial and noncommittally shady. I entered the stark office.

A desk stolidly placed near a sea window, and a large, multicolored wall map of Khánh Hòa Province faced each other. I heard water running into a basin.

“Vy?” I queried, turning toward the half-open door of the bathroom.

“Ah, Vinh! I’ll be right out. Just got back from Ninh Hòa. Must wash off the road dust a bit to feel refreshed, you know…”

I gazed at the map, noted Ninh Hòa’s location, then the river, the bay, the island of Hòn Tre, and the other islands. Vy stepped into the room. We shook hands and sat down, he on a corner of his desk, I in a chair beside it.

“So you and Lan leave today?”

I nodded assent. He lit a cigarette.

“I envy your going. I… I must stay on and wait for them next time or the time after…”

I looked at him ready to say what was on my mind.

“Yes. They will assassinate me one of these days. A provincial intelligence officer is good game…” He had lowered his voice suddenly, “Or his family.”

Just then an aide entered, saluted, handed Vy some photographs, and went out. Vy crushed his half-smoked cigarette into a seashell ashtray.

“Look at these.” He handed the photos to me. They were of partially submerged boats some yards off shore, some bodies, opened cases of weapons.

“Early this morning, up the coast. They were trying to bring in supplies and munitions. They were spotted and got it in the water. Ten killed – one prisoner.”

I placed the photos, face downward, on the desk. Vy rose and walked out onto the verandah. I followed. We stood looking toward the crystalline blue sea. A breeze, warm as a woman’s touch, was coming off the water.

“Nha Trang is still beautiful in the midst of this damn war. But for how long? When I was a child here, there was no fighting, no violence. Only the sea, the sky, and the fishermen setting out at night and returning with the dawn.”

He turned. The breeze had mussed his hair.

“You should go before you miss your flight.”

I looked at my watch and nodded. I offered my hand. He took it in both of his.

“When there is peace, Vinh, you and Lan must return to Nha Trang, to us, eh?”

“We will.”

I went down the steps and climbed into the panel truck. I drove off in a whirl of dust.

*    *   *

(c) Gregory V Driscoll  2013

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