Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Phan Rang-Thap Cham, Visiting an Old Friend

In Phan Rang, Katie and I stayed at a resort by the ocean. There were hardly any other guests around. The grounds were beautiful and well taken care of, but the buildings were a little run down. Later more guests arrived, two large groups, one French and one Chinese. There were also some Russian tourists, but no other Americans. The signs on the premises were written in Vietnamese and Russian, typical of Vietnam, very little English signage.  

I called my Vietnamese friend, Tuat, and he said he and his family would come out to the resort to see us. They live in the adjacent city of Thap Cham. I guess it's all one big city now Phan Rang-Thap Cham. Back during the war, the US had a big Air Force base in Phan Rang, but I saw no evidence of it.

Tuat and I were both twenty years old when we worked together at LZ Bayonette.  We were part of the 635th Military Intelligence Detachment in the 198th Infantry Brigade. He was an ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) Interpreter and I was a US Army Intelligence Analyst/POW Interrogator. To do our jobs, we needed each other. 

Tuat and his wife Bich (pronounced something like Bit, but not exactly) and their grandson,  showed up on a motor scooter, and their son Duy Anh and his high school friend came a little later. We had dinner at the resort. What the happy picture of us dining does not show is, somewhere in that food was a deadly microbe that would lay me flat for the next 24 hours. We found out later that Duy Anh got sick as well.

Tuat and Bich told us that the resort was known for its terrible food. But we had a good time anyway. The plan was for us to visit them at their house in Thap Cham in the morning and spend the day. But I was still dealing with "Ho Chi Minh's revenge".  By the afternoon, I was feeling better and so Katie and I grabbed a cab over to their place. 

The taxi driver dropped us off on the main street near their housing complex. The lanes were so small that he didn't want to drive in. We walked down the narrow lane, but couldn't find their house.  Some of the local people helped us. Our cell phone had gone dead, and a woman lent us hers. I called Tuat and within minutes Duy Anh showed up on his bike to lead us into the maze of houses. 

Bich was preparing a wonderful meal for us. Tuat and I sat in the living room, shared pictures from the war years and talked about all the guys we knew back then. Katie talked to Bich in the kitchen. When I walked out to see how they were doing, both women were sitting on the floor and Bich was painting Katie's toenails. Duy Anh explained that Bich used to have her own beauty shop. 

While Tuat and I were talking in his living room, the Section Chief stopped by. Every housing area has a representative from the government living near by. He had some kind of announcement on a piece of paper to give to Tuat. Tuat introduced me to him and the guy sort of looked me over.   
Tuat reminded me that he and Chang came to our unit on the very day that we moved into headquarters basecamp at LZ Bayonette. We talked about the night Chang was shot and he and I drove up Highway 1 in a jeep to the Chu Lai hospital to see him. When Tuat remembered the Interrogator named Jim who at the last minute volunteered to replace me on a mission and walked right into an ambush by North Vietnamese soldiers, it put me in touch with my guilt. Jim was shot in the gut. He survived and told me later that his life was never the same. Tuat and I remembered the night during TET when all hell broke loose. 

When I rotated back to the states in 1968, I didn't know if Tuat or any of the other interpreters would survive the war. Tuat told me that our good friend Chang survived and is living in LA with his family. I was happy to hear that.

Just like the first time, it was sad to leave my friend. I am happy to know that his wife Bich will take good care of him and that his son Duy Anh has a bright future and is as gentle and nice a young man as his dad.

Even though we were together for only one year, Tuat and I felt a deep bond and understanding that only war time buddies can understand.


  1. Thank you for sharing your stories, Mike, and being so open about your experiences and feelings. I'm sorry that Jim got shot, but happy that you didn't.

  2. I wonder why Tuat cannot leave the country

  3. very cool reunion. You should look up Chang as well.
    I am curious about what happened to Tuat after the US pullout. I would think that he would have concealed his true identity. Did he talk about the aftermath?