The Night in Saigon

The Night in Saigon

 

I had stared at the plane. Barely lit, it seemed anchored on the runway, at the U. S. Military Air Base in Saigon. Though I had been in Vietnam for a year, I hadn’t yet got used to being an inhabitant, although I felt like one. In the countries that surrounded us and all their cities seldom did they produce much illumination at night-that is, all through the night. In many homes a lantern was lit low, or a candle in the ไซง่อน vip darkness, it was feared once lit, that the Vietcong (VC) might select this moment in time to plague their city or home, with an outbreak of violence, it was more to be feared than Berlin’s so called Iron Curtain. I had come from twentieth-century America, to fight a war in this 18th century half lit country.

This plane was a passenger jet: it was being loaded. I knew it was going to fly the next day, I heard in the evening. In the unsympathetic gleam of the near stripped star lit night, crates of things were being loaded onto the jet, brought into its hold. Along with baggage, duffle bags for over 240-military personnel. The jet was being made ready to take off-like the Titanic, in the day of the unknown iceberg, back in 1912, that would hit the ship later on, and sink her. Every plane that left Saigon in those later months of 1971, was bombarded with incoming rockets from the so called enemy, some planes never made it off the runway, others got hit in the air, and had to make a crash landing; others, crashed into the sea, before they got to Japan for refueling, because of damage in taking off; these things somehow were silenced by the military-to a certain degree anyway.

Prior to this day, they, the Vietcong, and America had engulfed Cambodia, the boarders of Thailand, parts of China (for we had received over 4000-warnings from China’s government to stop penetrating its boarders), the whole South China Sea, all the cities in South Vietnam, Hanoi, in the North, and then some, all had gone under into a war mode status (it was the way we fought wars back then, instead of confronting Russia directly or China, we fought conventionally in their backyards, by proxy through other harmless countries), and Saigon was the way out-nothing was safe for hundreds of miles around it, to include the coast, Saigon was the last hope for escaping to find justice, freedom, and tolerance, a home, and livelihood. This was the door to America. If you couldn’t get to it, you were doomed, if not condemned to a bloody onslaught, from all sides, within it. For deep in the jungles were internment camps, held by the enemy, where homesick Americans were imprisoned and withering away. And as predicted in time of war, there was a fear among our troops and alias-of ending up there, for once there, the individual, the human part of him no longer existed, and not even a passport was sacred for escaping-had a prisoner been a civilian.

That evening, the evening before I would leave Saigon and Vietnam forever, I had gone to a nightclub to drink, gamble, and just simply do whatever suited me, good or bad. My military ID card permitted me to walk about Saigon and the military air base freely. The plane secured on the runway was one of three planes to take off the following day: one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and mine in the evening. And all three were filled to capacity. A few of my fellow Americans decided to give up their tickets and wanted to stay in Vietnam, it was based on drugs I assume, an absurd idea, for even if the Vietcong won the war, or even if we won the war, it would have taken near a miracle to get a flight out of there in the near future. The troop level was at one point 500,000, now it was down to 205,000, and we were withdrawing slowly, and to get a seat on a plane if you were not on the roster was by faith alone.

I had lost a few dollars that evening gambling, and a few more dollars spent on drinks, and I was interested in this one certain woman, about my age, she wore a short silky dress that seemed to stick to her ever curve, and lovely as a peacock. We drank a few drinks together, she worked on the airbase, and asked if I wanted to go to her house for the evening, but I knew I had to be back-lest they, the military think I deserted. And God forbid they get such a notion, so I declined the offer-regrettably.