Claudia Krich, Vietnam veteran
Davis, CA, USA
I went to Viet Nam after the Paris Peace Accords were signed, and after Kissinger and Le Duc Tho had received the Nobel Peace Prize. It was March of 1973. I thought the war was over, but it certainly was not. I was not a soldier; I was there as co-director of the American Friends Service Committee Rehabilitation Center, and as a journalist. People in our program all learned to speak Vietnamese, and we lived more like the Vietnamese than like most other Americans. Our center was on the grounds of the Quang Ngai hospital, in central Viet Nam, and we worked on the prison ward, where we met victims of American-supported South Vietnamese torture. I had not expected this. In our center, we accepted all Vietnamese patients who were not soldiers (since they had their own rehab centers). More than 90% of our rehab patients had injuries caused by our side, mostly by land-mines. We did not have guns or any other weapons. We were, however, involved in plenty of violence. We were shot at, some of our team members were captured by the National Liberation Front (NLF)for a short time, we were robbed several times, we were questioned by the new unified government when it took over, and we always ran the risk of stepping on landmines when we helped take patients to their homes. One of our 6 team members died in an Air Viet Nam airplane crash.
In March of 1975 I left Quang Ngai for Saigon, as the South Vietnamese government began to fall apart, but then I learned that Quang Ngai had changed hands peacefully, and I had missed the historic event there. So I refused to leave Saigon through the fall of the South Vietnamese government, and left Viet Nam in July of 1975. I was one of about a dozen Americans I know of who stayed in Viet Nam. Some of us had a picnic on the roof on April 29, and waved to the departing helicopters, until we realized they might think we were waving to be picked up. U.S. officials tried hard to convince us to leave, but we had left Quang Ngai and didn't want to leave again. Friends came to our house who had just seen the C5A transport plane crash, killing hundreds of children. It was scary to stay in Viet Nam with no embassy and no possible U. S. government support, but the suspense didn't last long. After the change in government, we went out on the streets, and it was very exciting to see the huge crowds of South Vietnamese curiously greeting the North Vietnamese and NLF soldiers. I saw citizens throwing flowers and cigarettes to the soldiers on the tanks. The soldiers were equally curious about glamorous Saigon. The traffic, including some of the tanks, couldn't move due to the crush of people. The North Vietnamese soldiers camped in the parks and bought overpriced wristwatches. The North Vietnamese Air Force marched, ironically, in to the airport. One of my former language teachers turned out to be a relatively important person in the new government. She, like many others in the south, had been in the National Liberation Front, but had of course kept it secret.
During the next few months, I watched the changes in Saigon, which were quite subtle. I went to the movies and saw war clips taken by the North Vietnamese, instead of by the South Vietnamese. It all depends on your point of view, doesn't it? If there's one thing I've learned it is that history has a point of view, and it changes with time and attitude.
I kept a daily journal during the most momentous months in Viet Nam, and I've long been planning to publish it. (Haven't we all?) I have never been back to Viet Nam, much to my own amazement and disappointment, but I hope to return someday.