Going Back

Nha Trang Travel Blog

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Dong ba Thin traffic

Sidewalks, buildings, and storefronts  gradually gave way to thatch-roofed farm houses and small banana plantations as ! followed Highway 1, skirting the hills south of Nha Trang. Dark green rice paddies were speckled by the yellow cone-shaped hats of squatting peasant workers. Traffic became more of busses, heavy trucks hauling cargo, and ox-drawn carts as my rented Suzuki rattled along the road's edge at forty kilometers per hour.

Most businesses in Vietnam have their owners name, phone number, and address displayed on their marquis. Fifty kilometers (30 miles) from Nha Trang, I noticed Dong Ba Thin printed on most and the hair on my arms stood up. It was a real place and not a figment of poor memory or foggy imagination.

Steep approach to Runway 32, 1970
It was a place I had tried to erase from memory and one that I would have never dreamt of wanting to see again. This was the village from which the muffled thump of B-40 rockets leaving their tubes woke the soundest of sleepers. Moments seemed long and thoughtful before their explosive impacts. 

Less than a mile further down the highway, and just beyond a sugar mill, I turned left onto a dirt road bordering an open field of scrub, sand, and swamp. There were no recognizable landmarks. The rows of concertina wire, steel guard tower, bunkers, and the berm outlining our perimeter were all gone. Hungry for something recognizable, I proceeded slowly, stopping often to scan all directions. There was no sign of the PSP taxiways (perforated steel plates) or thick revetments that protected our helicopters from the poorly aimed rockets and mortars.

Yam chips drying on the old Runway 32
The only breeze now came from the South China Sea, not from noisy machines thrashing through the sky.

The road led to a gate near some yellow buildings along the inland shore of Cam Ranh Bay. A Vietnamese Navy guard - much too young for my war - stepped out of a small shack wearing a clean white uniform and a puzzled expression, unaccustomed to seeing wayward travelers. He spoke no English but waved me back toward the highway. I was grateful that he did not greet me with hurling rocks or spit as upon my return to the U.S.A. from this very place in 1971. I obeyed his command but followed a different path which led past grazing cattle near to where our sand-bagged wooden hooches once stood. Only the hills to the north and west looked eerily familiar until I intercepted the runway, midfield.

The wild bunch

Our old asphalt Runway 32/14 still parallels Highway 1. No longer used as an airstrip, it was completely covered with sliced yams which are a potato-like root used for cattle and pig feed. One man was a supervisor; another, the one who delivered the roots to the site in a dump truck. While other crews manned chipper machines to slice the stout roots, three women continually walked the runway's length with their feet shuffling the chips to speed their drying by the tropical sun. I slowly rode the edge from one end to the other, then back again. None of the workers spoke English. None could know why I lingered.

I stood there on the threshold of 32 for a long while. Anguish, guilt, and sorrow confused my thoughts like a runaway going home after thirty-seven years on the road. I thought of Steven, Sam, and 'Okie' who never made it home. I wondered if they somehow knew that someone had come back, and hoped they knew that they had never been forgotten.

troysgonewalkabout says:
Amazing. Thanks for sharing this.
Posted on: Jan 12, 2012
shirlan says:
Great blog.
Must have been a turmoil of memories.
Posted on: Jun 03, 2008
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Dong ba Thin traffic
Dong ba Thin traffic
Steep approach to Runway 32, 1970
Steep approach to Runway 32, 1970
Yam chips drying on the old Runway…
Yam chips drying on the old Runwa…
The wild bunch
The wild bunch
Cattle graze where out hootches on…
Cattle graze where out hootches o…
Sun protection. Cam Ranh in the ba…
Sun protection. Cam Ranh in the b…
Chipper machine slicing yams
Chipper machine slicing yams
Sign depicting small bridge at Don…
Sign depicting small bridge at Do…
Nha Trang
photo by: rotorhead85