EXTRACTS FROM "THE GREEN BELT" - 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 NEXT CHAPTER XX
CHAPTER I - page 3
Davis laughed at this truism, recognizing it as comic satire.
The jeep bounced on dirt clods scattered upon the asphalt road, sending up red clouds of dust. The floor of the jeep was covered with sandbags, rendering heavy and lumbering the movement of the vehicle. On the positive side, one would choose to go slow with the sandbags, rather than fast without them, so that in the event the jeep hit a mine, one would likely survive and at least not lose one’s legs. Situated within a controlled area which everyday saw American soldiers on patrol, the road was relatively secure. Even though there was no fear of attacks or ambushes by the enemy, several times a month our side could not avoid sustaining wounds from mines or by sniper fire. An American advisor had suggested that we take a helicopter, but since none was available, we decided to borrow a jeep and travel overland.
“In Vietnam,” observed Davis, “transportation is a very big hassle. At times, it takes many days to travel a mere twenty or thirty kilometers.” I laughed and said that that was even truer when the area of operations was in the highlands.
“Davis, do you want to end up driving with one arm like the Minister?” I asked.
“If I knew I was going home to America soon, perhaps I would be anxious, but I still have to live this war for a long while yet. All American soldiers upon first arrival in country are the same, courageous and reckless, knowing no fear. Yet, during the final days of their tours, just before the trip home, all those who have survived with body intact suddenly turn timid as rabbits, afraid of being killed by a grenade or plastic explosives, even once having safely reached Saigon.”
I laughed and commented that this was perhaps not the case with the Green Berets, those in the Special Forces. Davis agreed and told me they were in a class of their own. “They are a new type of soldier born under the Kennedy dynasty. Beyond their incomparable lethality, they are a stubborn and undisciplined lot. Many American generals still refuse to recognize them as legitimate members of the Army, like the other combat arms.”
Soon, houses on stilts were observed half hidden among trees. A moment later, seeing an unfamiliar car, naked children rushed over and happily shouted their welcome. A group of men with course hair and sun-baked skin, machetes in hand and woven rattan backpacks slung over their shoulders, quickly side-stepped to the edge of the road. They broke into big smiles, indicating they were not shying away due to fear of modern machinery.
Passing the village communal house, we reached Dr. Denman’s residence. His abode stood by itself near a Special Forces camp. Inside, the building exemplified the uniform world of white men, with all the conveniences rich Western society provided. The altar for worshipping Christ was brightly illuminated with electric lights. A radio, a refrigerator, and food items were seen - all originating from the United States. In a corner of the house was a jerry-built radio transmitter.
Davis introduced me to Dr. Denman. I had often heard of the Minister’s reputation, read his book reviews in major newspapers, and been told quite different legends about him. He was, in truth, a missionary, a linguist, an anthropology professor, and author of the well-known research book entitled Ethnic Groups of Mainland Southeast Asia. Reading this book, I had felt rather embarrassed as a Vietnamese who did not know as much about his own country as did the book’s foreign author. It appeared curious that experts on Vietnam were usually foreign professors, French in the past and American at present.
The Minister was exerting great influence. It was with the help of Dr. Denman that Special Forces had been able to build their first bases in isolated tribal localities. The communists had lost their hold on people in the areas where his influence was felt. Having lived in the highlands for many years, Denman was well liked by a great number of tribal people, largely because of the practical help he extended to them.
According to Davis, Dr. Denman recently, with the assistance of Special Forces, was able to build a hospital to further expand the scope of his activities. In addition to his fluency in Vietnamese, the Minister was also well versed in a number of tribal languages. He was inclined more toward activities of social work and research than to the task of spreading the gospel, which task received great care from his efficient wife. The couple lived with their eight-year-old daughter, who was born in this mountainous region. NEXT