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Through the pane

Posted on Tuesday, February 27, 2018 at 1:20 pm

Never to be forgotten

Weldon Payne

That bird’s skull.

Somehow I can’t forget that bird’s skull floating in a pan of stew, cooking over an open fire in the evening on the waterfront in Saigon. Across the street stood the Majestic Hotel.

Nothing majestic in the faces of the old people who squatted beside evening fires, quiet, serene, cooing supper as blue smoke floated past. This was 1953.

We called it ‘Indo-China then. Not Vietnam. It was the Frenchmen’s war then.

Members of the French Foreign Legion mingled with sailors in the sidewalk cafes, talking about the war. Some of those soldiers had been fight for six or seven years. Some were Germans, fighting, one gathered under a French flag without love for that flag; bitter.

One man had been wounded five times. Another, complaining of the lack of medical care, was impressed with first-aid administered to a neglected wound after an American friend took him to the thimble-sized “sick bay” of the USS Daly (my ship.)

Carroll Leighton, a sailor from Maine, swapped hats with one of the Legionnaires — and had to be persuaded by a Navy chief to return it.

Pretty girls walked gracefully in pajama-like suits. Smiling kids begged for pennies. Old women grinned, revealing red stain of betel nuts, and I remember the one-legged beggar sprawled at one corner.

I remember the bicycle carts and families who lived on the little boats — the way the boars were maneuvered with long sticks — and flowers for sale on the streets.

It was many years ago – before some people I knew and liked died over there. Somehow, Vietnam lingers in the minds of a lot of Americans as an untreated sore, never to be fully understood and yet, like that stupid bird’s skull, never to be forgotten.