Sunday, June 13, 2010

Dadlands: Hue

Dad didn't write much about Hue, probably to avoid upsetting my mom. Only by way of a picture caption in one of his letters do I know that he was there at all. (The picture has since disappeared.)

All it says is:

Hue. We were flying a medical evac mission. This was not long after Tet.

Hue was among the bloodiest and most grueling battles of the Tet Offensive, so, depending on what "not long" means, I'm guessing flying medical evac from there wasn't very pleasant. Also, Dad hated blood, needles and anything else having to do with hospitals. But he liked being useful. Shortly after beginning his tour, when he started flying combat-related missions, he wrote this:

The flying is interesting and challenging and best of all, it's important. The Army and Marines depend a great deal on airlift. ... Sometimes we evacuate the wounded troops which is a job I don't like to do. I'll do everything in my power to get a wounded kid out though. It's a great comfort to the troops over here to know that they will be evacuated very quickly if they are wounded. -- Oct. 6, 1967, Tuy Hoa

As for me, it was horrifying to realize that American bombs had destroyed Hue, with its walled palace compound modeled on the Forbidden City.

The compound only dates back to the early 1800s, but the place has a magic beyond its years. The sprawling, leafy grounds practically insist that you lounge around for an afternoon.

Some of the structures have been spectacularly restored since the war while others are still in shambles. You can wander to neglected spots and feel like you're the only person who's been there in decades.

We did, in fact, lounge around the grounds for most of the day, watching the caretakers whip the place into shape. The biennial Hue Festival was just a few days away and there were statues to polish and lanterns to hang.

They were even making decorations out of conical hats, one of the city's most famous products.

Hue. Magical. I can only hope it stays undisturbed for centuries to come.

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