Monday, June 14, 2010

Dadlands: Quang Tri

 Sign advertising DMZ tours, Quang Tri

Dad was stationed in Quang Tri, right up by the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing North and South Vietnam, for a couple of weeks in late 1967. This was well before the southern highway there became the “highway of terror”, but it still wasn’t a particularly pleasant place to work. First of all, it was a dull assignment, overseeing shipments of supplies into a newly-established Marine camp.

There is really nothing to write about at all. We had a few airplanes in today and it rained. That is pretty much the news. It rained, rained, rained and rained. -- December 13, 1967 Quang Tri

In the second place, he was supposed to go back to the relative comforts of Da Nang on the last plane out every night, but he often got stuck in the field instead.

I am spending the night here at Quang Tri. ... The Marines have given me a cot and an air mattress (which they call a rubber lady) and I have found a nice sleeping bag and a pillow.  -- December 2, 1967 Quang Tri

Bomb, Vinh Moc tunnel historic site, Quang Tri

Thirdly, and most important, it was a scary place to be. Quang Tri was a “soft” assignment compared to what a lot of ground troops were facing, he wrote after wrapping up his stint --

but we still had small arms fire around the perimeter and mortars and artillery going off constantly and quite frequently air strikes just outside the perimeter. B-52 strikes up in the DMZ used to roll us out of the sack. I am tired of sleeping in a sleeping bag and worrying about being overrun and I am really thankful to be going back where I can sleep in peace again. -- Dec. 14, 1967, Saigon

Chad and I drove up to Quang Tri on a motorbike from Hue and tooled around town, which didn’t take very long -- it was pretty well flattened in the war and remains small today. On the road behind the train station, we were hailed by some people at a cafĂ©.

The sheer radiant force of their welcome reeled us in. Soon we were sitting around drinking coffee and looking up words in the phrasebook.

The coffee was awesomely potent, so concentrated it was thick and almost chocolatey. It came in the spotted glasses that everyone seems to use on the north central coast. Were they originally sold with jelly in them, like the glasses my mom collected in the 70s? Did an enterprising gas station give them out free with fill-ups? Or did some super-salesperson make the rounds of every coffee stand and soup stall for 100 miles around?

Yes, they had that much condensed milk in them. And yes, they needed it.

The coffee also came with tiny cups of similarly potent tea, as is often the case up north. I'm not sure what the story is behind that, but it left me buzzing.

We figured out everyone’s ages and how many kids they had, and then our host, Phu, had to leave. We downed our last life-giving gulp of coffee and hit the road too, glad to find Quang Tri a much friendlier place than Dad experienced in 1967.

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