“Vung Chua Mountain looms ominously over the city of Qui Nhon in Vietnam as a silent sentinel wreathed in a thin mist. Qui Nhon is a crescent shape, coastal city in the Bin Dinh province of central Vietnam and hugs the coast along the South China Sea. Due to its proximity to the warm ocean the easterly winds wafting over the sea drag moisture up into the cooler mountain air creating a mist that rings the top. Vung Chua the place where kings rested, means “Ghost Mountain,” and when looking up at it from the city when clothed in mist and fog, it’s easy to see why.”
So begins my personal memoir of my year in Vietnam, a time and a place wrapped in a fog as thick and deep as those we encountered on that mountain. I write this, not out of any sense of heroism, an oft used phrase today describing our military personnel, but out of my own need to make sense if that time. There is also that deep need to explore my own inner feelings about that place, after all, in that one year my whole life changed. The journey I thought I was on took many twists and turns, certainties were tested, life was changed, and the road that emerged would take me into unexplored territory.
There are many things I remember with a clarity as bright and clear as fine crystal. The smell of diesel fuel, the sound of the choppers, the rumble of trucks, the unique cracking of an AK-47 and the responding pop of M-16 gunfire. The Vietnamese peasants, eking out a living in the slums of the city, homes made out of the debris we thought useless, children running around dirty and naked, young girls selling themselves in the doorways and markets. The acrid smell of the cooking pots being watched over by aging mama sans, their lips and teeth red from chewing betel nuts, while young men and woman tried to find love in the messiness of war. On our mountain, hootch maids cleaned our rooms, washed our sweaty jungle fatigues, while old papa san burned our shit.
War, is not all glory and our worst enemy was the tedium of daily living. In the quiet moments, when I’m alone, I’m suddenly taken back to that year and the memories flood back in a torrent. Yet, as time continues to march on, those memories fade like shadows as the sun slowly sets. I wonder if I’m remembering truth or something I wish happened but didn’t. We all, in some way, embellish our past. Accomplishments take on epic proportions way beyond the reality and that small fish we caught now is our own “Great White Whale.” Our tales grow as as we look back, censoring those parts that weren’t our best moments and creating monuments of our better days.
I am no different, I am still a human being and like many, I to want to be remembered as a decent person. However, underneath, there is that part that seeks to be heard, the part that lies in the wasteland of memory, where the leafless trees reach out and the ghosts haunt the living. Fear dominates this place, our failures rise up out of the ground as skeletal hands that seek to drag us under the cold, dark earth.
So now, I begin the journey into that land where truth and fantasy dance together in a waltz, ever so slightly out of rhythm, a place that is at once both comforting and disconcerting.