Written by Ben Ellison on Sep 2, 2014 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub
We used a sampan to make our way from the bridge at Dong Ha in Quang Tri, the northernmost province of what used to be South Vietnam, to Cua Viet, the spot where the U.S. Navy kept its PBRs and other watercraft back in the day. Of necessity, of course, we had to travel some water that I hadn’t traveled for 40-some years.
Retracing the steps you took, or rather the waters you swooped across, during a combat tour that enlivened your youth need not be a totally grim endeavor. In fact, there are aspects of it, I am finding out, that can actually be fun. For example, a couple of days ago on the Song Thu Bon, the Vietnamese skipper of our little single-diesel-powered double-ender (sort of a sampan, I’d say, with a roof and benches) let me drive for a while and I had a superb time doing it.
Back in 1969, I served as an infantryman—a combat medic—in Vietnam. My unit operated in what was then called I Corps, just south of the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone), a stretch of no-man’s land between the northern and southern parts of a country torn apart by a horrible war. A few weeks into my stint with Charlie Company, First Platoon, a cool thing happened—the brass decided we needed a little R&R and sent us all to a spot at the mouth of the Cua Viet River, just a bit south of the DMZ. Cua Viet was home to a Navy base, with a beach, a mess hall—with food that beat the livin’ daylights out of the C-rations we were regularly feasting upon—and movies on most evenings in a sort of outdoor theater.