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The ARVN A-28 Pilots Wept
By Jim Willingham
After the horrible massacre of the North Vietnamese people, including some women combatants, at Katum Artillery Base on 4/3/71, I sat with the ARVN A-28 pilots over dinner at the Bien Hoa officers club. They grinned like the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland. Then they got somber. I went with them to their barracks. We sat on two bunks facing each other, with the older man, an F-5 pilot, sitting in a chair facing them. We wept, cried, bawled with grief and horror to the edge of despair for 5 minutes. Then the older man, Captain Trung, brought us out of it.
One man took out a framed picture of Ho Chi Minh, placed it on a shelf above a dresser at the head of the beds, then placed a copy of Lenin's Third Internationale in English below it. Then they all took out their individualcopies and started to laugh. One man said, "Oh that Ho Chi Minh! I cannot believe he was the same man who liked the Third Internationale!" Another, "Oh I can not believe Lenin was the same man who wrote the Third Internationale!" Another, "Oh that Bac Giap! He does not know anything! We will have to teach him about community relations after the war!"
Another, "After the war, I want to be in sanitation and with community relations!" Another, "After the war, I want to be in water and with community relations!" Still another, "After the war, I want to have my own business and be with community relations!
Can I do that?" "Yes! Ha!Ha! You can do that!" "They will not put me in jail?" No! Ha!Ha!" "They will not put you in jail!"
Then Captain Trung said, "After the war, I want to be on the Central Committee for Community Relations." I told him, "Then I will put in a good word for you." "With who?" "With the Lady in the long purple dress." Someone said, "We do not ever say her name."
"I understand. For her protection and that of her family." Then they started talking about the Third Internationale.
"What do you think this means? How can we apply this in a practical way?"
"From the bottom up." They told me they had to go through the same process every time.
Four days later our C-7 was gunned at on takeoff from Dalat Army Airstrip by many people in black, small northerners in tall green grass. They shot out our left engine. I called Air Cavalry from Bear Cat and Captain Trung from Bien Hoa AFB, 2 F-5's. I instructed him on 4 air strikes north and north-west of Dalat City, called 2 artillery marker shots for them, then said, "Now I will let you do your job."
He said, "Let me do my job!" "Yes, sir!" I could tell he despised it.
The F-5s finished and left just as the 40 choppers flew in over the mass of them down in the grass, 5,500 unfortunate lost souls.
The people of Dalat had to burn the grass again. That was the last time.
I told the Lady about Captain Trung and the others, also the soldiers and some others from the other side I'd talked with (wearing ARVN uniforms from Loc Ninh). He retired.
They all joined over, the pilots I had met and 3/4 of the Army. Mr. Trung became a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party living in Ho Chi Minh City.
You think we were anti-war? Try Vietnam. The Lady told me, "There will be radical forgiveness. They will give flowers."
The scars of those horrible scenes haunt me, always. I am upheld by the ability of the Vietnamese, with deep clarity 4,000 years old, to transform themselves. Vietnam has become incredibly beautiful, a golden star of hope for the entire Third World.
Jim Willingham is a VVAW member who lives in Florida.