Peace Corps Writers
War and Peace Corps — Elusive Dreams
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Elusive Dreams
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A friend remembered
I met Captain Nguyen Van Hung in the 12th USAF Evacuation Hospital near Bien Hoa where we were both recuperating from battle injuries. He was a Squadron leader of a South Vietnamese Air Force Squadron of A1-E’s and AI-H’s Douglas Skyraiders, “Spads” as they were affectionately called because their design was of early post-World War II vintage. Imagine a single-engine plane that required 40 gallons of oil for the engine. You could always tell a Spad jockey by the oil stains on his flight suit. But the Spad could loiter for up to eight hours over an area and could carry about the same bomb load as a World War II B-17 Bomber. They were perfect for ground support, and for escorting both Huey helicopters to Landing Zones, and the big Sikorsky’s or “Jolly Green Giants” on so-called “Sandy” missions to rescue downed pilots.
     It was on such a mission and Nguyen was flying so low that his plane shook from antiaircraft fire from the ridges above that he was wounded. Shells penetrated the cockpit filling it with smoke and almost severing his right thumb. Blood from a cut artery spurted up inside the cockpit and against the windshield so that it blurred his vision, but he made it back to Danang to be pulled semiconscious from the cockpit, and be brought to the hospital.
     I learned that he had graduated from the South Vietnamese Military Academy and was from a distinguished and politically connected family in South Vietnam. He, like me, was a Catholic. He spoke French, and his English was as good as mine. He was completely dedicated to the cause of his homeland and to the Americans who were there to help. Even though he outranked me, he used to say, “I should salute you for being here.” Like my students in Nigeria, he had great respect for teachers.
     Not long after we became friends, I was sent back to my unit only to be re-injured and medivaced to the Army’s 106th General Hospital in Yokohama, Japan, the burn center of the Far East command. Three months later, just in time for Tet, in February 1968, I was in another deuce-and-a-half, only this time it was trying to make a mad dash across Saigon. There were six of us in the back of the truck and we got caught in a firefight.
     I eventually made it to my new assignment in Danang as Headquarters Clerk 37th Signal Battalion. One of my jobs was to drive the Commanding Officer’s jeep on certain errands up the long and lonely triple-canopy-jungle-sided road to our remote Signal Site on Monkey Mountain outside Danang. I feared being captured more than anything, and those trips were certainly my most serious exposure to that possible fate.
     In Danang, I made some inquiries, and was able to reconnect with Nguyen, and we met often after that.

“The Americans will leave us”
Nearing the end of my tour, he came over to my unit to see me. Nguyen knew I liked to fly, and I asked him if he would take me on a mission.
     “You are too short,” he said referring to my time left in country.
     I didn’t care, but he was concerned for my welfare.
     There was a look in his eyes that I had not seen before. I asked, was something worrying him.
     “It is that I worry the Americans will leave us.”
     “Why do you say that?”
     “Senator Robert Kennedy is running for President and he is against the war.”
     I replied knowingly that politicians don’t necessarily mean what they say in America, especially when they are running for office. I assured him that we would never leave until the war was over, or at least the South Vietnamese Government could defend itself.
     I felt he left me feeling only half reassured. Little did I know that he could sense what I could not. I was blind to what his keen political insight told him. Five years later, America would leave Captain Nguyen Van Hung and his comrades in the South Vietnamese armed forces to the tender mercies of the North Vietnamese Army.
     I never saw or heard from him again.

    I know you’re tired of following, my elusive dreams and schemes . . .

     There would be no fire this day, I thought, as the temperature dropped and the clouds, fecund with rain, turned darker and hung lower over the forests. Maybe Jimmie would come today; it had better be soon, because the fire season was ending and I would be returning to law school.

Ronald Wheatley served as a Legal Assistant in the International Division, Office of Telecommunications Policy (OTP) Executive Office of the President during the waning days of the Nixon Administration and through the Ford Administration. From there he served as a Foreign Service Reserve Officer in the Office of Communications in the Economics Bureau of the Department of State. In 1990 he retired as Regional Attorney, AT&T State Government Relations for the Northeast Region, where he was responsible for New York plus the New England States. He now serves as Counsel to the Transportation Division of the Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications and Energy, and at the same time, has a private law practice in Scituate, Massachusetts.
     He is the author of the full-length play “Trial of Phillis Wheatley” which was produced last year at Bridgewater State College as part of its Black History month celebration.

NOTE: The song “My Elusive Dreams” was written by C. Putman and B. Sherrill.

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