May 31, 1966

Viet Cong Leave Message for American GIs

(EDITOR’S NOTE:  Charles Black, Enquirer military writer in Viet Nam watched a Vietnamese village destroyed as he followed an American combat unit through its shattered huts and scorched coconut trees.  This is one of a series of articles about the Vietnamese hamlet called Vang An 1.)

Enquirer Military Writer

VANG AN 1 - It is doubtful if anyone has ever written anything about Vang An 1 and it isn’t likely that it will be written about again, because the events of May 12 and 13 destroyed this Vietnamese hamlet.

Vang An 1 probably had 200 residents once.  It was on a point formed by a rice paddy, the west bank of a river, with a range of fairly high hills behind it on its western limits.

The thatch roofed hootches formed a vague “S” and were embedded in a maze of banana trees, hedge rows, cactus fences, ditches, tunnels and foxholes.

It is doubtful if more than a handful of its inhabitants were still in the village before Capt. Milton Baker brought his Charlie Company of Lt. Col. William Allen’s 2nd Battalion 5th Cavalry up to the wide rice paddy on its north and stopped to survey the hamlet about 1 p.m. May 12.

Half of  huts were shattered wrecks from the swirl of war which had swept around the Bong Son area for so long.

Of the handful who remained here, who had not retreated from the terror of Viet Cong or the massive firepower of American units pressing the Communists, there was a squad of guerrillas with automatic weapons, a carbine or so, and a single U.S. M1 rifle looted from some old fight with Vietnamese forces.

I had joined PFC Lloyd Swisher, a reconnaissance man from the 1st Battalion, 77th Artillery handling Lt. John Chavarria’s radio.  (Chavarria was the forward observer for the big guns) and helped P-Sgt. Jack Norman tear down a Viet Cong propaganda booth in Vang An 2, just north of here.

Message Pinned Up

The little thatched shelter with its neat blackboard had a message for us pinned up.

“U.S. officers and men,” the message commenced.

It was a message which did not bear any of the signs of usual Viet Cong propaganda.  The English was impeccable and the phraseology was of a deadly familiar style.

It reminded us all that we had “once fought bravely against imperialism in our own revolution against the British” and went on in that vein, arguing against the violence of war and against our fighting here “on the wrong side of a Vietnamese civil war, a struggle by the Vietnamese people themselves for liberation from colonialism and imperialism.”

Familiar Arguments

The arguments so familiar from placards and speeches in some few spots back home were here on this blackboard.  They were repeated in the same words and the same catchwords.

We passed the little poster around and the sweaty GIs looked at it and read the smoothly correct turns of phrase out loud to each other.
“That doesn’t sound like Vietnamese writing to me!  Did you ever see that kind of writing in the Saigon papers?” Norman exclaimed bitterly as he put the paper away to turn in later to intelligence officers.

The propaganda team from the Viet Cong set up their booth on a trail between the two villages.

There were neat foxholes around it, one very close and four others along the trail.  A rice bowl with chopsticks crossed on it was set over a teakettle full of water, as if the owner had left a signal that he was only gone for a little while and intended to return quickly.

Terse Message

Some GIs looked at this and carefully broke the ricebowl and chopsticks and turned the teapot into an unsubtle insult.  One scrawled a message and pinned it to the shattered blackboard.

“We’ll be back.  We can come here any time and you have to run.  Sometime you won’t run fast enough and you will be a dead V.C.” the quotable portion of the message said.

Somebody killed a long, poisonous snake in a nearby hedgerow.  He hung the dead serpent carefully in place over a little billboard outside of the booth.

The wrecking and ingenious personal propaganda efforts of the GIs had filled in a period of waiting while Baker talked to Company A working along the other bank of the river.


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