May 31, 1966
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
articles about the Vietnamese hamlet called Vang An 1.)
By CHARLES BLACK
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
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.”
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
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.
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.