Home Up
Jerry White


Jerry White served, for most of his tour (Jan 1969 – Dec 1969), as Platoon SSG, 3rd Platoon, D Company, 6/31st, 9th Infantry Division.
   

NOTE:  THIS STORY WAS UPATED 2/19/06
TO GO DIRECTLY TO THE UPDATE

This is Jerry’s account of his two return visits to Vietnam in 2001 as written to his former platoon members and a Vietnamese friend with whom he works.  It is a beautiful story of his Vietnamese girlfriend and their reunion 34 years after Jerry left Vietnam, some unsettling facts he learned from the current residents of Vinh Kim about the reality of the war and his platoon and a wonderful account of how Vinh Kim has changed since the war.  Please don’t miss the touching letter near the end from Jerry to Leroy Harris by way of his daughter.

To see the "before and after" pictures of Jerry and Tuyet and her old and new homes
Click button to see

 FYI: Vinh Kim is a small village near My Tho which is about 75 miles Southwest of Saigon

 Deciding to go back to Viet Nam took a while. Since none of you guys would go with me, I finally decided to go alone. I was a little concerned, but once I got back to the village it was great. Even the Viet Cong seemed glad to see me.

 Summary of Viet Nam trip reports follows:
 I visited Saigon, Can Guoic, Can Duc, My Tho, Can Tho and Vinh Kim…due to a surprising reunion, I spent most of my time in Vinh Kim.

I went back to Vinh Kim and it has grown quite a bit. Probably 4 times larger than when we were there.

The country is still very poor, but the people (at least in the countryside) are all very happy. They are all (even the former enemy) very happy to see Americans. They think that we are all rich! I understand from my Vietnamese friends that it is more difficult being Vietnamese American because they expect you to pay bribes (they would call it tips)...especially to clear customs.....and, of course, all your Vietnamese family expect you to bring gifts and money. My friends in the village say that there are two major differences from 1969:
    (1) The war is over, so no one is getting killed.
    (2) Instead of paying bribes to the South Vietnamese officials...they now pay bribes to the Communist officials.  I guess some things really never change.

One thing that I expected to see that wasn’t evident was a strong police or military presence. There was basically none. 

I took back a lot of my old pictures...all of your pictures were included. After less than 30 minutes in the village, we found some older people to show the pictures to. I had a Vietnamese guide who had served with the 173 Airborne for several years.....he was great.

The only picture of Vietnamese people that this group recognized was Barbara’s (the really good looking girl that sold us cokes....and that ended up following us to Can Giouc and Can Duoc). You might remember, she got hurt in the explosion that killed Jim McPike. At first we thought that they were saying that she didn’t live there anymore but that her sister did. We thought that they were going to get her sister. They came back with Barbara.

It was like a dream...or a movie script....I still can’t believe that this trip really happened.

I like to remember the good things...especially finding my girl friend from 1969....and the relationship that we are now trying to rebuild.  I have many pictures both past and present. I like to show the “past” ones so that everyone can see that Barbara and I were not always old. She was, and still is very beautiful.  In 1969 she had told me that she was 19 (I was 24). On my return to Viet Nam, I found that in 1969 she had really been only 16 -17...she had lied to me, knowing that I would have had nothing to do with her if I had known how young she was. She still thinks that it was all very funny...that is, her lying about her age.

You may remember that we had often heard that Barbara’s family was VC. Well, as it turned out, they were.   While I was there, Barbara’s brother-in-law made a comment that “Just like me, he fell in love with a Viet Cong girl before he knew she was Viet Cong”...I looked at her and said...”So what the previous company told us was correct...you really were VC?”. She admitted that her family was VC.  But she and her family liked us very much...especially Jim.....and didn’t want to see us hurt.  I asked the former VC why the VC blew the command det when she was walking with us (she knew nothing about the command det’s being there), and they said that they were far away and didn’t see her.  All that they saw was Jim’s radio antenna....and they were trying to kill the leader of the element (me), assuming he would be next to the RTO. 

Before the explosion....Barbara and I were just really good friends. Actually our relationship was very, very limited until she got hurt.  Note: Everyone (including her mother) except for me remembers me carrying her to the medivac helicopter.  I assume that I was in shock at all that had happened. Her family could not afford to keep her in the hospital at My Tho for one month in 1969...I asked how much...it was only $40 USA dollars back then...so I paid it.  Shortly after she got hurt....my luck finally ran out and I was injured by a booby-trapped Chi-Com grenade. Once we finally got back together...our relationship grew stronger...but nothing other than kisses. 

You may remember Bach...the young boy that Lt. Mercurio “recruited” as a Tiger Scout for us. After we killed his brother...the VC with the wooden leg....he turned VC. He later lost an arm to a grenade. I understand that he still lived in the village....but I didn’t see him. 

The people talked forever about remembering guys in our platoon giving them cookies from the Care packages that our Mom’s sent us. They really liked us and said that they were sorry that they couldn’t tell us where the booby traps were...because if they did they would have been executed. One of Barbara’s cousins was executed by the VC for helping a GI escape a booby trap.

A month or two after Jim was killed, we moved to a place just South of Saigon called Can Guoic. I (along with a lot of guys) got out of the field after the move. I was assigned to a MACV force in a small village as a liaison between the MACV and the 9th Division. Note: My replacement was killed shortly after (he was walking point, going into a wood line, and was shot in the head by a sniper). I was on radio watch at the MACV compound when it happened. I tried to get them to send a helicopter to pick me up and drop me in with the platoon, but they said to wait to see if any further action occurred. Since it didn’t, they did not pick me up. 

The people in the village and in Barbara’s family think of me as Tuyet’s (her name means snow...Barbara was her “American” name in 1969) first husband who has returned to her. In order for her to be with me during the later part of my 1969 tour in Vietnam, she had to tell the family and all other interested parties that we were married...which, of course, we were not. But, “good” girls didn’t associate with GI’s outside of marriage...so “marriage” was the only acceptable way.  After she got out of the hospital, and our unit was moved to Can Guioc, I thought that was the last that I would see of her. But, two weeks after we were moved, Barbara showed up and said that she wanted to live with me. Prior to this, it had been kisses only. She ended up staying in the village that I was assigned to and I saw her each night for a few hours. When I moved to Can Duoc as a liaison...she moved with me. We were together for 3 months, then, of course, I had to return to the states. At first she didn’t want to come with me because she would miss her family ...then she did want to come...but it was too late for the paperwork. After what she told about her family being VC.....the Army never would have approved her marrying me anyway.  After I returned to the states, I went back to graduate school and she and I wrote for a while. She wanted me to come back for her, but I told her that I could not until the war was over. Well....as you know....the war was not over for 5 more years....we stopped writing...and I didn’t have contact with her again until April of this year when I returned.  Per a letter that I received from Al Sanchez, who was there when I left, she was heartbroken when I left and simply withdrew from associating with you guys with whom she had been very close.

 She has had a rough life. At the direction of her mother, she married a South Vietnamese Lt. about a year after I left and had 8 children. After all that she went through in the French and USA wars.....her first son died fighting for the Vietnamese against Cambodia in 1990. Her husband then died a year later of a heart condition. So, she had to raise 7 children alone.

I got a better understanding of the Civil War aspects of the war in talking to the people. Even though Barbara’s family was VC.....at least two of the girls ended up marrying South Vietnamese army officers and one married a South Vietnamese Sgt. Once they married, they had to leave the village. When Barbara followed us to Can Giuoc, she also made the VC “bad” list. She was unable to return to Vinh Kim until after the war was over.  

I spent most of my visit going from one house to another having celebration meals. These visits ranged from Vinh Kim to Saigon. While I was there, a newspaper man came by and wrote a newspaper story about us...picture included. Later the story was on local television. They referred to us as the Romeo and Juliet of Viet Nam (hopefully with a better ending).

Letter to the guide that I used on my first trip (after I returned to the USA)
(Note: Tam is Tuyet’s “government” name. Doan Thi Tam is her “complete” name. FYI: Based on our USA naming structure, the Vietnamese name goes in the following order
…Last, Middle, First.)

I have a good story for you. My Vietnamese friend in the USA, Chi Lan, has a friend in Houston, Texas who was telling her about reading a story in a Vietnamese paper in Houston about a GI who returned after 32 years to find his girlfriend. Chi Lan ask her the names of the people in the article. It was a story about TAM and me. Chi Lan told her friend that we were her friends. Chi Lan has talked to Tam many times on the phone since my return. As you know, my Vietnamese is not very good and her English is a little rusty; therefore, initially, I needed a translator.  Chi  Lan works where I work, and she is the same age as Tam. Chi Lan comes from a small village Cau Quan which is south of Tra Vinh in Tra Vinh Province. (FYI: This is approximately 80 miles south of Vinh Kim.)  Please tell Tam this story, that now even the Vietnamese people in the USA know our love story.

Response to platoon member
Glad you enjoyed the pictures of Barbara....yes, she has gained quite a few pounds....but the smile and eyes are still the same. Her English was “very” rusty at first, because she had not spoken it in over 30 years...but it got better pretty fast. Her children didn’t even know that she could speak English.
Latest Status of my economic support of Viet Nam. Ha!
    Barbara had to sell her land several years ago for an operation. She has been renting it and trying to buy it back. I bought it back for her....$700.
    Her teeth were terrible...bought her dentures...$300.
    She was living in the standard straw house with mud floor...I built her a really nice house...looks like a small temple....1400 sq feet....$6800.
What the heck....I’ve been helping my kids for the last few years....now it’s time that I help someone who “really” needs the help.

 Second Trip in September 02 (Yes…I was there on 9/11….rather scary)
Note: On my first trip I stayed in hotels in Saigon and My Tho. On my second trip, I paid a bribe (approximately $5.00 American dollars) to stay in the village with Tuyet (Barbara/Tam).

When I returned in September to see Tuyet’s (Barbara) new house, I spend two weeks in the village. Bach came by to see me and asked about all of our platoon members. In addition, I asked Tuyet if any of the VC that we killed were family or friends and she said that all of them were. One of the VC that we killed the day before Jim was killed was her brother-in-law. One of her other brothers-in-law we also killed earlier. I was worried that we had killed her father and older brothers (three), but they were killed before we arrived (1968...I believe), and they were not killed around Vinh Kim.

Based on what she told me, the entire village (to include all of the coke kids) was pretty much VC...even the local militia (PF’s and RF’s) were either VC or had family members that were VC; therefore, they had an agreement to leave each other alone. Thus the reasons for the warning shots that they used to fire as we walked past their compounds.

Booby traps: There were no special signs warning the people of the booby trap locations. The VC just told the people where they were...so they knew. If they went into an area that they did not know well, they asked the local people and they told them where the booby traps were located.

Mortar: As to the mortar that we were always looking for...the VC told me that after they fired a few rounds, they would hide it close by and come back and move it later. There never was a single location where they kept it.

Now for the really interesting additional points.....
After all of these years, only one other GI has returned to Vinh Kim and they didn’t remember him. But they (both our friends and our former enemies) remembered our platoon quite well. They looked at my pictures and asked about all of you. It surprises me that after 32 years many of the people (kids...when we were there) still remember all of your names. In meeting some of the VC that we fought....I wanted to pass on some of their comments that will hopefully make you proud of our platoon.  They said that we were the best platoon and the most feared because of the following:

We had a Lt. Mercurio who made us move fast while the other platoons moved slowly. They also feared the fact, that once we got set up, we sent out a small element that moved fast, quietly, and...at times... caught them by surprise.

We had an E-6 pointman (Barry Wible) who was greatly feared. At the time we were there....I thought that the people liked him, but from comments made while I was there....I now believe that they (the good and the bad) were simply afraid of him.

We had an E-6 Plt Sgt (me) who walked point. (A strange point here...my guide said that the village police chief...former VC.. remembered me...and then started describing incidences that showed that he really did....he then said to tell me that I was lucky to have gotten home alive...that when they blew the command det (per them, two Chinese claymore mines) that killed Jim, they only saw his antenna and were trying to kill me...hoping that I was beside him. I was, however, walking point. I told them that I wasn’t any good at walking point or finding booby traps (except with my feet...the Lord was really watching over me....because I know that I tripped at least 4 that didn’t explode)...and that I certainly wasn’t brave....in fact, the only reason that I walked point was because I knew that I couldn’t deal with it if anything happened to one of you guys. I figured if I got killed....I would never know about it. That’s why Jim’s death has haunted me all these years.

Our men were good to the Vietnamese families and didn’t abuse them. They remembered us trying to save the grandmother who died before we could get a medivac to her.

The VC families that we knew (well...we didn’t know they were VC at the time we were there) said to let you know that they liked us but not their government. They didn’t want to fight us and kill us, they would have preferred to have been our friends.....and in many cases, they really were. Like I said, many cried when Jim died.

In summary, the trip was a dream.......everyone said to tell you guys hello and that they would like to see you again someday.

I’ll never forget you guys....you were the greatest!

 

The changes in Vietnam since 1969
The village of Vinh Kim was quite a bit larger than when we were last there......not so much more structures, but quite a few more people.

The area across the river from the village has now over come the destruction that we caused. As you might remember, it had pretty much been blown to pieces when we were there. Now it is full of trees, houses and people. By the way.....TV antennas everywhere. I understand that most of these TVs were bought with money sent from relatives in the USA.

Our old firebase area is now an open field used for soccer games and evening karate classes.

The major reference points such as canals are still there...and quite a few of the older houses...but with trees and houses everywhere, in previously open areas...it was not easy trying to identify old locations.

The road that we used to walk out for most of our ambushes, etc. has now been widened and goes all the way to the “big” river(Mekong branch...the one Dong Tam was located on) , with cars and such traveling down it to a road that runs along the “big” river. This “river” road starts in My Tho and runs along the river to provide access to the south and west (Can Tho, etc.). Bridges now cross the canal at Dong Tam and the “Vinh Kim” river. Ferrys are used to cross the larger rivers, except for the river adjacent to Can Tho where the Australians have built a huge, and beautiful bridge.

Australia has a large presence in Viet Nam....especially Foster Beer factories. My Tho even has a beer factory under construction.

My Tho also has a small semiconductor plant (like Intel…only much, much, much smaller…of course) under construction.

As to tourists....there were quite a few French tourists in Saigon and My Tho (now having 100k population)....German tourists also evident in Saigon. American tourists also present...but mostly in Saigon. Once you get out of the larger cities...you become quite a sight for the people. As I said before, I was only the 2nd American to return to Vinh Kim and no one remembered the other guy. A little girl even cried when she saw me because she had never seen a non-Vietnamese in person. Many of the children will say “hello” in English and every now and then an adult will try their English. From what I was told, after the war, the schools taught Russian and Chinese; however, within a few years, they changed this “second” language back to English. One man in the Vinh Kim market started speaking to me in perfect English. He welcomed me and hoped that I was enjoying my visit...he had worked for the Americans during the war. BTW..I might have mentioned this...almost every house that I visited had Viet Cong Service Awards proudly displayed. As Barbara told me.....basically the whole village was VC.

Dong Tam is now a Vietnamese Army Base and a Snake Farm (producer of snake venom...with a hospital for snake bites). As a matter-of-fact Barbara’s younger sister was bitten by a viper while I was there this last trip, and we went to visit her in the hospital.

As to the area around Vinh Kim....I had a difficult time identifying very much, because all of the rice paddies have been converted to fruit orchards...more money in fruit than in rice. The orchards and houses are all along the road, and the older PF/RF forts have been removed.

If you remember, when we where there, there was quite a bit of open area (not densely populated) between Saigon and My Tho. Now there is very little open area...basically villages and people all the way from Saigon to My Tho. It appears that after the war, many people moved back to the country. Children are everywhere ..it appears that VN is trying to see how large it can get. Ha! There are so many children that schools are overloaded. ½ the children go to school before lunch and the other ½ after lunch. So...right before these school sessions, there are kids everywhere!

The Can Guoic and Can Duc areas were also very different with houses and people everywhere. I could not recognize the firebase at Can Guoic and the MACV Base that I had lived in at Can Duc had been turned into a small (messy) Army post.

Letter to Leroy Harris (by way of his daughter)
Please tell your Dad that the house that I built for Barbara (her “real” Vietnamese name is Tuyet...which means snow) is now finished and that, from the pictures she sent to me, it is very pretty. It cost only $6,800 US dollars to build....here in Austin, Texas it would cost around $100k. The house looks like a small temple. She will be moving out of a thatch (straw) house that has a mud floor and no doors or windows (just openings to walk through). This type of straw house may be difficult for you to visualize but your Dad knows what I mean.

I want to take a moment to tell you about your Dad...because he might not have talked to you about the war....I have said very little about the war to my daughter and son. It was an honor to have served with your Dad. He was (and I am sure....still is)not only a great person but also an excellent soldier. He carried a machinegun in our platoon and he was very, very good. I could always depend on your Dad under any conditions. Our platoon was very close, sort of like a family looking out for each other. Especially all of us who had been together for quite a while....like your Dad, “Skully”, Barry Wible, Eli Ford etc. (names that you probably don’t know, but your Dad does). After our “best” platoon leader (Lt. Mercurio...he is now a clinical psychologist in New York) saw how bad the war was, he made it very clear that his main goal was to get us home alive. Men like your Dad is why most of our platoon made it home alive. The war was a mess and, in fact, looking back, we probably never should have been there...but we were, and I would like for you and your entire family to be very proud of what your Dad did under very difficult conditions. He not only helped me and others get home alive, he returned to a country under very difficult conditions and became a very successful business man...and, I am sure, a very good father. I was very proud of him in Viet Nam, and I am very proud of him now.

It has been very nice to hear from you...please tell your Dad hello for me and that I will send the pictures upon my return.

I watched a movie last night that some of you might have seen.....It is based on a true story of what a young girl had to endure at the hands of the VC and the South Vietnamese. She was originally VC, but ended up being abused by both sides. The story has a good ending......the movie starred Tommy Lee Jones....and its title is “Heaven and Earth”.

Post Second Trip Update:
Since my second trip, my Vietnamese friend Chi Lan has made a trip to Viet Nam to visit her family. While there, she met Tam. Tam is now considered a “daughter” by Chi Lan’s mother, and Tam telephones Chi Lan’s mother every week.

With the $200/month that I wire to Tam, she no longer has to work and is considered “well off” by village standards. The average monthly income in the village is approximately $30. She now has a phone and I call her once per week (at a rate of $.73 per minute!!!!).

I plan to return for another visit in September of this year (2002).

Will she come to the states with me….Who knows? Only family members can sponsor Vietnamese nationals to come to the USA for a visit. With our present USA/Viet Nam relations, she can come to the USA only if I were to marry her. She says that she wants to marry me and come to the USA….that she doesn’t want to make the same mistake that she did in 1969, but I know that she would miss her family….and (regardless of what the people in Viet Nam think) I cannot afford to move her entire family to the USA.

That’s all for now.

 Email Jerry
mailto:jerry.white@amd.com

UPDATE 1/22/04

I just got back from a month in Viet Nam.

Well this trip was quite different in that I arrived on a Friday and Tuyet and I had a wedding ceremony (a family thing....not actually a "legal" wedding as far as the Viet Nam and US governments are concerned) on Sunday. There were approximately 350 people at the wedding which included a four course meal and enough beer and rice whiskey to float a ship. This thing lasted all day. The total cost to include decorations, food and drink and her 3 dresses was $1200 (USA). The photographer was there all day and two days later he handed us an album that contained all of the pictures that he had taken. The total cost for the photographer (and pictures) was $50 (USA). There were both former VC and former ARVN at the wedding. Many VC were invited but did not come. They told her that they would like to come, but since she was marrying an American, they felt it would be better if they did not come.

Throughout the month that I was there, we had numerous parties at the home of her friends where I sat around the table with both former VC and former ARVN. Someone always made a point to point out to me the former VC and the former ARVN...and then say.."VC, ARVN, GI......now all ok...no problem". Most appear to have put the war behind them and have gone on with their lives.

While I was there the first US Navy ship (since 1975) came into the Saigon port. This got alot of press on TV and in the newspapers. I believe that Viet Nam would like for the US to start using Cam Ranh Bay (now that the Russians have left). The people seem to like us better than they did the Russians. They said that the Russians were not very friendly and seldom smiled.

After the wedding, we had a car take us from Vinh Kim to Nha Trang (12 hour trip) for 3 days and then we met her family in Da Lat for 2 more days. The car and driver (for a week) cost me $150...the hotel at Nha Trang was next to the beach and cost only $20 a night. When we ate...it cost us about $1. We rented a large boat (and driver) for 1/2 day to go visit the 8 -9 islands and it cost only $20. I liked Nha Trang more than either Vung Tau or Da Lat because there is so much more to do. Scuba, snorkeling, boat rides, fishing, beach, swimming, trips to the mountains (Nha Trang is basically surrounded by mountains). Nha Trang is very clean and has many European tourists (French/German). It appears that Viet Nam is very popular in Europe as a nice and inexpensive vacation option.

After returning to Vinh Kim, we traveled southeast of Can Tho and spent a day and a night with the family of a person that I work with in Austin.

After this visit, we stayed around Vinh Kim. Tam has a best friend who is married to an American and they had just moved into their new house not far from Cai Lay....only about 15 minutes from Vinh Kim. He is retired Navy and they plan to live 6 months in CA and 6 months in Viet Nam. Super nice guy...it was nice to be able to speak English with him. He has been married to Anh Hong for 3 years. He speaks almost no Vietnamese and she speaks almost no English. He also has a computer with internet.....so I had to find out from him what was going on in the world. We spent several evenings with them...they have a beautiful house that cost only $24k to build.

While at Vinh Kim I finally got to go visit a family that I knew from 1969. We used to setup around their hooch at night because it bordered the rice paddies. In 1969 someone shot an M79 into their house and seriously injuried the grandmother. When my platoon arrived, we tried to save her, but she died before we could get a helicopter to her. The children are now all grown up, their father is dead, but their mother is still alive. She was very glad to see me and, of course, remembered the incident quite well.

Next year I plan to try to visit Hue and Hanoi.

I am doing the paperwork now to get Tam to the US on the Fiance Program. That gives us 3 months to get married. This paperwork/approval could take 4 - 6 months. Based on what my Vietnamese friends tell me, this is the best approach. If I "legally" married her in Viet Nam, the Vietnamese and US governments were going to require a ton of paperwork and it could take over a year to get her to the US.

Later
Jerry

AN INTERESTING FOOTNOTE FROM JERRY

While I was in graduate school in 1970, Tuyet wrote me a letter and I wrote her several letters...but I never heard back from her. I told her that I could not come back to get her until I got out of graduate school and got a job. I asked her why she never wrote me back. I figured that she didn't want to wait and that she had decided to forget me. What had really happened was as follows:

* The address that I sent my letters to was her sister's house.
* Her sister's, husband's sister was also living at the same house.
* Vietnamese girls who had American boyfriends were considered "basically cheap".
* Because of this.....her sister's sister-in-law was hiding my letters as soon as they reached their house.
* Tuyet did not know about the letters until 1971 after she had gotten married. She thought that I had simply forgotten about her.
* Her sister's sister-in-law was dying, and she said that she wanted to talk to Tuyet before she died. Tuyet had no idea as to why she wanted to talk to her.   While crying, she told Tuyet about the letters, and then she gave her the letters. She told her why she had done it and told her that she was very sorry.
* Tuyet said that she was very angry but since she was already married, there was nothing that she could do. She said that it did make her feel better to find out that I had not forgotten about her.

UPDATE 2/19/2006

The Rest of the Story:

 On Dec 3, 2004, after 35 years, I brought Tuyet back to the USA, and we were married in a small family (USA) ceremony on Dec 26, 2004. We are now working to build a new house for each of our 7 children in Vietnam. Moving them out of their mud hooches into a house more like the one that I built for their mother. To-date, we have built 2 houses and we are presently working on number 3. We also plan to have house #4 finished before the end of 2006. This will leave us with 3 more to build. Hopefully we can complete the last house in early 2008.  

& and Jerry and Tuyet lived happily ever after.

Email Jerry
mailto:jerry.white@amd.com

Click button to see

Next