SPEECH GIVEN BY EMILY
Thinking about coming to this reunion,
I began to ponder the differences between visiting the firebases and visiting
the ships – the difference between visiting the Army and visiting the Navy.
The 6 Donut Dollies in Dong Tam flew out in pairs 5 days a week. The time of our departure depended on the schedule of the men we were visiting. Often, the Army guys were leaving on a mission early, so we flew out really early so we could spend a little time with them before they left.
If we were visiting the ships, we got
to sleep in. The Navy guys wanted
to finish their REAL eggs, bacon, fresh fruit, coffee and orange juice, swab the
decks clean and get showered and shaved in preparation for our arrival.
The added sleep before going to the
ships made us feel more rested, gave us a little longer to perfect our make-up
and look our best when we arrived on the ships.
(It sure would have been nice to have REAL eggs once in awhile.)
When visiting the firebases, it seemed
not to matter what time we arrived. Somehow
they knew exactly when we would land and planned an odiferous ceremony welcoming
us to their bases. It was called,
“burning of the shit.” No
matter what firebase, no matter what time we landed, we were always welcomed by
the huge clouds of black, smelly smoke emanating from the 55 gallon drums.
I quickly learned that eating breakfast was pointless – given the small
amount of time it would actually remain in my stomach.
(I’ve wondered, but been afraid to
ask, what the Navy did with their waste. I probably don't want to know.)
That smell, that early in the morning,
stayed in my nose the rest of the day and that was a good thing because (and I
say this with great kindness) you Army guys showered less often than the Donut
Dollies. Especially when you
returned from the field, the odor could have wiped out an NVA battalion. I mean, at that point, you guys didn’t even need weapons.
Even the leeches had fled your bodies hours earlier.
But, again, this was a good thing
because we knew that your own stench would make us smell like roses despite our
profuse sweating which attracted all that dirt blown up by the chopper when we
took off and landed. Make-up really
didn’t matter when we were visiting the firebases because the camouflage of
dirt covered sweat combined with the sunburn of the Delta sun gave us the
appearance of having glowing tans (at least from a distance).
When flying to either place, combing
our hair was optional since, the instant the rotor blades reached full torque,
our hair looked like a vacation resort for rats.
No hairspray in the world could outlast the whirling, rushing wind of the
rotors. And no fair ride could give
such a thrill.
We knew the night before where we would
be going the next day. If we were
going to the ships, we laid out our cleanest uniform – knowing it would be
just as clean when we returned. When
going to the firebases, the uniform stained with peter prime was fine.
It would be covered by dust or mud before many people saw us anyway.
As those of you who are familiar with
my speech at the last reunion know, I preferred wearing culottes rather than a
dress. It was especially more lady
like when climbing the ladders on the ships.
Additionally, there is really no way of getting on a helicopter in a lady
like manner. That first step
exposes everything. But to your
credit, none of you guys ever complained. If
you got on the chopper first, you simply sat down, held out your hand and
smiled. You were such gentlemen.
Now to lunch.
I was absolutely astounded by my first lunch aboard ship.
It was like a cafeteria, a line of various foods.
I got a tray and started down the line.
“Steak or chicken for you today?”
My mind wandered.
I have a choice????? Then I
went with the sure thing.
In Nam, I would always choose chicken
over steak. The truth is, I never
saw a cow in Nam, so I was always suspicious that any steak served had to do
with friendly fire and a water buffalo.
you like mashed or baked potatoes?”
And these were REAL potatoes!!! Someone had actually PEELED these potatoes.
There was no telltale box of powdered flakes.
These were GENUINE.
There were assorted vegetables, fresh
fruit, choice of milk, soda or water. Frankly,
it occurred to me to become a stowaway – not get on the chopper to go back to
Dong Tam. You Navy guys had REALLY
Occasionally they flew out hot chow in
those metal containers. When that
happened, the Donut Dollies would serve the food because you guys seemed to
think it tasted better if we put it on your tray and gave you a smile.
It was always a good feeling to serve a hot meal at the firebase.
It was a momentary one on one contact with you guys who came through the
line. We would smile, make casual
conversation, ……“how you
doing?” …………..“where ya
from? ……. “would you like some powdered potatoes?” Always the smile, always scooping the food gently on your trays with a
touch of love.
But these many years later, I would
like to give you a behind the scenes look at what was really going on. As I mentioned earlier, I rarely ate breakfast, so by the
time we started serving lunch, I was growing weak with hunger.
As all of us experienced, when the sun was high in the Delta, the
sweltering heat and humidity sucked the life right out of you.
Standing over those heated containers of ………… heaven only knows
what …………... I was getting light headed.
So, as I am smiling, making small talk and gently putting food on your
trays, inside I was praying to all that was holy,
“Please Lord, don’t let me pass
out, fall head first into whatever is in this container and drown.
If it is my time, please make my death look, at least noble.
Please don’t let the headlines in the “Stars & Stripes” read:
Drowns in Container of Shit on a Shingle While Serving the Troops.”
We went to Vietnam from all over the
United States. We were of different
races with different backgrounds, different religions and we had different
reasons for going to Vietnam.
We came home and went to different
states, different circumstances and went our separate ways, making different
lives for ourselves.
Yet, despite all those differences, the
fact that we all served in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam gives us a bond that
cannot be broken by the differences of our coming and going.
It is the being there that bonds us.
It is the reason we are all here tonight.
No matter where you were in the Delta,
you could not escape the heat, the monsoon rains, the dust and mud, the incoming
rounds. We were all, at one time,
the FNG. We learned quickly to distinguish incoming from outgoing.
We can still hear the sound of the rotors.
Words can never explain to someone who
was not there what it was like to serve in Nam.
But here, these many years later, together at this reunion, our
experiences are shared with an understanding that surpasses words.
We understand the reality of war and the bond it forges.
We have our own secrete language:
I am honored to stand here tonight in a
room full of heroes.
Every one of you here tonight is a
hero. No matter where you came from
or what your job was in Nam, when America called, you answered. You put your life on the line for your country.
In most of Vietnam, but especially in the Delta, there was no “rear,”
no “safe places.” In the Delta,
everyone was a potential target.
I know that some of you believe that
you are not heroes. Maybe you
can’t think of an incident which allowed you to earn the title of “hero.”
And yet, you may have saved lives without even knowing it.
Maybe one of the new guys watched you out in the field, followed your
example and, because of you, did not do something that got him wounded or
killed. Maybe you said a few kind words that you don’t even
remember that made a guy feel good about himself and gave him the courage to
save someone’s life. Maybe the
mere presence of your boat prevented
For many of you, the war did not end
when your freedom bird touched down on American soil.
Sadly, you were not welcomed home as the heroes you are.
But, because of what you endured when you returned, you have made life
better for those who followed you to war.
It is because of what you endured when you returned from Vietnam, that the soldiers now returning from war are welcomed as heroes. You taught America that, no matter the politics of the war, the troops are serving for the American people. It is because of you that people stand in airports and shake the hands of men and women in uniform saying, “welcome home” and “thanks for your service to our country.” It is a great legacy that you have left and I know the price you paid to leave that legacy to this generation.
It is because of how the families of
those killed in Vietnam were treated that there is an outpouring of sympathy and
caring for the families of those who are lost in the current wars. Some of you have ridden your motorcycles to funerals to allow
those families to feel the respect they deserve for their sacrifice.
And it is because you still care about
those families whose loved ones did not come home, that you are still helping to
heal the wounds of war which occurred so long ago.
It is why you welcome the members of our Gold Star families as members of
your Vietnam family. We all
understand what was lost in Vietnam and we all feel the bond that can never be
A guy who found my website, James
(Snake) Stone and I have exchanged several emails.
He was a member of Div111 of the MRF in Dong Tam.
He intended to come to this reunion for only 1 day because he had prior
But last week I received another email
from him. It said:
I had planned to stop by on the 30th
for the day but I'll have to continue my trip further north instead of stopping
in to meet everyone for the 1st time in 37 years. I have been communicating with
Albert. I have yet to meet him. So please forgive me if I feel a little un-easy.
I don't know what to expect. I know all will be OK. We all have changed over the
I began writing a reply to Jim’s
email and found myself expressing things that are meant for all of you here
tonight. So I will share them with
You are correct that we have all changed in the 30++ years since we were in Nam. Our exteriors are not as buff or perky as they once were – darn gravity. Those of us who still have hair are getting to the point that the color of our hair is all the same. I prefer to think of it as really light blonde.
But when we
look at each other, we don’t see the physical ravages of time.
We see the kind heart, the generous spirit, the caring soul that is the
essence of our being. We see
friends who have shared the time in our life that changed us forever and we see
the love in their eyes.
We are not
as strong as we were back then. I
don’t think there is even one guy here who could now hump 5 kliks with a full
pack in the Delta heat. Yet, our
strength of character has not diminished. It
has grown even stronger with the passing of years, strengthened by those
difficult times when we felt we could no longer go on, could no longer stand the
pain, the sadness, the hurt, the loss, the guilt.
And we have gained the gift of compassion.
organs don’t function as well as they did back then.
Most of us know the true blessing of a flush toilet complete with paper.
But, though our hearts may not beat as steadily as they once did, the
depth of our love for each other has grown and blossomed and produced the fruit
of friendship which we gladly share with each other. There is nothing sweeter.
may not be as sharp as they use to be, but we have gained the wisdom of years,
the knowledge taught by life’s lessons. We
have learned to laugh at ourselves and don’t mind if others join in. We tease each other mercilessly, as only those who share a
great trust can. Together we laugh
until we cry and cry until we laugh. We
have learned that tears are not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of
memories may not be as sharp as they use to be, but we have each other and when
we are together, the memories come flooding back and it is as if we have never
been apart. And it is a blessing to
get together and make new memories.
Best of all,
the Brotherhood has grown stronger with each passing year.
It was forged so many years ago in a place far away called the Mekong
Delta, where life and death hung in the balance and was measured in inches.
It was built on a solid foundation of trust, assembled brick by brick
with the courage of those who have faced the horrors of war side by side.
Its’ steel girders have been tempered by the baptism of fire.
And through the years, its’ interior has become gloriously beautiful as
the gentle, caring souls welcome each other into the camaraderie which has
bonded forever our family of Vietnam Vets.
So I say to
you, do not feel uneasy about meeting your brothers and sisters of war.
You are a cherished member of our family and we’ve been waiting to
welcome you home. Please, come in.
All of you here tonight deserve to
stand tall and feel proud of your service.
Welcome home and thank you for your
service to our country.