This entry is personal. I never honestly thought I would ever come back to this place, nor did I every think I would WANT to come back to this place, for any reason. But the demons I have carried around in my fabric for the last 40 years, have always dictated, you must return someday, and today was the day. I not only had to return for my own sake, but also return to say a final, and respectful farewell to so many friend's and foe alike, it's difficult to describe.
When we finally arrived after a 2+ hours ride from Hoi An, just on the outskirts of Chu Lai, Mr. Anh announced, we're almost there. The anticipation, the dread, the possibility I may not even remember what it looked like were now a reality.
When we arrived, we observed a fortified military gate, weathered, pot marked by obvious signs of rusty decay, and neglect over the year's. In the center was a lone military guard assigned to protect a piece of history, from what? Beyond the gate, a vast expanse of sandy embankments, goats roaming the area to control the weeds, and scattered palm tree's sprouting up like those same weed's.
There was a sign, clearly posted, "NO PHOTOS", but Brian, sitting in the front seat, crouching down, periodically popped up when the guards view of the car was obstructed, clicked away.
Mr. Anh spoke with the guard briefly as he made determined head gestures shaking NO, NO, NO. When Mr. Anh pointed to the car with a last ditched request, the guard exited the shack to an adjoining shack, and made a phone call. When he finally returned he stated something to Mr. Anh, at which time Mr. Anh waved to us in the car to quickly come, come quickly!
By that time, my only hope was to touch the gate for a moment and briefly reflect and I did, just give me a moment, please, (alone), but to come all this way was somewhat anticlimactic under the present circumstances, I was being watched by a group of friends' and one previous foe, I needed more, a personal ritual I had carefully planned when I realized I would indeed have the opportunity. But it didn't look like I was going to get the opportunity, a final toast to those fallen and eventually forgotten, the burial of a photo of myself taken prior to a mission on Landing Zone West in 1969 (LZ West),
a mountain top forward fire support base in the Heip Duc Valley.
When we left the gated area, we drove a few hundred yards, where a group of men were sitting in the shade, Mr. Anh spoke to them briefly, a few hand gestures were exchanged, and we were off.
We turned right onto a road parallel to the complex proper, where we found nothing but emptiness, and scattered burms of sand and shreds of old asphalt, perviously covered with corrugated steel to hold the landing helicopters, transporting troops to and from theaters of operation, suddenly it dawned on me, I've been here before. The feeling was overwhelming, melt down! Couldn't hold it, couldn't control it. I needed a moment alone, and the guys were gracious enough to oblige.
I pulled out a small bottle of cognac from my backpack and a glass I had purchased for the occasion, poured 2 fingers, had a moment of silence with my thought's and brief memories, and christened the spot. Poured another 2 fingers and downed it, with emotion's pouring out of every pour of my body.
My final and most important moment was the burial of the glass, and my picture in a shallow hole in the sand, I'd finally fulfilled the return.
I had planned to include a few photo's on this blog, about which one's and from where, but in the end, decided that this moment was too important in my life to share, I think I will keep these memories within.
Finally, I'm at peace.