War Story Ubon 3 – Today
War is a terrible thing, so they say. It affects people in different ways. But in the end, it comes down to one simple fact. Either you live, or you die.
Some soldiers went to the Vietnam war, survived, and returned home. But they might just as well have been killed for all the good it did them. A lot returned home mental wrecks. They never recovered and it ruined their lives. Surviving and returning home did nothing for their lives. They were the walking dead. Many of them are still around today; still living hopeless lives with no meaning. It’s sad. It’s also very real.
I believe that you are what you think. Not what you believe, but what you think.
So, if you go to war, see people die, and then return home but you can’t forget what you saw, then you have a problem.
But if you return home and put it behind you, you can become a normal person again.
Sure, you can mourn the people you saw die in the war, but there’s no point in agonizing over how or why they died. They are dead. It’s better to get on with your own life and forget the horrors.
My advice? Don’t let your kids go to war unless your own country is under attack. One way or the other war will destroy them. There is no honor or glory in war. Everyone who goes always comes back changed. It’s how we handle the change that determines what the rest of our lives will be like. Some succeed. Some don’t. But none of us ever come back exactly the same as we went.
When I returned from Ubon, the US and Australia were in turmoil. Huge protests against the war had started. Even though I was still in the RAAF, I joined them. I had been there and seen what war could do. I also knew that this particular war was not being fought for any good reason. We were there for political reasons. I won’t go into all the ramifications of the political decisions, but it was obvious to me that we were really there for just two reasons.
We were there to stop the flood tide of Communism; or that’s what the politicians told us. In those days, the politicians were masters at whipping up the fear required to goad ordinary people into a war. It was easy. Trot out the Communist boogey man and away we went!
(These days the boogey man is the terrorist – same thing, different name – same use to the politicians.)
We were at war in Vietnam so that the Military / Industrial complex could profit from yet another war. They had seen how profitable the Second World War had been. And the Korean War. Huge fortunes were made back then. The MI complex needed more wars so that they could continue to manufacture over-priced war machines and sell them to their own government. That same government then whipped up a war frenzy and sent their young people off to a war to test and use those weapons.
It worked. The Vietnam war chewed up huge amounts of war materials and men.
I joined the protests. One demonstration had more than 50,000 people parading through Sydney. We were sprawled for miles, from King’s Cross, down William Street, and into the city. The pictures in the paper the next day showed a huge mass of people. Being there was a stirring feeling. We were all united in our opposition to that useless war.
Another time I went to a demonstration at a park off Oxford Street. It was dubbed a ‘be in’; a very trendy word back then. We were a bunch of hippies getting together to have some fun. But we were also there to protest against the war. I was wearing a poncho made from a blanket with a hole cut in the middle. And I was wearing a Bob Dylan hat, mainly to hide the fact that I was still in the military.
Someone snapped a picture that day and it made the full front page of the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper the next morning. My commanding officer was not pleased. He called me into his office and showed me the picture. I was confused at first until I realized he was showing a picture of me dancing with some hippie chick. He asked me what I was doing there.
“Dancing, sir.” I wasn’t going to give him anything.
There wasn’t anything he could do about it of course. So he just admonished me to stay away from events like that. Sure, sure sir, and three bags full sir.
I was just happy to be alive. I had survived my bit of war. Some of my friends didn’t; even some of the friends who were there at that big demonstration didn’t really come back. They had already become the walking dead.
So, how dangerous was it?
Someone organized a weekend bus trip up to Roi Et, a little town north of Ubon. I guess we were all feeling a little stir crazy. We were either cooped up on the base, or we could only frequent a few places in town that weren’t off-limits. The surrounding countryside was definitely off-limits.
The Thai Cong out there were just as dangerous as any Viet Cong. Some of them had set up a huge artillery piece they had got from somewhere. It was a few miles out of town, hidden away in the jungle. They hadn’t had a chance to shoot at us yet when one of the returning Phantom pilots spotted it. A sortie of planes went out and bombed it to bits.
So, yeah, it was dangerous to venture all the way up to Roi Et. But what the heck. We wanted a change of scenery.
We piled into a bus. No air-con, small seats, and seven security guards armed with semi-automatics. A couple were Australians, the rest were Thai military.
We drove off and within minutes of leaving Ubon city we were on a red dusty dirt road hemmed in by deep jungle. One good thing about war is that it discourages our depredations on mother nature. The Thai farmers were afraid to go farming too far from the city, so most of the land between the towns was untouched. The jungle grew wild and beautiful.
At one stage of the journey the bus slowed down and stopped. We all peered ahead to see why. A huge tiger was crossing the road. It stopped in the middle of the road to look at us, sniffed, and then strolled casually into the jungle.
At another rest stop on the road the boys were all lined up along the side of the bus taking a leak. A troop of monkeys swung chattering and screeching through the trees above us. They didn’t take the slightest bit of notice of us. But it’s probably just as well we were all peeing, or there might have been a couple of embarrassed boys with dark wet patches on their trousers.
I don’t remember how long it took us to arrive in Roi Et. The town police chief, a friendly chap, welcomed us to his town with a prepared speech in the hotel lobby. He told us that all the merchants had been told not to overcharge us. That was ok then. We could be confident on hearing that. He added that as long as we didn’t cause any problems we would have a good time.
Then he introduced us to the hotel manager, telling us he would be bringing girls around to our rooms and we were free to choose any we wanted to accompany us for our stay. Of course, we would have to pay the girls ourselves.
Don’t ever let any Thai try to tell you that prostitution started when the GI’s came to Thailand during the war. There we were in a little town miles from any GI presence and the police chief was procuring girls for us!
I was lucky enough to be in the first room the hotel manager visited with his bevy of beauties in tow, so I had first choice. Everyone ended up with a girl for the night. That kept most of us out of mischief in the town.
That evening, we all went to a beautiful restaurant on an island in the middle of a lake on the outskirts of town. We walked across a wooden bridge, a bit like those bridges you see on China plates. We sat out there dining on exquisite Thai food watching the sun go down as our girls hand fed us morsels and drinks. I remember there was a beautiful sunset that evening. The rest of the night was good too.
When I woke up the next morning my girl was gone. I guess she didn’t like my snoring. But that left me free to wander around Roi Et town. Took me all of five minutes. There wasn’t anything worth buying. It was just another small Thai town in the outback. None of the people I ran into spoke any English, so we all just smiled and gawked at each other. Of course, the young kids were there trying out their English on us.
“Hey Joe! Where you go?”
After lunch, we all piled back into the buses and headed back to Ubon. The trip back was uneventful. We were back at the war.
Another great part in this series. Roi Et is still a quiet town and while there is some farang influence, it is not nearly as great as in some other parts of the Isaan region.