Friday, May 16, 2014

Vacation in Vietnam

"Vacation in Vietnam"    (watercolor by Jan Barry)

When I came home in 1963 from a war tour in Southeast Asia, one of the putdowns I encountered from more than one clueless bar-crawler was that it “must a been nice being on vacation” in what was dimly recalled as French Indochina. Some vacation.

In my latest delving into troublesome memories via art, I crafted a watercolor of a typical moment of “vacation” for soldiers in my unit, getting drunk in town and being ferried back to our base in a cyclo ridden by a hard-muscled guy, who moonlighted on the other side with the Viet Cong, for all we knew.

Usually, this ride was a scramble along the beach road in Nha Trang just before midnight curfew. Once in awhile, soldiers were rumored to hide out for the night with drinking companions and slip back to base at dawn—just as our war machinery was revving up.

Here’s a poem I wrote years ago about this sweet-and-sour concoction of fun and war:

Yuletide, Republic of Viet-Nam

The war is on holiday.
Soldiers in drunken disarray
Lounge under palms, singing
Old songs and carousing
Into the night until dawn...
When the bombers crank up
And yawning fliers line up
And the battle lines are redrawn.

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