I was a child in the 1960s in the US during the Vietnam (American) War. I was 10 in 1968. My only knowledge of the war was bloody battles shown on the 6 O’Clock news. Dinner time. We would eat dinner and watch bloody news reports. If you were my age in 1968 and lived in Vietnam, how was your life?

NOTE: THE RESPONSES ARE TAKEN FROM THREE DIFFERENT SOURCES AS LISTED BELOW…

Response by:  Lê Hoàng Trần, BSc Automotive Engineering, HAN University of Applied Sciences (2019)

Tran’s response is not edited and is shown as it appeared in this story.

I am afraid that you are not being specific enough. In 1968, Vietnam was still being (illegally, in my eyes at least) divided into 2 states/regions over the 17th Parallel (which, as luck has it, almost coincides with a major river). The northern region was communist-aligned while the southern are very anti-communist (and anti-unify, now come to think of it).

This is a photo of the said river looking from the North. The bridge is called “Hiền Lương”, the river is “Bến Hải” and the text in the bottom left is “Long live President Ho [Chi Minh]”. I’m not sure what date this picture is, but…

So, where you lived in 1968 in Vietnam (North vs South) can give you different answer. Throw in certain places (major cities, cities, town or countryside) and even the date, your life may have to face some uncertainties, including a terrible mark at school (say 4/10 for Math – you will be punished severely) or a bomb (say 1000kg) dropping directly into your class room.

You read that right. If you are living in the northern region in 1968, regardless of where you live precisely, there is a risk of being bombed.

That is the straw hats in order to protect students from bomb fragments. But they are not 10-ish, more like 12~13, so…

The look like 10 for me. What do you think?

And in order to “not die”, the children (the older, at least), would have to assist in digging bomb bunkers and trenches.

In addition, I also recall seeing a black-and-white photo of a kid standing behind a desk in the classroom, the problem is that he is standing OVER a trench in that photo.

In short: If you are a kid living in the northern region, you would have to evacuate to the countryside [if you are living in the cities] and assist the adults in building safety structures like that. Or risk being blown apart.

Or you evacuate and still got blown apart.


Moving to the southern region, things are more… polarized. If your family is rich and dandy, then it is fine.

However, if your family lives in the countryside, then tough luck. One of the following, or even all of them, can happen to you:

  • Free-fire zone: Moving things = Things being shot
  • “Strategic hamlet”: Your family is “kindly” asked to move, usually at gun point, and “kindly” asked to build your new home (practically a well-equipped prisoner camp)
  • S.Korean. Just say that they earn their reputation in the hard way

Of course, if your family supports the NLF/VC [or simply asking for unity, even if in spirit only], then your village may be bombed to crap and point #1 and #2 above are applied. The ARVN may (or will) detain your family just to see if they know anything about the NLF/VC cells or hide-outs.

And I’ll spare you the details on how ARVN do that precisely. It is war.

On the other hand, if your family actively support the Sai Gon regime (snitching on possible NLF/VC sympathies, selling/trading weapons and supplies to the US Armed forces and that jazz) and really hate the unification (even if the only reason is that your family will lose the easy life), there is a very small risk that you are put on the NLF’s radar. And if your family also have high-ranking officers of the ARVN, then they may try to assassinate those members, risking leaving you with a trauma.  In short: If your family has money and support the SG regime, then it is fine for you. Anything less than that can put your family at risk

This question / answer was originally posted in “Quora” a digital magazine, June, 2017.

***

The following was written in the VVA December, 2014 issue by KEN WILLIAMSON:

photo: KEN WILLIAMSONOne of the tragedies of war is its impact on children. Loss of family, friends, and sometimes loss of limbs are some of the emotional and physical hardships that children experience in a war zone. Having grown up in a middle-class neighborhood in the United States, I had no first-hand knowledge of such tragedies.

That changed when I went to Vietnam in 1969 as an Army photographer. My first assignment was with the 815th Engineers in Pleiku. My primary job was to document engineer construction projects associated with building and paving Highways 14 and 19.

However, I also provided photographs of newsworthy events to USECAV (U.S. Army Engineer Construction Agency Vietnam) headquarters in Long Binh. One of my first assignments was to travel with a Civic Action Team to a Catholic mission and orphanage to document the installation of an electric generator that was being donated to the church.

The morning of the trip was hot and muggy with the threat of monsoon rains. The drive to the mission took about forty-five minutes. We passed Bien Ho Lake near Engineer Hill and turned off on a dirt road that took us through rice paddies and past a huge tea plantation.

As we approached the mission and orphanage, I noticed a large wooden gate. Peering through its weathered boards was a young girl with an ink drawing on the back of her hand and forearm. Off to one side was a well-maintained vegetable garden tended by an elderly Vietnamese man.

photo: KEN WILLIAMSONOne of the nuns greeted us and invited us in for refreshments. As we walked up to the solid concrete convent, I noticed that the downspouts used to divert the water from the roof into a rain barrel had been made from soda cans. One of the nuns was cranking up a bucket of water from a nearby well.

The children I met and photographed that day touched me deeply. While I don’t know their names, their faces are etched into my memory. Their circumstances were heartbreaking. While I am sure they received the best care possible, I noticed their dirty and torn clothes and their solemn faces. Like many military units throughout South Vietnam, the 815th adopted the orphanage and helped provide food, clothing, and gifts.

Some unconfirmed reports say that the number of orphans in Vietnam in 1969 may have exceeded 200,000. Their parents had either been killed in the war or had abandoned their children due to their families’ own poverty. The compassion shown by our troops toward the children of Vietnam was overwhelming. No wonder we found the label “baby killers” offensive.

***

The following statements are taken from an article published in “The Guardian” in 2012 by Ngoc Nguyen Thanh:

This from Thé who was only eight: “I was at school when the Americans came to give us medicine and gifts,” he says. “They were always nice, very generous. Life at that time was difficult – I was in Binh Long, the hotspot of the war, and there were bombs and gunfire every day. My mother, father and uncle were all killed because of the Viet Cong, but I lived amid the war and knew nothing else.”

Some of the children remember surviving off the scraps of the American troops. “We’d go down to the base where the Americans threw out their rubbish and pick up the leftovers – eggs, cheese, ham. If we asked for food, they’d give us candy,” reminisces Tuàn. When communist troops chased them out of their village, Tuàn’s mother was shot in the leg and his sister became lost – they had to go back to find her. “We were always running away from the Viet Cong. When the war ended, we had to ask for mercy from them, had to ask them for land to live and work on. It’s hard to get on with life when you’re on the losing side.”

For most of the children in the photos, any prospect of education was over once they were forced out of their homes. Thanh’s father, a soldier in the South Vietnamese army, was sent to prison in 1975 by the incoming communist government, forcing the children out to work in the field. Other children, like Minh, went to live in a crowded refugee camp.


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