Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Doc Smith and Hoa

In 1967 Glenn Smith was a Corpsman working with Marine CAP Unit Charlie 2-2-4 in the small village of Dai Loc, just south of Da Dang. A CAP unit (Combined Action Program)consisted of a small group of Marines assigned to live in a village and help pacify and protect the people in the area. As a result, they often got to know the local people quite well. While Glenn spent most of his time on the Marine base located on Hill 65 just outside of Dai Loc, he would often go down to the village to help the villagers and the Marines.

Hoa was a young boy of about ten when Doc Smith arrived in his village. Though only a young boy, Hoa idolized the Marines and hung out with them every day. He polished their boots, cleaned their weapons, and often slept in the bunkers with them. He considered himself a Marine. Today, Hoa's guesthouse near Marble Mountain has become almost a legend to the backpackers that pass through the Da Nang area. His English and his "take it easy" attitude have made him loved and respected by most who have gotten to know him. He has become a very dear friend of mine.

One cannot spend much time around Hoa without hearing of Charlie 2-2-4 and the days of the war. He often speaks of the Marines who lived in his village and became such a big part of his life. I decided one day to do a little research on C-2-2-4 and came across an email address for Glenn Smith. When I asked Glenn if he knew or remembered a boy named Hoa, Glenn replied immediately that he did indeed remember him. He even had photographs of the two of them together.This initial contact resulted in Glenn coming back to Vietnam, something he had often considered but never acted upon. Hoa and Glenn got back together after forty three years.

The death of Marine Sgt. Flynn was an event that both Hoa and Glenn remembered very well. Glenn was the Corpsman who retrieved Flynn's body after he was shot while trying to cross the river. Hoa thought of Sgt. Flynn as almost a father figure. Before coming back to Vietnam, Glenn had some dogtags made for Sgt. Flynn and wanted to put them in the river close to where he was killed. We went back to the scene and had to walk across a muddy flood plain to get to the river. Hoa probably doesn't weigh a hundred pounds and skirted over the mud like a waterbug. Glenn, on the other hand, weighs more than two hundred pounds and sunk into the sucking mud up to his knees. As Glenn was trying to retrieve his shoe that had been pulled off by the muck, Hoa turned to him and said, "Glenn, walk lightly."

Monday, January 10, 2011


It's hard to believe that another year has begun. The month of December flew by us.We had some friends, Al and Carol Chesson,come over for their second tour over here. They were on the first trip I led with Anh as my guide over here in 2002. We tried to get a look at places they weren't able to see the first time. We tried to get back up into the DMZ again where Al and I served, but the rain was coming down in buckets. We spent the night in Khe Sanh but had to get out of there early in the morning to avoid becoming stuck by mudslides across Highway 9. 
We caught the train to Ninh Binh south of Hanoi and stayed for a few nights to go up the river on small boats. It's magnificent there. The landscape is similar to Ha Long Bay but on dry land.

Next, we headed west to a small village called Mai Chau where we did a 'homestay' in a stilted house. The bamboo forests were unbelievable and the village, though becoming a little touristy, was fun to wander around in

The night train took us up to the northern tip of Vietnam to visit the popular villages of Sapa and Bac Ha. Both of these areas are known for the colorful clothing worn by the local women. Sapa, with its incredible terracing and cool climate has made it a favorite of travelers for nearly a century.
 Each Sunday, the town of Bac Ha holds its Lover's Market where the local people for miles around put on their finest garments and gather for a time of socializing and romance.

After that, we went to Hanoi to pick up Glenn. Glenn served as a Corpsman and was on his first trip back to Vietnam since the war. We all loaded up in a van the next morning and headed off to Ha Long Bay. I don't know how many times I've seen the Bay but I am always in awe of it. To spend the night on a boat in Ha Long Bay is an experience that never gets old.