Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? A North Vietnamese Army Colonel.

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? A North Vietnamese Army Colonel.

Me with Colonel Phan Duc Cuong, Formerly of the North Vienamese Army and besieger of the CIA’s secret air base in Laos.

I often complain that I can’t find easy access to North Vietnamese or Viet Cong War Veterans who I can talk to about their own wartime experiences, so I can include them on this site, but short of becoming fluent in Vietnamese and trying to work around the labyrinthine channels of Vietnam’s administrative and political machinery, maybe I just have to accept it.

However, on a recent BACK-related research trip through Vietnam, in the middle of nowhere in the Central Highlands of Kontum Province, my guide drove me up a dirt road, excitedly telling me we were going to eat at a great goat restaurant.

A typical scene in the Central Highlands of Vietnam  - rice growing on any flat land between mountains.

A typical scene in the Central Highlands of Vietnam – rice growing on any flat land between mountains.

I wasn’t really up for it, but he was so excited I acquiesced with good grace, knowing these things often take on a life of their own, as indeed this one did.

We had only just sat down to order when a guy tapped me on the shoulder. He was in full military uniform and he had medals on his chest and a military helmet on.

Long Tieng Air Base from the air. You get a feeling for how remote it was from this photo.

Long Tieng – the CIA’s secret Air Base in Laos, from the air. You get a feeling for how remote it was from this photo – and how easy to besiege. (leecroissant.com)

Through our guide, Colonel Phan Duc Cuong introduced himself and we got talking. He said he was a 40-year Veteran of the Vietnamese Army, formerly the North Vietnamese Army, who’d fought against the US and the South Vietnamese during the war.

He’d been part of a covert squad that had carried out surveillance on the CIA’s secret air base at Long Tieng in Laos, and who’d then participated in its assault.

Given I know people who were inside the base when it was attacked, I found this a very unusual conversation.

"Go on. Another one won't kill you!"

“Go on. Another one won’t kill you!” Colonel Phan Duc Cuong drinks me under the table.

He’d also fought in Xieng Khuong in Laos (the Plain of Jars) and in Buon Ma Thuot in Vietnam and at nearby Charlie Hill and Dak To, where we’d just visited, among other bitterly-fought-over places. He said when they assaulted Charlie Hill his squad of NVA attackers had no food and they had to eat grass to keep themselves alive for days. For them it was win or die. He recalled it was a bitter battle for both sides.

He had certainly seen a lot of action and still had some hardware to prove it.

He had an American bullet still stuck in his hand (he made me feel it, under his skin) and a huge dent in his skull caused by shrapnel from a B-52 attack when he was fighting in Laos. I felt that too.

North Vietnamese Army supplies discovered at Xieng Khuong in Laos during the war.

North Vietnamese Army supplies discovered at Xieng Khuong in Laos during the war.

I really liked him, and respected what this friendly, kindly old guy had been through during the war. Given the mortality rate of North Vietnamese soldiers in battles against US forces backed by planes – and especially B-52s – it was a miracle he’d survived the war at all.

I drank a few glasses of Ginseng rice wine toasts with him, we took some photos, one of which he went into the nearest town to have developed off his phone and returned to give it to me, writing a note in Vietnamese on the back of it. We then had more Ginseng rice wine and I began to feel pissed (‘up’, not ‘off’, for US readers), although he was still going strong.

The booze in question - the restaurant's stock of Ginseng rice wine, on tap.

The booze in question – the restaurant’s stock of Ginseng rice wine, on tap.

As I waved him off from the restaurant, he weaved on his motorbike through the deep dry-season ruts on the red dirt road within eyesight of Charlie Hill.

I hoped, given he’d survived that battle and the entire war, that I wouldn’t be responsible for prematurely calling time on his action-packed life with a few too many rice wine toasts. Although he seemed to be doing just fine as he disappeared in a cloud of dust, leaving just us and the goats once more, in the middle of nowhere.

For a modern-day take on the Vietnam War, POWs/MIAs and Adventure Backpackers trekking into the war-ravaged jungles of Asia, see: http://peteralanlloyd.com/back-part-2/backpackers-meet-the-vietnam-war-back-screenplay-finally-finished/

For POWs left behind in Laos, see also:

© Peter Alan Lloyd

BACK Parts 1 and 2:

Reviews: Amazon.co.uk: Customer Reviews 

UK: Amazon.co.uk: BACK Parts 1 and 2 

US: Amazon: Back Parts 1 and 2

Smashwords: Back Parts 1 and 2

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/peter.lloyd.94064?fref=ts

Website: www.peteralanlloyd.com

Twitter: @PeterAlanLloyd

Front cover of BACK Part 1.

Front cover of BACK Part 1.

Front cover of BACK Part 2.

Front cover of BACK Part 2.

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