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MIGHTY CULTURE

After 45 years, Green Beret faces his past in Vietnam — part ten

Any time in life that you do something, you tend to forget the bad and remember the good. I remembered the good. I wasn't sure I wanted to remember the bad.

For a long time, I talked to a bunch of my peers in the Special Forces community that had made the trip back to Vietnam. They wanted to go back and see what it, see what it was like for whatever reason. Everybody has a personal reason that they want to do it.

I never found a reason because I've always had this whole thing in my mind, when I have a traumatic situation – I've got a box I put it in my head and I just put it away. After a while, I decided that it was probably time to take some of those back out, and so I said yes going back to Vietnam.

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MIGHTY CULTURE

After 45 years, Green Beret faces his past in Vietnam — part nine

Sapa Valley, Northern Vietnam

The final stop in Rich's journey through Vietnam. Sapa is a frontier township along the Chinese border, home to the northern highlanders and hundreds of miles of trails. It's the perfect place to field test MACV-1 prototypes.

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MIGHTY CULTURE
Richard Rice

After 45 years, Green Beret faces his past in Vietnam — part eight

The trips I've made back to Vietnam with Jason, Paul and Andy brought back many memories — some good and some not so good — but one gemstone has been our times at the Caravelle Hotel in Saigon.

I was introduced to the Caravelle and its rooftop bar during my first tour in Vietnam. While traveling to Saigon for debriefings of some of the operations I participated in a good friend took me to the Caravelle's rooftop bar for beers and to enjoy the scenery. As a young soldier I didn't feel like I was making history, but felt like I was among those who were. The Caravelle was full of foreign diplomats, senior military personnel, journalists and some who I suspected (right or wrong) were intelligence agents attempting to gather information. It was a heady time for a young sergeant who was a bit full of himself.

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MIGHTY CULTURE
Richard Rice

After 45 years, Green Beret faces his past in Vietnam — part seven

Da Lat, Vietnam
April, 2017

My "one night in Da Lat" was a pleasant reprieve from the war and normal combat operations that we had been conducting. I'd heard of the city, but never believed all of the stories I'd heard. Stories about the beautiful architecture, the green and lush gardens, cool weather, and about the graceful people — certainly a Shangri-La such as this couldn't exist in the Vietnam I'd come to know. But low and behold, it did.

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MIGHTY CULTURE
Richard Rice

After 45 years, Green Beret faces his past in Vietnam — part six

Dak Lak Montagnard Museum, Buon Ma Thuot
April 2017

When I attended Special Forces training at Fort Bragg, NC I learned that one of the primary tenants was something called Foreign Internal Defense (FID). What this was based on was learning how to work with people indigenous to the area we were operating in, helping them gain the ability to defend themselves and in turn gaining their trust and getting them to help us with their knowledge of the operational area.

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MIGHTY CULTURE
Richard Rice

After 45 years, Green Beret faces his past in Vietnam — part five

As we made our way from Saigon to Buon Ma Thuot (or as I knew it, Ban Me Thuot) the low lying farm lands turned into gently rolling foothills covered with coffee fields being tended by local farmers living along the edges, just as the rubber plantations had been during my time before.

Night began to fall and we ran into a series of storms at the edge of the Central Highlands – my mind flipped and I remembered how darkness and rain actually became a good thing as they masked movement and noise and helped us deceive the enemy as to where we were and what we were doing.

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MIGHTY HISTORY
Richard Rice

After 45 years, Green Beret faces his past in Vietnam — part four

The Central Highlands of Vietnam

Leaving the sights and sounds of modern day Saigon, we began our journey to the Central Highlands of Vietnam. As we left the city that I had come to feel comfortable in and approached the outlying rural areas, I felt a heightened sense of awareness.

Even though I knew this was 2017 and the war was far behind, my head was on a swivel and my eyes were constantly searching for threats. Intellectually, I understood that the jungles and hills of Vietnam held no threats, but my emotional side equally felt the need to be aware.

The pungent smells of the countryside – logs and vegetation burning to clear land, outdoor cooking alongside the road, and unrestricted vehicle exhaust were the same smells I had encountered years before and brought back a familiar feeling and sense of nostalgia. The remembered rubber plantations from my previous years in Vietnam have given way to rolling fields of coffee, but the same farmers living at the edges of the fields are the same people, just doing what needs to be done to provide for their families.

The brown soil of the areas around Saigon turned to red clay as we moved into the plateaus of the Central Highlands and the lowland farmers begin to turn in to descendants of the Montagnard tribes that I had worked with years ago.

Passing through Gia Nghia I think of an old friend, Martha Raye – comedienne, nurse, Army Reserve Officer and teammate of many Green Berets.

Stopping at a truck stop for a lunch of Pho, Jason's favorite dish, I can look west across a valley and in the distance can see what I'm pretty sure is Cambodia. I spent a lot of time there and it feels surreal to see it in such a serene setting.

Driving into the lowering night and through a heavy rain storm, I feel my gut tightening as we approach the city of Buon Ma Thuot. It's almost a physical action to push down the emotions that are starting to well up inside me as we get closer and closer to the city.

To be continued in Buon Ma Thuot

Follow Richard Rice's 10-part journey:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

This article originally appeared on GORUCK. Follow @GORUCK on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE
Richard Rice

After 45 years, Green Beret faces his past in Vietnam — part three

The one thing that seems to be a constant in Saigon is the delicious smell of food cooking – from the street vendors, open air cafes, coffee shops, and bakeries – it was that way in the late 60's and remains so today. The first time I came to the city I remember walking to the headquarters with an officer I'd served with in Ban Me Thuot and stopping at a small coffee shop for a coffee and croissant – both were delicious and the whole event seemed surreal given what was going on in the rest of the country at the time.

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MIGHTY CULTURE
Richard Rice

After 45 years, Green Beret faces his past in Vietnam - part two

On our first trip to Saigon we unsuccessfully searched for a villa, called House 10, that had been used during the war. It was initially a Central Intelligence Agency property that was used to support clandestine activities in Vietnam and other locations in Southeast Asia. Over a period of time, it morphed into something else and began to be used as an operations and logistics center for MACV-SOG activities.

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