To The Daily Sun,
Sunday, July 20, was the 45th anniversary of humankind's landing on the moon. Everyone, it seems, remembers his or her whereabouts. Some of us sat glued to the family TV. Some of us were at movie houses or other gathering places to do public patriotism. Some of us were unborn. Some of us were unaware—it was the '60s, after all.
It was a great moment for national pride and an almost planet wide acclimation of American superiority in all things avant-garde. Science gave way to adventurism. Damn! The world really was round, and space was just a bigger ocean.
I was already on another planet and lost in time when Neal and Buzz strolled the alien orb. Rolled in a poncho, I was lying on a rice-paddy dike in a drizzly, 100-degree twilight. Thumb-sized mosquitoes assaulted, but bug dope kept their stingers at bay. Four guys kept vigil while the rest of us tried to sleep. We were winning hearts and minds sleeping on the family crop. In the morning, we would all pee on it. A few would defecate.
I had an earphone stuffed in listening to Armed Forces Radio. The broadcasters were ecstatic. Euphoria overwhelmed objectivity. It was no longer news. It was nursery-school xenophobia.
I grew bored and switched to Radio China. As far as I knew, it and Radio Hanoi were the only other stations broadcasting English to Greater Chu Lai. It was no use listening to the Hanoi station. Its message was always the same: "You're gonna die tonight, and even your mother hates you."
I caught it just right. The world news summary was about to begin, but first a word of wisdom from the chairman: "Plans without goals are roads without destinations. Now, the headlines: Workers in Qinghai Providence completed the something-something dam on the Yangtze River today."
Oh! A dam on a major river in a remote province was more important than a first step off the mother world. Perhaps I misunderstood. These were the top national stories. Nope. Headline two was a caricature of communism in the Soviet Union. (In the eyes of 1969 China, the USSR could do nothing right. Yet, here we were fighting the great monolith.) I listened for an hour or so, but heard no mention of Americans on the moon.
Back at Armed Forces Radio, jubilation continued until I fell asleep hoping to awake in the 20th century. It was a vain hope. While Neal and Buzz meandered, sunlight crept into Chu Lai. I rolled off my perch into the shallows: Another damn day in prehistory.
We set out looking for rocket launchers. If we found a few, they would be the only sign an industrial revolution had ensued 200 years earlier. Within the hour, someone shot at us from the jungles abutting the rice farm. Although finding rocket launchers was our job description, being shot at was our purpose. It was how higher echelons pinpointed Viet Cong positions.
It was horribly repetitious. We walk the dikes toward jungle. Some guy in black pajamas leans out and opens fire. We drop into the shallow bogs where rice thrives and call for airstrikes. A few minutes later, the United States Air Force — usually two or three bombers — shows up and wreaks havoc on pajama guy's position. The sound splits our eardrums. Trees and jungle parts fly over our heads and land a few feet behind us in the paddies. Wave after wave of that war's shock and awe unfold. (Hell hath made its presence known.)
When it was over, the jungle was wasteland. Jungle junk littered the rice paddy. We stood up. Pajama guy rose from the smoldering debris and started shooting at us again.
We had a choice: Confront a lone sniper who was likely more lure than threat with a web of tunnels and subterranean friends in waiting or endure more Air Force mayhem.
We turned around and sought an alternative exit from the bog. I could only hope Neal and Buzz encounter no angry vacuum-breathers in the world they invaded.