20 August, 1954
Although this is being written on Friday,
it is not anticipated that we will be anywhere where the mail can go out
until about Tuesday when we are due to arrive in Saigon.
I had better use single space. We have
been laying off here in a small bay 30 miles south of the main seaport
of the Tonkin Red River DeIta area for the past four days. There have
been several other ships in and out already, but have not loaded, but
The Staff of the Commander Transport
Force 90 has given the collateral duty of intrepeter to me. So each day
around ten in the morning I am taken to the ship in this bay which is
due to load the Refugees aboard. There I report to the captain and stand
with him on the bridge. The refugees are put aboard a large craft called
a LSM which is about 100 yds long, with a large well deck, and the mouth
of it opens up. Mal will explain it. They were used during the war to
land machinery on the beaches. There are about 700 refugees crammed on
the tank deck of this LSM. It comes down the red river from Haiphong to
where we are, and pulls along side and ties to the aide of the APA or
the AKA wloading. My job is to intrepret all the commands that the captain
gives to the captain of the French ship as she pulls along side. You can
just shout from one bridge to the other, or with a megaphone. I do the
yelling. Also after along side just as the connecting gangway is putt
down I go over to the ISM and have the control people taken off first.
These are the priests, nuns, the Vietnamese officers who handle the mobs,
and who all speak French also. There is usually one Vietnamese doctor
aboard too. These people are distrubuted around the ship to help with
the triage of all of the refugees. Then they start up. Milling thousands
in total. Miserable, filthy lame, blind, crippled, and war wounded come
aboard. I am sure you have seen the newsreels. Eighty percent are very
old men and women, and the others are infants, all swollen with malnutrition
and starvation, and literary dozens without limbs. They have a few paltry
bags on sticks, called yokes, with two bags on each end. This is the only
things they have left in the may of possessions, and we try to
You can see that they keep me busy
but I couldn't be more content. I am getting to see and learn a great
deal of this whole thing. And many ideas from the other ships I can bring
back and have put into effect on mine.
Daily I am learning to think less
and less of the french people. Certainly they are not anything of the
warrior race are they?
I have been to two high level conferences
with the French in Hanoi and in Tourane, as the translator for the captains
of these various vessels. Again good training to see how they are handled.
There are concentric circles of people, the highest being in the middle,
then their advisors being circled behind them, and then the secretaries
behind them, and on and on. The intepretors are in the ventral circle.
I counted siven captains and an admiral of the american navy, plus one
Air Force colonel, and a dozen french and Vietnamese officials in the
conferance the other day. The French are suppose to furnish intepretors,
but they usually flub the dub.
Also the French are suppose to handle
the delousing on the beach, prior to these people being put into the IBM,
They have not done this either. The french said they would supply intepretors
on each vessel for the complete operation, round trips. They have, but
they are VietNamese officers who can intepret from Vietnamien to french,,
but no further. Big help!
Our ship is due to load tomorrow
with about 1500. Only if you saw this vessel could you understand how
crammed that will be, though it be less than we had anticipated putting
aboard. They will live deep in the holds of the ship, their food and water
being passed down on dumb waters, enormous "garbage can" like
arrangements with rice, chopped fish and corn beef, and the like. We intend
to feed to them, two large meals per day, but must keep them off of our
decks. Even with the delousing that we do with then as they come up the
ladder, they are ladened with disease. Dysentery and worms, tuberculosis
and the like. So we do not want them in contact with our living quarters
or housing, or food. And not with our sailors either. Although it is much
like animals in a cage that we have to treat them, they don't seem to
mind, because they do realize that we are carrying them from slavery to
a free world.
It is about a two and a half day run
to Saigon, where we will pull all the way up the 76 mile river to the
city. There is even a chance that we will have liberty there. Certainly
I shall get ample oportunity to go ashore. The only other French speaking
officer in the area is down there now, and he is due up here tomorrow
to take over my job, and I'1l do his ht the other end.
I am benifiting a great deal from
this. Not all medicine, but epidemiology, rodent control, and especially
human nature and human suffering. All the pictures and the descriptions
in the world cannot give you the true account, the stench, the fatigue,
the swollen bellies, the nausea, the filth, and the magot ridden wounds
that these people have...
Don't plan too much on it, but I may be home at the end of this operation which will be some time in November. I intend to ask for a leave, and am sure it will be given to me, but it must be done so that I do not place my return to Yokosuka in jeeopody. This ship is due to return then and I may ride it back. Just keep it in the back of your head. So for now I'11 close, and this will probably go out at Saigon.
Love to all there,
One of the doctors is a commander,
and an expert in the logistics department. He can get all the quipment
etc. The other is a good man in epidemiology. And I am the one who can
get things done. So it should make a pretty good team.
But that is only a part of the job.
We will also make an exhaustive study and cataloguing of the diseases
of importance, the rodents, roaches, mosquitoes etc in this area of the
world, Northern Indo China ( that small part not yet Red for 200 days
) and Loas and perhaps Thailand. When I mentioned to the Admiral that
it seemed stupid to be putting all of our attention to this part of the
world when within 200 days it would all be Communist by Geneva arrangement
he replied with a "we never know where Americans will be fighting
next, and if it be here, we want to know every thing there is to know
about the diseases to expect, so we can be forearmed." That makes
I don't know much more about it. We
will live in a house in Haiphong that has been taken over by the French.
It was not given to me as an order, but rather, an offer. But when the
admiral of the outfit makes Lt JG an "offer" it behooves him
to accept it. It will be very interesting to learn about this phase of
medicine. And many other facets are good. But just as many bad ones. I
don't particularly cherish the idea of running through the red infested
jungles with a butterfly net, however we shall have adequate protection
Loas in the Himalyas ( spelling )
should be most interesting. Malcolm, we will have our own heliocopter
assigned to us. Just about 15 men and a private helicopter. And then butterfly
nets, rat traps, roach powders, and mosquito netting ......
I am to make the last run on the Montague,
and then on the 7th I will Be detached, and flown back to Haiphong to
join the rest of the team. So I am now to be on a second team, only not
surgical, this one is Preventative Medicine and Epidemology.
I suggest you continue to write to
USNH Navy 3923, for they will be notified of the change, and will forward
the mail. I am still permently assigned to Yokosuka, and this will just
be another TAD for several months. Probably only 90 days, but that is
just a supposition.
From the tome of this letter I hope you can see how pleased I am. I received mothers letters and am glad to hear that she is somewhat better, but there still seems to be room for more improvement, especially in the right side. Keep in touch with the doctors, and don't give up the air conditioning machine mother.
Will close off now, Love to all .... This letter will be mailed tomorrow at Tourane ....