Last night I came across a thrift store book I’d never gotten around to reading. One of those ‘last resort’ books set aside again and again. A backup for a time when I would be desperate for anything besides the labels on sardine cans.
But as I thumbed through it I was abruptly captured. When Heaven and Earth Changed Places: A Vietnamese Woman’s Journey from War to Peace, by Le Ly Hayslip.
Here’s a woman born in 1949 in a Vietcong controlled village near Danang where her family’s spent the previous generations fighting, first the French, then the Japanese, then the French again. As a small child she watches relatives and neighbors in her village raped and slaughtered by French mercenaries. Then: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Ly_Hayslip
“Hayslip was born in Ky La, now Xa Hao Qui, a small town in central Vietnam just south of Da Nang. She was the sixth and youngest child born to farmers. American helicopters landed in her village when she was 12 years old. At the age of 14, she endured torture in a South Vietnamese government prison for “revolutionary sympathies”. After being released, she had fallen under suspicion of being a government spy, and was sentenced to death but instead raped by two Viet Cong soldiers.
“She fled to Saigon, where she and her mother worked as housekeepers for a wealthy Vietnamese family, but this position ended after Hayslip’s affair with her employer and subsequent pregnancy. Hayslip and her mother fled to Da Nang. During this time, Hayslip supported both her mother and an infant son, Hung (whom she would later rename Jimmy), while unmarried and working in the black market, as an occasional drug courier and, once, as a prostitute.
“She worked for a short period of time as a nurse assistant in a Da Nang hospital and began dating Americans. She had several disastrous, heartbreaking affairs before meeting and marrying an American civilian contractor named Ed Munro in 1969. Although he was more than twice her age, she had another son with him, Thomas. The following year Hayslip moved to San Diego, California, to join him, and briefly supported her family as a homemaker. In 1973, he died of emphysema, leaving Le Ly a widow at age 24.
“In 1974 she married Dennis Hayslip. Her second marriage, however, was not a happy one. Dennis was a heavy drinker, clinically depressed and full of rage. Her third and youngest son, Alan, was fathered by Dennis and born on her 26th birthday. The couple filed for divorce in 1982 after Dennis committed domestic violence. Shortly thereafter, he was found dead in a parked van outside a school building. He had established a trust fund, however, that left his wife with some money, and he had insurance that paid off the mortgage of the house.”
So here’s a woman, a real, no-shit Vietcong, tortured by the South Vietnamese, suspected of being a traitor by the Vietcong and sentenced to death, raped and escaped. Married a US civilian and became a US citizen.
Probably a person couldn’t be more caught-in-between from birth than she was. Surrounded by hundreds, thousands of other peasants caught in-between. Trying to dodge the steamrollers of forces they didn’t understand, South Vietnamese and US rifles pointed at them daytimes, Vietcong rifles pointed at them nights.
Yep, this lady is one of the people the guys with Vietnam Veteran caps walking around mining for praise and ‘Thank you,” spent their tours in Vietnam trying to kill.
Damned book ought to be required reading for anyone buying a SUPPORT OUR TROOPS sticker. Because at a foundation level, SUPPORT OUR TROOPS isn’t about the troops. It’s about people who are being defined as ‘the enemy’ those troops are going to do everything in their power to ruin the lives of.
People in US government who couldn’t locate the place on the map defining one side as ‘the enemy’ and the other side as ‘friends’.
Grandkid: Granpaw, what did you do in the Vietnam War?
Old Vet: I helped Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon kill a lot of people who didn’t need killing, helped destroy a country that didn’t need destroying, helped get a lot of GIs killed and maimed in the process. And I’m damned proud I did.
Grandkid: Oh wow! Thank you Grandpaw!