Thursday, November 25, 2010

Visit to General Giap's office

HANOI – In Hanoi, it already is Thanksgiving Day. Hanoi is 14 hours earlier than Roswell, N.M., my hometown.

Today Ken Fritz and I were interviewed on the Voice of Vietnam radio program about our return to this land. Both of us were helicopter pilots during the Vietnam War. Ken was stationed at Chu Lai in central Vietnam; I was stationed at Bien Hoa, not far from Saigon.

This is my third trip back to Vietnam since I left just after the Tet Offensive in February 1968. It is Ken's first trip back since the war.
The Citadel.

After the radio interview, Ken and I had a Thanksgiving lunch of spaghetti, toasted bread and beer at the Red, White & Blue Cafe on Hang Vai Street in the Hoan Kiem District. We had met at the cafe for the radio interview. Owner Thu Lien also works for the Voice of Vietnam radio.

Tomorrow, Dinh Ngoc Truc will pick us up at our hotel at 8:30 a.m. and we'll go the Military Museum on Dien Bien Phu Boulevard to be interviewed on television. The TV producer sat in on our radio interview today and liked our responses. The TV crew also will take footage of Ken, Truc and me looking over displays at the museum.
Map used by Gen. Giap and his staff
in Operation Ho Chi Minh in 1975.

On Wednesday, Truc took us the the Citadel, which was built in the 15th century, then later became a French fortress. During the Vietnam War – called the American War by the Vietnamese – Vietnam's military commander, Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, developed his war plans.

A guard unlocked Gen. Giap's wartime office for us. We were allowed full access to his office, the office of his chief of staff, and the meeting room between, where the Politburo met during the war. On the walls were maps of the final campaign – dubbed the Ho Chi Minh Campaign – in which South Vietnam was defeated in 1975.
Ken posed in front of a map, pointing to the site where his helicopter was shot down and he safely led his crew through the jungle one night in 1969 to a Special Forces camp.

Truc pointed to his path from Vung Tau to Saigon as a Viet Cong soldier in 1975.

Jack Swickard standing behind Gen.
Giap's desk inside the Citadel.
I pointed to the site of the former Special Forces camp at Cau Song Be (Chi Linh), where Tom Baca and our helicopter crews staged from the rescue more than 100 South Vietnamese soldiers and 1 U.S. Special Forces NCO in May 1967.

After the visit, Truc returned to his office in Hanoi's Old Quarter. Ken and I rode with him in a taxi. We then spent several hours shopping for gifts.

We later went to a bookstore near our hotel. I bought a book about the Ho Chi Minh Trail and one entitled "Operations in The U.S. Resistance War," by the Ministry of National Defense, Vietnam Institute of Military History.

I wish all of you a Happy Thanksgiving.

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