It was May, evening, 1969. I and Ted—a radio guy attached to my unit—had, as I remember it, reconfigured a single sideband receiver so that we could tune Hanoi Hannah in. We had to do it on the sly; the lifers frowned on extra-curricular activity. We listened to her, mainly because she had the coolest music. I don't hear it much anymore, but when I do hear In-A-Gadda-Da-Vita by Iron Butterfly, I am reminded of the taste and smell of the nights of Vietnam, and of Hannah, who played it.
The swelter of the humidity, the longing to have just one quick shower with something besides river water, the anxiety of when the next 122 rocket was going to come. That and Hannah was night in Vietnam.
She died early this month, this faceless woman who broadcast to us troops in Vietnam. There are two persons I remember from the Vietnam war. One I listened to while I was there, and that was Hannah, which wasn't her real name, but was what we called her.
I hold no negative sentiments about her. I suppose I'm being disloyal to the rest of the soldiers who did, and still do. She had a job to do. I had a job to do. We seem to have forgiven North Vietnam for what they did, and they seem to have forgiven us. Therefore why not Hannah. I guess that's how I feel.
In-A-Gadda-Da-Vita was 17 minutes long, and Armed Forces Vietnam radio—our radio—wouldn't play it all. (Or maybe any of it. I'm not sure anymore.) But Hannah did. And we tuned in.
In between the music, Hannah talked to us. She had a nice voice, with just enough of a French --Vietnamese accent to make her throaty delivery pleasantly exotic. Here's an excerpt of what she had to say:
"It seems to me most of you are poorly informed about the going of the war, to say nothing about a correct explanation of your presence over here," she said in a 1967 broadcast. "Nothing is more confused than to be ordered into a war, to die or to be maimed for life, without the faintest idea what's going on. Isn't it clear that the warmakers are gambling with your lives while pocketing huge profits?"
That was her, word for word. Did it upset me? Anyone who knows anything about that war shouldn't be upset by that statement. It was pretty much true, and by 1969, there were very few soldiers who thought much differently. We who were there had only to look around. We saw rice paddies, and third-world huts and poverty. Worth fighting for? Really?
Oh sure. The domino effect. Stop communism. Blah blah blah. If these people being communist had anything to do with the price of corn in Iowa, I sure never saw it. And of course there were the rumors of large rubber tree plantations that were necessary to putting tires on American cars. But I learned before I even went over there that these plantations had been left behind by scientists that had figured out how to make rubber out of oil. So that didn't make any sense. None of it did. Still doesn't.
"You are a long, long way from Fort Riley now. Like I said you are new here and really don't know what LBJ and company have let you in for by sending you across the Pacific to invade Vietnam, because the local stooges and the more than sixty thousand American troops who came before you couldn't stop the South Vietnam liberation forces. But you will learn the hard way. Ask some of the guys that have been around a while. This isn't Washington Street in Junction City. You can get killed here. Get out while you are still alive and before it's too late".
That's pretty much exactly how we felt.
Oh, and the other person I mentioned? That would be Jane Fonda. Well, heck. Give her a break. She couldn't act. She had to do something besides float around in simulated zero gravity in her birthday suit as Barbarella. And Hanoi thought she was really something. I thought that was perhaps the greatest prank we played on Hanoi.
Hannah. Sticky sweaty nights. All overlaid with the constant nagging feeling that you weren't going to make it home.
But I did.