Sitting in the back of the jeep afforded me a breeze that helped with the thick moist heat of Saigon. The air was always heavy there and it made the hot temperatures just that much more intolerable. I had the back seat to myself and sat in the middle so that the air rushing past each side of the jeep blasted me. I understood why dogs liked to stick their heads out the windows of moving cars. I suspect if it was long enough, my tongue would be lolling out of one or the other side of my mouth. Even better, I was holding an ice cold can of Seven Up, the condensation dribbling down my hand and chilling it. Any other time it would have been uncomfortable but in this heat, anything cool was a blessing.
We’d just been downtown to drop off an officer for a meeting at one of the MACV offices. The Military Assistance Command, Vietnam was responsible for the logistics of the war, well, conflict, as we were continually corrected. We weren’t at war, we were resolving a conflict. Things had just gone a bit beyond parlimentary procedures and points were being made with bullets instead of statesmanship. Anyway, we were dispatched as a driver and two guards.
Our driver took the long way back to our company area. We weren’t on any real schedule and so it was decided that a little sightseeing wouldn’t hurt. My M-16 lay against the seat, barrel pointing aloft. The guy riding shotgun had his laying across his lap. We weren’t expecting any trouble, not so close to the city where American presence was huge. We only had to fret the occasional mortar attack where insurgents would pop off two or three rounds and then beat feet before GIs would descend on them like angry wasps. Zipping along the roadway was safe enough.
The closer we got to the multiple compounds of various units, the number of people on the side of the road increased. The traffic was picking up as well. A big truck came trundling down the road toward us on the opposite side of the street. But the truck was big and the road was small and our driver moved closer to the shoulder to make way. I heard a thwack noise and immediately started prairie dogging to evaluate any threat. Looking behind us, I saw a woman wearing the typical apron like long dress holding the side of her head and staggering. I looked forward and saw that the side mirror of the jeep, which sat on a long arm, had been knocked back parallel to the side of the jeep and the glass of the mirror was spider webbed. The driver kept up his pace.
“Holy crap, man!” said the guy sitting shotgun. “I think you hit that broad with the mirror.” The driver didn’t reply, he just kept driving. Shotgun used his foot to shove the mirror back out to is former position, looked at the driver and shrugged. A few minutes later we pulled into our compound and onto the parking pad where our vehicles parked. We all piled out and the driver looked at the two of us.
“Nothing happened. Neither of you know anything about anything. We took that officer to his meeting and we came back. We saw no one and we talked to no one. You guys get it?” Shotgun started to speak up when the driver crossed his arms across his chest and tapped his fingers on the butt of the .45 caliber automatic sheathed in a shoulder holster.
I stayed quiet but Shotgun said “Sure, man. Sure.” We each looked at one another for a second and then moved off separately. I kept thinking about the lady I knew we hit and wondered if she was okay. I told myself she was alright, after all she was still standing and it’s not like I saw blood or anything. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
The following day I was called into the CO’s office. When I got there, the driver and Shotgun we already there. The company First Sergeant told us to take seats and we sat down on a row of steel chairs along the wall. The First Sergeant got to it. “We have a report that one of our jeeps did a hit and run on a citizen yesterday. Tell me how it happened.”
“Jeez, Top, nothing happened. What’s this about?” said the driver. He sounded confused.
“As if you didn’t know. Luckily that woman wasn’t hurt badly, but bad enough. She got a big gash on her ear and a pretty big bump on the head. Two of the people with her got the jeep’s number and the description of the three soldiers in the jeep.”
“Ah, man, Top. This is a case of some gook trying to scam some cash from the rich Americans. You know how it goes. We didn’t hit anybody.” The First Sergeant stood erect and looked us all over and then dismissed us. Driver took off somewhere and me and Shotgun walked along together.
“We should do something.” I said. Shotgun agreed. We discussed pooling our money and trying to get it to the woman but between us we had about ten bucks. Not enough. We also worried about the driver. If he was psycho enough to hit that lady and had no compunctions about it, we could easily become victims of friendly fire. As we stood there talking, the company First Sergeant walked up to us.
“You two look thick as thieves.” he said. “What’s the topic of discussion?”
“We were just talking about that woman. Thinking maybe we could pool some money and…”
“Forget it.” said Top. “Nothing happened. You see, if something did happen then there would have to be reports. Reports that the newspapers would get hold of. There would be lots of bad press and people, innocent or guilty would take career hits …worse, maybe go to jail. This is obviously a case of a false report. It’ll be a subject of discussion in the woman’s family and circle of friends and then it will be over. The medics took care of her wound just like they would any civilian who asked for medical help. We did our part, we investigated and the subject is closed, you get me?”
We said we did and split off to our duties. It was clear that command didn’t want to deal with this and I wondered if we’d have gotten the same lecture if we spoke up. I suspect so. A couple of weeks later though, the driver got transferred to the forward area. I don’t know if that was punishment or just the breaks. I was next to get transferred, I got sent up to the rigger unit in Nha Trang. That was hardly a punishment posting. Nha Trang is a beautiful tropical paradise with white sands and turquoise waters. Short duty days too. Eventually I was transferred to an infantry battalion in the forward area, 2nd of the 327th, Headquarters platoon where I finished the remaining six months of my tour of duty.
Through the years though, I thought about that woman and how politics blurs the lines of right and wrong, and how war does the same thing. I expect that lady is fine, but I wonder if she thinks of the guys in the jeep as much as one of those guys in the jeep does.