Where are they today?

The young Vietnamese men were lined up on the beach looking nervous. It’s like they They were awaiting a machine gun to pop out of the sand and mow them down. We had to issue the command numerous times: strip to you skivvies and go play in the water. They lightened up after we tossed a few balls into the water and a boogie board or two. “Go on, you dip stick. Go play!”

Still looking paranoid, they moved into the water but kept a wary eye on the shoreline. It was a test though, we wanted to find out which ones could swim and therefore be sent to fill out a ranger-like company made up of all Vietnamese guys. We ended up with a few on the beach, choking up salt water from beautiful Nha Trang bay. We let them play for the rest of the afternoon, but loaded them onto the ‘special’ truck at the end of the day.

The remainder were loaded on the really cool bus and were hauled off to get training in Vietnam and Laos that would probably kill them.   but they showed up and threw themselves into the training with failure not an option. The ranger guys we’d never seen again.

The thing is though, that some of them would really need water skills to sneak up on enemy locations at times, executing a fast movement attack on the enemy and having surprise effectively multiply their numbers by the quantity of enemy they caught off guard. After watching the Vietnamese soldiers in the water, I wondered how much of a surprise they’d be paddling across a river coughing up water and shouting in terror as their equipment loaded them down.

But many of the South Vietnamese soldiers were hard core fighters. Sure, some were not, having family and friendship ties to the north. Of special note were the Vietnamese Air Force; the men who supplied close air support to troops in contact with the enemy on the ground. Their wingtips cutting off the tops of trees, they were frighteningly accurate and seemed to have no fear. They flew when American policy grounded US fast movers. High explosive, white phospherous, and napalm would rain from their wings wherever the Forward Air Controllers told them to put it.

The infantry was almost as ferocious, digging in like ticks on the back of some NVA camp and literally fighting to the last man. Some of the things I saw were mesmerizingly awesome. I would think back to working with newly minted troops, embedded with us as a facet of their basic training and think of the names we called them, making fun of their ineptitude and inexperience. And now I was watching them fight with the tenacity of a psychotic pit bull and piling up enemy casualties like so much cordwood.  Never judge a book by its cover, I concluded as my time at was finally expired.

I wonder how many of those dog paddlers made it through the war and what they might be doing now. I look around me at my fellow Vietnam vets and see how normal many of their lives turned out, and how it is for those in WWII and Korea. War always leaves its fighters changed in ways that aren’t particularly obvious, but war takes a toll even if it leaves no visible scars. I know that when the NVA swept into north Saigon and we beat feat out of the south, they stood up anyone in a South Vietnamese uniform and executed them. And executed many sympathizers who were proven (or not) to be sympathetic to democracy. So I have good reason to think about those people, and about the guys we sent swimming in Nha Trang Bay while we played Beach Boys on tape recorders, and where they might be now.











July 24th is Pioneer Day.  This day is set aside as a time to honor the Pioneers who traveled across the united states to Utah so that they could have religious freedom as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (mormons).  Many of my ancestors were Pioneers.  They joined the church in England and went through many hardships in order to settle in the west.
   I have often thought about the sacrifices they demonstrated and the courage they must have had.  My great, great Grandfather was Samuel Lane Crook from Apperly, Gloucestershire,England.  His family listened to the message of the missionaries and were baptized.  His sister Elizabeth Crook Panting  and Samuel were able to buy passage on the ship “Thorton” to come to America.  I have always been fascinated by their stories.  
     Here is a small account of Elizabeth’s story.
   Elizabeth Crook Panting was born 7 May 1855.  She married  Frederick Panting. He was considered the “town drunk.”  When Elizabeth joined the church he was quite upset.  Elizabeth secretly saved up enough money to buy tickets for her and her children to leave for America.
   As they boarded a train to begin their journey. Fredrick came looking for them. Elizabeth was scared of what he would do to them.  She prayed and asked God for help.  A thought came to her to exchange bonnets with the woman sitting next to her and ask another family to watch her children.  As her husband walked the aisles of the train before it began to move, he looked back and forth at the faces looking for his wife. He had a gun only half way hidden in his pocket.  He stared Elizabeth in the face and then walked on by unable to recognize her. The first of many miracles in her journey.

   After crossing the Atlantic Ocean and traveling further across their land of promise by steamboat and train, Elizabeth, Christopher (5), and Jane (1) began their handcart trek in Iowa City, Iowa.

Elizabeth was privileged to experience another miracle during her journey to Zion. She told the story of this miracle to her daughter, Jane, repeatedly throughout her life. As Jane (Panting Bell) grew older she told this story to her children and grandchildren:
As the Willie Company traveled along the plains, they had many trials which slowed them down considerably. Little Jane rode in the handcart and was very ill. Her mother didn’t dare to stop to take care of her as she pulled her handcart along. She would call to her son, Christopher, to ask if Jane was dead yet. When they reached Ft. Laramie, the expected provisions were not waiting, and they had to continue on with reduced food rations. On October 14, after another reduction was made in rations, Elizabeth went out to gather some buffalo chips to make a small fire to warm what little food was left for her children. She had on a long, full apron and had almost filled it with the buffalo chips when a man came up to her suddenly (and seemingly out of nowhere) and inquired as to the circumstances of the company. Elizabeth told the man that most of them were starving and were in great need. He asked her to follow him, saying perhaps he could help a little. Shaking the buffalo chips from her apron, Elizabeth followed the man. They went over a small hill out of sight of the camp, where he led her to a cave where a lot of dried buffalo meat was hanging. Elizabeth told her granddaughter, June Cranney Monson, that there were shelves of books on one side of the cave that looked like the Book of Mormon gold plates. She said they looked as if they were sealed. The man loaded as much meat in Elizabeth’s apron as she could carry and told her to share with the other people. Then he led her out of the cave and to the top of a small hill and pointed out the camp below, cautioning her not to get lost. As Elizabeth turned back to the man to thank him after she had looked where he had pointed to the camp, he had disappeared. She looked for the cave and could not find any trace of it, but she still had the dried meat. She went back to camp and divided the meat out to the ones that were in the most need, no doubt saving lives.
  The Martin handcart company were stranded in a place called Martin’s Cove, Wyoming. Many of the members never made it that far. the rest of the company were taken on to Salt Lake City. My great,great aunt eventually lived in Logan, Utah where she married and had nine more children.  
  Elizabeth has been a great example in my life. I have thought of her courage, faith, and strength many times in the last few years.  

  My own challenges seem small compared to what she faced.  As she demonstrated continuous faith on her journey, she was blessed. 
  I am so grateful to have such a strong example in my life.  Thank you Aunt Elizabeth.  Miracles do happen. God does bless our lives. He does know our needs.