Dot Weller at the Quaker Rehabilitation Center, Quang Ngai, Vietnam, Photo Credit: American Friends Service Committee
Acronyms and Terms
Dear Friends :
When I went to bed last night, sleep wouldn't come, I was as jumpy as a cat...
Several of us, perhaps exhibiting more courage (or curiosity) than good judgment went to the roof of Pixton Hall about 3 a.m...The Americans unleashed the terrifying "Puff the Magic Dragon" (DC3 that spews forth 5000 rounds of machine gun bullets per minute). It's a horrible, horrible weapon and just the hideous sound it makes as it belches forth solid streams of red tracers makes my blood run cold. As I watched it circle overhead last night, silhouetted against the low clouds in the light of the flares, flinging indiscriminate bolts of death earthward, I could vividly visualize the scene below.
Time exposure of the SC-47D gunship in battle near Pleiku, Vietnam Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Men, women, children and animals, caught like rats in a flood. No place to hide, no way to plead their case of innocence to the machine in the sky, no time to prepare for death. The beating the civilians are taking in this war is beyond adequate description.
Sitting behind the others on the roof I felt tears welling up and was shocked as I became aware of feelings foreign to my conscious self, which surfaced under the indescribable strain of watching man slaughter man en masse. The cold, mechanical, compassionless way that monster circled around and around and around, ruthlessly pursuing an unseen "enemy," stabbing viciously earthward again and again, probing, searching, killing and maiming all in its path. The pilot and the gunners, American boys who could just as easily be my brothers or sons, “doing their job." In this particular instance, the NLF appears to have started the mayhem. They, too, had killed or injured their own share of their innocent "brothers" in the initial barrage. When the "Dragon" came down low on several occasions, he was, indeed, shot at. Twice, climbing streams of tracers from the ground almost connected. We came down from the roof about 4:30 a.m. Things were quieter but far from over.
Injured child from Viet Cong attack on Dak Son Village, Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
At 7 this morning I managed to get BBC on the shortwave and learned that Quang Ngai was not alone in her agonies. Some 30 cities in the country had been attacked simultaneously: Saigon, Hue, Da Nang, Quang Tri and so on down the line.
After the newscast I dressed and went downstairs as it was just getting light. Others of the team were already outside with the same idea: to go to the hospital, check for damage at the Quaker Rehabilitation Center (QRC) to see if the emergency room needed help. QRC was fine but the Emergency Room was filled. I've seen all this before! Five times, ten times. It seems like a thousand times. I've seen too much, and heard too much and smelled too much, but yet each time is like the first time. Why can't I get used to it?! Each lifeless form, every scream of anguish, each blank stare of those who have suffered too much strikes pain in the pit of my stomach. My emotional strength is a sham. Are there really those who can look at a scene like this and not suffer with the people?
February 24, 1969
Last night was unexpectedly quiet. I slept some but it was fitful, and I think the rest of the team fared about the same. We were just too keyed up and tense. By the time I got up at 6:45 this morning, the quiet was ended. The sky was rapidly filling with planes and already a mortar (ARVN) was beginning to bark about a thousand yards from the house.
We went to work not knowing if we would be doing our regular work or helping to pick up more human pieces but when we got there the emergency area was empty. Dr. Khai had only had a couple of hours sleep so the casualties must have kept dribbling in all night long. QRC was in good shape but filthy! The constant concussions of the explosions had knocked down months worth of dust and gecko, bat and bird dung!
I had rather expected that we would have very few patients coming over for treatment today, since many of them had gone home for Tet and I was sure that they couldn't get back. But far from it, Mr. Ry and I were swamped with patients… the wards were filled with new amputees, most of which won't be ready to start the prosthetic process for several weeks but there were some who were ready to start so start we did amidst the din of a raging air assault against the NFL forces just south of us.
It's hard to describe what it's like to work in the midst of the roar of battle. The relentless noise was very unsettling and nerves were frayed. B52s were incessantly hitting an area maybe 20 miles south of here.
My guess is that since the NFL and NVA didn' t hit last night, they drew back their main force and this is most likely the group taking the heavy bombing today. Plus a "few" innocent people who always manage to plant their homes right in the middle of the front lines. All morning long, jets were screaming in at roof top level, flinging bombs and rockets at an NFL force just a mile or so behind the hospital. Bird dog planes circled around and around and around marking the enemy troop concentrations back there with smoke rockets. Helicopter gunships were raking the area with their guns. I'm sure the NFL are well dug in and not taking a lot of casualties but it will be a miracle if anything or anybody else survived.
It is close to 1 a.m. now, The fighting is so close in, it's next to impossible to classify shells as "incoming" or "outgoing." You're just as likely to get zapped by one as the other. Until just a few moments ago it has been a pretty noisy night. Puff was in the air again tonight with its obscene utterances of terror, B52s, jets and a11 sorts of unexplainable explosions, To the south, to the west and to the north.
I realize I haven't talked of anything but the military situation in this letter, but the thing that we are most happy about is that despite the extensive military action the patients are continuing to come to QRC for their, treatments, and we can keep working. As long as we can do the work we came here to do, there's no reason for us to even think about leaving.
Dot Weller teaches physical therapy students, Quang Ngai Vietnam, 1970 Photo Credit: Keith Brinton
The team… is in good shape. Nervous? Yes. But if we weren't, I'd say there would be some real cause for worry. I'd say my prevailing mood at the moment and for the last few days has been more one of sadness and depression over the tragic drama taking place before our eyes.
Tragedy for everyone involved. No one is going to win here. I can't help but wonder how many more times yet this is going to happen, how many more people are going to die, before something comes of the peace talks. And when it does, who then is going to have the power to bring the dead back to life, to restore the limbs and health of the maimed, to mend the breaks in family unity, to say nothing of this country's cohesiveness.
The United States of America hasn't got enough power or money in its golden lined pockets to restore what it has helped to destroy. I think history will make it very hard for America to live with "Vietnam."
February 25, 1969
We have survived another 24 hours, but a lot of Quang Ngai people didn't make it. And a lot more who are now clinging to life over at the hospital will not make it until morning. At the moment, like all other members of the team to varying degrees, I am exhausted, bitter and very upset. Small complaints compared to the hell we have seen passing in unending streams tonight. If only we could bring this horrifying scene of human devastation in its true dimensions home to the people who must know what it's like. The people in Paris, the people in Washington, Hanoi, Saigon.
The ones who are pulling the strings on this deadly puppet show. These puppets in the production are living, flesh and blood humans! Man's inhumanity to man has reached its climax in Vietnam and leaves me wondering how much worse it can get.