Incident at Thanh Giang Dong Dao: Chapter 3 – The Girl

HEARING ROOM, SHERMAN HALL, FT. LEAVENWORTH, December 18, 1979

Hearing in the matter of the United States vs. Sergeant Martin Lebensraum, Day 2.

“The charges and specifications have been read. How do you plead to the first count, the first count being pre-meditated murder of unarmed civilians in or near the village of Thanh Giang Dong Dao, Quang-Tri Province Vietnam on or about April 17, 1972?”

Martin looked down. He hated this civilian attorney. Every contact with him had been unpleasant at best. He had refused a JAG, so now he was stuck.

“May it please the Court, Emmaeus Tennboim for the defense. My client pleads not guilty your honor.”

How do you plead to the second count, negligent dereliction of duty resulting in the death of unarmed civilians in or near the village of Thanh Giang Dong Dao, Quang-Tri Province Vietnam on or about April 17, 1972?

Martin still looked down. He shook his head as his attorney answered again.

“My client pleads not guilty your honor.”

“How do you plead to the third count? Failure to obey a lawful order of a superior officer for failing to report the situation in time to call off an airstrike in or near the village of Thanh Giang Dong Dao, Quang-Tri Province Vietnam on or about April 17, 1972?”

“My client pleads not guilty your honor. And further, we would like to challenge the jurisdiction of this court. My client is a member of the US Army Reserve Officer Training Corps and is not considered a commissioned officer in the Army of the United States. He cannot be subject to a military tribunal.”

“Overruled.”

“Please note my objection for the record, your honor.”

Martin was lead back to his cell. On the way out of the building, he was struck by the cold air, it seemed below 30, cold, but refreshing. A few local reporters were gathered outside. With hostages in Iran and the economy collapsing, this story was probably on page 10, he thought.

In the crowd was a young student, probably from KU, who held up a copy of the 1973 Life Magazine TM(r)(c) with a photograph of the girl on the cover. Martin looked away.

HOLDING CELL, USDB, December 19, 1979.

“Hey Blay, you got a visitor again.” Said the guard.

Martin was known as Blay. When his little sister was a toddler she couldn’t pronounce Lebensraum, so she called him Blay.

He looked up, it was the attorney again. Martin bristled. He sat on the bed again, knees pulled up looking up at the window.

“Why are you doing this? I didn’t want an attorney. I wanted to plead guilty. Everything they said is the truth. It’s my fault what happened. If I had done what my conscience told me to do when I should have done it, this wouldn’t have happened.”

The attorney became animated. He was talking with his hands like some campus rabble-rousing hippie. He made Martin think of Lenny Bruce or Bob Dylan or Leon Trotsky.

“Man you are deluded. Do you think you’re the straw that stirs the drink of the big war machine man? Do you have a desire to punish yourself? You were a 19 year old kid caught up in this thing man, it’s bigger than you and it needs to be exposed.”

“This is so boring. You assholes are all the same. All fighting for your hippie revolutionary bullshit, as if you have some kind of solution. I hate motherfuc*ers like you. Fuc*ing Eugen Levinés that have their big fight against the man and then let everyone else get slaughtered for your fuc*ing ideals. Fuc* you, you long-haired lawyer asshole. Fuc* you. Why can’t it just be my fault? If I had done my job it would not have happened.”

Martin paused and reflected for a long time, maybe 30 seconds of silence.

“I wasn’t a kid, I was an adult and I knew what I should have done so fuc* you. Go back to Harvard or Brandeis or whatever fuc*ing hebe school you went to you fuc*ing ass. My family are all hebes too. Six generations in the US Army and we all hate fuc*s like you.”

He paused again and looked silently at the window.

“Why can’t people ever just be at fault? Why is it always the fault of the government or someone else? I was wrong. I was at fault. Let me have my absolution. Fuc* off ‘Eugen’.”

“It’s bigger than you man, I can’t let you do that. If we can’t come together, you can always get another lawyer.”

“Oh, I trust you Eugen. I trust you perfectly. You are such an asshole, and the panel will hate you so much that you will get me convicted of Capital Murder and then I can go get shot like I deserve and you can write a book about man’s inhumanity to man and maybe even make a movie. No YOU are the perfect lawyer. You fuc*ing moron you fuc*ing cheesebag. All I have left is my hatred for you-you fuc*ing asshole. Fuc* you and die.”

“I am not going to come in here an be insulted every day, Martin.”

“Yes you are, you can’t help it. You don’t care about being insulted. You are too arrogant. You hate this country. The country whose United States Army pulled the burning bodies of our brothers out of the ovens at Dachau. How dare you. How dare you. The same Army, you shitbag. My Army. I’m willing to die for it. My fault. Not the Army’s fault. Not America’s fault. Fuc* you scumbag.”

Martin sat on the grey metal bed and stared up at the tiny barred window.

“You see Eugen, I’ve been watching you my whole life, or people like you. You are self-aggrandizers who want to be important. You think you are smarter than everyone else, especially us lowly peons who don’t end up in the scholar’s program at school or live in the twenty-room mansion because of some money your grandfather made. We who work for a living or join the military or who believe in America are somehow worthy of your contempt. You wanted to protest the war because a war seems epic and important. You want to knock us down so you can feel superior because you know inside you are nothing and no-one really respects you and never will. You know how people in the neighborhood look at the World War II Veterans. They were giants. They were real men, bold men who were willing to sacrifice-sacrifice for us. You hate them because they are better than you.”

“You’ve been brainwashed by the system…”

“Brainwashed? Because I stand by my beliefs? Because I choose not to listen to the gospel of the radical bearded weirdos? Right-I just need to be ‘educated’. System? Is that the system that liberated the concentration camps? I’m just wondering. Do this with your life Eugen: shave your scraggly-assed beard, go down to your local recruiter and join the JAG Corps so you can do something useful with your legal skills.”

“We aren’t getting much done, we need to talk about the case. We need a list of witnesses.”

“Well there was Chicken, but he’s dead, so he might not be of much help. Then there was the reporter. I don’t know his name. I forget what paper he was with, but if you can find a February 1973 Life Magazine you might check the credit. And there was the ARVN, Lieutenant Tranh. He should be easy to find, he was either re-educated, shot or he’s one of the boat people. And of course there was Charlie, Mr. Charles V. Cong. I am sure you can track him down and get him to come to the United States to testify cheerfully on my behalf. Then there’s the people in the village I killed.”

Martin stood up, now he was screaming his words.

“And of course, let’s get the young lady I disfigured for life because I couldn’t get a g*ddamned mike onto a g*ddamned radio! Hey, maybe we can blame the manufacturers of the Prick-77 then we can get Ralph Nader here too, we’ll call it ‘Unsafe at any Frequency’, the you can sue and win a million dollars.

“That was funny, Martin, but maybe not so funny after all. What did you call this radio?”

It’s an A/N P-R-C 77″ something like Army/Navy Personal Radio Communications Device blah, blah, blah.

“How can I get one?”

“Well just go over to Headquarters, 235th Rocket Artillery Signal Shop and I’m sure they will be glad to help you out. They love bearded-weirdos.”

“I can find the reporter. We can try to find the ARVN guy. The prosecution has the girl.”

Martin froze, then turned away from the window.

“What the f&ck?”

“They have the girl.”

“What?”

“She is a freshman at Kansas State.”

Martin turned back towards the window. He covered his mouth with both hands.

“Martin.”

He did not answer.

HO CHI MINH CITY, AUGUST 11, 1978

“Vanh Minh Yi, your support of your fellow citizens of Chinese origin is disturbing. These people are all disloyal to the revolution.”

“But we fought in the war, to liberate Vietnam. We are not traitors. My family has been in Vietnam for generations!”

“Shut up! You are a counter-revolutionary and a traitor! You will report for re-education!”

“But I am a patriot! I fought for the revolution! The revolution is global! It has no borders! Workers cannot be divided by nationality!”

Vanh was escorted from the tribunal. They threw him into a truck with the other mute, fated prisoners. The truck rode all day and all night north along the dusty coastal highway on its way to Hanoi. After a stop across the old DMZ, the truck stopped. They counted prisoners but one was not there. It was Vanh. He was gone.

CHIN LEE’S AUTHENTIC CHINESE RESTAURANT, LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA, November 5th 1978

“Vinnie, we need some more General Tsao’s baby, two orders, keep it coming!”

“Oh I got it man, I got it coming!”

He limped over to the giant wok. The work was good. He was anonymous in a new country. Nobody knew or cared who he was. He could serve up the General Tsao’s and he was just some coolie to the locals.

It dawned on him that everything he had lived for was a complete waste of time. He had fought for decades to liberate his country. From what? To what end? Was his country liberated? What was communism? Was it a Vietnamese philosophy or some bizarre European philosophy that had been sold as a bill of goods. Was his country better or worse? Was it even his country?

All that effort just to be viewed as a foreigner. Maybe he should have gone to France and just stayed there. No he was here with no family, no friends, no religion, no purpose and no principles. There had to be a point to everything. He handed over the chicken to Ramon Lamont Blaighe, his co-worker.

“It’s all good Vinnie, it’s all good. You come with me after work tonight little V, don’t be sitting around moping, man, you got to live a little, you know what I’m saying? You are always one sad-ass Asian brother. You make me sad every time I see your ass. You like my messed up uncle or some sh&t.”

Blaighe could say that same phrase and it meant twenty different things. “You know what I’m saying.” Vinnie repeated in his head over and over again.

“OK, OK Blaighe, I come with you. I come with you.”

After work, they walked down the street for block after block, traffic light after traffic light until they came to a little strip mall. They were greeted warmly at the door. He looked around. It was a collection of mostly dark-skinned people, some derelict bearded white people and no Asian people.

They had a cookout with salad, chicken, hamburgers. Everyone greeted him warmly. When the feast was done they all took a seat. Vinnie and Blaighe sat all the way in the back near the inner aisle.

A dark-skinned man in a robe picked up a microphone and started talking to the crowd.

“It is written in the bible, that God so loved the world, such that he gave his only begotten son, known to us as the Christ, such that whomsoever believeth in him, BELIEVETH IN HIM! Though he be a sinner! Should never perish, NEVER PERISH! but should have life everlasting.” These are the words of the Lord. And his son promised: “I will never forsake you. I will never forget you. I will never abandon you. And yes he died for you, but there is good news, HE IS RISEN!”

The crowd stood up and shouted Yes! Yes!

“Can I get a witness!”

Vinh listened and watched and then he saw the strangest thing. It was a Vietnamese girl. He didn’t see her before. She was dressed in a minister’s white robe and she had little round spectacles. She was young and beautiful, simple and elegant, but she looked eerily familiar. Where did he know her from?

“The girl spoke a long time about growing up in Vietnam’s Quang Tri Province in a little Village name Thanh Giang Dong Dhao. She spoke of life with the sisters, of the war of the napalm attack.

Then Vinh knew who she was. She was the girl.

She spoke of surviving the burns, treatment in a hospital, going along with the boat people, her revelation on the boat and how forgiveness could heal all wounds of the heart.

Vinh knew. How could this have happened? How could they have been reunited in this new land after seven years? His crimes had followed him. He ran to the foot of the stage and he collapsed to his knees in tears and began screaming in Vietnamese that it was all his fault, he made the people go back into the village. He was responsible for her being burned. That he knew it was evil and he should never have done it, but he was too weak. Could she ever forgive him? Could she help him forgive himself?

The girl translated what he was saying to the crowd. The minister looked up to heavens.

“This man knows me from my country! He says he was a very bad man. He says it was his fault that I was burned with napalm. I know this man and what he says is true. And I say that I forgive him now and forever, but he must love himself so that he can love others? Can I get a Hallelujah?

“Hallelujah”

“Can she save this man! Shouted the preacher.

“CAN THIS LITTLE GIRL, THIS MINISTER OF THE GOSPEL SAVE…THIS…MAN!”

“HALLELUJAH” The crowd was in a furious trance hoping to witness an act of salvation.

The minister walked Vinh up onto the stage, he stayed on his knees with his arms around her legs.

“IS THIS MAN TOO EVIL TO BE SAVED?” The girl shouted pointing the mike at the crowd.

“NOOOO!”

“IS THIS MAN TOO GREAT A SINNER TO BE SAVED?” She paced around like a panther.

“NOOOO!”

“CAN JESUS HEAL ANYONE? CAN JESUS SAVE ANYONE WHO COMES CORRECT FOR SALVATION?”

“YES!”

“Pray with me, she said, repeat after me and you will be free!”

“TELL IT!” Screamed the crowd.

“I am a sinner (I have sinned)”

“I am sinner” said Vinh, “I have sin.”

“Lord Jesus, I need You.”

“Lord Jesus, I need You.”

“I know that you died on the cross for my sins.”

“I know that you died on the cross my sins.”

“I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord.”

“I open the door my life and receive You as Savior and Lord.”

“Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life.”

“Thank You for forgiving sins and giving eternal life.”

“Take control of the throne of my life.”

“Take control of throne of my life.”

“Make me the kind of person You want me to be.”

“Make me person You want me to be.”

“Take away my pain and my suffering and let me love.”

“Take away my pain and suffering let me love.”

“Let me be baptized in the holy spirit.”

“Let me be baptize in holy spirit.”

Then Vinh arose and they took him to the pool where he was baptized.

The little girl minister brought him before the crowd, soaking wet but smiling.

“Today you are no longer Vinh! You are born again! You are free! I name you now Vincent which means you shall serve the poor with charity!”

“Amen!”

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