Bridge Building in Viet Nam

Bridge Building in Viet Nam

– WRITTEN by Richard Bell

In 1968, I served in Viet Nam as the communications officer for the Third Combat Engineer Battalion Third Marine Division. We were located in a base just outside of Quang Tri city in Quang Tri Province in what was called the I Corps area. Our engineers supported the operations of the infantry and my job was to make sure our commanding officer was in communication with our troops.

In quiet times we would organize Med Caps, trips to the nearby country side to offer medical attention to the local population. On one such Med Cap I took a squad of Marines, our interpreter, Sgt. Vinh, and a Navy Corpsman into the rice paddies. We set up in a shelter in the middle of the field and waited for the locals. We had a steady stream of patients. My job was security.

While we were treating the civilians, I noticed a group of young boys sitting off to one side of the shelter. They looked to be about 12 years old. I walked over to them to see what they were doing. One of the boys was working on Algebra. I watched him for a few minutes and then asked him to hand me his paper and pencil, using hand signals since I spoke no Vietnamese. He carefully complied, and I took the pencil and wrote an algebra problem for him to solve. I handed him back the paper and he solved the problem. Then he wrote a problem for me. I solved it. We spent about twenty minutes repeating this routine with a lot of laughter and smiles. When I had to stop, we shook hands.

We built a bridge between us that day in a very unlikely setting. I know I have not forgotten the experience. I doubt that he has either.


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