Over my very many years I am very happy to say that I have been blessed with many opportunities to visit much of our world. I am unshakably convinced that visiting other cultures and seeing sights not like where you call home is something that adds great joy, beauty and even wisdom to ones life. In my life I have had the opportunity to visit pretty much all of Asia from Japan in the north then south through several nations all the way to Indonesia. I have had the opportunity to visit some of South and Central America and several destinations up north in Canada. I have been blessed to have visited the Hawaiian Islands as well as the south sea islands of Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora and others. I have traveled through most of Western Europe and I am currently exploring options for Eastern Europe. This is not bragging merely me acknowledging my many extraordinary blessings because I have become totally convinced that travel is one of the most rewarding activities any human can engage in.
But recently there has been some rather disturbing news flowing out of Iraq and Iran including a fatal U.S. airstrike on a top Iranian General. Those images on TV rekindled in me one trip I made literally decades ago now that shall forever burn in my brain. It was a very short trip, only a few hours, and it did not cover very much distance but it was immensely life changing. Because of its extremely extraordinary impact I feel it deserves being retold here and I hope when you read what comes next you will see merit in my words.
It happened one day early in the month of April of 1967. It began in a place then called Chu Lai, Republic of South Vietnam. I was that time a young Corporal in the United States Marine Corps and I was absolutely thrilled to be scheduled for my permanent departure from Vietnam the very next day. But on the one day I had one final mission and it was to deliver a classified package to someone in Da Namg, Vietnam. The C-130 aircraft that I was transported on arrived in Da Nang about 9:00 a.m. and would not return to Chu Lai until approximately 6 p.m. that day. So after delivering the package I had several hours to do pretty much whatever I wanted to do.
With several hours available to me, a very rare situation, what I decided I wanted to do was go away to anywhere without jet engine noise and gobs of men walking around with a wide variety of weapons. I had on me one M-14 rifle, 100 rounds of 7.62 millimeter ammunition, one 45 caliber pistol and six fragmentation grenades. I felt pretty sure no one would attempt to interfere with my walk and I was right.
I just starting walking away. I was absolutely not interested in staying away I simply wanted to escape the overwhelming sounds of war I had be living in for the last 13 months. So I just kept walking mostly on rice paddy dikes. Soon the sounds faded away; oh what joy that silence brought to me. I lost all awareness of all of the articles of war I had on my body and I simply immersed myself in the great joy of some form of peace and quiet. Then a miracle happened.
I kept walking, there appeared off in the distance a small humble shack. As I continued to walk in its direction what came into my vision was an unbelievable vision of great joy for painted in red paint on the side of the shack were the words “Cold Beer.”
My pace quickened and soon I arrived at the door of the hooch. There I was greeted by a Vietnamese man and two women I assumed were his wife and daughter. I asked if he really did have cold beer and he said “yes.” He then added “cold beer and hot woman five dollar package deal.” I had truly found Nirvana. It had been far far too long since either of those delightful opportunities had been available to me and at the ripe old age of 21 that opportunity was about as good as anything could get. Soon I was sitting in front of the hooch with my new girl friend and a bottle of cold beer.
Life was good, but not for long. Soon we could see about 300 yards away a pair of F-4 Phantom jets dropping napalm. The sky exploded in raging fire and the thought did occur to me that perhaps my beer would soon no longer be cold. Happily the jets flew away and the napalm attack stopped without progressing any closer to my location. But then it got even worse.
I glanced over in the general direction of the napalm attack only to see two North Vietnamese soldiers walking towards the hooch. I had zero desire to engage in any kind of combat but I also wanted to go home the next day so I chambered a round in my rifle, stood up and told my girl friend to tell her Vietnamese buddies to put down their rifles and come in and I would buy them each a beer. If they didn’t do that I said they wilt meet Buddha in the count of three. Happily they did put down their rifles and I did indeed, buy them each a beer. And then there we were one United States Marine with two North Vietnamese soldiers sharing beer a lovely young lady in a little hooch in the middle of God only knows where. Three young guys with virtually identical mind sets – cold beer – hot woman. We no longer had any desire to even consider shooting or otherwise engaging in any form of hostility. I wondered why our respective so called leaders in Washington DC and Hanoi couldn’t understand this vastly better approach. Oh well I think it was that thought that got stimulated by the current news coming out of the Middle East. In any event, it was time for me to leave. So I picked up my weapon and began walking backwards down the paddy dike back towards Da Nang airbase.
It was almost two years after that experience when it finally hit me how many ways I should have died that day. Happily my untimely demise didn’t happen but what did happen was a profound appreciation for how much better peace and love are than killing and war. It has shaped my whole life and is probably one of the many reasons I became and remain an avid traveler and deeply appreciative of every opportunity to experience new places and cultures.
You can read more about that experience and many more options by Ron Irwin and several other authors all at: Books by Ron Irwin NOTE: 100% of the net proceeds from all book sales goes to aid disabled American veterans.
Photo credit: Ron Irwin