Vietnam Diary – part 3 – Satchel Charge

This is the third part of a 4 part series  about one man who was a draftee into the Vietnam War. If you missed Part 1 or Part 2 please click on the link to read them. Steve A. lives in New Jersey and related this story to the Editor of East Coast Stories. The first 2 parts were told in the first person.  However this episode is so painful to Steve that he still has trouble speaking about it directly.

The days continued to pass slowly in Vietnam and Steve actually did something he never thought he would do. He lost track of how many days he had been there and how many were left. Somehow in the transfer North to The Tower and then back South he had lost the special calendar he had created to tick off the days until he went home.  After a while he was glad he had stopped counting, since the days actually seemed to go faster that way.

Steve was beginning to feel pretty good about things. He had been been in some terrible firefights but had not been wounded.  He was starting to accept what he calls the “absolute randomness” of combat. Sometimes a great soldier or a officer with lots of combat experience will be killed, while a complete klutz with little training survives the same battle.

Steve was back in Saigon and looking forward to getting drunk. He walked into a bar,  and had a few beers.  He decided not to stay since he did not see anyone he knew and the place was a little dull.  As he walked out he thinks he remembers two guys going in but he is not sure.

Steve was halfway down the street looking for a place with more action, when the bar he had just come from blew up. It was a tremendous explosion and he could hear screams.

Then Steve did what he calls the biggest mistake of his life. He decided to run back into the bar and see if there was anyone he could help. He wishes he did not.

satchel charge

There was nothing anyone could do for what was left of the people inside the bar. Steve will not describe exactly what it looked like other than to say that they were not really people anymore.

The next day the rumors started about what had happened.  Guys on the base were saying it was not the Viet Cong that had blown up the bar. They said it was two soldiers who had gotten “Dear John” letters on the same day. They had stolen satchel charges, brought them into the bar and blown themselves up.

satchel charge 2

Steve did not want to believe it.  Even on the plane ride to Vietnam there had been ridiculous rumors that turned out to be false. Still, in the back of his mind he seemed to remember two guys going in as he was coming out. Were they carrying or wearing anything that looked like satchel charges? For years Steve has asked himself that question and finally had to admit that he just can’t remember.

The official story was that the Viet Cong had planted a bomb. No one could explain why that bar was chosen. It was not very crowded and had no officers in it.  Maybe the complete randomness of it was the point. The Viet Cong always wanted to create maximum terror and were very successful at it.  Steve admits that as strange as it sounds he hopes it was the Viet Cong and not some depressed fellow draftees.

So that’s the story of what Steve identifies as his worst day in Vietnam.

The next  and final post of this Vietnam Series will be about what Steve calls his happiest day of the war. That is the last day and his trip home.

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